The Ebb And Flow Of Community - Social Media Explorer
The Ebb And Flow Of Community
The Ebb And Flow Of Community
Ebb. Flow. Pebble.
Image by Andrionni Ribo :-) via Flickr

In May of 2008 I started a little experiment called Twit2Fit. The premise was noble and simple. Use the “#twit2fit” hashtag when posting Twitter updates about health and wellness and those seeing the hashtag would give you the appropriate encouragement, support, kudos or motivation. The hashtag caught on and soon after, there were 70-80 tweets per day using it.

In July of 2008 after suggestions from several folks, I launched, a Ning community where those interested could share more than just the 140 character limited notes. Soon, people began to blog, post ideas in the forums, upload pictures and connect with others hoping to improve themselves in some way. (We consider fitness and wellness to be physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. It’s not just an exercise community.)

And a community began to grow.

I get an email or a note on Twit2Fit about once a week or so from someone telling me how much of a difference Twit2Fit has made in their ability to lose weight, go to the gym, etc. It’s great to hear that. One member has lost over 30 pounds and credits the attention and support from the community on Twitter for her persistence. Geoff Livingston, a friend and social media guru, adds #twit2fit to his tweets and has dropped a bunch of weight and gotten back in “playing shape” as it were.

But for some, namely me, the community hasn’t helped as much. I don’t blame the community. I blame myself. But the relevant point here is not about my weakness for Reese’s Cup Blizzards.

The point is communities have ebbs and flows. People in those communities do as well. The guy or gal that’s gung-ho about your product or service in September may disappear for a while in January. One of your best community resources may only swing by your store or online message board once or twice a week. Or month.

Remember that no matter how much we want our customers and fans to love us, they aren’t going to follow us around like puppies. People have lives, jobs, stresses, other products they love, different communities and social networks to tend to and such. Just because they aren’t wearing your badge quite the way you want them to doesn’t make them less important.

If they’re the kind of customer, fan or friend you want, they’ll come back around. I know I have.

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About the Author

Jason Falls
Jason Falls is the founder of Social Media Explorer and one of the most notable and outspoken voices in the social media marketing industry. He is a noted marketing keynote speaker, author of two books and unapologetic bourbon aficionado. He can also be found at
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  • its nice to read a useful article for beginner like me.

  • What a post!!thanks a ton.Liked the way you presented your point.Without planning it’s difficult to succeed.I have bookmarked this page for future requirement.

  • Thanks for an insightful post. These tips are really helpful. Again thanks for sharing your knowledge with us.Keep up the good work.

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  • I really appreciate the admission that there is more to my life than the screen (or screens) I sit in front of for so many hours each day. My experience with the companies I work with/for is that this ebb and flow drives them nuts. They are much more usde to command and control, timelines and milestones. I feel one of the reasons I love working with communities as much as I do is because of the humanity this ebb and flow demonstrates.

    • Great perspective, Jeff. Thanks for the comment. Just keep pointing those executives to posts like this. Eventually they may get it. And, of course, show them the benefits as often as possible to override their frustrations. Thanks for stopping by.

  • RachelHappe

    Hi Jason – Nice post. Like much of social media and community management, executive incentives make patience for the idiosyncrasies of communities really hard so it's critical that we keep talking about dynamics like this. Companies are currently set up for more for predictability than for human behavior which indeed ebbs and flows.

    • Thanks Rachel. You used big words … head hurts … kidding. Thanks for the comment. My hope is posts like this can help the people we report ROI to understand that community metrics aren't always an upward graph. Doesn't mean they aren't successful. Just normal. Thanks for the comment.

      • RachelHappe

        hmm… sorry. I am the product of a management consulting firm *and* an analyst firm. Sometimes I.just.can'

        Have a great weekend :)

  • BryanPerson

    Great post here, Jason, and this concept is one that fellow community guy, Jim Storer | @JimStorer, and I were discussing in the weekly FriendFeed #CmtyChat earlier today.

    Sometimes people are quiet, or “lurking,” in an online community because they don't think they have something to contribute. And on other occasions, as you note, the quiet ones just have too much else going (job, kids, personal issues, vacation, etc.) and can't dedicate the time/focus it requires to be an active contributor.

    All of this also reminds me that I only used my paid gym membership once in the last month. On the plus side, I have gone out for a walk the last two days! #Twit2Fit

    • Thanks B. Glad you guys found some stuff to chat about with the ole SME post. And good for you with the walking. Now get to the gym at least once this weekend! You can do it, bro.

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  • This is a prime example of pursuing something and putting in the hard work to make it work. The website looks really nice and it looks like it is really building nicely.

    • Thanks, Nick. It's growing slowly, but with the right folks. Appreciate the comment.

  • It's kind of like me reading your blog. I've got to be honest, I haven't read it in a couple of weeks. Not because I don't value your blog, but because busyness, stress, and an out-of-control iGoogle has kept me from reading many blogs recently. The key for we bloggers is to keep writing good content so that when our 'fans' return, they will have something to return to.

    • Wow, Mike. Great analogy for blogs and even very flattering as well.

      Jason Falls
      Twitter: @JasonFalls
      C: 502.619.3285

  • Jason:

    Thanks for the timely reminder. I think successful communities are really just an extension of how offline friendships work. We all know that even the best friendships “go dark” sometimes. In fact, it's actually healthy to take a break now and again. When good friends do come back together, there's usually either a feeling of “we picked up right where we left off” or “wow, they have something new to offer me.”

