Why are we struggling to retain interest in communities?

It’s a simple question, and I started thinking more deeply about it after a conversation with my accountability partner in the Bankless Academy program. We were talking about our first pieces in week 1, and what we’d be writing about, and the conversation ventured to communities.

Why are communities struggling to retain interest and community members?

I’ve seen numerous examples over the last few years. You don’t have to be in web3 to understand or be part of a community. An issue I’ve seen community builders struggle with, and more so now than before - as we venture into the attention economy - is retaining interest and commitment from existing community members.

I’ve spent close to a decade focusing on what makes people connect, and community building, so I do have a few theories.

Disclaimer: I only know what I know until I know it, and so there may be unlearning, learning, and evolving of these ideas and insights by the time you’re reading.

So let’s start with the first and most obvious question - why do people lose interest in the communities they’re a part of, over time?

Attention and action. Or lack thereof.

It’s pretty simple - we’re living in a time where everyone, everywhere is competing for our attention, to spark interest. Literally every platform online is begging for your attention and designed to maximize your time spent on it. Tiktok being the best case in point. And, if you’ve been in this space long enough, you’re likely overwhelmed by the amount of information you have to constantly stay on top of, and it’s only natural to be overwhelmed by the X number of communities you’re a part of, as a byproduct.

Image description: Phone scrolling through multiple notifications
Image description: Phone scrolling through multiple notifications

So if there aren’t active efforts by community builders that require the attention of the community members, their interest will wane.

It’s straightforward really. It’s why building rituals and habits, and building behaviors that are specific to the community you’re building are important from the get-go. Otherwise you become one of many communities that are forgotten, and ignored.

There’s activity, but no community buy-in.

This is one I’ve experienced in one of the DAOs I was a part of too. I’d contributed to this DAO a while back, and still held tokens to the community. I naturally considered myself a part of their community, albeit more passively. They recently had a token launch where they had an allow list (AL) for the communities they had partnered with, but not for their actual community members. I get the revenue aspect, where building perks and pipelines and ALs help with more sales and what not, but as a community member, I felt pretty ignored. Worse, I felt excluded. I was able to get the perks because I was already a member of the partner communities, but it definitely had me feeling strange about the whole experience. I had conversations with other members who had similar emotions, and it made realize how important community buy-in is.

Sometimes, as community builders, we’re so focused on the growth roadmap, increasing metrics, and outward-facing plans, we forget the value and importance of the actual community- the people who’re already in them.

I’ll use an age-old analogy about sales here - it takes 20% effort to earn 80% more from the same repeat customer vs. 80% more effort and cost to acquire a new one. Not saying there’s a right or wrong way, because different approaches for different communities. But, if you’re trying to build something worth while, it’s absolutely crucial to involve the community, and share what you’re building. Get their buy-in - it’ll amplify the support you’ll have, grow the launch success metrics, and most importantly, it’ll build on the trust factor you’ve built with the community.

Launches are often opportunities for building on trust, or the breaking of it. And inaction leads to the latter, as a result anyway.

Community members don’t feel valued

One of the most important parts of building a community, and keeping it thriving is to recognize the active community members, and to incentivize them to be more active.

What often happens is people initially are excited, and they engage way more, but as time passes their engagement levels drop. This usually goes hand in hand with interest dropping. This is because there aren’t enough “bring back” points to keep people hooked.

So how do we engage community members?

Gamify and incentivize participation

If you want folks coming back, find ways to immediately incentivize the behavior.

One way of doing this is through gamifying the experience and adding perks and rewards for more activity. This doesn’t have to be financial. In fact, a great way to do this is to have public mentions and a visible leaderboard.

An excellent example of this is the Bankless Academy leaderboard in their program - folks move up the leaderboard based on their activity in the program. I love how they incentivized more action by writers in the program: publishing a post, sharing it on the published posts channel, sharing the post on social media, and giving feedback to others’ posts. Each of these actions leads to moving up the leaderboard. And while they all do build into a traction flywheel, yes, they also create this cycle of growth and and better incentives to participate more.

Another example of incentivizing more activity is through “tipping” or a recognition system. I’ve seen some communities use tokens to “thank” or tip people and to show appreciation. 0xfrens, a web3 community platform, recently shipped a “Kudos” feature where members of their partnered communities can thank people and show appreciation by by sending them Kudos. They took it a step further by adding the option to add a personalized note along with sending a small number of MATIC gifted to the recipient. 0xfrens is a platform-specific example but you can build a ritual manually and build a habit of tagging and appreciating people too. Of course, this is an active effort, and will need active community members to keep this on-going over extended periods of time. Lead by example and action.

Recognize your original community

Every community has their OGs, the original group of people who believed in the idea or project, early on. These are the folks who’ve actively engaged and spent in the community, and maybe even continue to do so today. You want to recognize them, and make them feel valued. This is one I see folks often get wrong, where they don’t give as much importance to older members, in favor of newer ones. Not to say new members aren’t important, but the strength of a community is partly dependent on older members. Make sure you actively focus on them, and make them feel valued. This can be as simple as checking in and asking how they’re doing.

Building a strong community is a long-term play. If you’re looking to build a quick hype train, then this piece isn’t for you. But, if you want to build a lasting, strong community, then it is time-consuming and takes effort and resources. Bear this in mind as you go into it. It’s also why this isn’t a one-person job or responsibility. Your goal should be to build many community leaders in the community, who can carry the community forward, over time.

I’ll cover more in later pieces, but if you’ve got thoughts around community retention, reach out on Twitter. I’m @arlery.

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