Month: June 2011

Most Organizations Shouldn’t Start A Community

June 30, 2011Comments Off on Most Organizations Shouldn’t Start A Community

Last night's #cmgrchat revealed some classic examples of groupthink

Amongst the examples was the belief that every organization should have a community.

Would you want to join a community for that keyboard you're using? The mouse? How about that biro you use to make notes? 

The majority of organizations shouldn't have communities because they don't do anything or sell something that people have a strong common interest in. We all drink water but few of us would like to be in a community started by the water company. Imagine the idiocy of every food and ingredient on your plate having its own community.

Certainly organizations can go beyond their immediate products to find a strong interest that unites their audience; Pampers Village is about parenting rather than nappies. But this can only be stretched so far.

There is a limit on the number of communities a single individual can meaningfully participate in (I suspect this is usually 1) and therefore a limit on the number of communities which can exist. Communities yield tremendous benefits to the right sort of organizations. For most organizations, however, it's simply not a good fit.

Allocating Your Time As The Online Community Grows

June 29, 2011Comments Off on Allocating Your Time As The Online Community Grows

Some community management activities require more time as the number of members increases, others don't. The challenge is identifying these activities and allocating your time accordingly.

The time spent on strategy, business integration, content and, to a lesser extent, growth* is not directly connected to the number of members. These activities will take as much time in a community of 500 members as 5000 members.

However, the time spent on moderation, relationships, technology and, to a lesser extent, activities** will increase as the number of members increases.

This has implications. First, you can easily schedule for the community management activities not affected by the number of members. You can and should spend the same amount of time on strategy, business integration, content and growth every month. You can undertake these activities at the same time.

Second, the time spent on moderation, relationships, activites and technology must grow as the community grows; but not at the expense of the fixed-time activities. This requires strategy. The organization must either hire extra help (volunteers are great, but also require management) or decide what's most important to them.

In a smaller community, more time might be spent on initiating discussions and building relationships. In a larger community, the time might shift to managing volunteers, removing bad content and improving the technology. This isn't the ideal state, it's a trade-off.

Every trade-off will hurt, but it's better to proactively decide your trade-offs than react to what's happening on any given day. 

*Just because a community has more members does not mean more time should be spent on growth. 

**Activities are similar to content, with the exception that larger activities/events may be needed in a bigger community. Thus, there is a link, but it's not a direct correlation.

How To Develop Your Online Community Management Strategy

June 28, 2011Comments Off on How To Develop Your Online Community Management Strategy

Yesterday I spoke with a community manager who doesn't have a strategy to develop her community. She resolves issues as they arise. She isn't alone. Many community managers don't have a plan for their community. 

You must have a 3 – 6 month calendar of proactive actions to improve and develop the community. If you're always in reactive mode, you'll miss both the opportunities and the threats to your community.

We need people who can use data, theory and experiences to set objectives and clear actions for growth, moderation, content, events, relationships, business integration and technology. If you don't, you're in reactive mode – and that's bad for a community.

A good plan for a community will answer many of the following questions:

 

Strategy

The community manager would set benchmarks and collect data to measure each of the 6 fields below. S/he would use this data and theory to identity the priorities for the next few months. The community manager would adjust their working hours appropriately. 
The community manager needs to understand the broader ecosystem (what's going on in the community's sector? What are the latest trends and major stories?). S/he needs to know what members are doing in the community. They need to understand what members are thinking. This means analyzing both qualitative and quantitative data. 
A community manager should have clear graphs showing the levels of activity and progress in each of these fields. If something starts to drop, they should be able to quickly identify this and take corrective action. You can ignore any community strategist that makes recommendations without any data/theory to support their ideas.

 

Growth

What type of growth does the community need? Replenishment or expansion? What channels will be used to grow the community? Direct recruitment, promotion or referrals? What data, theory or evidence supports this? How much time should be spend on this? What has worked best in the past?

This will then be put into a practical action plan i.e. Who will you approach? Why will you approach these people? What will you tell them? Why will you tell them this (link this to motivation)? What tactics will you use to stimulate referrals? How will you convert newcomers into regulars? What will these people do in the community? When will you take each of these actions? What will success look like? 

