Month: September 2011

Can You Spot The Mistake Here?

September 30, 2011Comments Off on Can You Spot The Mistake Here?

Can you see the mistake TripAdvisor made below?


You want people to share their opinions on issues in your community. It stimulates activity and gets people invested in the success of your community. If I submit an opinion I check back often to see what others thought of my opinion (I'm shallow!).

The problem isn't wanting those opinions, it's how we ask for them. Too often we see sentences like:

"Tell us what you think"

"Share your opinions"

"How do you feel about ….?"

Think about what? My opinions on what? It's too broad and too vague. I'm not sure which opinion to give, I have so many. What if my opinion could be about the wrong thing? There's a social fear at work here. 

If you want more opinions simply be more specific. Try closed questions or structured open questions. Help people to give the right type of opinions. Ask a direct question.

Ask me what my favourite or worse experiences were. Ask me if I liked {x} better than {y}? Ask if I were {x}, would I do {y}?

Or even better, what was your best/worse/favourite. People like to give their opinions. 

In the example above, it would be better for Tripadvisor to ask:

What was is the best hotel you've ever stayed in? What was the worst? Was the holiday you took this year better than the one last year? Why? Tell us here…

Finally, asking people to share their opinions to receive their first badge is a terrible incentive. People have to care about the badge. They have to see other people who have the badge. They have to connect it to status. A badge is meaningless by itself.

Turning Your Offline Meet-Up Into A Strong Community

September 29, 2011Comments Off on Turning Your Offline Meet-Up Into A Strong Community

A few weeks ago, I spoke at the London Social Media group. Its leader, Jorgen Sundberg, asked what should a meet-up group be doing to develop a community?

The answer is to embrace proven community building techniques. I’d highly recommend the following:

1) Build relationships.

The organizer (and volunteers) must spend a lot of time building relationships with people that attend. Too many seem happy to let people drift in and out whilst they talk to their buddies. Meet and greet people at the door. Ask them questions, make them feel happy to be there. Don’t let people nervously drift in and stand in a corner. If you see someone standing alone, go and speak to them. See point 2.

2) Introduce individuals to each other.

You have to work hard to build those interactions between members. Interactions are the foundations of relationships (which are the foundations of the community). The more relationships you build, the stronger your community will be.

3) Name tags.

People need to identify each other, especially if they interact online first. If you’re holding an offline meeting for an online group, you have to easily be able to find the people you know (both offline and when you go back online). This is essential.

4) Rituals for newcomers.

You can ask them each to introduce themselves, but that’s boring and not very special. Give them a specific task, a unique item or ask them to tell them something specific about themselves (the Skull and Bones society used to ask all members to recount their entire sexual histories to the group – but you can pick whatever suits you). How about ask them to explain how they first became interested in the topic.

5) Joint activities.

Establish some means of joint activity within the group. Listening to a speaker for an hour is pretty dull. Why not let one person present a problem that others can solve? People can take it in turns, for example. Present a business problem and the group tries to solve it. Find something the group can feel they have achieved during that short space of time.

6) Have an ending.

Some meet-ups don’t seem to end, but just drift away when they get tired. It’s important to end the experience with a summary of what the group achieved (unambiguous closure principle) and future actions. By all means invite people to stay and chat, just make it clear that the group activities are over. 

 If all else fells, get a free bar. Your attendees are guaranteed to have fun.

The Incentives Principle

September 28, 2011Comments Off on The Incentives Principle

Every time you need to use an incentive to get people to do something in the community, you've failed. 

There are two problems with incentives.

First, they're often expensive and time-consuming. It's easy for an organisation to become over-reliant on incentives.

Second, and most importantly, on a psychological level it has a negative long-term effect. Members who join to get an incentive will always associate their action with that reward and not motivation to participate in a great community. 

Embrace human behaviour and motivation theory instead.

