Month: May 2011

The Online Community Joining Process

May 31, 2011Comments Off on The Online Community Joining Process

Marketing graduates are well-drilled in the buyer's decision making process. It goes something like this…

  1. The customer identifies a need.
  2. The customer searches for information to satisfy that need.
  3. The customer evaluates a set of products which claim to satisfy that need.
  4. The customer purchases the product
  5. The customer evaluates the product.

Most marketing is geared to intersect a customer at one or more stages of this process. 

Joining a community is nothing like buying a product. Members don't weigh the pros and cons of joining a community against its competitors. They don’t try to make a rational decision. They don’t identify a missing need and look to fill it.

The member joining process is far more complex and will be closer to this:

  1. Member hears about the community.
  2. Member visits and browses
  3. Member identifies something they want to participate in.
  4. Member registers.
  5. Member participates.
  6. Member returns to see reaction to participation.
  7. Member gradually builds relationships and continues to return.

Your community efforts should be orientated to help membes at one of these stages.

Personally, I suspect a lot of members are lost at stages 1, 3 and 6 through shoddy growth efforts, limited exciting activites for people to participate in and an inability to persuade members to return. 

Latest Activity

May 29, 2011Comments Off on Latest Activity

Just because you can show all teh latest activity in a community doesn't mean you should.

Actually, you probably shouldn't.

Redundant activity makes the activity column redundant. If the activity column is always full of members adding each other as friends, members tweaking their profiles and writing on each other's profiles areas, we will stop looking at it.

Make sure your latest activity only shows things which can be interesting. This might include latest forum posts, latest events, new polls, open questions etc…


Community Managers As Leaders

May 28, 2011Comments Off on Community Managers As Leaders

I worry about community managers with a leadership complex.

Leadership in itself isn’t terrible. Leaders will often emerge from a community. My worry is specifically community managers acting like leaders 

A community manager with a leadership mentality can hurt the community. They tend to predetermine what the community will do, give unsolicited directions (sometimes even as orders), dominate discussions and try to cajole the community into taking actions. 

A great facilitator talks to lots of different members, finds out what they want to do, and then rallies them together to achieve that. S/he will find other people to reply to discussions. S/he will identify and work with the top leaders in the community.

It's not a semantic difference, but one that affects many of the actions in the community. 


Tackle The Big Problems

May 27, 2011Comments Off on Tackle The Big Problems

Some clients have a big problem they try to work around.

They might be stuck with the wrong platform, lack resources for a full-time community manager or have limited support from within the organization.

These aren't just big problems, they're show-stoppers. Your job isn't to continue working without the resources you need, your job is to get the resources you need. Community development requires as much internal persuasion as external facilitation. 

Don't begin the external work until you have the internal resources you need.

Free Online Community Management Resources On The Web

May 25, 2011 Comments Off on Free Online Community Management Resources On The Web

There are a lot of free resources available on the web to help newcomers and experienced professionals become better Community Mangaers. 

Below are a selection of my favourites. 


Reports & eBooks

The 2011 State of Community Management Report

Rachel Happe and Jim Storer of the online community roundtable research a variety of approaches to community management from the top companies and compile this outstanding report on the topic.

Howard Reingold – The Virtual Community

One of the first books on the topic of virtual community and still one of the best. It includes many of the basic and advances rules for communities uncomplicated by modern technology. 

The State of Online Branded Communities

Last year, social engagement firm ComBlu studied over a hundred branded online communities and released a report looking at the overall trends in the sector. Whilst some of their communities lean towards the faux side, there are enough examples here alone to download the report.

The ROI of online customer service communities

Forrester compile one of the first formulas for measuring the ROI of customer support communities. If you need to justify such a community to your boss, make sure you read this first.

The Forrester Wave Report

This is the most comprehensive overview of premium community platforms on the market today. It ranks each enterprise company by category and merits on specific service and software issues. You will need to give Lithium your details to download a free copy, but it’s just about worthwhile.

eModeration White Paper – Communities of Purpose

A short paper mostly about creating the desire for people to participate. It collects quotes from a variety of prominent community authors. Useful for those creating a community that is action-orientated. 

Deloitte – 2009 Tribalization of Business Study

This is one of the best studies undertaken of organizations that develop online communities. It’s getting a little dated now, but still shows up some surprising facts about what organizations develop communities and their frequent lack of success in doing so. We're still waiting for the 2010 study.

