There are organizations that host online communities that have been or are now successful that have also been able to get away with not making a full time paid employee responsible for the community. Managing, growing and moderating the community just falls to whatever time other paid people can make available, and to volunteers.

I don’t think anything is wrong with that, necessarily. But what I notice is that when things get stale or activity declines, what happens is that some of these organizations throw a software update at the community. A redesign, new software, a substantial upgrade in feature set – something along those lines.

Because they have never had a full time community person, they believe they can continue to follow that same path. That’s not realistic and they will find themselves in a repeating cycle. New software can provide a bump but the bump likely isn’t going to sustain – not as much as if you actually put a body on it.

I know of one popular online publication that has seen traffic decline steadily over many years. This has included their forums. But while they have chased various editorial trends for their content side, they have never really committed deeply to their forums, which represent the backbone of this particular publication. When they were great, the forums were great. They didn’t need to hire someone and they took that for granted. So while they throw dollar after dollar on the content side, they haven’t really invested in their forums. It kills me to see that.

Don’t get me wrong, software is important. To a point. But, in these situations, the way to break a downward trend is to put real people on it, who have no other purpose than to ensure the community is successful. Not to spend developer hours every few years to create a temporary buzz.