  • Do you need to use an incentive to get people to join? Or do you need to work on your invitation, initiate things in the community people want to join the community to participate in and encourage members to bring their friends to join?
  • Do you need to use an incentive to get people to participate? Or do you need to start interesting discussions, prompt people to participate and help them make the types of contributions which beget future contributions? 
  • Do you need to use an incentive to get people to give you feedback on your products? Or do you need to embrace the herd principle and find a small group of people to begin giving feedback and use these people to influence others?. 

Tangible incentives are what bad community managers use. Embracing human behaviour and basic motivations are what great community managers use. Which do you want to be?

For more tips on developing and managing online communities on behalf of brands, join the Pillar Summit's Professional Community Management mailing list (and receive a free copy of The Proven Path; a 90-page eBook which will explain how to get a branded community started).

Case Study: A Great Example Of A Branded Community

September 27, 2011Comments Off on Case Study: A Great Example Of A Branded Community

InkPop is one of the best branded communities. It avoids the errors that sink most branded community efforts. Lets review what HarperCollins got right…



1) A Great Community Concept

HarperCollins got the concept perfect. They didn't make a community about HarperCollins,nor try to target the entire audience of people that read their books. They targeted a small, specific, group of individuals with a strong common interest (teenage girls that love to read and write fiction). That's quite a specific group compared to the entire potential audience. By focusing on a very specific audience they attracted the very specific audience.


2) Subtle Branding

HarperCollins didn't brand the community as HarperCollins Connect, they gave the community a unique name and limited mentions of the brand. They allowed a unique identity to develop. This opened up their potential audience not just to their audience, but the audience of their competitors too (and all teenage girls who love to read and write novels).


3) Used their Unfair Big-Brand Powers

They used their big-brand advantage to offer something other communities couldn't – live interaction with HarperCollins editors and the opportunity to get a novel published. Too often brands neglect the advantages they inherently have and create a me-too community. Launching a community on a brand can be restrictive, but it can also be a great opportunity compared with other communities. 


4) Small Launch

HarperCollins began with a small launch in 2009. They didn't issue a press release announcing the launch of the community until they already had 10,000 members. Even better, they used their press releases to announce major milestones the community could be proud of. 


5) Activities/events

They gave the community something to do, write and share novels. This isn't just a community of interest, it's a community of practice too. They highlighted the best contributions of the community. They invited the community to help and rate each other's contributions. There is always something fresh in the community. 


Could they do anything better?

A few things. They hide the interactions of the community within the platform. They would benefit from showing the latest interactions in a prominent place on the platform. They have a few too many forum categories and they lack a clear content narrative to follow. They would benefit significantly from having a central news page. 


For more tips on developing and managing online communities on behalf of top brands, join the Pillar Summit's Professional Community Management mailing list (and receive a free copy of The Proven Path; a 90-page eBook which will explain how to get a branded community started).

A Useless Platform

September 26, 2011 Comments Off on A Useless Platform

Last week I spoke at the eVirus conference in Vilnius, Lithuania. The dominant theme was Facebook. Namely, how can we build a community on Facebook?

My answer is pretty simple.

Don't build a community on Facebook.

Do you want to base your community efforts upon a platform over which you have no control, which has one of the lowest response rates in history, where most of your updates wont been seen by the majority of your audience, where few individuals meaningfully interact with each other on branded pages, with little demonstrable ROI, and where the owner can shift the ground beneath your feet at any moment without warning?

Sure, Facebook has some uses. You can build an audience pretty quickly. However, it's almost impossible to get this audience to meaningfully interact with each other on the platform. As a community platform, Facebook lies somewhere between awful and redundant.

Just ask yourself, how many times do you visit and interact with others on a branded Facebook page? I suspect it's not often.

Facebook might be the easiest and most popular option, but it's far from the best option. 

Click here to download a free 90-page ebook on developing successful online communities for organizations.

Big Launch Syndrome

September 22, 2011Comments Off on Big Launch Syndrome

Most branded communities fall victim to a crippling disease. It's a disease spread largely by marketing folk. I call it the Big Launch Syndrome.

The Big Launch Syndrome can be identified by several common symptoms.