 

Events & Activities

What will happen in the community for the next few months? What activities/events does your community need to host? What is most engaging? How big will they be? What live-guest chats, themed discussions, challenges, competitions, interviews and off-line activities will you host? What's coming up in the calendar that could make for a great community-related event? When should you host an offline event? 

A community needs regular events. Events created shared experiences which increase the sense of community amongst members. This means more participation. And how are these events connected to the other elements of the strategy e.g. recruitment, content and moderation? 

Remember that the events you host will need content, discussions and possibly technology changes to support them.

 

Content

What content will you create for the next 3 months? Why this sort of content? What sort of content has worked well in the past? Will you create content about members? About the community's broader ecosystem? Or about the organization? 

What will be your big exclusives and cornerstone pieces of content? Will you publish news or advice? What about previews, reviews, interviews, predictions and a variety of other types of content?

What will happen on each of the days in your community for the next 3 months? Remember the rule of repetition, content should be competitive. So you might interview a community member every Wednesday for the next 3 weeks, for example. This doesn’t need to be a huge amount of work.

What are the objectives for content? Increased page views? Repeat visits? Calls to action? How much time will you spend on content? 

 

Moderation

What is the moderation strategy? Will it be strict or relaxed? 

Will you stimulate discussions in certain areas? What sorts of topics will you make into sticky threads? How will you steer your community? How many discussions will you be planning to start? What is your strategy for getting people to participate?

What are your benchmarks and what are your future targets? How many people will be participating per day? How many new discussions? How many people stimulating discussions? Why this many? How will you influence this?

How concentrated will activity be? When will you open up different areas of the community for discussion? How much time will you spend ensuring topics receive a reply? What are your processes for resolving conflicts? 

 

Relationships

Who are the most important people in the community? What counts as an important person? How will you build relationships with them? What are your objectives for this relationship – how does this fit in with your strategy?

Will you be developing a group of insiders and recruiting volunteers? How many volunteers do you need (this should be based upon the work above)? What will they do? How will you achieve this within three months? 

How much time will you spend on this? You should have targets here e.g. personal relationships with the top 10 members of the community, 20 volunteers etc…

 

Technology

What technology trends do you need to be aware of? What’s lurking on the horizon? What do you need to begin thinking about and planning for now for the community to be a success in the future?

How much downtime have you had? What issues need to be resolved on the platform? Where are the bottlenecks? What practical steps can be taken to resolve these? How can you improve the platform and automate some of the more tedious processes?

How much time will you spend on technology changes in your community platform? How much time will you spend on updates and maintaining the technical side of the community?

Have a clear technology plan for the next 3 – 6 months. This should include practical steps each set for a specific date. 

 

Business Integration

Is the organization getting what they need from the community? What is the disconnect?

How integrated is the community with the organization? Are employees participating? How many? Is the business giving the community exclusive news and content first? Are you interviewing key people within the organization?

Is the organization reacting to what happens in the community? Are complaints being addressed? Or ideas being picked up upon? Does the community feel they are respected by the organization? 

You can, and should, set practical targets for each of these areas.

 

Notes

By the end of this process you should have a clear plan of action, down to each specific day, with targets for what you want to achieve and a rationale for why you want to achieve it. This will force you to proactively develop the community every day.

It's very easy to wait for things to happen or to take actions without knowing why. It's much more difficult to find people who can create a practical action plan for an online community that is specific and defensible (based upon evidence/theory). 

A community manager should always know what they're working on and how it fits with the broader community strategy. They should never be stuck in a reactive mode. Every action listed above should have a time estimate and be set on a specific day during the week.

If not everything fits, then you need to prioritise and cut out the less important tasks. 

Two further things here.

1) By setting targets in each of these areas, the work of the community manager can be judged. Right now it's too difficult to tell the difference between a good and bad community manager.

2) By having such a clear plan, the community manager can track their own progress and make a clear case for more resources along with the benefits to the community of these additional resources. 