Lithium – Community Health Index

One of the most best efforts to date of putting together a meaningful measure of community health. 

Radian6 – Building & Sustaining Brand Communities

Not overly specific to brands, but some great ideas here about building a community, making the case for a community and the resources needed for the community.

Jono Bacon – The Art of The Community

Jono's free eBook about developing successful online community. Reflects on both the technological and psychological aspects of building a community. Slightly heavy on the open-source/collaboration element, but a perhaps the best community specific book out there so far. 

Forrester – The ROI Online Support Communities

A good read (available free on the link below) of Forrester demonstrating the value of online support communities. The numbers might not be perfect, but they demonstrate a pretty good grasp of the material.


Websites & Assocations



Academic articles

McMillan and Chavis (1985) Sense of Community.

Always first in my list of recommended reading to others. This article fully outlines the key concepts of developing a sense of community amongst members and how each elements interrelates with the others. 

Robin Hamman (1997)- Introduction to Virtual Communities Research and Cybersociology Magazine Issue Two

This is a great overview of community definitions and summary of the debate about the definition of a community. It is also applied to online communities. Despite it’s age (14 years old!), it’s as relevant today as it was when first written.

Moore and Serva (2007) Understanding Member Motivation for Contributing to Different Types of Virtual Communities: A Proposed Framework,

Moore and Serva propose 14 types of motivation, some of these are verbalized from previous studies, some of these are introduced afresh. Many overlap. There is probably an easier way to synthesize this information. They later narrow this down to four parent concepts. These are interllecutalism (collaboration, knowledge, wisdom), Benefaction (Altruism, Empathy, Reciprocity), Egocentrism Egoism, Egotism, Reputation, Self-esteem) and Emotionality (Emotional support, Self-expression, Belonging, Power). They found egocentrism as the highest motivator followed by benefaction and emotionality.

Williams and Cothrel (2004), Four smart ways to run online communities (Sloan Management Review, 2000)

This is a simple and readable text on developing online community tactics. This is also useful for providing a simple definition of online communities.

Bughin & Zeisser, (2001) The Marketing Scale Effectiveness of Virtual Communities

A surprisingly good early paper exploring the economics side of what communities has to offer. They concluded that communities do encourage greater loyalty, but economically it still didn’t generate many benefits . These economics have now changed. More people are online, social is big internet business and it’s cheaper than ever to develop a community.

Pitta and Fowler (2005) Internet community forums: an untapped resource for consumer marketers

A more recent paper examining the benefits of marketing through internet community forums.

Iriberri and Leroy (2009) A Life-Cycle Perspective on Online Community Success

This is a fantastic overview of the key success factors for online communities.

Ridings and Gefen (2004) Virtual Community Attraction: Why People Hang Out Online, JCMC 10 (1), Article 4

A great read that combines both academic research, examples and motivational theory to produce some interesting results.

Ardichvili, Page and Wentling (2003) Motivation and barriers to participation in Virtual knowledge-sharing communities of practice, Journal of Knowledge Management, 2003; 7,1

A perspective on internal online communities and analysing why some people participate more than others. The major motivations were when the organization naturally shares, when the knowledge belongs to the organization rather than the individual and when the individuals feel the need to establish themselves as experts.

Wang and Fesenmaier (2003) Understanding the Motivation of Contribution in Online Communities: An Empirical Investigation of an Online Travel Community, Electronic Markets, Vol 13, No 1.

A surprisingly good paper on motivational theory and its relevant to participating in online communities. Clearly, efficacy, affiliation, status and power all feature prominently.

Sugiyama and Rothaermel (2001) Virtual internet communities and commercial success: individual and community-level theory grounded in the atypical case of, Journal of Management 27

This was the pioneering study of its time and is still almost as relevant today as it was a decade ago. It introduces many of the key concepts we still use today. This includes over-management, community size, stability, monetization and developing a sense of community. I recommend this one above the others.

Sangwan , S (2005) Virtual community success: A uses and gratifications perspective

Another very interesting perspective on communities. Sangwan identifies three major motivations; functional (information), emotive (social, personal and self-expression) and contextual (entertainment and host). Sangwan concludes that in knowledge-based communities functional needs override the other two. Sadly this study has again fallen victim to both major problems. The users self-report their answers, “we want knowledge” and doesn’t differentiate between joining and participating.

