8 steps to breathe life back into a flatlining community

Holly Lynaugh, Integrated Campaigns Specialist, Khoros


Imagine a mature, vibrant online community; one with thousands of members, both new and old, who routinely come back for help or to collaborate and share with their peers. This community was built meticulously over months and years, but then starts to lose its spark over time. Member engagement dwindles, metrics fall short, and justifying ownership becomes a struggle. It’s all of the ingredients for a community manager’s nightmare and points to clear signs the community is flatlining.

A healthy online community offers many benefits to the organization: Customer lifetime value skyrockets, support costs plummet, and revenue surges. Maintaining a thriving community is crucial for brands and their customers—a task easier said than done.

However, all is not lost, even when a community feels stale or stagnant. By gauging the current state of the community and reevaluating strategies, community teams can lay the foundation for revival. Follow these eight steps to breathe life back into your community.

1. Understand the causes

When a community program is underperforming, the first course of action is to take a step back and consider why it isn’t living up to its potential. Common causes include:

  • Lack of engagement: Target audiences aren’t finding the community. Or, when they do, they aren’t identifying with the content.

  • Inconsistent content: A clear content strategy isn’t established and the existing content isn’t relevant for community members.

  • Absence of community leaders: It’s critical to have a strong community team, members, and vision to scale and optimize a community properly.

  • Technological or platform issues: The community program may be on an ill-suited platform, or underutilizing essential features for the community.

  • Changing demographics or interest: It’s important to regularly evaluate who the target audience is and what is most valuable and relevant to them, as this may change over time.

Fully understanding why community performance is coming up short is the first step to making improvements.

2. Conduct a community assessment

Dig deeper into why the community program isn’t performing by analyzing engagement metrics. Evaluate metrics such as active members, post frequency, comments, and likes to comprehensively understand the current state of the community.

The next step in the assessment is to collect feedback from community members. Tapping into customer feedback provides invaluable insights into their behaviors, needs, and preferences. Gather this feedback by monitoring discussions, fielding surveys, and analyzing usage data.

Complete the community assessment by isolating trends and key pain points from the customer feedback. Be transparent on the current state of all community content and interactions. Determine what’s working, what could be improved, and what customers are asking for.

3. Revisit community goals and objectives

Reassessing the community program is also the perfect opportunity to reimagine the community's overall strategy, goals, and objectives. Build a strategic plan with clear and achievable goals that will enable community growth and maturation long into the future. Setting up this plan will put the team in a position to succeed without returning to the drawing board every year.

Start by reexamining the overall goals and what community success will look like. Common community goals and metrics include better engagement rates, increased satisfaction, membership growth, and conversions. These milestones may consist of more conservative short-term goals achievable over one to two months and can evolve into more ambitious long-term goals as the team adjusts to performance data.

When putting pen to paper, ensure that the goals are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) and align with overall brand objectives and the community purpose—that way, the community strategy effectively addresses multiple goals in one go.

Alongside community goals, establish measurable metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) to track progress and success over time. For online communities, these KPIs often include the number of unique logins, new members, volume of engagement, and time on the page. Review and adjust these goals regularly to accommodate changing community needs or objectives.

4. Cultivate engaging content

Once goals are in place, transition focus onto revamping community content. Identify relevant and valuable topics for members by diving into customer surveys, market research, or insights from brand websites and social channels. Use relatable language in community posts in terms that members will understand. And above all, be human. Educate your audience, don't market to them.

Bring community content to life by incorporating images, videos, podcasts, or other interactive posts encouraging participation. Give community members the option to include these elements in their posts as well. It’s worth the effort to diversify content offerings, as visually appealing communities drive more traffic, increase engagement, and enhance overall user experience.

Additionally, actively hosting and promoting community user-generated content (UGC) allows brands to capture and amplify the most valuable discussions, driving higher member engagement. Communities that successfully harness UGC often experience heightened member interaction and an uptick in average customer spending. Because UGC is crafted by real people, it helps establish a trust factor that fosters sharing and ultimately fuels community growth.

