Month: April 2011
Photos are a great way to increase self-disclosure.
Many communities can add an area where members can upload their topic-related photos.
You don’t need to make this complicated, nor worry about upload space. Use Flickr and stream the photos through with a tag. Or create a group and let members apply to share their photos with the group.
Heather mentioned her community has reached 15,000 page views in just a few months. Her engineers are excited. But is that good? Well, it depends.
How many active members is that?
15,000 page views from 15,000 people is a sign that people visit and then leave. That's not very good. Great reach, but no engagement. The lesson here is to spend more time on each member converting them into an active member of the community.
15,000 page views from 100 members is a more positive sign. It shows that 100 members are coming back frequently. It shows the the stable base of a community beginning to form. The focus now can be on slow, steady, growth.
Page views alone is a blunt tool. But when combined with the number of members it can reveal some useful insights.
If you follow a sensible community development process, it should be impossible to launch a community platform that no-one joins.
There shouldn't be a breath-holding moment whilst you wait and see if people will register. You shouldn’t launch a site until you have 50 to 100 members that are going to use it. That means you have built up a list of 50 to 100 people whom you have personally interacted with. You have probably introduced them to each other on a simply mailing list or Facebook group.
If you don’t already have contacts before you begin, you need to identify your target audience, introduce yourself, find out how you can help them, ask them what they want and then offer them what they want. Introduce them to each other and start a few initial discussions between them.
This is hard, sure, but it's also very important work to get the community started. Once you have your first 50 – 100 members, you can begin steady growth and keeping them active and engaged.
But you should never have to worry about launching a community which no-one joins. If you can’t get 50 to 100 people excited and interested about the community, then don’t launch one.
Vanessa writes an interesting post on internal online communities for employees.
I worry that she misses a key point. Employee communities are very similar to any other type of community.
Organizations focus too much on enabling staff to participate and too little on motivating staff to participate.
The same rules apply to internal communities as most other communities.
You still need to find and communicate a strong common interest. You need to give members a reason to join. You need to give members a reason to participate. You need to stimulte activity. You need to produce community-orientated content. You need to satisfy basic human drivers. You need to start the right sort of discussions. You need to convert newcomers into regulars. You don't launch with a big announcement, you launch slowly, find your first 50 to 100 members and grow from there.
Fundamentally, you need to work just as hard to capture and retain the interest of the people you want to participate. You can't order people to participate, only motivate them.
Like future members of any community, your staff aren't sitting around waiting for a community to participate in. They don't know they need one. Your job isn't to create a platform that enables but, but to work hard to persuade them to join and participate.
The problem with offering tangible rewards to increase participation is it usually has a negative long-term impact.
Members that were previously making contributions for internal rewards (appreciation, self-identity etc…) suddenly relate their contributions as part of a transaction. The best transactions mean getting the most and giving the least.
In addition, the impact of rewards is diluted over time. So you need to continually up the reward to maintain the same level of participation.
Don't use rewards, it's not sustainable. Certainly don't use defined rewards for a defined amount of activity.
Instead, if you feel a key member's commitment to the community is sagging, send a one-off thank you gift. Be clear that it is a thank you, make it personal and give no indication that it will ever happen again.
When consulting, I find many organizations work backwards.
They decide what features they want in the community and then try to figure out how to persuade members to use those features.
This is backwards thinking.
You should begin with identifying the motivational drivers of your audience and then add features based upon that motivation.
What are the key drivers of participation in your community? Is it the need for achievement? Self-efficacy? Power? Money? Recognition? Fear?
Now, what features would help members achieve these goals?
You shouldn't decide to add a feature without having a clear motivational driver underpinning its use. It's far easier to create and changes features than it is to create and change motivation.
Periods, boys, whatever…
That's how Kotex advertises their community.
Take a look at this thread (don't be squeamish guys). How does Kotex benefit from this? Their products aren't being mentioned at all.
There are many myths we need to challenge. The biggest, for organizations, is that the community has to be about what your products/services. It doesn't. Unless you're running a customer support community, your community should be about the benefit or topic of your products/services. This also means members of your community don't need to talk about your products and services for you to benefit.
There's a big difference between building a community for girls to talk about tampons and a community to talk about periods. The genius of Kotex's community is they created it specifically for girls to talk about the single biggest issues they care about at that age (their bodies, boys and, you know, whatever…)
They're forging a genuine community around their brand without their brand ever being mentioned. But who do think these girls will buy their tampons from?
Audience research is too important to skip.
If you haven't got a community, you should do it before you start. If you have a community, you should do it again now. It will help you set the direction for your community.
You need to know your audience. Specifically:
- Identify why they have joined the community (or became interested in the topic)
- Identify the key issues they care about.
