Weekly Updates: How To Do Them Right

October 31, 2010Comments Off

Don't write weekly updates if it's going to be a repetitive exercise. 

Measure your updates. Are they successful in bringing people back to the community?

Only write updates that members want to read. Updates that brings those who haven't visited the week before up to do with development.

Use a gripping headline. Give a clear call to action. What do members need to do right now in the community? What opinions do they need to give? What actions do they need to take? What events are coming up?

Don't call your weekly update a weekly update. Give it a community-themed name. Perhaps the {CommunityName Weekly}. Treat it as a publication people pay for.

Most importantly, put something in the update that members can't get in the community. 

The Founder Role In Starting A Community

October 30, 2010 Comments Off

In the beginning, your community will probably look a little like this:


The founder will be starting most of the posts, initiating discussions and keeping the activity going. At this stage the founder needs to be persistent. S/he needs to start a discussion then individually message members to reply. They need some prodding before it becomes a habit.

Gradually, other members will start initiating the discussions. Your work load will slowly shift from initiating discussions to ensuring these discussions get a response.


Key lesson? Stick with it. Stay persistent. Start a discussion and personally message others to reply to it. Don’t give up. Communities take time to get started.

Switching Communities

October 29, 2010Comments Off

Nathan is worried that members of his health-related community might leave for a far bigger, but broader, online community.

But why would they? What provokes members to switch communities?

  • Another community is more active.
  • Another community is more focused on a specific interest (or less)
  • Another community offers something unique that yours doesn’t.
  • Another community is more fun.

Note that all of the above reasons for people switching to a different community are social in nature, not technological. It’s not your community website that will determine whether members stay or go, it’s your community manager.

Don’t become the victim. Actively pursue activity, a focused interest, offer something unique and be more fun than other communities.

Bonus: why people will stay in your online community.

How Big Should Your Community Be?

Organizations which try to grow their communities as large as possible end up with less active members than those that set a clear target. 

When you set a target, you treat members better. You have a finite supply. Your members are a precious resource. Your emphasis shifts from recruitment to retention. Your actions change from external promotion to internal recognition, co-operating and …

How big your community should be?

First, estimate how much time it will take to keep every member active. Perhaps 5 minutes per member, per month. Divide the community manager's time by that number. If each member will take 5 minutes a month, then 2000 members might be a realistic target. 

You will adjust these figures as the community develops. The community might become more self-sustaining. The community manager might not need to spend as long building personal relationships with members to keep them active. Members might keep each other active. You might add more community managers. You might decide to include a few additional members when you have more time to do so.

Your community should be as big as your community manager can sustain, no bigger. Set a target and focus on the members you have. Untapped potential is better than wasted potential.

The Basics Of Increasing Interactions In Any Online Community

October 27, 2010 Comments Off

Why do people interact?

People usually interact for one of three reasons.

  1. Convey information. People have important information to convey to one another. This is the rarest of all interactions, but strangely regarded as the most valuable.
  2. Bond with others. This is mostly meaningless babble – but bonds people together. It’s the chit-chat you engage in with friends. It creates trust and meaning. It opens up levels of friendships and share identity. This is most common for newcomers to a community and existing members.
  3. Status-jockeying. Similar to bonding, people interact to defend or increase their status. This is common amongst existing members. This isn’t necessarily bad, having an established pecking order is good.

Too many communities focus on conveying information. This is the least common and weakest form of interaction. Only so many people can convey information. It doesn’t bond people into communities. It doesn’t significantly increase participation.

If you really want to increase the number of social interactions in your community, you need to increase the level of bonding & status-jockeying discussions. All your attempts to increase activity should be based upon increasing one of these 3 types of interactions (preferably the latter 2). All the common off-topic conversations that generate a lot of activity fit help people bond and increase their status.

Hence, it makes sense to ask people lots of questions about themselves. To let them talk about things that have very little benefit to you or your brand. It is crucial you give people the opportunity to get to know each other beyond their mutual interests. This builds life-long friendships.

Likewise, giving people opportunities to increase and defend their status amongst the group is vital. Once people know their status, they will try to increase it. People do this by sharing their expertise/opinions on issues. Issues that you can prompt. They will seek recognition, recognition that you can give. They will aim to gain more power within the community, power you can trade for greater participation.

If you want participation to increase, focus on bonding and status-jockeying amongst members.

A Great Example Of An Online Community

October 26, 2010Comments Off

I’ve been given a book about the threadless online community to review.

Yes, a book about an online community. It's worth reading. It tells the story of a community of designers that morphed far beyond it's original concept. 

Threadless is one of the best online communities on the planet. Your community will never be this busy. It wasn’t started by a brand, but now turns over $10m per year.

Here are some awesome lessons:

  1. Community first, money later. If you focus solely on having an awesome community, monetization opportunities will follow. Threadless sells t-shirts, amongst other things, to members they know will buy them. What will your members buy?
  2. Find a strong reason for members to interact. Every community needs a strong reason for members to interact. Threadless has a constant input of fresh designs to rate and discuss. Members need to have a reason to contribute and reflect on the contributions of other members.
  3. Only build a community around something members care a lot about. Washing machines don’t cut the mustard, no-one has a self-concept that strongly involves your brand’s washing machines. But being a designer is another story.
  4. Just be completely awesome. You need to focus entirely on doing awesome things in your community. Really, really, awesome things. Threadless hired a van to drive across the country and visit members. Threadless has annual awards with cash prizes.
  5. Hold members' events. Host regular gatherings where members can come and meet everyone. People will fly to be there if they’re passionate enough about the community.
  6. Reach out to potential partnerships. Threadless builds amazing partnerships with awesome companies that benefits the community.
  7. Help members get to where they want to be in life. Threadless helps members becomes designers and constantly looks for new opportunities to promote their work. 80 members were asked to design the cover of the book.