    My question to you is…how do you think online communities should ideally respond to “prodigal sons?” Just keep on doing what they've been doing and welcome them back, or design a way to show them “what they've been missing?”

    Thanks for keeping my wheels turning on such a regular basis,

    Elizabeth Sosnow

    • Thank you, Elizabeth. I think the prodigal sons will be the prodigal sons, no matter what. As long as your community manager continues to build value in the community and the interactions there are valuable to the members, the prodigal sons will see what they're missing. But again, those types come and go out of habit or DNA and changing their behavior probably isn't worth the trouble. But they should always be welcome back and thanked for their contributions when they make them. Or that's my two cents on it.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • Jason! Dude. This is the best post I've read all month. Really. Great reminder. It's easy to get caught up in the hype of a quickly growing community. We get all jacked up as the numbers grow only to be let down when we can't sustain it. I love the ebb/flow concept. Puts things in perspective. Realigns our (often unrealistic) expectations.

    This is the same thing with email marketing – the world I spend most of my time in. The highest open rates for most emails is the Welcome Message. Why? Because people expect it. They are pumped about it. They *just* signed up. They *just* took the time out of their busy days to engage…to sign up…to *choose* to get (more) email…from you. Open rates and engagement go downhill from there.

    While I don't agree w/ all that Laurel wrote, I do agree that a “re-engagement” campaign will work. It's a nice reminder/re-energizer.

    Finally, the best part about #Twit2Fit is that I didn't even know it was you! I started using that hash tag about 3-4 months ago. Love it. I got into my own little (Facebook) competition. Link whoring in 3…2…1…:

    Keep rocking it man. Looking forward to the face to face next month. Go Blue?

    DJ Waldow
    Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory

    • Thanks D.J. Reminding ourselves that our expectations are often loftier than our eventual realities is just good business in my book. Glad you liked it.

      And you're not a link whore here. We love links that are relevant and useful. Drop 'em all you want.

      See you in Vegas. No comment on Meeeechigan.

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  • I beg to differ: well a little anyway :)

    Some communities are “viral spiked event” communities – in other words, based around an “event” or “happening” that has a short head of activity and then trails off. One might be dating sites (serious dating, not serial dating!). Once you have found a partner, activity tapers off. Wedding sites. Olympics. Seasonal TV shows (Idol is only on 13 weeks of the year). While some still stay during lull in activity, there is usually an exodus. Returns/Repeats occur when another viral spiked event related to the subject occurs (Idol singer wins award) or external situation (Tsunami, earthquakes).

    Other communities are there for the longhaul such as crafts and cooking. Even if they are mildly seasonal (football maybe?) they keep a quorum of activities. Though in all networks, membership fluctuates.

    In fact one of the reasons why I run campaigns in my communities is to create viral spiked events at semi regular intervals. So an offline meetup (maybe a global fun run?) for a Twit2Fit group, or a Tell Us How You're Doing email will reconnect ex members (called Elders) back to the main community.

    By the way, when members start to talk “off topic” – about TV, family issues, holidays – you have a better chance of retaining the community. Then they will stay even after the original Purpose has long passed.

    Hope this helps :)… <— slide 9 is the membership cycle based on the work of Amy Jo Kim in the late 90s in online community member management. My diagram of it is a bit crappy (and 2 years old) but you get the point :P

    • Thanks Laurel. My only push back is that the first paragraph or two where you talk about event-related spikes … that's not community in my mind, but promotions. Sure, promotions are relevant to communities and are an integral part of their success, but American Idol, for instance, isn't an online community around the show (the networks/communities you speak of) per say. But rather a spike in activity around the viewing of the show. I don't know there are intrinsic connections made that last year to year in a “community” model they way they are in other social networks around a TV show. Sure, there are shows that have message boards and the like that move into your next example, those of cooking/football that maintain a quorum of activity, but your first reference seem to be about promotion more than community.

      Excellent food for thought, though. Thank you!

      • Oops I should've been clearer. PlanMyWedding sites are not promotional communities but activity-driven communities. Jump on the forums, talk flowers and bridesmaids, get married – then don't return. I guess what I mean is that some communities have a limited life span – one-shot activity. Others are lifelong commitments… though I'm sure some women enjoy the wedding chatter for life, for many women it is a short term activity.

        For me, and eventfull etc tap into REPEAT events/activities – otherwise they would die after one meeting, or conference.

        So in respect to “time” there are two types of communities – “time of life” activities (wedding communities) and “life time” longterm commitment to sport or books or something.

  • Solid reminder. Another note to take into account is that you can't evangelize everybody. As much as social media mavens and community managers want to build a loyal and active community, as you stated very well, people have lives and other responsibilities and loyalties. It isn't necessarily that they wouldn't want to commit more time to your community, it's just not reasonable for them.

    Stuart: I followed your weight loss on twitter ;)


    • Thanks, David. Appreciate the comment.

  • I probably should have done this. But I never actually saw anyone else doing this or knew about the Ning network.

    (I've dropped 30 lbs via running and cutting out booze.)

    • Good for you, dude. Glad to hear it. (Though cutting out booze altogether? C'mon, man. Heh.)