A Community Shifts The Power Dynamic

June 27, 2011Comments Off on A Community Shifts The Power Dynamic

Acting alone, individuals oppressed by the state, groups and institutions can't achieve much. They're easy to ignore or destroy. If they band together, they become powerful. They organize themselves. They agree on their biggest concerns and develop a plan of action. 

Community organizing is a process by which individuals act in union to take power away from an oppressor. 

When brands create a community, they're handing over a great deal of power. The audience is given a power over the brand they have never had before. They make demands of the brand and take actions if they're unhappy (imagine your biggest/best customers boycotting en-masse/starting a campaign against you). 

So why would any brand what to do this?

Because when individuals feel they have power they also feel a sense of ownership. They become loyal and repeat buyers. They become more likely to advocate for you. They become impossible for rivals to peel them away. They give you great feedback too.

The problem is when a brand tries to build a community without understanding the shift in this power dynamic. Your community doesn't serve you, you serve the community. This means deep integration, concensus taking and opinion seeking. It means being responsive and actively resolving the issues that community highlight.

If your company isn't ready to sincerely serve a community, don't try to build one. You wont be able to take this back.

Tone of Voice: Imitate How Your Members Interact

June 24, 2011Comments Off on Tone of Voice: Imitate How Your Members Interact

Look at a few dozen recent posts to the community. What tone of voice are they written in?

Are they laced with sarcasm and good humour? Are they direct and confrontational? Are they helpful and compassionate? Are they formal and well-reasoned? 

Your tone of voice, especially when creating content, should match the community's. You're reactive here. You study and imitate. You understand what the tone of voice is and embrace that tone of voice in the community.

Too many communities embrace a rigidly polite customer service of voice. This is fine for customer service, but it's terrible to give a community its own sense of identity. Members want to feel this is a place for them. The content on the platform has to show that this is a place for them, you're building a group identity. 

Naturally, oganizations will hate this. They will have strict guidelines. Be compassionate and helpful. Don't be rude. Never swear. These rules might work great in one to one interactions. But they're ill suited to developing a sense of community amongst members.

Shaping A Community Identity

June 23, 2011Comments Off on Shaping A Community Identity

A community needs to feel it has a unique identity.

In the rush to design, develop and launch a community, don't forget that your community needs a name.

The BHF launched a nameless community last week. It lacks a unique identity. 

The name is a symbol that represents something exclusively to that community.

A name may sound like an optional abstract construct from the bowels of academia, but it's actually the single most important symbol that your members rally behind. When members talk about the community, how will they call it? The {organization} community? 

Would Mumsnet be as successful if it was the Proctor and Gamble parenting community? Would Element14 (a great name) work as well if it was Caterpilla's Online Community? Or how about the Lady Gaga community instead of Little Monsters?

People don't want to feel they are members of an organization's community. They want to feel they are joining something special. People want to take on the group's identity. They can't do that if you don't give your community an identity.

Make sure you name your community. 

Also read Blaise's post on nicknames.

Mastering Motivation

June 22, 2011Comments Off on Mastering Motivation

When you're making community plans, list a motivation next to every action you want members to take. 

This motivation might be the need to belong and feel part of a group. A member might therefore take actions (make contributions, participate in discussions, create/share content) to feel like they belong to a group.

The motivation might be a need for influence. Members might take actions to be able to affect what happens in the community. They might give opinions on the community, might initiate conversations to feel that they matter.

The motivation might be a need for recognition. They will take actions that seek positive feedback from others. This might be quality responses to discussions, creating expert/advice contnt for others etc…

Every action you want a member to take must be supported by a motivation. The challenge is to identify and subtly use that motivation. 

There are three benefits of this:

  1. It will make you think whether you can find a motivation. You should also judge whether that motivation is really strong enough to support the action you want them to take. The tougher/longer or more complex the action, the stronger the motivation must be.
  2. It will make you focus on the motivation. You will become an expert on the range of motivations which influence people's behaviour. You will identify very specific motivations to support specific actions. For example, people don't complete a profile for the reasons you expect. 
  3. You can review which motivations are most successful at influencing members to take actions as opposed to which tactics were most successful. When you understand which motivations are more likely to succeed, you can shift your tactics to match.