  1. Issuing a press release.
  2. Hosting a contest/offering incentives to get people to register.
  3. Developing expensive bespoke community platforms
  4. Advertising/promotion about the community.
  5. Mass e-mails announcing the launch of a community.
  6. Guest post by the CEO.
  7. Blogger/influencer outreach campaigns. 

The Big Launch Syndrome is what happens when brands adopt a marketing-led approach to developing a community (as opposed to a community-led approach). It's what happens when brands don't realize that a community is a unique field which requires a unique approach. It's what happens when brands fail to understand that an online community has (unsurprisingly) more in common with offline community theory than previous marketing efforts.

A big launch establishes a bad first impression, wastes a lot of money, sets too great expectations, focuses on the wrong metrics and is a massive gamble. Worse still, the Big Launch Syndrome is fatal. Every community that falls victim to it dies. 

To all brands, I know how tempted you are to go with the big launch. It's what you know and what you're familiar with. It feels safer. It feels like it should work, but it doesn't. 

Start small, grow steadily. Focus on a narrow group. Get 50 highly active members, then aim for 100 and 500. Forget a public launch and celebrate public milestones instead. 

Free 90-Page eBook – The Only Proven Approach To Developing A Successful Community

September 21, 2011Comments Off on Free 90-Page eBook – The Only Proven Approach To Developing A Successful Community

Today, I’m delighted to announce the publication of a free 90-page eBook; The Proven Path.

Most branded online communities are doomed. They're on the wrong path. Everything they know about online communities is wrong. They will waste a lot of time and money trying to build an online community that can’t succeed.

This eBook aims to change that. The Proven Path is a detailed guide to developing an online community for organizations.  

This eBook identifies the mistakes made by most brands and how to avoid them. It will take you, step by step, through the process of developing a thriving online community for your organization.

The Proven Path includes interviews with top community experts, very practical and in-depth tactics for getting people to join and participate in a community, and how to grow your community from 0 members to 50,000.

Click here to get your copy of this free eBook.


Ignore The Short Cuts

September 20, 2011Comments Off on Ignore The Short Cuts

There will always be people who claim they can build a community in a matter of weeks.

One author published a book claiming she could do it in 25 days. Yet, even the author's own community hasn't had activity in a month. Note: this community has been closed since the time of writing.

We've lost a LOT of potential clients by being honest about how long a community will take and trying to set realistic expectations. Usually they go with a marketing agency instead which promises instant results. Every time, they've been disappointed. 

There aren't any easy short-cuts here and you should beware any group/individual which claim you will have a thriving community in a matter of weeks. It take both far more time, and far more effort, to establish a community. 

Bonus: Download your free copy of The Proven Path. This eBook will explain, step by step, the only proven strategy to developing a successful online community. 

Planning For A Big Community (The Mistake Made By Managers Of Huge Online Communities)

September 19, 2011Comments Off on Planning For A Big Community (The Mistake Made By Managers Of Huge Online Communities)

Imagine you have a community of 5000 active members. Not meaningless registered members, but active members. That means they actively participate once a month.

That’s a minimum of 5000 posts a month, 166 posts per day. That sounds manageable right? You can handle browsing through that much content a day. Mondays might be tricky, but not a major problem.

But lets be more realistic. Lets assume that half your members make several posts a week. Now you’re suddenly looking at over 300 posts a day. But it gets worse, you’re going to have a small number of members that are far more active – perhaps posting several times a day

It doesn’t take much to reach the stage where you’re getting over 1000 posts a day. Now imagine you also have conflicts to resolve, user technical troubles to handle, content to create, technology to maintain and all the other community management tasks to undertake. 

Soon, you’re swamped. You’re completely overwhelmed. You can’t do anything but the seemingly most urgent tasks (usually the ones which are most trivial to the community's long-term success).

There is a consistent criticism from some community managers that much of the community advice available online is meaningless once the community reaches a certain size. That’s only true if you let your community reach a size where it’s unmanageable.

If your community lacks structure, allows unrestrained growth, doesn’t develop a reliable base of volunteers, employs no strategy for scaling, then you’re bound to reach a stage where your community is too big to handle.