Andrews, D.C (2002) Audience-specific online community design, Communications of the ACM, Vol 45, N. 4 

Another excellent paper looking at community design from a demographics and needs perspective. Andrews offers many practical suggestions for developing a successful online community.

Barab, S.A, MaKinster, J.G, Scheckler, R. (xxxx) Designing System Dualities: Characterizing An Online Professional Development Community 

A continuation of Wenger’s thoughts on designing a platform through its dualities. These are the inevitable conflicts in designing a platform that must be tackled. Suggest that the emergent approach works best.

Baym, N.K. (2007) The new shape of online community: The example of Swedish independent music fandom, First Monday, Volume 12, Number 8 – 6 

An excellent discussion on the evolution of some communities to be less dependent upon a single platform. Suggests, using a single example, that many communities can flourish without a single platform of discussion and that definitions of communities which are platform-reliant are false.

Stanoevska-Slabeva, K. (2002) Towards a Community-Orientated Design of Internet Platforms

A great overview of early (and still relevant) literature on the topic of community platforms, along with a strong case for building community platforms within existing sites (as opposed to building new platforms entirely).

Arnold, Y. Leimeister, J.L, Krcmar, H. (2003) CoPEP: A Development Process Model for Community Platforms for Cancer Patients, Community platform engineering process

A simple paper stressing the need to have an iterative process for developing an online community. Grow the community to meet the needs of the users, not the pre-defined needs of the organization.

Porter, C.E. (2004) A Typology of Virtual Communities: A Multi-Disciplinary Foundation for Future Research, Journal of Computer-mediated Communication, Vol, 10. No. 1.

Constance puts together an excellent typology of communities based upon their purpose, place, platform, interaction structure and profit model. This is worth skimming through if you’re interested in different ways of categorizing communities and previous literature on the topic.

Creating Better Volunteering Roles In Your Community

May 24, 2011Comments Off on Creating Better Volunteering Roles In Your Community

If you're struggling to keep the forums moderated, you might want some volunteers.

The typical approach here is to advertise for volunteers to moderate the forums. You might get a few, they will last for a while and once they get bored you will need to recruit another batch.

The better approach is to create a broader, more exciting, role. This role encompasses a range of fun tasks but also includes forum moderation on key topics. You're more likely to get volunteers that write a weekly opinion column, find experts to participate in discussions, arrange activities, provide expertise feedback and moderate forums topics.

It sounds like a better role. 

If you want volunteers in your community, put together volunteer positions that sound fun to do. Make people apply for them. Not only will you get more people you will get better people and more work out of your volunteers. 

Reputation Systems Are Better Than Game Mechanics

May 23, 2011Comments Off on Reputation Systems Are Better Than Game Mechanics

Dan Marotta advocates for adding game mechanics to online communities:

"By making things competitive, you encourage members to engage in the desired behaviors and goals of your online community that would otherwise seem dull and unfulfilled."

I disagree. It's dumb to gamify community activities. It's the equivalent of people dashing around your neighborhood with a scorecard. They run from person to person, exchanging a few sentences collecting points for each exchange. 

A related, but more useful concept, is the reputation system. Reputation systems benefit the entire community, not just the individual. Reputation systems help establish a social order. Reputation systems encourage members to engage in behaviours that will increase their reputation. These rank quality above quantity. Reputation systems let users know whose answers carry the most weight.

Whilst game mechanics focus on gamifying the community thus making it both more addictive and competitive. A reputation system is a long-term effort to build and showcase your reputation to a community – both of which are positive to the community as a whole.

You can find different types of reputation systems here

Hampton People

May 20, 2011Comments Off on Hampton People

Paul has done a fantastic job with Hampton People

On the surface it's a hyperlocal community which is just taking off.

But go back to 2009, and he was getting less than 10 members a month. An organization would have shut the community down. Paul pushed through it. He kept those 10 members a month active. He kept stimulating discussions and making his community part of the landscape. 

Now it's taking off. His members are helping each other find missing cats, standing up to corporate giants, and ultimately, developing strong bonds between members of the community. 

It's easy to think communities are easy. You only see and hear about successfu communities. This might misleading you into thinking that; a) starting a community is easy b) It doesn't take much time and c) It's unlikely to fail (after all, you don't see many failures right?)

