Month: March 2011

Interact With Your Community Like A Human Being

March 31, 2011Comments Off on Interact With Your Community Like A Human Being

Lets banish two phrases from the branded community vocabulary. 

  1. "Tell us what you think" 
  2. "We want to hear from you" 

(or any mixture of the two).

Both phrases are usually tagged on to a piece of content that the organization wants to tell the audience. Both usually get a very poor response. 

These aren't community building questions. They're lazy and sloppy. They are fast becoming an identifier for organizations that don't know how to engage their audience. They make you seem distant and corporate.

Look at popular discussions in any community. How do members ask questions? How do they get other people's opinions on a topic? How do they engage with their users? Don't nod your head here, actually go and look.

You will probably find a cominbation of the following.

  1. Write in 1st person. People talk to people. The us is a clear sign that this is an organization that wont pay attention to your response. 
  2. Lead with the question, not the content. e.g. What do you think about {x}? I've been considering {y} or {x} for some time. I noticed recently that {x} now has {something}. Does anyone know much about this? 
  3. Engage first, tell second. If you would like convey information in this way, then ask people what they think about it first. Then when they reply you can respond with more information weave into your own thoughts.
  4. Ask specific people in the community to reply. Pick out popular community members and ask them to reply first. e.g. "I would love to hear what Mike or Joanna think about this"
  5. Phrase it as a personal question. Has anyone had any experience with ….?
  6. Use closed questions. Do you think this will be better than {y}. How many of you think this will have a big impact on {y}?
  7. State your opinion. If you want someone's opinion, it helps to give an opinion. People can then agree or disagree with you.  
  8. Tell a personal relevance story. Begin with a story. Why are you asking this? Why do you want their opinion? Not why the organization wants their opinion – but why you, personally, want their opinion.
  9. Get emotional. If you think your community might be angry with something, then tell them that they might be angry. Identify with their emotion. 

Don't default to a customer-service tone for engaging members of your community. Be youself, be genuine, interact with members the way you would interact with friends. If you don't know how to phrase a question, then say it out loud to someone else (or better, actually ask a friend – I bet you don't begin with some facts first).

7 Reasons Never To Outsource Your Community

March 30, 2011Comments Off on 7 Reasons Never To Outsource Your Community

Outsourcing your community to a marketing agency is a terrible idea. 

There are many, many, reasons for this. 7 of the most important are:

  1. Agencies are terrible at developing communities. Very few successful communities have been created by agencies. Try to find successful communities started by agencies. There aren't many. Agencies with no experience in developing communities are applying their marketing background to a community. It never succeeds.
  2. The community should be integrated with your organization. You shouldn't let another agency speak directly to your customers on your behalf. A community should be closely integrated with your organization. You should learn how to directly interact with members and find out how to stimulate activity. 
  3. You give the agency far too much power. Giving a community to a third party locks you in to that company. It gives that 3rd party far too much power over you. You don't want that. It's bad for business. Can you fire an agency if they have built the key relationships with members of your audience?
  4. Agencies lack your expertise. No-one knows as much about your products and services as you do. Agencies wont be able to speak as confidentally about your products/services as your own staff. Or, worse, agencies will have to keep checking with you and wait hours before responding to simple questions. 
  5. Agencies lack your passion. Agencies wont have your passion. They will be working with many different communities at any time. Members wont get the service they need. The individuals directly involved with share the passion as your staff. Members will notice this.
  6. Agencies cost too much. It doesn't cost much to develop a community, unless you hire an agency. Agencies are expensive and have little expertise in developing a community. It's more cost effective (and productive) to learn how to build a community yourself or find someone that does. 
  7. Handovers don't work. You are naive you think a community can easily be handed over. If you weren't able to start a community yourself, it's naive to think you will be able to manage it yourself. What extra staff or expertise are you bringing in to manage a community? If all you needed was a handover document to manage a community, you would have developed it yourself

Join the Professional Community Management mailing list for detailed bi-weekly articles and case studies in building branded online communities.

Curate And Increase Your Community’s Expertise

March 29, 2011Comments Off on Curate And Increase Your Community’s Expertise

People join communities to learn. Your members are thirsty for knowledge – especially about your community's topic. Your community must provide that knowledge. You must raise the level of expertise your community has in that topic. 

