Defining Community Membership


This the second article in a multi-part, living-and-breathing series on community strategy. This post originally appeared on Loyal’s blog on June 18th, 2014 and was most recently updated here on

One of our favorite things at Loyal is figuring out how to deepen relationships between community members and increase engagement — whatever that might mean within a given community’s context, from increasing comments and shares to contributing towards industry-wide knowledge bases. It’s easy to rattle off one, two, three, four community product features or community initiatives, yet it’s far more challenging to ensure that those points of engagement are unique and relevant to each community, well-utilized and result in tangible business return. This is when we combine what we’ve learned from our discovery process with our expertise for the next step in setting a community strategy: defining who belongs to your community and why.

Understanding who belongs (or would belong) to your community and why is one of the first steps in determining how a community will engage with each other, how to incentivize engagement and how to leverage engagement for business growth. With long-term and short-term goals in mind, along with a firm understanding of company vision, Loyal approaches the next phase of community with the following questions:

Who is a member of your community?

Based on research, stakeholder interviews and anecdotal evidence, you very likely have a good idea of who is in your community. But let’s dig deeper:

  • Who is a core member of your community, the perfect target user?
  • Who is more of peripheral member, a more casual user?
  • Are there multiple types of members? Internal vs. external members? Super users? Influencers? Private vs. Public? and so on.
  • If there are multiple types, is membership progressive? Can members move between different types of membership, and is there a “lifecycle” of engagement or membership?
  • What is the name of each type of user? A “Host”? A “driver”? Or, good ol’ fashioned “user”?
  • What types of users tend to provide greater value to the community or have greater lifetime value to the business?
  • Are there players who might contribute to a community but not be members?

At Loyal, we define membership by the type, level of engagement and the relationship of the user to the community as a whole. For example, internal and external communities member can vary from company to company. Here’s a snapshot of what this looked like for one recent client:

Screenshot 2015-02-10 23.56.16

In most marketplaces, the supply would be internal, and the demand would be external, with the company placing the majority of its initial focus on the supply side. In a B2B company, the internal community might be their core customer base while the external community is the customers of their customers. We assume employees to be internal community members and partners to be external. Community can also include potential customers, competitors and other players in the same space as well.

Screenshot 2015-02-10 23.59.04For another client, an industry-focused content site, we defined the internal community members by their job role roles/functions and found that this was closely tied with their type of membership, which was progressive: visitor, subscriber and contributor. External community members included partners who would contribute data, content and referred members to the site. Based on the client’s business goals, contributors provide the most value to the community, and as such, the community strategy incentivized users to convert users from visitor to subscriber to contributor as quickly as possible by leveraging each member-type’s motivations.

What motivates the community?

Next, we dive into what motivates each type of member. We ask questions such as:

  • What does this type of member want out of their relationship with the community?
  • Why do they participate?
  • What can the company provide in return to this member?

You might find that each type of user is motivated differently or that motivations are segmented among groups of members. For example, from the client example immediately above, we found that each type of internal member was motivated differently:

  • Visitors: answers to specific questions
  • Subscribers: interesting content, analysis of trends, improving their craft generally
  • Contributors: online reputation, visibility, goodwill
  • Partners: brand awareness, lead gen/sales, site traffic, distribution

Once the member’s motivation is fulfilled, the member is triggered (via email, ad retargeting, on-site popup, notifications, etc.) to progress to the next stage of membership through prompted actions.  

In this scenario, it was also important to note that the internal community could directly provide value to the external community (partners, not pictured), and this was something we kept in mind as we continued to lay out our community strategy.

However, just as important as motivations for members are disincentives and insecurities. For this client, we found that the internal community as a group was demotivated by imposter syndrome, low value and/or redundant content and low engagement with their contributions. Their partners would be turned off by an unequal value exchange, poor conversion rates and/or low-value conversions, reputational damage and over commercialization. Understanding what discourages members helps to identify and course correct for barriers to entry, pitfalls and attrition.

Mapping out membership of community is an important step in defining community strategy and breaking that down into executable tactics. But we’re not quite ready for tactics yet! Next up: understanding the larger ecosystem.