Most communities in the early stages will struggle to get started. You will feel you're not getting anywhere. Stick with it. Push through this phase (Seth would call it The Dip). It might take a few months, it might take a few years, but persistence really pays off in community building. 

Remember, most organizations wont push through this phase. They will quit at the first sign of stagnation. There are big rewards for those that keep pushing.

p.s. Also admire the simple Ning layout. All the activity in the community at a snapshot. 

Rethinking How We Hire Online Community Managers

May 19, 2011Comments Off on Rethinking How We Hire Online Community Managers

We urgently need to rethink how we hire community managers.

At the moment too many organizations, with little idea of what makes a great community manager, are hiring people who are either great at technology, have irrelevant community or social media experience, or have far too much free time. 

This is a tragedy that's sabotaging their community efforts. It's time to rethink it.


How are community managers being hired?

At present most job descriptions emphasize technical knowledge and any related 'social' experience over individual attributes. This is a big mistake. Knowledge and experience might be more tangible to assess, but they have little impact upon the community being a success. Instead, it is the passion, attitude and personality of the individual you're hiring which has the most influence on a community's success.

The level of technical knowledge a community manager needs to know is very small. The platforms themselves are increasingly easy to use. Would you want to miss out on great community managers because they didn't know how to use HTML or haven't created a Facebook fan page? They could learn the basics of either in less than half a day, perhaps even in an hour or two.

Most importantly, there is no evidence that previous experience, technical knowledge or any of the useful roles community managers are hired for have any impact on whether the community's succeeds. In fact, if you look at example of successful communities, it's often a lack of such experience by the community managers which most stands out. 


Two different types of community managers?

Are you hiring someone to build a community from scratch or manage an existing one. The two skills are very different. It's harder to hire someone to build a community than it is to manage one. The former needs unique skills and an emphasis on selling an dream that members will buy into and talents in fostering fledgling interactions into strong relationships. 


What to look for when hiring a community manager.

There are six specific things you want to look for.

  1. Passion for the topic. Too many companies hire people with no passion for the topic of the community. If your community is about banking, you need to hire someone interested in banking. If it's about interior design, you need to hire someone passionate about interior design. Passion for the topic is the single biggest difference between communities that succeed and fail. This passion should be evidenced in previous work or activities within that sector in the past.
  2. Attitude. The community manager needs to have the right attitude to a community. This includes a desire to interact with dozens, perhaps, hundreds of members a day and end every interaction on a positive note. They need to be able to respond quickly and professionally to issues in the community. They need to be willing to work hard and, most of all, they need to love – genuinely love – building relationships between people.
  3. Personality. The personality of the community manager must fit with the personality of the community. If the community is largely polite with a mild demeanor you need a community manager to match. If the community is a loud, rambunctious, sarcastic bunch, then hire a community manager to match. They should be a natural at ingratiating themselves with the community and building strong relationships with the top members.
  4. Skills. There are some basic skills community managers should have. They should be persuasive in all manner of their communications. They need to be able to persuade and motivate members to do things. They need to be able to convert a curious newcomer into an active members. They also need to be fantastic at working internally to guide the organization to provide the resources and support the community needs to success. They need to be confident at presenting their case to senior managers and working aggressively to get employees participating in the community. I would also highly value project management skills, the ability to write content the community loves to read and genuinely build relationships with people. 
  5. Knowledge. Now we focus on what the candidates know. There are two major component to this, one more important than the other. The first is social science knowledge and the second is technical skill. Knowing the key theories behind psychology, social-psychology, group processes and community development can rally help build a community. 

    Now, and only now, do we check they know the basics of modern technology. They don't need advanced skills, but a basic level of knowledge about what social platforms do and how they are used. They should know, for example, that's it wrong to spam members with promotional material. 

    Finally, a level of business acumen helps. They should know how the community fits into the overall business strategy and be able to make recommendations about how the community can better help the organization achieve it's objectives.

  6. Experience. Quick caveat here. If you're looking to hire someone to build a community from scratch – this should be ranked higher. It would be key to have someone who has previously built communities from scratch in your sector before. If you're simply looking for a manager, then previous experience of community manager isn't as important as individual attributes. It is, however, beneficial if the community manager knows how members are likely to interact, put together content calendars, recruit volunteers, manage a platform etc.