In fact, many communities have unrestrained and unplanned growth as the most likely outcome of their efforts.

You need to develop processes when you’re small to handle the stage where you’re big. You can’t wait until you manage a big community to think about how to manage a big community. By that time you’re too overwhelmed to introduce such processes. 

Think about how you scale now. How will you keep developing a sense of community? How will you benefit from each member? How will you manage a team? How many volunteers do you need per active member? How will your day need to change? How will you focus on developing the community as opposed to maintaining it?


September 16, 2011Comments Off on Patronizing

Here is a quick observation. 

A lot of branded communities are very patronizing to their members. 

Treat your members as if they are as smart as you…because they probably are.


Huge Online Communities: What Do You Work On Next?

September 14, 2011Comments Off on Huge Online Communities: What Do You Work On Next?

Some communities are huge. They have thousands, potentially millions, of members. They generate thousands of posts every day. 

What do you do with these communities? What's the next step? 

  • Large events. You can have major annual or bi-annual event. You can book a single venue and invite members to fly in, or they can organize world-wide meet-ups in cities around the world on specific days. Blizzard (World of Warcraft) does the former, Twestival does the latter. These events build lifetime bonds between members and ensure everyone finds a group within the community where they can exist. They created a shared history amongst members. They increase the ownership members have over the community. Events are worth the time, trouble and investment. 
  • Scaling processes/self-sufficiency. You can help the community become self-sufficient. You can focus on scaling processes to ensure the community can continue to grow and develop without forever escalating costs. You can develop a process for members to manage themselves. Eve Online has a government
  • Efficiency. You can work to optimize your conversion process for the community. You can aim for 100% conversion of newcomers to regular members. You can identify where members drop-out. You can tweak the copy and plan social/technological interventions to improve the conversion ratio.
  • Sub-groups. You can work to develop sub-groups for the community. You can begin by developing them yourself, then allowing select members to create and finally allowing any member to create them (once they have 30 interested members).
  • Culture development.Huge communities can work on developing a stronger culture. They can implement elements highlighted within sense of community theory. They can measure the sense of community and work to increase it. 
  • Mainstream. You can work on moving your community to be the big player within your ecosystem. You can move towards the mainstream and influence broader society culture. You can raise the profile of your interest within the mainstream sector. 
  • The community as a business entity. Huge communities can work to become a business entity. This is the community as a business, rather than for a business. You can host regular events, create/sell products to your members, move into new areas (e.g. a TV show), sell focus group access, and otherwise follow the Mumsnet model.
  • Campaigns. You can campaign on issues you care about. You can try to change the products companies create for your sector. You can change government legislation. You can make things more favourable for your members. You can adopt a non-profit cause and work to support that. 
  • Sell. You can sell the community. If you lose interest, no longer feel you want to be heavily involved in the community, then you should sell. 

The danger of creating a big community is to get sloppy. It's to assume that the community will continue to take care of itself. Don't let this happen. Always have a plan of where you want the community to go next. 

Narrow The Scope For Your Community

September 12, 2011Comments Off on Narrow The Scope For Your Community

Narrowing the scope is an effective tool to solve many community problems.

It’s tempting to try to do too much. Your community might have multiple goals. Your community might have an array of features members can use.

Focus on just getting one active discussion, then two.

Focus on achieving one goal, then two.

Focus on getting members to use just one area of the site, then two.

Narrowing the scope works for several reasons. First, it establishes momentum. Once you have one active discussion, it’s much easier to get two active discussions going. Once you have two, it’s even easier to get 3, then 4…

Second, it simplifies the actions you need to take. You can cut out 90% of your work and dedicate all your efforts to the quick wins you need to gain momentum.

Third, it’s clear to members what they should be doing. It builds up pressure within a fixed area of the platform. It sets a clear path for activity and future activities. 

A broader scope doesn’t help make your community more interesting or more successful. A broader scope hurts your community’s ability to establish momentum and reach critical mass. 

Focus on one tiny thing. A simple, quick, win perhaps. It’s easy to have too broad a scope. It’s difficult to have a scope that’s too narrow. 

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