Month: July 2011

The Solution To Being Overwhelmed

July 28, 2011Comments Off on The Solution To Being Overwhelmed

Some communities are determined to recruit more members than they can handle. 

This causes a problem, there is too much activity. There are too many posts to check, too many questions to answer, too many disputes to resolve. The important tasks get left behind and the entire community suffers.

The solution is to close the doors. Stop letting members join until you can support more.

A nightclub can be full, so can your neighborhood. Most businesses have a limit on the number of customers they can handle at a given time. 

The same is true for a community. If you can only support 5000 active members, why would you continue to recruit more? It will hurt the community. 

Close the entry and introduce a waiting list. Both newcomers and existing members will appreciate the community more.

Focus on the tasks that develop the community. Don't recruit more members than you can handle. It wont do you or your community good. 

A Case Study: How To Improve A Newly Launched Community

July 27, 2011Comments Off on A Case Study: How To Improve A Newly Launched Community

The Mayo Clinic recently launched an online community; Mayo Connect

It's a good community concept. The Mayo Clinic has a clear target audience who have a motivation to interact with each other. There is plenty of room for improvement, however. If they were a client, here is what we would recommend:


1) Optimize the journey.

The community asks for too much information from members. You don't need to force members to complete their profiles, you only need a username and an e-mail address. They will complete their profiles when they want to present a good image to others in the community. Initially, you just want them to participate.

When a member registers, the next page is like this:


Members don't want four options. Present just one single thing a member should do after they join. This should be to participate in a relevant discussion. This page can be changed to "What do you think about …..? " with a link or a box to give their opinions. 


2) Confirmation e-mail

The confirmation e-mail wastes a glorious opportunity to highlight something a member can instantly do in the community. 

The e-mail begins with:

"Thank you for joining!

This message is to confirm your membership in the online community from Mayo Clinic. This online social network connects patients with each other and with others interested in learning more about Mayo Clinic or a particular health interest."

Why not update this once a week? Try something a little more motivational, e.g. 

"Congratulations, you've been accepted into our community.

You're just in time to participate in our discussion about {subject}. What have you found to be the best way to ….. ? Darren felt it was ….., Susan thought it was …… . Click this link and let us know what you think.

Speaking on behalf of our beloved community, we're thrilled to have you!"

This should increase the number of members which not only register, but also participate. 

The e-mail from Mayo Connect also ends with the gloomy "Replies to this message are not monitored or answered."

That's pitiful for a community. Why not end the e-mail with "Also be sure to tell me what you think. Do you have any suggestions, questions or complaints for the community? Hit reply and I'll endeavour to get back to you within a few hours".

You should be encouraging conversations with your newcomers, not ignoring them.


3) Platform design

The design is simple and efficient. However, the active discussions should appear at the top of the page, not below the scroll line. Members are more likely to a) post a comment if they see they appear in prominent areas and b) spot a discussion they wish to participate in.

You can also remove redundant activity from the activity box (e.g. "Mark and Pat are now friends"). 


4) Discussion area

This is where the community really needs a change. The category are listed at the top of the page and push all the discussions in the discussion area out of sight. 

It is essential that the latest discussions appear at the top of this page. The categories should be reduced in number (most categories only have 1 or 2 discussions) and moved to a side bar.

In the image below it is also clear that Likes is not yet a heavily used feature. As a result, it appears most discussions receive no likes and this reduces the likelihood of members wishing to initiate a discussion. Remove any features that aren't used and introduce them later. Likes should be replaced with comments. 

There are also far too many discussions above with 0 comments. This should not be acceptable in any community. A member who initiates a discussion which receives 0 replies is unlikley to participate again. There must be a community manager to respond to these discussions and find members to share their opinions. 

It feels like the community launched on the community manager's day off. 


5) Social aspects

The community lacks any clear culture about what it aims to be. There is no personality or news narrative which ties the activities of the community together. It isn't clear to identify the purpose of the community. It needs some culture or history behind it. Why does the community exist? Who are the key players? What is the purpose? It needs a history or culture guide.

We would also change the name. Mayo Connect is a weak name. Are members going to refer to themselves as Mayo Connectors? I personally like alliterative names ("Mayo Maestros",  "Mayo Mates" "Mayo Mentors" etc…) but it's a subjective area. The name should be something that works as a nickname.

Finally, there needs to be a spotlight on members. At present the news in the community makes no mention of its individuals. This should change. The news for the community should be about the community. This creates a narrative.


Mayo Connect is one of the better online communities launched in recent months. It has a great concept and a good chance of success. Like most communities, however, it leaves plenty of room for both technical and social improvements. 


Heavy Handed Moderation

July 26, 2011Comments Off on Heavy Handed Moderation

There is an example I use in my community management training courses. 