If you learn about motivations and use them at a tactical level you will be more effective at giving members what they want, which will get you what you want.

FeverBee Is Hiring A Community Consultant

June 21, 2011Comments Off on FeverBee Is Hiring A Community Consultant

FeverBee is a consultancy dedicated to helping organizations develop successful online communities. We have worked with some of the largest organizations tackling an array of internal and external facing communities. We take pride in our work and limit ourselves to working with organizations we can best support.

But now we need to expand. We have clients in multiple time zones and with a variety of unique needs. We also run the Pillar Summit school of professional community management.

We are looking to hire one, possibly two, full-time community consultants based in either Europe or North America.  

This is not an entry-level job. You will need to be experienced in community management and have worked on multiple community projects, ideally on behalf of organizations. Multiple languages is useful, but not required. Project management skills are essential as is an knowledge of social sciences, understanding of organizational psychology and community platforms. Excellent presentation skills are highly desirable.

The community consultant will be trained in the community development process and support a variety of organizations in their online and offline community efforts. S/he may also support other activities of FeverBee including preparing and presenting information material, The Pillar Summit and the development of exclusive online communities.

To apply for this position put together your CV and cover letting detailing your community experiences, skills and abilities (with links to evidence) and salary expectations. Send these to [email protected].

Applications close as soon as we find someone suitable, so don't wait too long. 

We are also seeking an intern for up to six months beginning in August. Apply through the same channels. 

Sense of Ownership

June 20, 2011Comments Off on Sense of Ownership

After the riots, hundreds (possibly thousands) of Vancouver residents took to the streets to clean up their city (and help track down the idiots who destroyed it). This was their city. They were going to keep it clean.

At the height of the protests in Egypt, thousands took the time to keep the streets clean amongst the government chaos. They felt they had control now. They felt that it was their city. 

A sense of ownership is a remarkable thing. We take actions to protect the things we feel a sense of ownership over (we don't want the cognitive dissonance that comes with wasting our time, making a wrong decision, losing money etc..). 

A sense of ownership is the feeling that individuals believe they crossed the boundary and made enough contributions to have a respectable claim to ownership. Each contribution is an investment in the community's future success. It's also combined with knowing they have control and influence over what happens. 

Ownership isn't a binary value. Your community members don't either feel or not. It's an increasing scale. Some members feel a stronger sense of ownership than others.

Too many organizations prohibit their community members from feeling a sense of ownership. They don't allow members to get involved. They don't share control. They don't have an insider group. They plan and do things without ever asking members what they want, they don't even provide a way for members to get more involved

It's a shame. A sense of ownership is self-sustaining and guarantees your community will succeed in the medium-term. 

How Should Community Managers Allocate Their Time? When Do You Hire More?

June 17, 2011Comments Off on How Should Community Managers Allocate Their Time? When Do You Hire More?

Jacob asks when should you hire more community managers?

It's not a simple answer. 

You might see a community manager responsible for a community of 50,000 members. That might seem cost-efficient, but it's incredibly wasteful. First, few of those 50,000 will be active. Second, the community will be wasting it's huge potential. Why would you set up a community if you're going to waste it's huge potential? You wouldn't have 1 cash register open to handle a line of 50,000 right? 

 

The Community Manager's Role

Lets break the community manager's role into it's unique components 

  • Recruitment. Persuading more people to join.
  • Content. Creating and editing material.
  • Relationships. Building relationships with top members, welcoming people, recruiting and managing volunteers
  • Events/Activities. Planning and executing events/activities for the community.
  • Strategy. Collect and analyzing data. Setting and communicating the future direction of the community.
  • Moderation. Removing the bad stuff, encouraging the good stuff. Initiating conversations. 
  • Technical. Platforms upgrades and maintenance.
  • Business/Misc. Integrating the community with the business, fighting for resources, ensuring business objectives are met and expectations are realistic. 

