The stickiness of community

Paul Boag

For many, the Holy Grail of a successful website is ‘stickiness’. How do I keep users coming back for more?

Dave from somerset wrote: I am having real problem maintaining users. They visit the site once and then I never seen them again. I have good content, the site is usable and so I am at a loss as to what I should do.

Should I be worried? Are repeat users really important? What can I do to keep them coming back which doesn’t cost a fortunate?

I have written about the importance of repeat users before. These are the people who develop brand loyalty, complete calls to action and regularly purchase. For example, according to data from WebSideStory Inc. repeat users are eight times more likely to make a purchase on an ecommerce site. Repeat users are the lifeblood of most website.

One of the best ways to keep users coming back is to foster a community. However, a thriving community provides a lot more benefits than repeat traffic. An online community can also:

  • Improve your offering
  • Change brand perception
  • Promotes your site
  • Reduce your costs

We have covered the benefits of community on the podcast before. However, that was back in 2006 so my thinking has moved on since then. I therefore hope you will forgive me if I clarify what I mean when I say ‘community can help your business’.

Improving your offering

A good community is not just about users speaking to one another through a forum or chat room. It is also a two way dialogue between you and your users. It is an opportunity for you to hear from your users and discover what they want from your website.

In an attempt refine their products or hone their marketing message, many organisations spend substantial figures on focus groups and customer survey. However a healthy community is constantly providing feedback on your offering. This gives a superior insight into how your product or service should develop at little or no cost.

However, listening to your users does not just improve your offering. It also improves their perception of you.

Changing brand perception

People like to be heard. They like to feel their opinion matters. Engaging with your users and really listening to what they have to say about your products and services is incredibly powerful. It is even more powerful when they see their suggestions acted upon.

Both Dell and Microsoft have significantly improved the way their brands are perceived by talking to customers and engaging the community around their products.

Often this involves nothing more than a speedy response and apologetic tone. However, openness and transparency with a community can also go a long way.

It is possible not only to undo a negative brand perception but also nurture a positive one. And once users feel positive about your brand they start to recommend it to others.

Promoting your site

An community that is enthusiastic about your site or products can be one of the most powerful promotion tools available. Sites like have become popular largely because of their passionate community. Equally, Apple’s success is at least partly reliant on their obsessional ‘fans’ who constantly push and promote their products. Nothing is as valuable as personal recommendation.

If you include your users in the process of developing your site they feel invested in it. They feel the site is as much theirs as yours and so will promote it as their own.

A successful community will always be seeking to draw others in, so growing and promoting your site. This ‘evangelistic’ tendency in a community can also lead to substantial cost savings.

Reducing your costs

As I have already said, a passionate community can provide free advertising and save money in focus groups and product development.

However they can also save money in customer support. This is particularly true if your site provides customer support. Rather than users sending queries directly to you, they can post them in support forums and allow others in the community to answer their questions. These forums also become a repository of knowledge others can draw upon. This reduces the support burden (and therefore cost) on your organisation.

Finally, communities have a lower cost of sale. Because they are already enthusiastic contributors to your community, they are easier to reach. This is especially true for repeat ordering.

Hopefully that has convinced you of the benefits found in community and given you some ideas of how to keep users coming back for more.