Most community management issues can be tackled in different ways, but we all tend to agree that simple, easy registration is a good thing. How simple? Well, that varies. I’ve seen registration fields that consist of just an email address or, in cases where a username was needed, two fields. You then receive an email which you click on to set a password.

As software is updated, registration forms seem to get simpler and simpler.

Have you ever considered making it harder to register on your community? I know – the horror – but hear me out. There are potentially good reasons for doing so. Registration is a feature, and like many features, it can be helpful as you face challenges.

Casting Bill Murray

Film director Theodore Melfi recently premiered St. Vincent, starring Bill Murray. USA TODAY’s Andrea Mandell spoke with him about the process of casting Murray. It’s a great story – well worth reading in his words.

Murray doesn’t have an agent or a manager. There is a 1-800 number that you call, with a generic voicemail. Melfi called the voicemail a dozen times over a period of months. No response. Six weeks later after that, Melfi calls Murray’s lawyer, who suggests that the director send a letter to a P.O. box in New York. He does. Another couple of weeks go by and Murray contacts his attorney. He’d like to see a copy of the script. Melfi sends one, to a different P.O. box in Martha’s Vineyard.

After two more weeks, Murray calls him and says he never received the script. So they rush him a copy – this time, in North Carolina. They don’t hear anything for weeks until, suddenly, Murray calls again and asks Melfi to talk about his background. The call concludes with Murray asking if Melfi could meet him in New York the next day. Melfi lives in Los Angeles. It’s not possible. Well, how about Friday in Cannes? Murray had a premiere there. Melfi couldn’t be there, either, because he’d have to leave immediately.

Melfi asks Murray for a better number where he could reach him. Murray tells him that he already has the number (referring to the 1-800 number). And they don’t talk for weeks.

One morning, Melfi receives a text. It’s Murray, who asks if they can meet at LAX in an hour. Melfi makes it there and Murray, who has a driver waiting, invites him to take a ride. They get some takeout and drive for hours. They talk about the script and Murray agrees to do it – once they arrive at a home he owns, three hours south of Los Angeles.

Melfi tells Murray that he’d have a hard time telling anyone at the studio that this actually happened, so if Murray could call someone, that would be great. Murray does. They make a movie.

Qualifying Interest

There are a couple of different ways to read this story. You could choose to believe that Murray is a difficult person – that he’s self-absorbed and too important to answer a phone call from a rookie director. I choose to believe that this is Bill Murray’s way of qualifying requests and getting rid of most of the ones that aren’t serious or are just kicking the tires.

This got me to thinking about the how easy it is to register for most online communities and when it might make sense for it to be a little harder. For most communities, it probably should be easy. But I also don’t believe this is a universal truth applied to all situations. There are problems we face that could be aided by a more “difficult” registration process.

I would describe the problems as those that are created by success. If Bill Murray was not a successful actor that people love to watch, then he wouldn’t need to do what he does because his phone wouldn’t be ringing much. But because he is in great demand, this becomes necessary. It’s his way of dealing with the deluge.

Similarly, a successful community is one that may benefit from making registration harder. Consider these issues:

  • You are growing too fast and experiencing scaling issues – lack of resources, lack of money, lack of staff, etc.
  • You are growing too fast and are worried about losing the great culture your community has.
  • You are receiving a lot of low quality traffic, resulting in new members who are makingĀ  quality contributions.

How it Works

You are already well past reaching critical mass and now you are experiencing further growth, which is awesome. But growth can present challenges. There are different ways to approach these challenges. It’s easy to say “spend more money” or “add more moderators.” But if you don’t have the money or the people, those aren’t reasonable solutions. Some might tell you to just leave registration as it is and “deal with it” because you should just be happy people want to register at all. That thought has merit.

But if you are looking for a creative way of tackling these issues, consider how you qualify registrants. Don’t make your form so simple. In the registration process, ask a new registrant to explain why they are signing up. What do they hope to gain? How did they find the community? Then make registration approval only – not instantaneous. Review new registrations and approve any members that put forth the effort to explain why they want to join – if their explanation is good.

I can imagine that some will read that and say that by the time you approve people, they may have lost their motivation for contributing. That’s possible. Some registrations are driven by “I want to comment now!” But if you are already at critical mass and you care more about culture than numbers, that probably isn’t the bigger concern for you.

The format can be played with. For example, a fan community could do a short quiz of questions only dedicated fans would know the answer to. Yes, these can be Googled, but even the effort of Googling means time spent – time that a lot of people, especially those not really interested in the topic, are less likely to spend. Yes, people can get around it and trick it (for both good and bad reasons) – but they have to be more persistent, which is the point.

I have seen some fan communities that have simply closed registration during particular hostile moments. This can be an alternative to that.


This may be perceived as elitist. “Oh, I’m not good enough for your community!” But I think a lot of that comes down to being kind, explaining why you are doing this and over-communicating. On your form, when you ask for something out of the ordinary, you can include a brief explanation as to why your registrations work this way – or why you are approval only. For example:

We’re sorry to have to ask for this, but our community has grown to a size where it is a challenge to keep everything running smoothly. We are receiving a lot of spam and people who aren’t really interested in contributing. We hope you’ll still join our community.

If you explain it in the right light, it’s not elitist. People can relate to spam, people can relate to annoyances online. If you commiserate with them, so to speak, they’ll be more likely to see what you are doing for what it is.

Let’s not forget that every time we tell someone they can’t do something – spam, profanity, personal attacks, slurs, whatever – we are telling them that they may not fit within our community. Your community is not for everyone. You have a certain group of people that you cater to based on your environment, your policies and the culture of your community.

This is (Often) Temporary

For those who experiment with this strategy, it is usually a temporary situation. It’s a switch you are flipping to help you deal with a problem that will dissipate. Some communities might run like this forever because they find value in it or their niche dictates it, but most won’t want to. The challenges will pass and you’ll want to make it easier to register again.

My hope here is to get you thinking about your registration form in different ways. It’s not just a tool that you use to rush people into your community as fast as possible.