In a movie magazine's community, there was a ferocious debate about the greatest film of all time. The discussion had garnered several thousand posts, members were ferociously arguing their side and criticising the choices of others. 

The overzealous community moderator, worried about conflict in the community, locked the thread.

This isn't a joke, the community manager locked the most popular discussion ever to take place in the community. The community manager locked a discussion members were fiercely passionate about. The community manager locked a discussion which motivated members to check back every couple of hours to participate. 

The community moderator should have sent an e-mail to the entire community asking all members to give their views on the most popular discussion ever to take place in the community.

The moderator should have used the discussion to put together a list of recommended films and asked members to vote on their favourite.

This discussion could have become a cornerstone of community activity. New members could have been asked to vote on their favourite film when they join. There could have been plenty of content about how films ranked each month/year by members. It could have been made into a sticky thread for ongoing debate – especially with the release of new films and how they match up.

It's important to know when to step back from a debate, when to encourage a debate and when to jump in and settle a conflict. Getting this wrong can do a lot of harm. 


July 25, 2011Comments Off on Working

What hours is your community most active?

What hours does your community manager work?

I'm amazed by how often the two are extremely out of sync. 

Speaking at E-Virus in Vilnius, Lithuania on Sept, 22

July 22, 2011Comments Off on Speaking at E-Virus in Vilnius, Lithuania on Sept, 22

I'm thrilled to announce that I'll be speaking at E-Virus in Vilnius, Lithuania on September 22nd. 

The talk will cover: 

  • The benefits of online communities
  • Which organizations should develop communities
  • The process for building an online community
  • The future of online communities

You can find more information and details about buying tickets by clicking here. I hope to see some of you there.


Common Branded Community Mistakes (Example)

July 21, 2011Comments Off on Common Branded Community Mistakes (Example)

UK Marketing Jobs launched the UK marketing network; a community for marketing professionals in the UK to network. Here is a snippet from the UK Marketing Network press release:

"For the first time marketers will be able to:

– Network with fellow UK marketing and advertising professionals
– Access and contribute to user-generated content aimed at producing fresh blog content
– Attend industry-related events, promoted by participants
– Form groups relevant to their regional and commercial backgrounds"

Aside from some shoddy copy (lead with the benefits, not the features), the community is struggling. The community has made the same mistakes most brands make. These include:

  • Vague concept. A community for marketing professionals to network is a weak concept. The audience is too broad, the purpose is too vague. The concept needs to be stronger. A community for marketing professionals in London to trade advertising secrets is stronger. 

Or, preferably, a community for marketing professionals working in technology, or C-level marketing execs, or marketing professionals who have shown exceptional ability. Perhaps PR professionals keen to change the perception of the industry. All of these are perfect for a recruiting/job business to build a community around. By tailoring your approach to a specific group for a specific reason, you're more likely to attract people that will participate.

  • Bad design. The community is focused upon content. Content is given the most prominent places within the community. This is a mistake. The most prominent places should be reserved for interactions. If you run a Ning group put your forum in the top middle of the community page. You want members to initiate and reply to discussions they see. Few will bother to scroll below the fold. 
  • Poor community management. There is no active community management. Members are not welcomed, there are no clear steps for a newcomer to take to be involved and this, below, is unforgivable.



If a member sees that most discussions aren't receiving a reply, they are far less inclined to reply themselves. If a member takes the time and effort to ask a genuine question, they must receive a reply. Even if it's an acknowledgement of the question. Few feelings are worse than feeling like you don't matter, that your posts are unworthy of the community.

It's essential that you work to solicit responses to these questions. Use an 'unanswered' or 'toughest' questions post/category to incentivize members to answer these posts. 

On a positive note, this community has done a few things well. First, they have only issued a press release after the community has attracted several thousand members. This ensures when members visit they see an active community, not a desolate wasteland. 

Second, they use a good verification question though: "What is the first name of Virgin boss Sir _______ Branson?"

Also see the Women's Advisory Forum for a similar networking community which has made identical mistakes. 

Master Engagement Before Growth

July 20, 2011Comments Off on Master Engagement Before Growth

The temptation for communities with low levels of activity is to grow. 

This is usually a mistake. If you can't engage the members you have, why assume you can engage the members you don't have?

Right now, one of three things is happening: (1) Your community concept is wrong (2) You're attracting the wrong sort of members (3) Your tactics to convert newcomers into regulars is flawed.

Growth isn't the solution to any of these. If your community is wrong you need to start again and redefine what your community is about (tip: Look for that strong common interest).

If you're attracting the wrong sort of members, you need to rethink your approach to recruitment. Are you targeting specific people for a specific reason?

If your engagement approach isn't working, you need to find tactics that do engage members before attracting more. 

Only once you can convert your existing members into active members, can you justify growth. You need to learn how to engage members before you grow the community, not after. You should have some proven tactics to get members active. Everything else is a waste of time and your precious first impression.

