Community life cycle and member life cycle

Table of contents

  1. Community life cycle
  2. Member life cycle

Community life cycle

Community, as a group of people, has its own lifecycle. In theory developed by Bruce Tuckman any group goes through four stages: forming, storming, norming and performing. In case of online communities we can say that there are four similar periods of a community life cycle:

  • Inception (forming). This is when the members of a community discuss and agree on the fundamental rules of the site.
  • Growth (storming and norming). With every new user in the community the number of possible connections grows with a power of two. This leads to social tension and the need for new rules (storming). At some point, the community finds its best practices to approach most common social situations and new types of conflicts become rare.
  • Maturity (performing). If the community mission and goals, as well as software the community is run on, do not evolve, the community reaches a plateau. The focus changes to community maintenance and community management.
  • Death.

Almost any community grows the same way: growing from a few people to a few dozen people in one group then splitting the group into a few sub groups of a few people and then growing each sub group to the size of a few dozen. Then split and repeat.

Member life cycle

Within a community each member has its own lifecycle regardless of the stage of the group itself. Amy Jo Kim, a social researcher, identified five stages of user journey in an online community:

  • Peripheral. Lurker users with an account on the site
  • Inbound. Newcomers who do their very first actions on the site.
  • Insider. Regular users.
  • Boundary. Leaders of all kinds.
  • Outbound. Not very active users who had been active in the past.

Not every user passes through all stages. Users can also go in both directions, for example from a regular user one can become a community leader and then step down to become a regular user agin. In most cases the level of one’s activity depends on their personal circumstances.