Month: December 2010
Community managers can either tweak the environment (the platform, the identity, the purpose) or stimulate the participants (direct interactions with members).
When you’re just getting started, you’re going to rely upon direct influence. This is you interacting with a small group of people and getting them involved in what’s going on. You’re going to personally invite members to participate. It’s hard work.
As time progresses you’re going to rely upon tweaking the environment. You’re going to toy around with game mechanics, tinker with the platform and develop a more automated process for converting a newcomer into a regular. There are many ways to do this.
But which of these do you use, and when?
If your community has a clear problem (lack of members, activity etc…), directly contacting members is the path to go. If you want to improve upon something that’s already working in the community, tweak the environment.
If you were hiring someone for your business, you want to be sure that their personality matched your organization. You would hire someone that would fit into the team s/he is going to work in.
The same is true for community managers. Community managers are going to be managing the community and interacting with dozens of members on a daily basis. Their personality needs to match the community.
Personality is more important than skills and experience. You can gain more experience and learn new skills. Changing your personality is harder.
If you’re looking for a community manager, do you know the personality you’re looking for?
If you’re a community manager, do you know what communities would best suit your personality?
You’ve probably come across the technographics ladder or the socialgraphics engagement pyramid. These categorize members by their actions. Lurkers are at the bottom, creators at the top. Sharing, reading, tagging are in-between.
They help you diagnose how engaged your members are by the actions they take. The problem is they encourage you to focus on changing the actions rather than provoking the feelings that prompt these actions.
You don’t convert a collector to a critic by asking someone tagging articles to review content, nor by any other trick to solicit that action. Actions are a symptom of increasing engagement, they don’t cause people to be more engaged. These tools are for measurement, not for plans of action.
You convert a collector to a critic by making them feel a bigger part of the community. You help them make more friends, feel more influential and participate in more discussions. Over time they feel greater ownership over the community. Thus they want to review content and share opinions because it helps the community.
Actions rarely provoke feelings. Feelings provoke actions. Don’t persuade members on one rung to take the actions of the rung above. This defeats the point. Focus on making members feel more engaged, not act more engaged.
If you’re struggling for conversations to start, here is a simple tactic to find some inspiration.
Look at example of successful online communities. Identify a few of the most popular discussions. Then use them in your online community.
For example, looking at Barista Exchange below, an instantly popular thread is called Things not to say to a Barista. It’s generally of amusing content and has gained plenty of thoughts from many members.
Steal the idea.
Start a thread called Things not to say to a ……… (whatever your topic is).
Likewise, look at what events and activities other communities are doing. Adapt them for your community. Don’t wait for examples from communities in your sector, use any sector you like.
You should never be short of inspiration for increasing activity in your online community.
Many people and organizations are beginning to make great money from their online communities. The secret is to avoid the obvious routes (advertising/affiliate marketing) and focus on adding value to the community.
- Charge for membership. By far the easiest, pack your community with added value and charge for membership. This means less members, more dedication and a budget to do cool things.
- Advertising. By far the most common. Find companies that want to sell products to your members and charge a fee for promotion. This might be giving them sponsored areas of your community, opportunities to participate in threads about their brand/specific topics or standard banner adverts.
- Affiliate sales. Promote relevant products through your community and take a % of the sale. Many platforms already exist to make this easy.
- Focus groups. If you know how to run a focus group, there is great money here. The top online communities in many sectors (healthcare, car-drivers, managers etc…) sell focus groups to interested companies for large sums.
- Events. One of my favourites, organize events. Charge an entry fee, find sponsors to come, persuade or hire speakers to give talks and watch it develop. Techcrunch and Mashable have begun doing this very successfully.
- Branded products. If your community is big enough, approach companies with an offer to create community-branded versions of their products just for you. Split the profits, it’s good business.
- Job-seekers. Have a featured job-seekers area. Members can pay to have their profile/cv/resume featured before people looking to hire them. This can also link to their member profile.
- Recruiters. Let recruiters advertise for relevant positions in their field. You should even let members recommend people they know for the position. Works better if they get a % of the deal.
- Members trade areas. Introduce an area where members can buy/sell products with each other. Take a % of the fee. Once you set up, it runs itself. A flourishing second hand market in seconds.
- Coaching. Can you coach members of your community to be better in your topic/sector/niche? Focus on the high end, those that recognise the value of coaching and can afford it. What if you connect them with people that can provide coaching?
- Exclusive access. Can you sell exclusive access to select members to certain events, shows or exhibition? What sort of access will your members be willing to pay $500 for?
- Recommended/Suggested products. Have a recommend equipment/reading/products list for your topic. Keep it limited to the absolute best. Make some money from affiliate sales.
- Design products. Your community are the trendsetters, approach companies and help to design the products your community want to buy.
- Merchandise. Sell branded t-shirts, hoodies and playing cards. Find items that your members would be happy to buy and create them. Your community should be a brand. Why would they not want to wear the community t-shirt?
- Sell eBooks. Get the absolute best expertise you can access, compile it into an ebook and sell it to make money.
- Customization & Virtual products. This is great business if you can find it. Charge members to customize their profiles better or to buy & send virtual products.