This is cyclical. Expertise attracts expertise. A skiing community that has the members who can offer the best skiing tips will attract more skiers – with better tips.

You need to start the cycle. You need to cultivate that expertise. 

You need to find experts to interview, create recommended reading lists and put a topical question to 20 of your community's most knowledgable members. 

Identify your own community's experts (you can't automate this). Differentiate between members that post a lot and members that post good ideas. Seek out other experts. Gently ease them into the community. Provide a platform for them to shine. Give them columns to write and responsiblity for forum categories in their field.

Don't let any expertise go to waste. Curate the key advice into separate pages. Crowdsource a basic FAQ. Publish eBooks on behalf of your community (for free). Seek out guest-posts on blogs for your top members to write. Write your community's view to topical news stories. 

Your expertise should be a major promotional point. You want your community to be the single greatest source of online expertise in its subject matter. This attracts more members, higher levels of participation and increases the status of being a member. 

Brands – Get The Benefits You Want Without Upsetting Members

March 28, 2011Comments Off on Brands – Get The Benefits You Want Without Upsetting Members

The overwhelming temptation for brands is to push to get the benefits they want from a community. You want feedback right? Perhaps increased sales? Maybe advocacy too? 

So why not ask members to give you feedback, buy more items or tell their friends (ugh!).

Because they will feel like you're selfish. They will feel like this isn't a genuine community for them, but a marketing exercise for you. They will feel like you're manipulating them. 

Members don't like to feel they're being sold to. Members hate feeling used and manipulated. Members have a natural (and often healthy) distrust of brands just like yours. It doesn't matter if you're a non-profit asking for a donation or Coca Cola wanting advocacy. 

The funny thing is, the best way to get these benefits isn't to wait until the community is a success. The best way to get these benefits is to not push for them at all.

If you want members to buy more of your product, asking them to buy more wont do it. But if you create an amazing environment where they come to chat every day, like Kotex has, they wont buy from anyone else.

In addition, for many products, by participating in a community they're likely to use that product more often. That naturally leads to increased sales. Likewise, if you want feedback – you can get it. But don't take the GenerationBenz approach and demand feedback – just watch to see what members talk about. 

The second you get pushy, is the second your community begins to fail. 

You can join the Professional Community Management mailing list for detailed bi-weekly articles and case studies in building branded online communities.

Don’t Start Discussions Like This

March 27, 2011Comments Off on Don’t Start Discussions Like This

This is an extreme version of how most brands go about starting discussions and increasing activity in their community.

Please don't do anything like this:

Screen shot 2011-03-25 at 10.57.41

It's far too corporate. Far too boring. Far too patronising. You should start a discussion in your online community as you would offline. Keep it short, keep it interesting and keep it honest. 

This is what happens when you put someone from the marketing department in an online community. 

You can join the Professional Community Management mailing list for detailed bi-weekly articles and case studies in building successful online communities for your organization.

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday

March 26, 2011Comments Off on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday

Launch your community on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. 

I prefer Tuesdays.

How To Get Your Members To Invite Their Friends

March 25, 2011Comments Off on How To Get Your Members To Invite Their Friends

Asking members to tell their friends about the community never works. Members might tell their friends, but not because you asked them to. So stop asking them. It's vague, feels forced and doesn't benefit the referring members.

The secret to referrals is to ensure that each referral benefits the member. This can mean:

  1. Increases their status within the community. By inviting people your status within the community increases. This is good when there are tracking systems to keep count or when you can bring high level of expertise into the community.
  2. Increases their status in the eyes of their friend. AKA. impress their friend. This is why most of us share things with our friends (funny videos, informative articles etc…). This works when the community content is extremely valuable to that problem or when the community is exclusive. By telling your friends, you look better in their eyes. 
  3. Improves the community. This is the most altruistic of the group. A member invites a friend to improve the community. This friend will usually have a unique level of skill or expertise. 
  4. Helps their friend. Occaisionally people have genuine motives to help their friends. If you can solve a problem or improve the life of the friends of your members, your members are far more likely to invite them to join. 

Here are a few ideas:


Increased their status within the community    


Impress their friends

Vote for my idea. Increasingly common, members submit something then need people to vote for it for them to win. They are incentivised to get their friends to join and participate on their behalf to increase their status within the community.

