Communities Grow By Retention

It's not joining ... it's staying!

In the last few weeks I’ve been in some pretty heated conversations about how communities grow. Mind you, these weren’t arguments. They were just conversations about how communities as a whole grow.

My premise is that Communities Grow By Retention. (Click2Tweet)Rubber Band Ball

Communities have a lot in common with some sales scenarios – where long term sales engagement requires a long term plan. The same is true for a community. In order to be truly be successful they need to continue delivering value.

The Three Core Elements of a Community

I have read and written a lot about communities. I have shared some of the links below.

imageOne of my favorite community builders is Sarah Robinson, she is the CEO of Fierce Loyalty. She has a great model of what it takes to kick off, engage, and drive retention in a community. It should come as no surprise that the keys are related to delivering value … at all stages.

I have boiled my thinking over the years into three big buckets. Each bucket (if that metaphor works for you) has multiple steps, stages and pitfalls. When done right they can create amazing, engaged and successful communities.

Therein lies the rub. It takes work, planning, and execution to insure each step continues along … sometimes almost as autonomous units, but eventually they all need to come back together to define and align with the goals of the community.

  • Attract
  • Recruit
  • Retain

Of course, every organization needs to continue adding members. But, that old sales adage of … “it’s 7 times more expensive to gain a new customer than it is to keep an existing customer” is true for communities too.


 It is seven times more expensive to attract a new customer than it is to retain an existing one.

The same principle applies to communities. And, like customer retention it’s Word of Mouth by community members (and customers) that keep the community vibrant, growing and strong.

What do you think?

  • How have you seen communities grow?
  • Can communities only grow by adding new members?
  • What are the best retention ideas you’ve seen or used?

Inquiring minds want to know.

I’d like to get a dialogue going with you. Either here in the comments of contact me via any of the options below.

If there is enough interest I’ll write companion posts for each of the three buckets.

Here are a few posts I’ve written about community:

image and trademark credits: Sarah Robinson and Fierce Loyalty.


Jeff is an expert in the Enterprise Content Management industry. He brings over 20 years of Channel Sales, Partner Marketing and Alliance expertise to audiences around the world in speaking engagements and via his writing. He has worked for Microsoft, Kodak, and K2. He is currently the consulting with Microsoft and partners to drive Community Engagement and Alliances.

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Rosemary ONeill said…
Great observation Jeff! I think something that needs to be accounted for in your retention strategy is that members can "outgrow" your community. You always need to consider the purpose of the community when you're thinking about how to retain members. For example, in a customer support type of community, retention is tied to retaining them as a customer. In a medical or healthcare community, your member may be done with treatment and no longer need the community. So you always need to look at your member cohorts and address their needs over time, and not just focus on a constant flow of newcomers.
Jeff Shuey said…
Great point. Yes, communities have a lifecyle. Your point about a medical / healthcare community is spot on. It also points to a larger picture when setting up a community.

It's funny, at least one "community" I am involved with started out as a group of interested people and it grew into a community. We had no master plan. We just liked getting together. As time went on we realized we did indeed have a community and started planning accordingly.

Another aspect is one of Stephen Covey's principles ... Begin with the end in mind. This is something that should be baked into the mantra or at least the guidelines of the community. It's both an exit strategy and a stake in the sand stating the people within the community and the community itself can (and should) change.