Month: December 2009
By the end of 2010, the majority of new online communities wont have a registration page. At least not in the sense we use today.
Instead we will use accounts created elsewhere.
This is a very good thing.
The role of your online community’s central news page is almost identical to the role of your community’s local newspaper. Most communities would benefit from acting more like a newspaper.
The news page should mix information with entertainment. It should embrace content about the community. Spend five minutes in your local newspaper and you will probably find a combination of the following:
- News (about people in the community, not products)
- Selected letters/e-mails from members.
- Classifieds (highly relevant in some communities)
- Relevant event listings
You should act more like your local newspaper. You can embrace all of the above elements in your community. Go beyond simply publishing news about product updates and really take the step to create content your community values.
For most successful branded communities, the brand needs to produce a product or service it's customers spend much of their time or money using.
Branded communities exist because we feel a connection to others that purchase the same product/service. You don't feel a connection with people that purchase the same toilet paper as you. Most failed branded communities had no business trying to create a community in the first place.
This isn't to say you're doomed if you're not selling sports cars. You can create something bigger than your brand. Red Bull do a great job building communities around extreme sports rather than fizzy energy drinks.
You can use this information scientifically. Estimate what % of your target audience's time or money they spend using your product/service. If the score is low, perhaps less than 15% to 20%, you may want to rethink your community effort. Or you can copy Red Bull and make something much bigger than what you sell.
The lower the score the harder it is to create a community.
Most online communities don’t succeed by prying masses of people away from existing communities. People in a successful online community are loyal to the community. Their friends are there, as are post counts, customized profiles and history of messages. These are hard things to leave behind.
Your new online community will comprise of people who have never participated in a community about that specific topic before.
There are some implications here. First, if the market is saturated with online communities, you need to do something different. You need to find a new group of people (more amateur, more dedicated, niche-within-a-niche etc…).
Second, the first organization to create an online community takes the lion’s share of the potential audience. If you’re the first brand to create a community in your space, it makes sense to build a community for the topic rather than your brand/products.
Finally, if you’re not the first, you can waste a lot of time by trying to imitate a successful community. Even with a better platform you’re going to fail. So if you’re late to the game, you need to focus on a niche topic (i.e. your brand’s products rather than the industry).
This is a no-brainer.
If you have an exclusive community, the sort where only select people can pay to join, promote the membership list – not the features of the community.
We want to fit in. We buy what others are buying, act how others act and speak how others speak. Not just any others but our friends and peer groups. We want to be more like them.
Usually friends come before the products. Your friends might get caught up in a craze and, soon enough, you own a Tamagotchi. But the branded community approach is different. Here, the products come before the friends. You make friends through the products you buy. Not every product, but certainly the products you’re passionate about.
Imagine you buy a high-end bicycle. The brand invites you to join a community of people who buy their bicycles. Through that community you make friends, share advice/tips for getting the most from the bike and meet up several times a year.
Two things have happened. First, you’re locked in to that brand. To leave the brand would be to leave the group. We don’t like leaving our friends behind. Second, your interest in the brand has been intensified. Your interest in a bike has become a passion for cycling.
That passion will cause you to buy more of the products. This is partly because you like it more, but just as much to retain a status amongst the group. You might buy the latest bike models, customized handle bars and anything else that signifies your allegiance to the community.
We saw this all the time with gamers. Gamers bought everything. They bought steelpads (large mousepads with acid-treated glass surfaces), mouse bungees and all manner of hardware, t-shirts and energy drinks. Did it make them better? Perhaps, but it was never proven. It certainly identified their status amongst the group.
This isn’t easy to explain to most people, but it’s fundamental to understanding the benefits of communities. Turning someone with a solo passion for your brand into a group passion increases both loyalty and direct sales.
In the beginning, your community is interested in the subject matter. If you love martial arts, you’re probably a member of Patrick O’Keefe’s martial arts forums.
However, over time your community should become interested in each other. You can only achieve this if you gradually shift your efforts (content and attention) away from the subject towards the members itself.
In the beginning it's good to talk about the subject matter, but in the end it's talking about the members that will create a true community. Shift your focus accordingly.
You can learn far more about running successful communities from reading about social sciences than technology blogs. Since most people wont do that, here is a rundown of some great findings from various social sciences applied to online communities.
1. False consensus bias. People believe they know what others are thinking. They don’t. This often leads to vocal members believing they’re speaking on behalf of the community. They don’t (nor do you). Ask people directly for opinions. You’ll be surprised.
2. Social Identity Theory. Our own identities are formed from the groups to which we belong. We want to be in groups that are high status and have a positive image. It makes sense to make your community exclusive. Erect tough boundaries. Focus on the dedicated members.
3. Performance. When our work is being independently judged by the group, we work much harder. When it is not being judged separately by the group, we slack off (social loafing). Don’t ask the community to do something, ask specific members to do things. Recognise individual contributions, throw the spotlight on what members are doing.
4. Group Polarization. After a debate, two groups become more rigid in their views. This can split your community. Alternatively, to bond your group, have a debate against an opposition community/group.
5. Bystander Apathy. People don’t help those in trouble because others aren’t. If you want something to happen, directly name the people you want to do it. The rest will follow once they see others getting involved.