- Identify their hopes and aspirations.
- Identify their fears and concerns (both immediate and long term)
- Identify the language they use when they talk.
- Identify the common symbols they share
- Identify who they love and hate.
- Identify where they live and how they live
You can't do this research simply by using social media monitoring software. You have to literally talk with dozens of your target audience until you can draw some common themes in each field.
Then build content and conversations around these themes. Ask questions in around these topics, give advice around these topics, interview members about these topics, initiate discussions in these topics, challenge conventional wisdom around these topics.
Too many organizations skip this because it's boring. If you want your community to be as relevant to members as it needs to be, this is the crucial step.
Social density is the number of interactions within an area.
Offline, a lot of people talking in a small room produces many fascinating behavioural changes. Online, it has a unique importance.
If your social density is too high (i.e. you concentrate too many interactions within too few areas of your community platform) it feels like a frenzy of activity. It becomes difficult to keep up and follow conversations. The community becomes a frustrating experience. It's hard to form genuine relationships. Members drift away.
If your social density is too low (i.e. you spread the same level of interactions over too many places to host them, such as forum categories, chat rooms, status updates, twitter etc…) the community feels empty. It takes longer to get a response to your posts. Members get bored and leave.
There are two challenges here. The first is to reach an optimal level of social density, the second is to maintain a consistent level of social density as your community grows. This means you need to identify niche topics within the community and create separate places for them.
Sue writes about people trying to sell things through her community.
There is another way to tackle this.
Let them advertise in a specific area for 1 or 2 community members to take a free trial of the product/service. If they like it, they can write a review for the community (and talk about it on the forums).
If you can build this up, it can become quite a valuable asset to the community.
Game mechanics isn't a single tool, but a set of tools. Before you pick which tool you're going to use, you need to decide what problem you're trying to solve.
If your goal is to increase activity, then this is too broad. Who do you want activity from? And why do you want activity from them? What sort of activity do you want from them?
Here are the different tools you can use to rank members and the benefits you gain from each.
- By access levels. What is the members access level to the site? Can they access areas of the community that other members can't? Can they remove the negative posts without having to point them out? Can they create content without approval? This is the usually the ultimate level of trust and authority in a community. You usually want to bestow these honours upon members individually rather than automate the system.
- By registration date. Rank members by how long they have been registered members of the site. Useful for pleasing veteran members of the community. If you have been losing veterans, this is a great tool to use. It shows a clear line between the vetarans and the newcomers.
- By quantity of contributions. Rank members by the number of contributions they have made to the community. The forum/post count is a default setting in most platforms. It encourages contributions, but can encourage too many contributions without regard to quality. If members aren't making enough contributions, emphasizing this can increase the level of contributions. It's usually best used with another
- By quality of contributions. My favourite. Rank members by the reaction to their contributions. How many thumbs up/thumbs down have they received on the topic? How many positives have their contributions made to the community? What do other members think of this member? This encourages all members to improve the quality of contributions (and rate others to induce reciprocity – but this is a good thing, it enhances the level of interactions between members).
- By frequency. Rarely used, but rank people by how often they visit the community. Have they visited the community 17530 times? Or do they average 177 visits per week? This can be a fantastic way to get people to visit more often. It will be gamed, but that doesn't matter if more people are visiting more often. This leads to more participation.
- Special distinction. Give members by specially awarded distinctions. You individually add a distinction to their profile. It's unique and no other member can acquire it. I love these. It gives you power to reward and encourage specific types of contributions from specific members at specific times. You can bestow expert status upon a member of a very niche area in the community.
- Leaderboards. Rank members by how they stand overall amongst other members of the community. Scoreboards are the typical standard here. This encourages competition between members.
- By a combination of the above. Use a Kloutish score. Combine several of the elements above into one individual score that members have.
Refrain from tying your game mechanic systems to a prize. The prize should be the respect and enhanced reputation they gain from members seeing how highly they are ranked. If you explicitly link these scores to a stated prize, the whole system becomes meaningless. Members will attempt to game the system and if you ever remove the prizem, the level of participation will suddenly drop.
Profile pages are overrated. Too many communities drive newcomers to fill out detailed profile pages before participating.
This is a mistake.
The fundamental thing you need from a newcomer is participation. Once a user participates in a discussion he has a reason to return (several times) to see what others have said. He might reply to those responses. It gets exciting, the newcomer gets hooked.
Completing a profile page feels like work. We don't like doing it. We put it off. If your members feel they have to complete a profile before participating, you will lose many potential members.
If possible, let members enter a username, e-mail address and a security question – then begin participating. Once they participate, began to care about what others think of them, they will naturally update their profiles because they want to look good. You don't need to force this.