A Unique Approach To Membership Access Levels

February 28, 2011Comments Off

Tommy Sollen isn't allowed to comment on this thread in the GameSpot forums.

The reason?

"Your account must be level 3 to post a comment on this story. You can raise your access level by continuing to use GameSpot."

Tommy wonders if this is a drastic way to combat spammers. He's right, except this isn't for spammers. It's for genuine members. It rewards the top members and motivates the rest. 

Too many levels might be drastic, but they should grow as the community develops. It's a simple way to break your community down into the essential smaller groups. Most communities have some private discussion areas, but few base their entire community around this idea. 

p.s. Visit Tommy's beautifully designed CommunityOfSweden.

Repeat Purchases

February 27, 2011Comments Off

People who participate in an activity together, participate in that activity more often. 

For most companies, that means if you convert soloists into a community, you increase sales of your product. 

Worth mentioning from time to time.

Persuading Your Boss

February 26, 2011Comments Off

There are two ways to persuade your boss to develop a community.

First, use powerful anecdotal evidence. The metrics of a community usually aren’t thrilling. Communities are smaller that followings. It’s hard to link it to direct income generation. Overwhelm your boss with amazing anecdotal stories.

Talk about what the people in your community are likely to do. Bring up specific stories of what’s happened in other communities. Show how you’re falling behind your competitors (or have a rare chance to get ahead).

Second, don’t persuade your boss. Just do it. I’m amazed at just how many communities at very large organizations have been built on the sly. Sometimes it’s just easier to show your boss than to tell your boss. Risky? Sure. Probably worthwhile too.

Off-Topic Conversations

February 25, 2011Comments Off

Someone made a suggestion this weekend to make it difficult to participate in the bad (off-topic conversations). 

I disagree. 

Off-topic conversations are good. Actually, they're the best. Off-topic conversations show that members are bonding beyond the topic matter. You should be celebrating, encouraging and participating in them. 

How does a friendship develop? Typically, two people meet through a common interest. They talk about the interest. As they build trust they talk about other things. They disclose more information about themselves. They get to learn more about each other. They build a close friendship.

Communities are the sum of the relationships members have with each other. If you can only restrict them to talking about the initial subject matter, you restrict those relationships. You weaken the community.

You don't want to do that. 

What has your audience done in the past?

February 24, 2011Comments Off

Has your audience done this in the past?

That's an important question to ask. 

If members of your audience haven't collaborated with each other in the past, given feedback to your company or even spoken to each other, they probably wont do so in the future

Of course, probabiltiy isn't certainty. 

Sometimes, someone can change all this. Sometimes an organization can shake things up, make connections, change habits. Sometimes they provide a level of impetus or force for change that makes this happen. But this sort of external changes is usually brought about by internal agents – not outsiders. Outsiders with big plans get the cold shoulder. 

The key then when analyzing your audience is to find out what they have done in the past and provide the force that will help them do it better in the future. 

What’s Wrong With Community Management?

February 23, 2011 Comments Off

…broadly speaking, quite a lot.

We spend too much time maintaining communities rather than developing them. The former is to respond to the e-mails and notifications filling up your inbox, the latter is to initiatve things and foster relationships that develop a sense of community. Don't wait for things to happen, make them happen.

We mistake audiences, like those seen on Facebook, Twitter and blogs, for communities. Audiences are audiences. They interact with you. A community interacts with each other. They're two very different skills. 

We don't integrate the community into the organizations. We bolt them on, or, worse, we outsource them. Don't do this. 

We're not entirely sure what metrics to use. 

We start communities for the wrong reasons, then get disappointed when they don't work.

We have unrealistic expectations of what communities can do. 

We try to use the latest software instead of the best software for the task at hand.

We let ourselves be subservient to marketing, communications or technology. 

We don't create enough content about the community. People want to know what other people like them are doing.

We're not always entirely sure what members really want. We too often resort to tangible incentives when the intangibles (fame, power, sense of achievement) usually work better.

We forget that we're competing against anything else people can do with their spare time, not other communities. Only communities with a strong common interest will survive.

We don't have enough good books about the topic. Those we have are often pretty poor.

We don't put together a set list of discussions, content and activities for the community at the beginning of each week/month. 

Sometimes, we don't even have a strategy at all.

We don't promote and share our successes.

We don't learn from our mistakes, neither.

We keep using a marketing framework to develop a community. Build the site, promote the community, create some content and voila. We need an entirely different framework to make communities successful.

We let non-profits believe that a huge following of 1m is better than a strong community of 1000. Having had both, believe me – the latter is always better.

We don't know what skills make a great community manager. It's not being a good host, and certainly not being a social media expert. Too many people are recruited to roles that aren't right for them. 

We use social media and communities interchangably. Some job descriptions even ask for both. They're two very different roles. 

We don't know how to find good community managers, nor know how to spot bad community managers. 

