Community tip #1: Love the pyramid


In most communities, online or otherwise, analyzing your membership will reveal something close to a pyramid structure of usage. Don Dodge has an excellent post on the subject on his blog, definitely worth a read if you're new to managing and/or operating social networks or online communities.

Here's his diagram:

Don Dodge's social pyramid
As far as social networks go, this is pretty much gospel. Although some will call it the 90-9-1 principle, it's the same damn thing at the end of the day. Out of every hundred or so users, one will be a power user, ten will be regulars, and the rest will fill in the gaps in between. If you run a community or social site of your own and it's leaning towards a more top heavy structure, you're doing very well for yourself.

The retention funnel

You'll notice this particular breakdown in a lot of spots. It's very common. Common enough that you'll see it all over the place when it comes to social internet usage. The 10% retention-per-tier model covers a lot of ground, and unsurprisingly, this usage pattern looks a lot like your typical sales conversion funnel (aka: the purchase funnel.) In most cases, if you retain more than 10% of the previous tier of activity in your version of the pyramid, you can consider yourself a success. Volume of usage will obviously have an impact, but converting more than 10% of passers-by to registrations, and more than 1% of overall usage to paid accounts (or "addicts", below) is something to be proud of.

Social site usage (Quantcast)

Now, let's compare this to the usage funnel of a typical community site (at right is the funnel from one of our sites, courtesy of Quantcast.)

Focusing on the left side of the chart, you'll see a similarly pyramidal level of distribution. It's not quite exactly the same, but it's still a very bottom heavy structure. More commonly, the structure for less-engaging communities will more closely resemble Mr. Dodge's diagram. The more engaging your community, the more the top end of your pyramid grows (or conversely, the more the bottom half of your pyramid thins out.)

Quantcast has some excellent (free) tools for analyzing your site's usage and demographic information. If you're running a social site, there's really no reason you shouldn't be embedding their tracking code unless you're suffering from a case of extreme paranoia, or you're worried that you might have a competitor tracking your every move. Okay, maybe they are. So be it.

Love the pyramid

So, how should I build my pyramid?

When it comes down to it, you should be looking for a community usage diagram that — at the very least — mimics Mr. Dodge's structure above.

  • Focus on conversions — improve your landing pages, be it your homepage or search result-specific pages. Get interested users signing up. Once they're in, they're yours to take advantage of (kidding!... sort of.)
  • Get 'em hooked. Improve your user interactions, and produce content on a regular basis. Nothing sucks more than a community site where the moderation team is absent or doesn't participate regularly.
  • Work on your messaging. 37signals is an awesome example of evolving your sign-up and registration pages to suit your demographics and user base. Designing tantalizing introductory pages is an art form and they've mastered it.
  • Refine your interface. If something's clunky or you're getting a negative response, smooth it over ASAP. Take feedback from your users into consideration, and change your UI to accommodate their requests.
  • Keep in touch. Being an active community manager (or if not you, your moderation staff) will increase member loyalty and community growth. Which will in turn increase virality and build into the cycle.

Following some variation of these steps should keep your community growing and flourishing, marketing aside, and the pyramid will come naturally.

Do you have a similar usage base structure? Have you managed to improve it into something more top-heavy? We'd love to hear about your experiences in the comments.

Pyramid image courtesy of jaybergesen on Flickr.

2 comments on "Community tip #1: Love the pyramid":

  1. Great post! The "keep in touch" advice is also so closely related to return on engagement, so active community management will lead to deeper engagement. If you've got your SMART goals set up, then moving them to action after they're engaged is also part of the pyramid.

    Thanks so much for including my post in your reference links, too.

    • @Debra, thanks for the feedback and for stopping by!

      I just read your post about Designing & Measuring ROE and setting SMART goals for managing your community. Encouraging content co-creation is something I take a lot of pride in; the primary large community site that I manage is centred entirely on collaborative creative writing and feedback. Encouraging reciprocity is something I preach whenever I'm giving a talk about community, as well -- they go hand in hand.

      I was actually planning to do a post about building and tracking custom community-based metrics so I'll be sure to reference you there as well.