Solicit articles and contributions to the community. Members are much more likely to share content to others which they have created. If they have worked on something remarkable, they're likely to contribute to it

Designate areas of responsibility. Give members responsibility for areas of the site/categories within the forums. They’re more likely to invite friends to join. It increases their own status.

Track referrals. If you can keep score of the number of people members have invited to join the community, people are far more likely to invite others.

Exclusive invites. Make the invites very hard and exclusive to get and people will be more likely to use them. It impresses their friends. Give members one invite to use per month or targets to hit to keep their invites. This has worked for dozens of technology platforms in recent years.

Co-write a community eBook. Members like to impress their friends by being featured in a book that’s been published. If you get lots of members to co-write a book they're extremely likely to share it with their friends. 

Interview members. Members are highly likely to publish interviews with them on their Facebook/Twitter profiles.

Achievements and milestones. If you celebrate achievements and milestones, existing membes are likely to tell their friends (who in turn are more likely to join).


Improve the community


Help their friend

Set a clear goal. People are likely to invite others to join when it is part of a movement with a clear objective. 

Highlight problems within the community. Members are likely to invite people they know who can help with this issue.

Target a new niche. As per recruiting above, target a specific broader audience of people who you would like to join the community. Ask members if they know any of these people that they could invite to join

Beginner’s guide to. When you create a beginner's guide to a topic, especially when co-written by members, you create material that members can send to their friends to help them get started in the topic. This is, usually, the best piece of referral content you can have.

Resolve biggest problems/questions in your sector. Like the above, but work on content or an editted list of discussions that resolve the biggest questions and problems that people have. It's likely to be a highly viral piece of content.

A bonus here is that members that come in via these routes are far more likely to convert into active members of the community as opposed to lurkers. 

It doesn't matter entirely which of these four works best for you. Try them all and measure what works best for your online community. It's far more important that you are both encouraging referrals and have a defensible strategy for encouraging them.

Bonus tip: Don't ask newcomers to invite their friends. The best people to get their friends to join are your most active members. Focus on them.

Dealing With Your Community’s Vocal Critics

March 24, 2011Comments Off on Dealing With Your Community’s Vocal Critics

Don't try to please your community's vocal critics.

I've had a few conversations recently with owners of large communities worried about their vocal critics. The problem with vocal critics is that they like to be vocal critics. Oh, the injustice!

They simply may not like you, nor anyone else. This manifests itself in opposition to a particular issue. Even if you did everything they wanted, they would still be vocal critics.

Haven't you noticed it's usually the same people complaining about something? 

Vocal critics don't represent the silent majority. The silent majority represent the silent majority. If you want to know what the community thinks, put up a poll and ask them. 

Don't make any major changes or decisions based upon what your vocal critics say. It's usually best to ignore them entirely. Only makes changes when it's strategic to you or in response to the community as a whole. 

State Of Community Management Report

March 23, 2011Comments Off on State Of Community Management Report

Rachel Happe and Jim Storer at the Community Roundtable have released the State Of Community Management report.

It's free to download and worth reading.

Directly Stimulating Interactions

March 23, 2011Comments Off on Directly Stimulating Interactions

Interactions are the lifeblood of communities.

Without interactions, members can't build relationships, a community culture can't be develop, a social hierarchy can't be established. Without interactions, you have nothing. Without interactions, people wont keep coming back nor invite others to join and participate.

You can build a lot on top of interactions, but you can't build anything without them.

You need to directly stimulate interactions. Most community plans would benefit by stripping away everything in your plan/strategy that doesn't directly stimulate interactions (interactions, not just visits). Forget the branding, design, content, promotion, monetization.

You will be left with a relatively small list of tasks which will include: 

These are exactly the tasks most community managers should focus on.

Don't hope for interactions to just happen. They're too important to be left to chance. Work hard to directly stimulate interactions in your community.

You Can Now Register For The 12-Week Professional Community Management Course

March 22, 2011Comments Off on You Can Now Register For The 12-Week Professional Community Management Course

Today, I’m excited to launch a project I’ve been working on for almost a year.

You can now can sign up for the Professional Community Management course on The Pillar Summit.

The Professional Community Management Course is an intensive and comprehensive 12-week course on developing, growing and managing successful branded online communities.

What will the Professional Community Management cover?

