11 June 2009

Blogging Tips : Enhance and Grow Your Online Community Through Appreciation

Today Patrick O’Keefe from iFroggy Network and the author of the book Managing Online Forums shares how appreciation can help grow the community on your blog.

As online community managers and administrators, bloggers and general social media participants, we sometimes get so caught up in growing our community, that we forget to appreciate what it is that we do have.

Appreciation is a powerful thing. If you manage an online community and are concerned with encouraging a healthy, positive atmosphere and with retaining members, there is one simple, relatively easy thing that you can do to improve your chances of doing both. Appreciate your contributors.

What brought this to mind was a recent message that a member sent me over at, where he thanked me for thanking members for their contributions because, he felt, it was a part of what made the community great. Now, you may be thinking – “you, Patrick, the administrator, thank people on your community. What’s the big deal?”

Well, it made a big deal to this gentleman, who wrote a really nice message, expressing his love of the community and highlighting my notes of appreciation as a major reason for him loving it. It was a great, kind message that meant a lot to me. Beyond just the personal sentiment, it meant that what I had wanted to be expressed; was expressed. The member received my message of appreciation loud and clear.

When I say messages of appreciation, what am I talking about? Drawing from the forums example at, primarily I am talking about thanking members for good contributions, in the very thread that they make them in.

For example, let’s say someone joins the community and asks a question, in an effort to find out how Photoshop does something. Then, one of our members replies with the answer, in detail, written in a kind and helpful manner. And then, after the member replies, saying that it has helped them, I also reply – thanking the person who provided the answer and, perhaps, welcoming the member who asked the question, if they are new.

It’s not like I write long posts to do this. “Great stuff, Dave!” “Excellent work, Joe.” “Thanks, Bob.” Basically short messages of appreciation, letting them know that I am reading and that I appreciate what they are doing within the community.

The member who contacted me reasoned that all too often, when people try to help someone, they disappear or they don’t say thanks. That is simply the reality of running a community where support is a large part of what you offer. That’s life and it happens. But, my messages had helped to soften this and offset it and make people feel more at ease and at home, as a valued member of our community.

I know this is a simple concept. I recently gave a talk at South by Southwest Interactive where I discussed responding to feedback. I didn’t consider any of it to be earth shattering. In fact, to many, I believe it was probably common sense.

But, I feel that when something is common sense, sometimes we take it for granted. We must remind ourselves. People want to help. People want to be appreciated and they want to know that someone cares. As the leader of a community, you can help them understand that.

You may say, “well, Patrick, you just say those things like a robot – you don’t mean it.” No, no, no. I do mean it. I mean it deeply. Yes, I may be repetitive in what I say. But, I only say it when I mean it. I don’t randomly pop it into threads without any care or without reading the thread, nor do I say it on every good post I see. But, I try to make an effort to see great contributions and say thank you.

How this helps you retain members should be clear. People like to be in a place where they are welcome, where people notice them, remember them, appreciate them. Remember the line from the “Cheers” TV show theme? “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came.”

As cheesy as I know that sounds, it’s also true. Maybe not everyone knows their name, but some do, and they are appreciated and recognized. That’s the point.

How does it encourage a good environment? If people feel appreciated, that’s instantly a better environment than if the opposite were true.

But, also, members take cues on how to act from staff members. If you and your staff have bad habits, members will pick up those bad habits. If you and your staff have good habits, members will pick them up, as well. You and your staff are an example. Take this power seriously and responsibly.

You can appreciate members in other ways, as well. You appreciate them by listening to their feedback. Not doing what they say, necessarily, but listening openly and considering it.

In addition to public posts, I also like to randomly send a private message to a member who is doing a good job, just to say hey and to let them know that I’ve seen their posts, that I like what they are doing and to please keep it up because we appreciate them. Simple and genuine.

There are many ways to thank people in a more public way, as well. Having a member of the month program or a yearly awards program (where you and/or your community vote and select winners) can be a great way to show appreciation. Make sure that these programs have meaning, though, and are awarded to the truly deserving.

Making someone a member of your staff can be a form of appreciation, but that’s not what it should be about, in and of itself. Staff spots should be reserved for people who set a great example for members to follow, who follow your guidelines and who communicate in a kind and respectful manner consistently for an extended period of time. Don’t hand out staff spots to your top posters without thought. Make sure you pick people that you can work with to accomplish the goals you have set for the community.

Appreciation is a powerful thing. It can open doors, start relationships, give people happiness, bring people back and give them confidence. In the interest of cultivating community, please consider how not just appreciating people – but making sure they know you appreciate them – can enhance your community.

Patrick O’Keefe is the owner of the iFroggy Network and the author of the book “Managing Online Forums,” a practical guide to managing online forums, communities and social spaces. He blogs at and is on Twitter as @iFroggy.

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