What should a community manager be hired to do?

For those being hired to be a manager (instead of a builder) the tasks will usually fall in to one of eight categories:

  1. Strategy. They should be gathering data from the community and analyzing this data to create insights about future content, activities and overall direction of the community. 
  2. Growth. They should be engaging in a variety of promotional, referral, advertising and direct invitations to ensure a steady supply of fresh blood into the community. They should also be converting these newcomers into active members.
  3. Moderation. They should be removing the bad stuff but, more importantly, encouraging everyone with an opinion to contribute that opinion.
  4. Relationships. They should be building positive relationships with the top members of their community and using these relationships to initiative activites, discussions and other positive elements into a community.
  5. Activities. They should be organizing regular online and, possibly, offline events to stimulate interaction between members. They should also be continually looking for amazing opportunities for the community. 
  6. Technology. They should be managing the platform, testing and tracking what works and making suitable changes when appropriate.
  7. Content. They should be contributing articles about the community to the community and ensuring there is usually something fresh to read when members visit.
  8. Business. They should be working internally to provide feedback to the business, lobbying for support from the business and integrating the community as deeply within the organization as possible.


Where to find recruits

This is easy, advertise and promote the role in areas where those passionate about the topic are likely to see it. Getting a blogger to mention it will attract the super fans. Otherwise, magazines, in twitter conversations or outright looking for people discussing the topic and asking them for suggestions is a great way to start. Avoid advertising on social media, marketing and digital communication platforms job sites. 

Both those hiring community managers and those applying for community management jobs should be far more picky about who they hire and what they apply for. Not everyone is suited to being a community manager, and those that are need to find communities which they are suited for. 

I suspect the success rate of organization's community efforts can be greatly increased simply by adhering to these principles.

Do Not Reply

May 18, 2011Comments Off on Do Not Reply

It makes no sense to send e-mails from [email protected] accounts, nor to ask members not to reply to e-mails from the community.

If a member wants to reply, then you want him/her to be able to do so as quickly and easily as possible. You want your members to talk to you. If they have complaints, questions and suggestions, then you want to hear them. If they just want to chat, then you want to chat with them.

If the member doesn’t want to reply, then having an Do Not Reply e-mail address is irrelevant.

Most importantly, you should be encouraging replies, not discouraging them. If I receive a notification or an update, I want to be able to hit reply and contact whomever sent the e-mail.

Send e-mails from a clearly specified individual ([email protected]) with a call to action for people to reply. 

The Purpose of Member Profiles

May 17, 2011Comments Off on The Purpose of Member Profiles

What is the purpose of member profiles?

It's not for more information about the member, relatively few people visit them (unless you run a dating-orientated site).

Instead, the purpose of member profiles is to satisfy your member's status needs. Member profiles let your members create their desired image of themselves. To put it more bluntly, member profiles let your members show off – and this is a good thing.

Once members have begun to connect with community members, they will want to impress them. They will want to feel they are either equal or superior to others. Member profiles are for their owner's benefit, not the visitor's benefit. 

When you are designing a profile, you don't want members to list mundane details about themselves. You want them to show off their achievements and let them create their ideal self. 

You need to provide a member profile infrastructure that facilitates this. Let members submit their best pictures, achievements and collected items. Ask status-related questions and solicit details that will let the member speak positively about themselves. 


May 15, 2011Comments Off on MyFamilyClub

I want to call this one early. This online community will fail. But it will make a great case study in what not to do.

It will fail because: 

  1. It's competing against Mumsnet. The same community that has an enormous market share, has interviewed two prime ministers, is trusted and known by almost all parents who don't need another community to participate in. There is no unique positioning for this community. 
  2. The website will feature editorial, e-mail newsletters and social media integration. None of which you need for a community. It overloops interactions between members.
  3. It's got a terrible name. Mumsnet is easy and symbolic. MyFamilyClub is lazy for using both 'My' and 'Club'. This is symbolic of bads community practice.
  4. The aims of the community is to alleviate the financial pressures and challenges that come with having children and will offer mothers a range of benefits and savings. This isn't conducive to developing communities. 
  5. They issued a press release to launch the community. They are aiming for a big promotional push to get the community going. This almost never works. 

If you're about to launch a community, it's worth avoiding all these mistakes. 

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