If you’re looking for an amazing success story to follow. Buy the Threadless book.

A Misguided Way To Build A Large Audience At Great Speed

October 25, 2010Comments Off

Taking a stance against a topical issue will get you a big audience at great speed. The biggest and fastest responding groups in history have been formed in opposition to an existing issue. Tea party protests, French rioters, we see examples every day.

The problem is the connections between members are weak. The quality of conversations are poor. People don’t get to know each other. They just unite, briefly, to fight against a perceived injustice. They have an end in sight.

Once they reach that end (or seemingly fail to reach that end), these groups dissipate. You’re left with little more than you had to begin with. 

It’s far harder to build a group who want to interact with each other for a common goal, as opposed to correct something wrong in the present. You have to slowly bring people together. You have to sew these relationships together. It takes time – but it lasts longer.

Go negative for a big, weaker, audience or go positive for a smaller, stronger, audience. Your choice.

Increasing Activity and Participation

October 21, 2010 Comments Off

This is too obvious. But if you want a reply, try asking a question.

In most communities neither the question, nor the answer, are too important. Merely the act of frequently asking questions begets the act of regular replies. Regular replies means regular interactions. Regular interactions means bonding, increasing participation and a sense of community.

Even better, questions are more fun than statements. A message from your company is boring. A question about your company is fun. A question about your community is even better.

Questions also induce a mild form of the game-show syndrome. People like to guess the answer. It’s a mini-competition. People invest their knowledge and reputation into their community and they come back to see the answers. They like to know the best answer.

Finally, questions show you give a damn. They show you care enough to ask about your audience. I’m blown away by the number of companies that act like self-obsessed buffoons. When you meet new people you ask questions, you get to know them. You find common ground. You try to understand before you try to be understood. 

Questions should be deeply routed within your community. If you’re not asking plenty of questions, you’re missing our on plenty of responses..

Moderation Strategy

October 20, 2010 Comments Off

Do you have a moderation strategy? Or do you just remove provocative posts (often the best kind)? 

When members visit a community, they copy what they see other members doing. The important word in that sentence isn't 'doing', it's 'see'. You get to decide what members are likely to see. Your moderation strategies shapes what members see and, thus, what members do.

Moderation isn't removing the bad stuff, it's making clear decisions about what you want members to be doing, and emphasizing those elements.

If you want members to discuss fiscal policy, then highlight those discussions, interview members discussing that, create a poll about fiscal policy, make fiscal policy discussions sticky threads. 

Your moderation strategy shapes your community. It nudges members to take the actions you want. Pro-actively establish your strategy. Don't reactively remove the bad stuff.

Are Your Employees Too Busy To Participate In Your Online Community?

October 19, 2010Comments Off

You’re not alone, every organization claims their staff are too busy to participate in an online community.

It’s not always true. In fact, it’s never true.

No staff at any organization are too busy to participate in an online community.

They just have different priorities. They believe that replying to their e-mail, checking the marketing material, working their way down their to-do list is more important than participating in the community.

…and it’s your fault.

You will find that when bosses talk about the community in meetings, when your customers/staff are discussing an employee’s work in the community, when the community is a fun place to participate – it rises steadily up their list of priorities.

Have your employees ever stayed late to get some work done? Then why not to participate in a community?

Here’s a bonus: 17 ways to get your employees to participate in your online community.

Efficacy – A Missing Element To Keep Community Members Hooked

October 18, 2010Comments Off

We want to know we affect our environments.

When we lose that power, we lose our motivation. Without motivation, people don’t participate. If your members believe their contributions will have no influence over the community, they wont make them.

You need to showcase the impact members have had over the community.  Your members need to know they can have an impact over your community. 

Your epic history will help. As will naming areas of the community after people, having regular awards, interviewing members about their contributions, mentioning the contributions in news reports, giving them personal attention, offering them opinion columns, giving power within the group, promoting them outside the community, mentioning their birthdays etc…

The more you showcase contributions, the more you will get. 

Not every member will have an impact in your community, but every member should feel like they might. 

Uniting Your Community: Creating Strong Ties

Making a community feel a part of something special is impossible. It takes time, there is no clear formula to follow and

Some things however are proven to engender a sense of community amongst relatively disparate groups of people.

These include:

  • Common enemies. Having an enemy is a great way to unite a community. It’s easy for Greenpeace, but who is your enemy?
  • Common goals. Freeing 33 trapped Chilean miners is a great way to unite a community. People feel they participate in it.
  • Being attacked. This doesn’t have to be violent. Even verbal criticism can be counted as an attack. Ever seen sports/music fans/political supporters rally together to defend themselves against an attack?
  • Fear. There is a difference between being directly attacked and there being a threat. Fear is proven to unite groups. Sometimes in good ways, often in bad ways. You can use the good. Fear of failure. Fear of letting others down. Fear of being overtaken by a competitor etc…
  • Clear insider/outsider divide. When there is a sharp contrast between insiders and outsiders, the insiders unite stronger. 5 Londoners who wouldn’t talk on the tube, probably would speak on the Beijing underground.
  • Great achievements. Achieving something remarkable bonds a group together, especially if they feel part of it. Getting your guy elected. Being featured on a local newspaper. Hitting a major milestone. Achievements create pride.
  • Shared experiences. One of the strongest elements, is shared experiences. If we go through something, good, bad, boring together, we’re going to be closer. Attending events, enduring long commutes, any experience shared with a group of people bonds you closer to them.

You don’t need to worry if you have several of these in your community. You do need to worry if you don’t have any.