- Identify tiny profitable niches. You know your audience better than any company, what are the tiny unexplored niches that aren't being served. 200 members willing to pay $50 for a detailed guide about building the ultimate gaming PC for a single game is great for that game's community. Create services that only a handful of your members need.
- Mementos. What about souvenirs of the community? A physical yearbook, seasonal greeting cards to each other, birthday cards which people can send through your community site to each other.
- Competitions. Charge a small entry fee to have the opportunity to win a fantastic, sponsored-provided, prize.
There are three key themes here.
First, the best way to monetize a community isn't by extracting value from members, but by adding value. Develop things that members want to buy.
Second, there is a huge opportunity for most community managers to earn income from their online communities without selling out.
Finally, there is an even bigger opportunities for experts to earn their income by monetizing existing communities.
Do you know exactly who you're trying to reach? Do you know why you're trying to reach them? Most people don't.
Many community projects try to target everyone. That's a bad idea.
You need to focus your efforts on a specific group of people at the expense of others. The concentration of effort on the few yields results. You get the few. These are the founders of your community. They need extra time and attention. You need to build up positive relationships with this small group first.
To do this you need to know exactly who you're trying to reach.
- Are they male/female?
- How old are they?
- Where do they live?
- What do they do?
- What do they have in common?
- Why are they interested in the topic?
- Who are they trying to impress?
- Who impresses them?
- What are their biggest fears?
- What are their biggest hopes?
- What internet tools do they use most every day?
- What internet tools do they not use ever?
From this you should be able to build a list of real people who you want to participate in your community. If you randomly build a list of people, you're doing it wrong. If you can't build a list from the answers above, you've done it wrong.
You can broaden this group later, but when you're launching a community you need a pinpoint focus.
Managing a community and building one are two very different skills.
Managing a community is about developing a sense of community amongst members. It’s fulfilling these 5 roles of community managers. It's about keeping participation rates high, bringing in newcomers and reducing the distance between members.
Some people are very good at community management. Some people are very good at community development. A few people are very good at both.
Just make sure you’re hiring the right person for the right job.
If you’re looking for someone to build a community for you, find someone with experience in building communities from the beginning (that means more than one). If you’re looking someone to manage a community, hire someone with a good track record of managing one.
Just don't mistake the two.
I received several e-mails aghast that I’d advocate gossip within communities.
Yet gossip (exchanging views/opinions not supported by provable facts) accounts for a majority of the conversations we have.
Gossip doesn’t have to be negative, neither. Positive gossip can be as prevalent as negative gossip. It’s just human nature to focus on the negative more than the positive. Negative gossip is also an effective social punishment for devious behaviour. Is it worse to be kicked from a forum or have people dislike you?
But that’s not the main point. Gossip does account for the majority of conversations that we have. It makes sense to encourage it. It brings more people to your community, it stimulates interactions, it brings the social norms of the real world into your community.
Gossip, for lack of a better word, is good.
Don’t try to create a utopian community. Create a practical community based upon what people do in real life. It’s far easier to build a community that benefits from human behaviour than a community that tries to change human behaviour.
If this is any one simple tactic that any community can benefits from using, it’s interviewing members.
It’s hardly a secret. Make member interviews a weekly feature.
Each week select one of your most active members and interview them for the community. Ask them who they are, what they do, how they became interest in the topic, what their best/worst memories, which other members they like best, what their thoughts are on topical issues. Make sure you get their top tips too.
Also ask them some fun off-topic stuff. Perhaps their favourite books and movies. Maybe ask them about their favourite foods or places to go on holiday.
Interviews create comparisons between members. They encourage others to participate more so they can be interviewed. Interviews also let you target more activity from specific people. You can interview people you want to participate more, or join your community.
The problem with most non-profit attempts at creating a community is they focus on the end goal.
The power of being part of a group that does good is greater than the power of simply doing something good. Donating money temporarily makes the guilt go away. Participating in a group that raises money (and awareness) gives meaning and purpose to life. It’s a bigger motivator than simply giving and going.
In short, it's less about what you’re trying to achieve and more about who you’re trying to achieve it with.
The big opportunity for non-profits, and many other organizations, is to focus on the with part of the process. Milestones are great, but who and what people are doing is better. Who has joined the group this week? What do they like/enjoy? What events are coming up? What is your group challenging each other to achieve this week?
Write more content about the people in the group and ensure that discussions give plenty of opportunities for people to give opinions and go as off-topic as they please. Ask questions all members can answer. Go beyond raising money and make sure you have a group that genuinely cares about each other.
You want people to join a group that raises money, not make single donations.
Gossip has a terrible reputation, but most communities should encourage it. Gossip is the lubricant of many community interactions.
Gossip is how people exchange what they’ve heard and what they think about others.
Gossip creates a social punishment for deviant behaviour. Gossip establishes social norms, builds trust between gossipers, helps establish a social order.
Gossip encourages repeat visitors, it sucks newcomers in. It’s difficult to resist. Gossip provides insights not found elsewhere. It provides a constant stream of activity regardless of external factors.
Don’t ban gossip or off-topic conversation in your community. Make them prominent. Reference them in news posts. Do a round-up of the latest gossip if you like. Provide a unique place for it in the community.