All the successful communities today; every single one was highly active in the early stages. The key to growth is high activity. Get the activity right early and growth will take care of itself.

Clever Registration Process

July 18, 2011Comments Off on Clever Registration Process

Jake McKee points to this clever integration of a registration page, Facebook and human motivation. 


image from

I don't think we're even close to scratching the surface of what is possible in this area.

How Do You Get Your Audience To Interact?

July 15, 2011Comments Off on How Do You Get Your Audience To Interact?

Baroness Newlove buries her key point in an otherwise interesting report.

"Think first about developing community spirit (not necessarily fighting crime)"

The problem in most local communities isn't that they aren't empowered, lack access to essential resources, or feel local government doesn't meet their needs. The problem is they simply don't know each other.

How well do you know your neighbours?

The challenge in almost every community project, online or offline, is to figure out how to get your intended audience to interact with each other. If you can work that out (and sustain it), you will build a community. 

Online, the answer will usually be to reach people individually, identify their interests, start discussions about those interest and ask these people to participate.

Offline, the social context is far more important. People don't come together just to talk, they come together for a specific social reason. Baroness Newlove recommends governments should consider hosting neighbourhood barbecues and fun social events for specific neighbourhoods. I agree.

If you run a group brought together by geography (e.g. Brooklyn's Park Slope Parents), regular fun events are the key element of the community building process. It's an excuse for people to come, interact with others, but – most importantly – people can bring their friends. 

Figure out how to get your audience to interact and how to sustain those interactions.

The Broader Role Of Moderators In Online Communities

July 14, 2011Comments Off on The Broader Role Of Moderators In Online Communities

The traditional moderator role focuses on the problems of a community. People might post bad things, conflicts might erupt etc..

Moderation doesn't have to be a reactive process focusing on what can go wrong in a community, it can be a more encompassing role which both removes the barriers to participation and motivates people to interact. 

We need a broader moderator role which includes:

  • Resolving conflicts/removing bad content. Resolving conflicts and removing bad content is important, but it's only one element of a bigger moderation role.
  • Structuring the community. The moderator can help structure discussions to allow members to see what's new or popular at any given time. They can steer the direction of the community by focusing upon specific discussions. 
  • Dissipating and concentrating activity. A moderator can monitor the level of interactions and dissipate activity if it becomes too much or concentrate activity if it's too low. This can be achieved by creating sub-groups for friends or topics, or by removing elements which are underused.
  • Stimulating discussions. The moderator can stimulate discussions directly in to the community. They can ask members what they think about important topics. 
  • Soliciting responses to discussions. The moderator can also take steps to respond or find people to respond to every discussion in the community. 
  • Adapting guidelines. Adapt and update the welcome document and guidelines to suit the evolving needs and actions of the community. 

This is a role which wont simply maintain the community, but further develop it. This broader moderation role can be measured by the quantity and quality of activity happening within the community. This is the role most communities, big and small, desperately need.

The Status Dilemma: Don’t Bite The Hook

July 13, 2011Comments Off on The Status Dilemma: Don’t Bite The Hook

Every day, someone will say something you disagree with. They might even say something about you.

We're very sensitive about our status. Most arguments are caused by people fearful of losing their status in front of others. They argue to protect their status. Online, all criticisms are made in front of others. We're under greater pressure to be on guard against any perceived attacked.

This is a big mistake. Before responding to any criticism or being engaged in any disagreement, you should ask yourself five questions: 

  1. Am I responding to this for my own ego or because it will actually help someone?
  2. Who will it help and how will it help them? 
  3. How do I need to craft my message to make sure it helps them and doesn't provoke a negative response? 
  4. Is this person ready to listen? 
  5. Should I contact them privately instead of replying in front of the entire community. 

If your answers wont help the other individual, don't reply. Nothing will do your status greater harm than being sucked into a dispute with another. You look petty. I hate to see people do it. 

And if you do respond, respond once. Says what needs to be said and stop. The very debates we get into to protect our own status in front of others are those which do tour status the most harm.

Aside: Know the difference between someone attacking you and attacking your idea. Ignore the former and respond to the latter with "What do you think would make it better?"

A Fascinating Approach

July 12, 2011Comments Off on A Fascinating Approach

Learning Pool has an intriguing approach to converting newcomers into regulars. 

Their customer service team attempts to interact with every member which joins.

Together they test different approaches, identify what works and then spread this information amongst their team (after securing bragging rights for themselves). These approaches incude jokes, questions, agreeable statements etc…

This is a better approach is better than sending newcomers a bland welcome message. It shows real interest and immediately gets newcomers into the habit of interacting with people in the community. 

As the Learning Pool team quickly discovered, you can't have a genuine interaction if you act like a corporate drone. You need to show personality. The more personality the better. 

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