If you live in Silicon Valley, you probably know what the numbers of a Richter scale mean, like allergy sufferers know what the pollen counts indicate or outdoor event organizers fixate about with the 7 day forecast.
It's interesting how the seismic energy released as factor of the Richter scale parallels the commitment energy released by various online community members.
Quick explanation for those not in quake territory- each whole number increase in a Richter scale represents a tenfold number increase in quake amplitude/strength. Obviously, the more intense the earthquake, the higher the Richter score and the rarer they occur (thankfully). Here is a chart on Richter intensity and frequency below (source: Wikipedia)
So it is the same with online communities. Communities are based on the premise that a small group of rare, committed people drive value (and deep noticeable tremors) for the larger, greater good. Too bad we don't have a Richter scale for communities that could measure the differing levels of a community member commitment, but let's make a first try here.
The Community Richter Scale (courtesy Agent Wildfire)
Crowds Label Trait/Identity cue % of Community Members
Less than 2.0 Lurkers People who merely visit and consume content Every visitor
2.0 - 2.9 Registrants People who have provided some level of pers. info. 100%
3.0 - 3.9 Participants People who perform some min. level of activity (i.e. rate) 80%
Contributors Label Trait/Identity cue % of Community Visitors
4.0-4.9 Socializers People who connect/engage (i.e.post full profile, message) 40%
5.0-5.9 Cooperators People who work independently on group effort (i.e.poll) 20%
Creators Label Trait/Identity Cue % of Community Visitors
6.0-6.9 Creators People who originate/produce new content 10%
7.0-7.9 Collaborators People who work together with others to achieve goal 5%
Evangelists Label Trait/Identity Cue % of Community Visitors
8.0-8.9 Committed People who engage, rally, meetup and visit daily 2.5%
9.0-9.9 Ambassadors People who are immersed, pseudo-employees 0.5%
Many marketeers look at community-building as a way to exploit a new very scalable channel, without understanding the community Richter scale. Don't get me wrong, very large communities and panels of people can be built using the social media and community tools at their disposal (IBM has 5 million, Dell has 1.5 million forum users, SAP has 1.3 million users, Starbucks has 152,000 twitter followers), but to achieve scale you have to be committed to one or hopefully more than one of the following directions:
1) Invest significantly to drive the top of the traffic funnel and identify and recognize the passionate among them quickly (i.e. communicate your community's presence in mainstream ads and incentivise participation i.e. iCoke)
2) Be in it for the long term and expect growth to build over time as you expand functionality, content and integration of your community with other activities (i.e. Lego)
4) Segment your community on different paltforms (i.e. Direct2Dell, Ideastorm, discussion forums, media gallery, student union) to increase the chances of appealing to their specific member's motivation
5) Make the community so inspiring (common purpose), so creative (great content), so vibrant (frequency of new content), so exclusive (special access), so educational (product support/advice), so economical (ability to make a return), so empowering (allowing users flexibility/customization), so usable (easy to search/register), so likable (authentic, well-managed moderation), so immersive (online and offline), so motivating (intrinsic, extrinsic and explicit needs met) or so essential (intrinsically linked to your product) that people will be compelled to move up the community richter scale.
Just thinking about the ability to segment your members by participation, commitment and influence gives me the shakes (pun intended).
Addendum: if you steer, plan or manage online or brand communities, we would appreciate you taking our 2009 Brand Communities Survey and entrench some of out thinking in good quantifiable fact. Click here.