6. Conforming Theory. People will ignore their own beliefs and conform to what the group.This breeds harmony but also muffles important voices, limits creativity and can cause your community to become stale. Be aggressive when moving this forward. Sometimes you need to push your community through a big change (like Facebook's redesign).
7. Cognitive Dissonance. Nobody wants to feel they made a bad decision, so they rationalize what they did with their thoughts and actions. Nobody wants to feel the community they’ve contributed much to might fail, so they will work hard to prevent it. Get people to contribute as much as possible to your community.
8. Attribution bias. When we make an error, we attribute it to the situation. When others make an error, we attribute it to their personality. Generally, the situation plays a far greater role than personality in someone’s actions. This is good news. You can change the situation. You can put people in situations which foster discussions, encourage interactions and goodwill. e.g. Pick an enemy to battle with, have a strong cause, give people positions of responsibility etc… By changing the context you change the actions.
9. Minimal Groups Paradigm. You don’t need much to create a group feeling. People look out for people who are on their side (it’s tribal, I suppose). But you need to have an opposite side – that’s the easiest way to begin a community. People need to know who isn’t in the group.
10. Roles. Give people a role and they tend to become that role. Make someone responsible for anything and they tend to become more responsible. Good for handling trouble-makers and getting people more active. Community treasurer anybody?
11. Leadership. Newcomers can’t join an existing group and become leaders unless they toe the line first. It’s important that those wanting to become leaders of your community confirm first, then emerge (over several months) from the pack. This goes for members you’re helping become leaders and new community managers. Gain trust from members before they follow you.
12. Groupthink. People who all come from the same backgrounds are incapable of thinking outside the box (music/newspaper industry anyone?). Your community is likely to think the same on many issues and discourage real discourse. For new ideas, you need to personally play devil’s advocate.
13. The Prisoner’s Dilemma. People are more likely to compete than co-operate for a common good. The only solution is to set a cooperation trend from the beginning. Provide small, immediate, gains for every cooperation. Or, in the other direction, focus on making the competition a major part of the community (e.g. game mechanics)
14. Motivation. Forget Maslow. People are most driven by the need for power and recognition. Or, in the worlds of Dale Carnegie, the need to be important. The things that really motivate people are free to give and invaluable to receive. You can design your entire community around this.
15. Self-Disclosure. Real relationships between people are only formed when people open themselves up and real personal information about themselves. You have to pry people open with questions, discussions and opportunities for people to talk about themselves. People love to talk about themselves.
16. First Person You Meet. In a new and intimidating environment the first person you meet often become your best friends. Make sure newcomers to online community have direct, personal, communications with another (newbie ideally, or established member otherwise). The friendship might just blossom.
17. Procrastination. We don’t like doing things that are hard work. We want things that are quick and easy. If your community has a big task, you need to break it down into tiny, day-long, chunks and divide it out to members and celebrate the tiniest achievements.
Credit to PsyBlog for a breaking down these and many more complicated theories for mere mortals..
Businesses are struggling to create thriving online communities.
I think these communities have failed for two major reasons
1. Not enough hustle. There is no visible community manager rallying members to participate. There is nobody hustling members to be involved and initiating fun things to do. Theses businesses are simply too passive/reactive to have an online community.
2. Bad design. Nearly every business opts for a beautiful website over simple tools that work. Bad move. Focus on the function. Forums, mailing groups and Facebook work fine. In many of these communities it's difficult to see the latest activity, impossible to talk to members and hard to even contribute without clicking several times.
3. No community content. There is too great a focus on the subject matter and not enough on the community members. Your community wants to know more about each other.
Simplify your design and hustle like crazy and create content about your community.
UK-CT is compiling a list of the top 25 moments in their online community's history.
You might like to do the same.
Does your community have a clearly defined enemy? You probably need one.
Your enemy isn’t about real hate, flame wars or, god forbid, aggression. Your enemy is a symbol to bring you closer together. Increases community spirit and the level of activity. An enemy provides clarity for a group. If you’re not sure who your group isn’t, how do you know who it is?
Throughout the history of man, strong close-knit groups have risen to oppose an enemy. We would be foolish to ignore the power of an enemy. The lack of an enemy suggests a lack of mission, or importance of its mission.
Your enemy shouldn’t be vague. Your enemy should be real, living, people whose ideas your community are opposed to. Sports fans are a bad example, too aggressive – too many enemies. The Apple/Microsoft rivalry is the best, but not the only, good example. Both companies benefited from having each other as an enemy. Stronger communities.
Practically, you can oppose your ideas with your enemy. You can contrast your successes with their failures. You can publicly criticise their ideas (not their people). You can frequently remind members where you achieved.
There is one bold, grand, idea hidden in online community jargon. This grand idea is simple:
Your customers/clients/supporters/fans/followers should be talking to each other.
Talking leads to relationships. Relationships to loyalty. Loyalty to profits. Everything else is a sugary topping (if not a big distraction).
Every discussion you have with your client must sell the idea that their audience should communicate with each other. Every tactic and strategy must be based upon encouraging, helping, improving or removing the obstacles that prevent your audience from talking to each other.
Strip away the distractions until you have a lean plan that focuses on getting your audience to talk to each other.