Why People Leave Online Communities

As a Forge.Mil Community Manager, I wanted to understand the psychology of online communities.   I spent a lot of time reading posts about why people stay online or leave communities.  I also wanted to develop measures and metrics that would create a clear picture at any given time for our leadership and other Community Managers.  I posted a discussion about metrics here in June.


I was looking at the community from the perspective of a Community Manager and even though I worked really hard to empathize with the community.  What I came to realize was that I may have been part of the community but not the part that really counted.   I did have experience with being part of new online communities and I have a long history of interacting with people online in many forms.  The point is that I was a Community Manager and that I have experience with the technical, social and human factors concerning this subject area.

Now that I got that out-of-the-way, my friend Matt asked me this week to write about why people LEAVE online communities.   I recently left a work related community and he felt that it would be good to share some why people leave.

 I apologize profusely ahead of time if I offend anyone. 

Community 3

Oh, did I just apologize?

When a community starts up, you get the early adopters.  These are people who are really interested in making the concept of the community work.  They work hard to be flexible and understanding.   If something comes across inappropriately in text, they will more likely than not help a community member self correct or they will as a group help govern the community in tactful and thoughtful ways.  Not.. “You are an ass#%^@ get off this page.”

One of the biggest attractions to using online communities is FREEDOM!  I can say what I think or believe within reason and that is bound by social norms and culture.  In other words, if I am on a church forum, I probably wouldn’t post about that girl I met last night and what happened after she got me all tipsy.   Well, maybe if I were the Pastor.. ohhhhhhh nooooo..  I shouldn’t have said that. **humor alert**  I wish all my words had context tags.

Bottom line, you can say what you want unless it is offensive to the community itself.   The community is a body and this body can and will deal with outliers as needed. “If you don’t stop your behavior you are OUT of here.. ”

Once early adopters get some traction, you start getting a lot of other people.  If you are interested in measures or why people come to communities or any of that stuff, you can find some thoughts on that in the other link. This post is about why people leave.  Now to the meat and potatoes, unless you are a vegetarian then it is on to de beanz and rice.

  1. I am bored 
  2. I am hurt
  3. I offended someone
  4. I am getting angry
  5. Oh, I shouldn’t have done that
  6. I was hijacked by corporate
  7. There is little or no value in spending time here

1)I am bored

If you want to know the SECRET to online communities I could tell you the answer.. it will cost you a million dollars if you click this link or.. I could just say that it is all about feedback.   How does the community relate to you?  What is the context?  When you post or publish something did anyone notice or respond?  If not, it won’t be long before you are bored or other factors drive you to stop participating.  It is like talking to the wall, unless you have the need to talk to yourself in a public space, why do it?  People leave because they are bored and there is no feedback.

2)I am hurt

More than me hurting you, I am upset because you hurt me.   This is the way things are..  Once you hurt my feeling and it is possible to hurt my feelings with words, I am leaving.  Why should I stay here and take this kind of abuse?  People leave because they are hurt.

3)I offended someone

Just imagine on a company website someone posts a picture of themselves in a suit but they are disheveled, obese and holding a turkey leg in one hand and a can of diet soda in another.  Someone is bound to say something funny, I mean offensive and that isn’t going to work out when the picture becomes contextually relevant.   Like you find out that the guy was at his fathers funeral and he is of a cultural background in which they celebrate life and death.   If I made a joke or comment.. I am now feeling bad and I may leave the community, especially if this is a company site.  I could take this a step further, we can’t talk about religion, politics, sexual orientation, economic issues, company concerns, current issues we are facing or the weather without someone being offended.  Next step.. leave the community.

4)I am getting angry

I am trying to deal with an issue or something I need help with and I post a question about it and instead of getting help I get a reprimand or it turns into something that is totally out of context.  I was trying to deal with one thing and I got hijacked.  Yep.. happens all the time because PEOPLE want attention.  Some people want to be the mayor of the community and they fight hard for it.   Watch this.. ready.. I am out..  Yeah and other people leave for that reason too. 

5)I shouldn’t have done that

Offending the community is one thing, making a big mistake like posting something that you shouldn’t have is another.   One time when I was working at Forge.Mil, I posted a tweet that was meant for my personal twitter account.  I had to delete it but not before a lot of people saw that tweet.  Needless to say it wasn’t something that would have gotten me terminated but certainly something that I should have been more careful about.   If that happens on an online community people try to delete it and close their account to make-believe it never happened. It did happen.. whoops.

6)I was hijacked by corporate

It was bound to happen, companies realize how cool all this talking and communication stuff can be.  They realize that people are self organizing and making things happen so they want to get involved.  Makes perfect sense, except that it will suck the soul out of the community.  People will operate under a different set of conditions and the reality is that FEAR may devalue the community.  I said “may”, this is my blog so I will say that corporate getting involved in a community even though that community is related to the business is a recipe for a “Stepford Community.”

Post#1 “Hi, got my timecard done today.”

Post#2 “cool, me too.. remind everyone to get theirs in by 3:00.”

Post#3 “wow, being online is great #iluvthis.”

7)There is little or no value in ME spending time here

I can’t say what I am thinking, I have to filter through 100 posts about how people love their cats and babies and when I do post something that is about the work or something that is interesting that adds value it is carried away in a sea of words.  If the community doesn’t provide healthy and useful feedback to ME then I leave.   “Oh Howie.. the community is not about YOU, it is about the COMMUNITY.”

A community is a group of people and people are individuals that make the community with individual choices and so it is ultimately about YOU and ME but since we are individuals it has to be about ME first then YOU.  Those aren’t my rules, that is the way it is.   We can’t help others until we help ourselves and this is no different.  You could argue around that communities themselves are the body but the fact is that we can’t be a WE until there are a bunch of me’s involved. Then it becomes the greater group or body.  There is an order to these things.

Clarity of..

Disclaimer, I am for the record speaking generically about communities with some discussion of corporate communities.  This isn’t specifically about any one company.  Because if it were then I would be on #5.   I don’t want to be on #5 because I stepped on #2.


There are more reasons that people leave online communities.  I just put a few to consider.   Just remember that anything you put online will stay there until the “Singularity” occurs and then your thoughts and comments will be part of the machine anyway.  Don’t put anything online that you don’t want to be accountable for.  I can’t even get my Intel friends to send me a note in email.

Community 4

What are your thoughts?  Do you think I am right or wrong?  If you have a different perspective, please share it.

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