One of the first concerns in the mind of any community manager is activity. The internet is full of articles on increasing the size of your userbase, but an often ignored part of management is what to do with your users once you've got them. Newbies over time become regulars, and eventually develop into the much whispered about "veterans". Everyone knows these guys. They've been around forever, have a lot of posts and a reputation either good or ill. Your community is a part of their life, and if you have meetups or other events they're going to be there.
Sounds pretty good huh? I guess that it is. Having veterans around is a sign that your community is on the right track. You have users sticking around and contributing regularly, and people aren't getting bored and trundling off to the next forum that catches their eye. These users come with their own set of drawbacks however, and can represent a different set of management challenges.
One of the first is the issue of Entitlement. With a capital letter. Entitlement (with a capital letter) is a huge problem across the whole of the internet, and your community is unlikely to be immune to its horrors. As the internet has offered people more and more free content, an inevitable side effect is that people have stopped being grateful for it and started feeling Entitled (with a capital letter) to it. It's unavoidable, and exists in all walks of life. You can't avoid it completely any more than Vanilla can completely resist my attempts to gradually turn this into a blog about Breaking Bad. Community veterans are likely to be the vanguard of Entitlement on your boards. After all, they've been around for a long time, they know how stuff is done, why shouldn't they get some special treatment?
The problem is that special treatment in turn builds Entitlement, which will only be mollified by more special treatment. Just as Walter White found that his criminal actions only led to a spiral of further moral compromise, your veterans will see extra perks based on join date or post count as proof of their privileged status and then demand more. They start to see the community as their personal treehouse, where they get to decide who does and does not get to be one of the cool kids. "Newbie bashing" is an incredibly common sight on communities across the internet, and it remains a wretched and cowardly form of bullying. If you allow it because of the fear of alienating your veteran users it won't be long before you've choked off the flow of new users to your community. You won't see any complaints from the treehouse either, just a sudden realization that there are a lot more tumbleweeds around than there used to be.
Alright Patrick, you've presented the problem, but where's the solution? Magnets? Science? Cooking crystal meth in a second-hand RV? The answer is simply vigilance. Be aware of this problem. Be aware that people are going to try and pull up the ladder on new users, and head that behaviour off at the pass. Don't allow newbie bashing, or any other kind of mindless bullying. Your veterans can and will be your best asset if you're in this for the long haul, but you don't ned to show your gratitude with special treatment or perks. Show it by doing a damn fine job, day in and day out and making sure that new users are welcomed. Like so many community problems, the main thing you need to handle this problem is the courage to tackle it without worrying about alienating your most frequent users.
Guest post by Patrick Groome. Patrick is the Administrator of the Penny Arcade forums. Penny Arcade is one of the most popular and long running gaming webcomics and organizer of the PAX gaming conference.