Specifically, this course will include:

    • Strategy. How to develop a realistic branded online communtiy strategy, including a step by step action plan and how to sell that strategy within the brand.


    • Platform development. Choosing, developing and maintaining the perfect platform for a branded online community. What features need to be included in the platform and where to find reliable people or knowledge to develop the community. You will also learn how to develop a platform yourself as part of this course.


    • Internal issues. Overcoming internal resistance to the community and ensuring you have internal support. We will go through the most common issues brand face and how brand have resolved them.


    • Getting started. We will learn how to get a community off the ground. How to reach your first 100 active members and establising the initial momentum within the online community.


    • Converting newcomers into regulars. Too many members never become active. We will cover how you convert website traffic into active members of the community.


    • Growing and promoting the community. Growth is the most requested topic on here. There are many tactics and strategies to get people to join your community, we will cover them all as part of the course.


    • Reaching high levels of engagement. Lots of members alone isn’t enough, it’s high levels of engagement and activity which is the difference between success and failure. We will cover both the basics of activity and an array of tactics and strategies to drive levels of activity which prove the 90-9-1 ratio is a misguided myth.


    • Reaching critical mass. How do you reach the level of activity where the community sustains itself? You need to put specific foundations in place. You will learn what these are and how to reach the holy grail of critical mass.


    • Resolving conflicts. Not the nicest elements of our work, but it’s essential you know how to resolve conflicts within a branded community and handle unruly members. How do you prevent a disgruntled members affecting the image of the brand? When should you punish and when should you not?


    • Gaining brand benefits. How do you promote the brand and gain the benefits you need without feeling like you’re selling to members? We will learn how a brand can engage with a community to get the benefits they need.


    • Full resource sheets. I will provide participants with a variety of my favourite resources (I’ve never shared these before). These include a variety of template invitation e-mails, checklists to go through with clients, advisory notes to clients etc…


  • Access to me. This course will offer participants unlimited use of my time. You can use this to ask questions about the course assignments, lessons or

You can visit the Professional Community Management website for specific information about what the course covers and how lessons will be taught.

Brands need knowledgable community managers

Brands invest too much time and money into communities without having the skills and knowledge that make them succeed. We urgently need to change this.

If you’re not sure how to develop a branded community or you’re struggling with an existing community, this course will transform your approach. It will teach you the correct process to develop a successful branded online community.

This course will also be ideal for training new or existing staff in how to manage current and future branded community efforts.

Basic Course Details

Each of the 12 weeks will be broken into a minimum of 3 lessons per week. You can download (or receive) these lessons in pdf formats and study at any time convenient to you. In addition, there will be live clinics, guests and assignments.

The course is both practical (you will be developing your own communities during this course) and pass/fail. If you don’t prove you are learning the material, you won’t be able to complete the course.

The fee for the 12-week course is $2100 (my consulting fees begin around the $6500 p/m region). We offer a full 100% refund to anyone unhappy with the course.

Click here to sign up for the course.

If you have liked this blog so far, you will love the Professional Community Management course.

The Two Most Common Reasons Why Branded Communities Fail

March 21, 2011Comments Off on The Two Most Common Reasons Why Branded Communities Fail

There are two basic mistakes brands make that ensure their community cannot succeed. Either of these mistakes will kill a community:

  1. Launching a community for the wrong benefit.
    Brands that try to launch a community for the wrong benefit (e.g. reaching new customers) adaopt an approach that ensures they fail. They will focus on growth, take a marketing mindset, fail to properly engage and scare away any potential community that might try to gather on the platform. A brand can only succeed if it builds a community for the right reasons
  2. Misidentifying the strong common interest.
    Any brand that builds a community around the wrong interest wont succeed. Often the strong common interest that unites your audience isn't your products/services, it's something different. It might be how the product fits more broadly into your audience's lifestyle, goals and problems. Without correctly finding that strong common interest to build a community around, there is no chance that the community will succeed. The strongest the common interest, the easier it is to build a community – but it doesn't have to be about your brand.

There are clear lessons here. First, make sure that your build a community for the right reasons. This reason must benefit the members, not just you. Second, build a community around a strong common interest members have – even if that isn't about your products and services.

Join the Professional Community Management mailing list for detailed articles and case studies in building branded online communities.

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