Gaia Online is a forum based community with customizable avatars. There are many forum based communities, social networks, and blogging sites across the internet, but only some of them have customizable avatars. Yes, having customizable avatars is one of Gaia Online's top selling points and Gaia's marketing department should naturally strive to capitalize on that, but not above striving to sustain the loyalty of its active user base. Why? Because the internet is a very big place and users who find that they are no longer satisfied with how Gaia Online is running things can always venture out to find greener pastures. And guess what, if they find someplace else they happen to like better than Gaia Online, then they might just leave outright and invite all their friends to join them.

This kind of thing is happening all the time on the internet. Some sites flourish for awhile and ultimately sink because the user base finds something they like better. I know what I'm talking about. I've been hanging out online since 2001 when I made my first e-mail account with Yahoo and started role-playing in chat rooms and using the Yahoo Clubs, now Yahoo Groups, forum service. I've role-played on proboards forums. There was also a time when I was extremely active writing up entries to post on my various LiveJournal accounts. When my online friends recommended Gaia Online, I finally joined in 2005 and I've been using it as my role-play outlet ever since. When I first started out it was rather different from what I was accustomed to on other forum sites, but I got used to it and it started to grow on me.

Even though a lot of my friends who used to frequent the site have since migrated to other places, such as Tumblr, I still enjoy Gaia Online role-playing with my few friends that remain active on the site. Sure, I have a Facebook account that I use somewhat sparingly to keep up on current events with my family, but Gaia Online is where I come to hangout and unwind. Gaia is where I can really be myself and have fun, where I've carved out a little niche for myself so I don't have to worry so much about living up to anyone else's expectations.

I've stayed because I like the forum layout, because I have good friends to role-play with, and because I've generally preferred Gaia Online to the alternatives. The little avatar that I can dress-up to suit my mood, to represent my role-play character, or just to play around with different outfit combinations is just the icing on the cake for me. It isn't something I absolutely need to enjoy a forum community. I like to let the community speak for itself. And there-in lies the problem with Gaia's recent marketing trends.

The community is angry. Users are feeling alienated. Users feel like they aren't being heard. And, most importantly, users are threatening to leave. Given the vast wealth of other options floating throughout the internet, these should not be viewed as empty threats. Users can and do leave. And when they do, they can easily convince their friends to come away with them to build a new "home" or "hangout" for themselves someplace else. Gaia's marketing department should be extremely concerned by this trend because losing users can mean losing paying customers and losing customers means less money is going to be contributed to the site in the future.

It is the responsibility of the administrators and marketing team to maintain user interest in the site. User interest goes far beyond the customizable avatar aspect of the site. Gaia Online has its own cast of characters, an on-going storyline, interactive virtual hangouts, and games that add to the experience. These are the things that really draw users in and motivate them to customize an avatar to represent them as a member of the community. By largely neglecting these other features and focusing solely on the profitability of the avatar customization aspect of the site, Gaia's marketing team has been continually failing to deliver on the full Gaia Online experience that makes loyal users want to be a part of it.