Month: May 2011
How many of these is your organization comfortable with?
- Staff talking like real people and not corporate drones (they might even say something they shouldn't).
- Community members saying bad things about the company.
- Volunteers helping to moderate the community.
- Volunteers writing content for the community.
- Releasing exclusive information to the community first.
- Encouraging discussions which have no connection to the topic.
- Letting the community make meaningful decisions about your company.
- Putting community members in touch with people within the organization that can help them.
- You and your staff spending time participating in community interviews, live chats and in discussions on the forums.
- Asking the community for honest feedback on your products/services/marketing/staff.
The answer should be all 10.
This list could be infinitely longer, so feel free to add your own on the comments below.
Approving members to your community can be an effective way to tackle spammers. I especially like application forms.
Approving members can make being a member feel special. They can feel rewarded for who they are. Approving members can increase the sense of unity amongst members.
Approving contributions, however, is just a nuisance. It slows conversations to a crawl. It increases the manpower burden. Members don't receive that instant gratification from seeing their post on the community and receiving quick responses to the post. Approving posts decreases the level of social presence within a community by lack of immediacy. Approving every post will usually kill a community.
Be very picky about who you let in and then let them post what they want. Post-moderate, don't pre-moderate. Try to remove or reprimand members, not their posts.
p.s. If you can't approve members, then why not only pre-moderate comments from newcomers and let those who have made 5 or more approved contributions post freely?
I've said this before, but if you have little activity, marco initiatives wont help.
Too many organizations spot an activity deficit and try to make a big change. They try to host a big event, announce a contest or recruit new members.
This is a big mistake. If the community has no activity with the members it has, why will more members help? If the community has no activity, how will you get people to turn up for an event? Competitions will cause a short-term spike of activity at best.
The solution is to go micro. You start 1 discussion and persuade 2 people to participate. Then you invite a few more. You reach out to individuals personally and get them involved. You work on getting the members you have active.
Activity begets activity. If you want more then you need to start some. The best way to start some is to start small. Go as micro as possible. Concentrate on getting a few members coming back. Get a few discussions going and build from there.
Some community managers are overwhelmed. They don't have enough time to do all the work. They respond to every e-mail, check every forum post, repurpose news from web sources, maintain the platform, initiate discussions and resolve disputes.
This is fine, necessary, work. However, it doesn't scale. As your community grows you will become overwhelmed. One approach to handling this is to prioritise your work. Focus on the important stuff. A better approach is to put processes in place which scale.
These processes are both technical, administrative and personnel-orientated. These include:
- Recruit, train, manage and motivate volunteers. Volunteers who enjoying supporting their community are the best way to scale a community.
- Rewriting guidelines if they are violated too frequently. Make the guidelines more readable and welcoming. Let members make suggestions. Adapt them to the needs and desires of the community.
- Encourage members to submit their own news. Let some volunteers edit and approve news posts. Here's a tip, make sure members receive a prominent by-line in the news article.
- Setup a community e-mail address which several volunteers can access and reply to. Let it be clear who replied to which e-mail and how it was resolved. A simple folder system can resolve this.
- Teach volunteers to recruit and train other volunteers. The hardest part, also the most scalable. Have a training programme that will teach volunteers to recruit others (then find a volunteer to teach the programme)
- Ensure members can identify and remove bad posts. Make technological changes that allow posts with a certain number of 'flags' to be temporarily postponed pending a review by an admin.
- Automate members inviting their friends. When members reach a milestone level of contributions, send them a congratulations. Advice them of an easy way to invite others to join. Make this a simple 2-click process.
- Let members apply to run various forum categories and take responsibility for certain areas of discussion within their expertise on the community.
- Allow members to create their own groups, initiate events, start live-discussions with scheduled VIPs they have persuaded to participate.
- Start a tradition of regulars welcoming newcomers. When newcomers join, make it a tradition for regular members to find and welcome them.
- Write detailed guidelines for doing your job. For example, write guidelines on handling disputes.
The role of a community manager should be evolving from solely handling the immediate day to day work towards developing and managing processes which allow the community to scale and develop.
There is a wide gap between new platforms and the best platforms.
Look at the communities of Dove, GenerationBenz, MetroTwin, AirFrance's BlueNity or SCJohnson's Right At Home all use relatively new, modern, platforms and they look great. Exactly how a modern website should look.
Except a community platform is different from a website. The purpose of a community platform is to facilitate interactions between members. A community platform puts function before form.
Compare the above examples with CareSpace, Teacher's Connect, The Student Room, MyGarden or (my favourite) Backyard Chickens. These platforms are ugly. No self-respecting organization would want communities which looked like this.
But this is exactly what they should want.
These platforms are incredibly successful. They have over 15m posts between them. They are proven to work. These are the platforms other organizations should be imitating. And the best news is, they're cheap.
When you're developing your community platform opt for something functional which is proven to work. Don't develop custom community platforms sites without a track-record of success.
What seperates those newcomers who become active members from those who don't?
Usually, there will be a specific, identifiable, barrier.
For example, newcomers might become regulars if they cross one of the following barriers:
- Interact with 5 people.
- Make 5 friends.
- Participate in 3 discussions.
- Initiate 2 conversations
- Fill out their profiles.
- Are personally contacted by the community manager.
You need to analyze these. Take a sample of your last 50 members. Find the ones which became regulars and narrow down what activities they took when they joined. Once you have identified these, you can focus on bringing people through that barrier.
If you get this right, your conversion rate should increase significantly.
Most communities don't try to be great. There is a way to tackle this, aim for big wins.
One of biggest wins is to have influential people participating in your
Here is a simple process. Make a list of all the key influencers in your community's sector. There are four types (1) Fame (most well known) (2) Authority (most direct power) (3) Expertise (most knowledgable/skilled) (4) Relationships (most connected).
You can find these people (if you don't know them already) by reviewing the major publications and blogs in your sector. Find out who they are writing about them.
Build up a list of the 20 biggest influencers. Your research should also include how to contact them.
Now, write to them on behalf of the community. There are many things you can ask them to do. For example, invite them to participate in sfuture live chats, interviews where members get to submit the questions, contribute guest posts or merely comment from time to time on topical issues. Mention other people that have agreed to participate (or others you are approaching).
Repeat this every few months. Don't hesitate to use the phone to contact people. Your progress will improve over time. And you will get better at the approach.
Just try it, you never know who might say yes. One big win leads to others….
Bonus: If you want to be sneaky, publish the list. Send the link to the influencers. Let members vote on who, of the 20, they think are the most influential people. You can guarantee every influencer will read it.
BBC News interviewed dozens of people who all enjoyed the great community spirit in London for the royal wedding.
Big events, as Robert Putnam mentions, help build communities. They bring together a large number of people for a common purpose. The challenge is that a single event wont maintain a community spirit. Communities need relationships. Relationships take time. Big events struggle to sustain a sense of community.
Big events (such as annual gatherings) have their purpose, they can kick-start communities and solidify online relationships. Most community managers, however, should work on smaller regular events. Regular events encourage regular interactions between members. Interactions build relationships. Relationships build communities.
Drop the big events for now and focus on scheduling regular live-chats, guest interviews, birthdays, launches and a variety of other such events.
Launching a community is a bad idea.
The major moment in the birth of a community is not when you launch a platform. There are many steps to take before you do this (preparing the organization, establishing objectives and audience analysis amongst them).
The major decision is when you begin engaging with potential members.
Focus on the day you begin interacting with members. This puts the focus beyond the platform, established a long-term mindset (you will continue engaging for a while) and encourages you to do the important work (interacting with members) right away.