How Do You Encourage Digital Contribution in Online Communities?

No write = Wrong

If you’ve been paying attention, creating a bespoke community has become all the rage.

Creators, brands, and businesses have realized that communities built around their products or services are priceless. It leads to profit, security, and individuality. When they come to life, communities create a moat and make the business untouchable. Anyone can replicate a product, but no one can recreate a community. Experts predict that soon, we’ll be seeing communities that charge $5,000 a month to gain access.

You’d better believe it.

A community’s success is contingent on participation from its members. Active communities deliver excitement, better content, and more value to all other members.

Yet for many online communities, most people aren’t participating. Like, 99% of people.

The 90–9–1 Rule for online community engagement states that:

  • 90% of people lurk on virtual communities, consuming yet never contributing
  • 9% edit or respond to content, but do not create their own
  • 1% of community members create new content consistently

Certain studies cite that these numbers have gotten even worse, saying it skews closer to 95–4–1.

Not great.

When your online community is only as good as its members, these stats aren’t uplifting. And doing the work to encourage all community members to participate can be exhausting. Yet putting in this effort is well worth it. With all members active, the community becomes unique, valuable, and worth charging $5,000 for.

What is a Virtual Community?

A virtual community is “a group of individuals who come together around a shared purpose, interest, or goal.” They exist in cyberspace, using digital tools to connect to others.

Virtual communities are unique. They break the cultural norm of paying money in return for a tangible product or service. Instead, they go deeper into what they can offer to their members. They’re seen as an investment in your personal development, where you can feel heard, listened to, and connected with.

What Makes a Sustainable Virtual Community?

For an online community to be successful, it must have:

1. A clear purpose or vision (Ex: ‘Save the Earth,’ Mystery School). In other words, a reality all members agree upon.

2. Clear definition of member’s roles and responsibilities. There are varying degrees of ownership and responsibility. They’re distributed based on involvement within the community.

3. Leadership by community moderators. There are community “teachers” ready to guide members and facilitate conversations.

4. Online/offline events that strengthen a member’s sense of belonging within the community. Letting members feel connected to one another through online events that allow for digital public speaking.

These four pillars are the foundation of a community. But what makes it stand tall and proud is participation from all its members.

The Consequences of an Inactive Virtual Community

Without a healthy amount of participation from all members, problems begin to arise.

  • The distributed content doesn’t give a holistic view of the community. If only a small percentage of members are contributing content, it’s liable to biases. An example of this is with Wikipedia, where 1% of its users write nearly all its content. The people who edit tend to be white, Western males. Considering how Wikipedia is the largest educational encyclopedia on the planet, this lack of perspective and diversity is worrisome.
  • Limits the benefits a community can bring to its members. Fewer people participating leads to less contributed value. Virtual communities are only sustainable when they provide benefits that surpass the cost of membership. When members don’t participate, people are more likely to trickle out.
  • Creates an uneven distribution of value. People are giving and others are receiving. Non-participants are free-riders, absorbing other people’s knowledge, experiences, and opinions.
  • Makes it difficult to pinpoint what drives the community’s metrics. When people are lurking but not participating, your metrics aren’t real. They bring engagement down. This is a problem considering a community’s goal is to generate authentic engagement.

The quality of a community has become the true currency. When a community consists of only a few people participating, it turns it into an audience instead.

Why Certain People Feel Discouraged From Participating

Members don’t withhold from participating in a community out of spite. Oftentimes, it comes from a place of insecurity or misunderstanding.

  • Depending on the technology, a channel or group chat isn’t the best way for people to participate. This is because of two main reasons.
  1. Every message delivered is permanent. It might not seem like a big deal, but this permanence raises expectations. If a message is ignored or ridiculed, the majority of the community will see it. Even though you can delete a message, people will notice it’s deletion.
  2. Chats dominated by a community leader and its leading contributors discourages new participants. They might not want to interject, fearing they’ll ruin the “flow” of the conversation. It’s equivalent to seeing a group of people huddled together having a conversation IRL. What are the chances of you coming right up to them out of nowhere to say something? Pretty slim.
  • People aren’t used to sharing aloud. The reason why 90% of people are lurkers isn’t that they’re “shy.” It’s because they don’t know it’s expected from them to share and they don’t understand its advantages. Instead, people have grown accustomed to signing up to gain access to a community so they can then sit back, relax, and passively consume.
  • Most people don’t understand that if they contribute they’ll get more value from the community. Creating, sharing, and putting themselves out there is frightening and tough work, yet has massive upsides. This idea isn’t mainstream yet. Many people don’t see the point. They’re skeptical about what contributing can bring them, and instead choose to focus on consuming.

In the end, people don’t share because they don’t face any repercussions. It’s at no risk for them not to. Without the proper motivation, they’d rather be gluttonous, standing by the buffet of content.

How to Get People to Actually Want to Participate

When wanting to get people to begin participating, it’s not the best idea to yell at members with the caps lock on. As we’ve explained earlier, these people might be free-riding off your communities’ value, but they don’t know any better. It’s a mixture of intimidation, laziness, and misunderstanding.

We can understand.

Let’s begin with the obvious steps we can take here. First, you’ll want to make a formal announcement where you clearly lay out your expectations from the community. AKA if they don’t write, they’re wrong.

Then, pin the announcement to the home page or on top of the community channel so it’s accessible. You’ll also want to go through community member’s accounts and delete any that have outdated payments or inactive profiles. These are “ghost followers” and they aren’t doing your engagement rates any favors.

To encourage participation even further, try this:

  1. Call people out (but be nice). Let people know you know they’re lurking. But don’t call them out individually, as it can feel like the spotlight is on them. Instead, call them out collectively, asking for their opinions since they’ve been *especially* quiet.
  2. Set up an actionable challenge to encourage participation. You know sharing in an online community can change someone’s life. Why not instill that confidence in others by guaranteeing them that result? Set up a challenge where for a certain amount of time everyone participates at least once a day. Ask people to sign up and then post the results six months later. You’ll rack up impressive reviews you can then post on the community board. The key here is for people to see participation as an investment, not a timely transaction.
  3. You can’t go wrong with gamifying a community. Draw people in with badges, points, and feedback loops. Give prizes for the best and most thoughtful comments. You could award special badges or an empowering shout-out. If you’d like to go further, award active participants with exclusive access to certain community events and content. Heck, you could even pay your most active members if you feel like it.
  4. Make community members feel like they have skin in the game. As we’ve covered, people don’t participate because they don’t think they’ll get anything out of it. People don’t need more discipline to be active in a community — they just need a better reason to be. Show community members exactly what they will miss out on if they remain silent.

Provide Ideal Technology for Virtual Communities

Don’t forget where to house a community. If the community doesn’t have an easily navigable and accessible virtual platform, your efforts are fruitless. You’ll need a platform that will empower both community leaders and members, or else you can say *goodbye* to a successful online community.

This is why we’ve built Officeparty, a platform designed for hosting vibrant communities. The platform makes it easy for everyone to participate, share, and spread awareness of their community.

Community leaders will have the ability to easily monetize. This means less time worrying about money, and instead focusing on leading and nurturing a community.

With thoughtful leaders and talkative community members, the value of the community soars. It creates a snowball effect where people continue to participate as the content becomes more relevant and engaging. People sign up on waitlists to join these types of communities.

They’ll even shell out 5 grand for them (hint hint).

If you’d like to get your community to the next level, welcome. Check us out here :)



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