With just 40 hours in a week (35 if you include an hour lunch break), that time vanishes quickly. A community manager in the early stages might spend 15 hours on recruitment, 10 on relationships, 5 on content, 5 on events and a few hours on moderation, technical, strategy and the business side of things.

A community manager of a more active community would have a different balance. Perhaps 5 hours on recruitment, 5 on content, 5 on relationships, 10 on events, 10 on moderation and the rest on strategy, technical and business activities. But this changes at certain times, e.g. a strategy change, new website, major events etc..

Beyond a certain level of activity, the community manager is unable to do their job well. Things start to give. Recruitment is the first to go. The number of newcomers starts to drop. But you wont notice that because strategy has vanished too. Then events/activities go and the engagement and level of activity drops. Soon, the community manager is managing a community with fewer and fewer active members. Perhaps just 10%? Sound familiar? But, hey, at least it's manageable for one person.

 

The solution

You hire more community managers when the community manager runs out of time to every facet of their job effectively. Don't simply hire a community manager to do the same role, split the role. Have community manager 1 working on recruitment, relationships and moderation, and community manager 2 working on content, strategy, technical and business. 

Keep tabs on how much time community managers are spending on each element of their job. Slowly shift the balance as the community grows and develops. 

Most importantly, don't waste the community's amazing potential. If 50,000 members want to join your community, it's probably a good idea to hire the staff necessary to look after them.

Types of Community Growth

June 16, 2011Comments Off on Types of Community Growth

How you persuade new members to join a community isn't as interesting as why you are persuading new members to join a community. 

Making a community bigger wont necessarily make it better. In fact, evidence suggests that making a community bigger will decrease the level of participation. It gets noisier, harder to follow and less personable than it used to be.

Think of the friendship groups you're in, perhaps even the successful communities you're a part of, would you like a flood of new members to arrive?

There are three types of community growth:

  1. Replenishment. Replenishment is the essential growth all communities need to survive. New members are required to replace departing members. On a long-enough time scale, all members will eventually leave.  New blood ensures the long-term survival of the community. Replenishment growth should have a clear target number (matching the average of those who go inactive from a community each month). In many communities, replenishment growth is organic.
  2. Expansion. Expansion is deliberate growth beyond current numbers. Early in a community, expansion helps reach a critical mass of activity. Expansion can also help the community adapt to a change in the broader eco-system (if the current interest is fading) or it might be driven by the ambitions of members to grow bigger or be seen in a certain light. Expansion should not be the default setting. Expansion should be used as a response to extraordinary (out of the ordinary!) events or activities inside or outside the community. Specific growth for a specific reason.
  3. Organic. Organic growth is growth which is not directly stimulated by the organization/community manager. This will usually be in the form of a referral or mention of the community in other popular channels. Organic growth is the ideal passage of growth.

Most organizations will ignore this and pursue their expansion plans regardless of whether it will affect member participation. You can worry about participation rates tomorrow, right? Which is true, except it's far more difficult to reinvigorate inactive members than keep members active altogether. 

You can make a community better without making it bigger. 

Using The Consistency Principle To Recruit More Volunteers

June 15, 2011Comments Off on Using The Consistency Principle To Recruit More Volunteers

There are many approaches to recruiting volunteers. One is to headhunt the people you like, another is to create great volunteering opportunities, alternatively you might like to have a clear get more involved sign in your community. 

Here is an even simpler tactic. Decide upon something you want to do in the community. This might be hosting an event or webinar, creating a new content series, launching a new group, embarking upon a new cause etc.. 

Now ask who wants to be more involved. Use a forum post to do this. Let peopel put themselves forward to help. Most people want to be part of something. 

There is some psychology here. Once an individual has stated once they're happy to help out the community, they will begin to see themselves as someone that helps out the community. They want to be consistent with their previous actions.

So, for example, state that you will soon be launching a 'beginners guide to {topic}' and ask people to put themselves forward if they want to be more involved. If you can get someone to put themselves forward to volunteer once, you might have them forever.

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