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Community Members - Understand Which Type Of Community Members Belong To You

Community members are at the heart of healthy communities. They include everyone who lives, learns, works, plays, and prays in communities. Community members may hold a formal leadership position in a community organization, or friends and neighbors may recognize them as the person who gets things done. Residents and students who are not yet leaders are frequently waiting for an invitation to participate.

Different Types Of Community Members Have Different Roles

Group of people hugging each other
Group of people hugging each other

Lori Kendall, an anthropologist, discovered that members of virtual environments "have intact social systems and highly charged social relations" (Kendall, 1999). As a result, members do much more than just interact and create content. They also take on various roles and responsibilities.

To successfully manage your community, you must consider the various member needs and behaviors. This includes not only tailoring your messaging but also understanding your community's players and how they contribute to its survival.

Five Online Community Member Types

Hands holding each other
Hands holding each other

These categories are not mutually exclusive, and each member is likely to fall into more than one. The goal is not to lump all of your members into one group, but rather to gain an understanding of common behaviors and how to interact with those behaviors. Interesting communities have a wide range of personalities and points of view. It is your responsibility to celebrate these differences and provide multiple opportunities for your members to interact with one another.

The Lurker

Because they don't appear to be participating, a lurker may be mistaken for an inactive member. Some people prefer to observe public interactions and participate in smaller private groups or through one-on-one interactions such as direct messages. This is distinct from inactive members who do not regularly visit your community.

There is often only one way to tell a lurker from an inactive member, and that is to reach out directly. If you ask them questions, they will most likely respond, so check in and see if they need anything. Inactive members are unlikely to respond, but your message may entice them to return or explain why they aren't present.

The Social Butterfly

Social butterflies are well-known for their desire to be a part of things. They respond to the majority of posts, are at ease reaching out to everyone, and appear to be present at all times. These are excellent members to have because they can contribute to the vibrancy of your online community. It may be tempting to rely on them to keep your community running, but don't overdo it. If they begin to feel like an unpaid intern or that they are being pressured to post frequently, you risk losing them as an active member entirely.

The Critic

The critic will dissect and evaluate every typo and change. Even minor inconsistencies in the information you communicate will be noticed. It is easy to stereotype the critic as a know-it-all or annoyance, but the majority of online community members who do so are friends, not foes. Taking the time to communicate errors and blunders shows that they care about your community.

Other members of the community will either love or despise a critic's behavior, and they will watch how you respond to their public feedback. When a critic points out a mistake, a good rule of thumb is to express gratitude: "Oh, nice catch. Fixed! Thank you very much! " and proceed. Criticism of policies or administrative decisions should be heard, acknowledged, and even taken into account.

Dealing With The Critic - A Common Scenario

Here's a common example I've seen in several online communities: topic merging. On many occasions, members of the community or an administrative team may wish to establish a new topic space. Before you know it, there are several topic areas with significantly lower engagement than anticipated.

As a result, the administrative team decides to consolidate spaces. This is likely to elicit a variety of reactions, and regardless of the critic's personal opinion, they will highlight the original decision to create the spaces and question the admin team's decision-making abilities. Probably in public.

These circumstances can be... aggravating. Even irritating. After all, you've probably already spent some time problem solving to arrive at your decision. However, the critic is only expressing what others are likely feeling, and their feedback merits a discussion beyond an announcement post. Why? Because members of your community should be on the steering committee. They are the ones who are invested enough to care about what happens. Discuss the proposed change openly, with the caveat that you can stick to your decision if it still makes the most sense.

The Troublemaker

Every community will have disagreements from time to time, but true troublemakers take chaos to a whole new level. These members are constantly pushing the boundaries to see what they can get away with. Whether they have ulterior motives (such as soliciting and spamming), are true trolls, or simply lack basic online etiquette and awareness, you deal with them all in the same way at first.

To help you redirect their behavior, you should have community guidelines and a moderation policy in place. Be clear and consistent in your moderation, and give them the opportunity to participate within the parameters of your community. If they continue to stir the pot or dance the line, stick to your moderation policy until they've earned complete removal.

The Tech Challenged

Most people who are interested in digital communities are fairly tech savvy. We know how to navigate and solve problems, especially on a community platform that we use every day in our business. However, this is not the case for all of our members. Some people do not find learning a new platform as easy as the rest of us.

As a result, the tech-challenged member may appear to be a lurker when they are simply unsure how to use the platform. Without intervention, they may abandon the community you've created entirely. When you reach out to potential lurkers, you may discover that they are unsure where to begin or how to engage.

Understand Your Community Members

5 laughing people discussing
5 laughing people discussing

It's safe to say that these types of people can be found in almost any growing community. One thing to keep in mind is that not all members are the same and should therefore be involved in different ways.

What Makes A Community Member?

A community is a group of people who have things in common, care deeply about each other, and work closely together to achieve a common goal.

What It Means To Be Part Of A Community?

According to WebMD, "a community is a group of people we lean on when times are tough; our friends, family, and neighbors who are there for us when we need love, support, and encouragement."

Why Is It Important To Be A Good Community Member?

We feel a sense of belonging when we are a part of an active community. It allows us to share personal relatedness while also supporting the continuous growth of each other, ourselves, and our environment.


Running a community requires constant effort, and it helps to understand the types of members you have so you can best serve them. Most of your members will exhibit characteristics of more than one of these types, so don't be too quick to categorize them. Instead, solicit feedback on a regular basis and provide multiple channels of communication for your community. A lurker might not respond to a public post asking for feedback, but if that post mentions the option to email you privately, they might. Be courteous in your responses, both public and private, to ensure that they feel comfortable contacting you in the future.

One of the most effective ways to give back to your community is to model kind interactions, even during tense situations. This will undoubtedly help to protect the sense of safety and community you’ve spent so much time creating for all your member types.

About The Authors

Keith Peterson

Keith Peterson - I'm an expert IT marketing professional with over 10 years of experience in various Digital Marketing channels such as SEO (search engine optimization), SEM (search engine marketing), SMO (social media optimization), ORM (online reputation management), PPC (Google Adwords, Bing Adwords), Lead Generation, Adwords campaign management, Blogging (Corporate and Personal), and so on. Web development and design are unquestionably another of my passions. In fast-paced, high-pressure environments, I excel as an SEO Executive, SEO Analyst, SR SEO Analyst, team leader, and digital marketing strategist, efficiently managing multiple projects, prioritizing and meeting tight deadlines, analyzing and solving problems.

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