We do a bad job at setting realistic expectations and educating our employers/clients.

We're not experts at social psychology, community development, community psychology and sociology, but we should be.

We focus too much on moderation. Moderation is just one tiny slice of community management. What about strategy, growth, content, activities/events, relationship development?

We focus on the macro at the expense of the micro.

…and more.

The good news is, we're improving at a faster speed than most other industries.

Be Ruthless And Look For Bright Spots

February 22, 2011 ,Comments Off

You need to be ruthless. Don't think twice about abandoning community elements that aren't working. 

The temptation is always to push harder. You know, send another e-mail reminder about that unused feature, create another piece of content to attract an audience that isn't joining in droves, have some incentives to encourage participation in a particular activity. 

Don't ever do this.

Don't waste time on what isn't working. Don't annoy your community trying to change thir behaviour. Changing behaviour is hard.  Follow the Heath brother's advice and focus on the bright spots.

What elements of your community are working? Where is your audience talking to each other? Are they only using a limited feature of your site? Are they talking elsewhere? Do they only talk about specific topics? Is only a specific niche of your audience joining the community?

Abandon the waste and micro-focus your efforts on making the successful elements more successful.  Focus your efforts on the community elements you can turn into a thriving community. It's far easier and more effective than trying to change behaviours.

(and if nothing is working, that's probably a good indicator too!)

Only Start A Community For These Benefits

February 21, 2011 Comments Off

Brands usually have the wrong objectives for starting a community.

Most of the problems brands experience can be traced back to these initial objectives (and thus expectations) of what a community can/can't do.

Don't start a community of you want to reach new customers, increase brand awareness, undertake traditional marketing activities to or for anything short-term.

Only start a community of you want to increase loyalty, get invaluable feedback, find great recruiting opportunities, improve customer service or discover new sources of revenue/sales leads from existing audiences.

If you get these objectives right in the beginning, you save yourself a lot of trouble later. These objectives shape your entire approach to developing a community. The former focus on speed, reach and extracting value from members. The latter focuses on fostering relationships and adding vaue to members. 

And, remember, the benefits of a community are derivitates of its success. You need to develop a successful community before you can reap the benefits. 

Tell The Community What They Are Doing

February 19, 2011 Comments Off

Here is a great way to increase activity in a community; tell your members what they are doing.

People want to do what they see others doing. If you tell them what members (like them) are doing, they're more likely to be involved. 

If members are discussing something on a forum, it is good practice to write a post telling the community that this topic is being heavily discussed on the forum. It accentuates the level of activity.

If several members have signed up for an upcoming event (through your community or elsewhere), tell your community about it. They might arrange a meet-up.

Frequently tell the community what they are doing.

Always Get A Commitment First

February 17, 2011 ,Comments Off

Here is a simple tip.

If you want people to join your community, don’t ask them to join. Ask them if they want to join.

e.g. Don’t publish a statement to your mailing list or social media audience similar to: “Join our new online community at www.communitylink.com”.

Instead, publish a message asking “Would you like to join a group/community which {activity}”

There is some psychology behind this. The former gets associated with another selfish marketing effort. The latter solicits an initial commitment which provokes members to join. The latter is friendlier too.

Now work through those that have committed and give them something specific they can do in the community (after they have signed in, naturally)

Engage your members first. Not only does the second approach get you more members, it gets you more active members. You also wont bother the uninterested members with requests to join.

You can also use this for things you want members to do within the community.

Open and Closed Questions

February 16, 2011Comments Off

You usually get a bigger response by asking closed questions. 

It's easy to answer a specific, closed, question. Do you think that {x} is better than {y}?How many times have you {x}? 

Open-ended questions require you to think. They require you to risk having entirely the wrong answer. They require more time and mental effort. That can be off-putting. 

It's often better to ask a few closed questions that people can answer to build their confidence before asking open questions. 

Think about this when you're stimulating discussions in your community.

Think about it in your profile questions too. Do you want to ask broad, generic, questions and solicit a personal biography? Or do you want a few specific, closed, answers to help people get started? 

So if you're struggling to get much of a response asking open-ended questions, try asking closed questions for a while instead. 

 

Segmenting Your Community Members

Most online community platforms offer the admin a means to list members by their join date, the last login, the number of posts they've made, or even the number of hits on their profiles.

You should use this feature extensively:

You can e-mail the most active community members and gradually try to get them more engaged in running the community and converting them to top members.

You can e-mail the recently joined and welcome them to the community.

You can e-mail the oldest members and ask them for their veteran opinion on issues.

You can e-mail the members that haven't visited in ages and let them know what's going on and ask if there is anything you can do to bring them back.

You can approach members that have never made a post and try to persuade them to make their first steps into the community 

…and this is just the beginning. 

If you're wondering what a large part of your day to day community development efforts look like, this it it. All these micro-interactions will add up into one thiving online community. The effort you put in today will pay off tomorrow.