Finally, establish a content calendar for consistency to maintain a steady flow of valuable content. Record which types of content will be shared with the community and how managers will engage with members. A content calendar is a vital component of successful content and engagement strategies, as it helps busy teams maintain a regular posting schedule, keeping the content fresh and relevant to the target audience.

5. Foster community leadership

To foster long-term momentum and support, it’s critical to identify potential leaders within the community—both external champions and internal members. Start by coordinating efforts and identifying team members who can act as champions to get support from middle management and executives. Securing backing from those within the organization helps safeguard lasting support and resources for the community program.

Within the community, identify “super users,” the most engaged members who generate the majority of content. Emphasize building a positive relationship with these highly active users over time, as they will ultimately be the biggest lever to influence the community. Empower them with resources and recognition to further enhance their leadership.

Draw inspiration from other top brands and actively encourage mentorship and collaboration within the community team. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel—don’t be afraid to learn from what’s working in other communities and make it your own.

6. Implement technological solutions

In this reset period, take the time to address any community platform issues the team has been facing and work with the vendor to resolve them. Conduct member usability testing and surveys to help identify any pain points or areas for improvement. It may also be an excellent opportunity to evaluate if the community team is working with the right vendor to meet its needs or if it's time to look for a new one.

Explore new community features, as the initial community built may not be supported by all of the integrations required today. Online communities offer the most value when fully integrated with existing systems. Be sure to integrate the community with existing support resources and tie in the CRM system to create a seamless experience across all support channels.

Lastly, ensure that the community is responsive and effective on mobile devices. Over 50% of people worldwide access the Internet from mobile devices or tablets. With the prevalence of mobile users, it’s imperative to design responsive, rewarding websites that offer a smooth experience for all users. 

7. Reconnect and encourage feedback

Begin implementing communication strategies to re-engage with community members. A few ways to garner excitement with members include hosting special events, challenges, polls, or contests. The key is to foster a dynamic and engaging environment that encourages active involvement from all community members.

Utilize social media and other channels to promote community activities and personalize outreach for inactive members. Show them they are valued community members and their participation is essential.

Lastly, establish open channels for member feedback. Actively listen and respond to community concerns, then iterate improvements based on their feedback. Effective listening involves recognizing when to refrain from an immediate response. When customers share negative feedback, it carries more weight when their peers step in to support the brand, instead of relying solely on the customer service team. Following the steps to enhance community engagement will transform customers into powerful brand advocates.

8. Celebrate success and sustain growth

As the changes within the community compound and success starts to roll in, be sure to recognize and reward active community members and contributors. Gamification, applying gameplay elements to encourage engagement, is a great way to do this. Some examples include incorporating user ranks or badges, special access, or exclusive content. These initiatives not only reward top members but motivate ongoing participation from the entire community.

Showcase community achievements through regular updates or spotlights to reinforce a culture of recognition and motivate others to actively participate.

As you begin to notice positive changes in community performance, it can be easy to forget that the growth likely won’t be linear. Securing community health requires continuously adapting strategies for long-term stability. Keep pushing the envelope to develop new strategies, richer content, more functionality, and upgraded experiences to cross the community over the threshold from good to great.

According to community guru Brian Oblinger, “A cursory survey of the most admired communities on the web will reveal a simple formula: sustained investment and execution over long periods of time. It’s not rocket science—the best communities just outwork everyone else.”


Let’s face it, community building is a difficult and always-evolving endeavor. Successfully restoring a flatlining community back to health requires ongoing dedication, flexibility, and adaptation. By following these steps, community managers can breathe new life into their online community, fostering a thriving and engaged space for members.

Looking for more ways to navigate your community to success? Check out our exclusive webinar hosted by The Community Roundtable to learn how to navigate the changing community landscape, along with seven must-have strategies for community managers.

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