Month: November 2011

A Great Example Of An Online Community

November 17, 2011Comments Off on A Great Example Of An Online Community

One of my favourite examples of a successful online community is The Student Room.

Studentroom

The Student Room gets a lot right. Lets examine a few of the key factors

1) The Platform

The Student Room uses a simple platform that encourages interaction between members. It displays a lot of activity on the landing page while also having the option to display content articles. Many communities struggle to do both. 

Most importantly, the platform is simple. You don't have to join to see all the discussions. You join to participate. 

 

2) Interactions

The Student Room has a consistently high social density across the site. They introduce new forum categories for popular topics and facilitate a high level of off-topic discussion. Right now discussions range from fitness, choosing universities, politics, religion and romance. 

This is a community which has clearly reached the mitosis phase in the community lifecycle. It's sustaining high levels of participation from a relatively fixed-number target audience. 

 

3) Events/Activities

The Student Room engages in events and activities. The community is currently organizing a ski & snowboard trip for its members in 2012.

 

4) Strong sense of community

Students have a good sense of community anyhow, but the Student Room has excelled in introducing the elements which facilitate a strong sense of community. They have a good personality, shared history, clear membership etc…

 

5) Monetization

The Student Room has monetized the site by providing value to members. They're picky about advertisers. This avoids the MySpace trap. The advertising is clearly apparent but not overwhelming. They have room to go further by producing guides and products specifically for their audience.

 

6) Wealth of knowledge

The Student Room has cultivated an unparalleled wealth of knowledge about their topic. All of which has been created by its members. There is a clear benefit from joining and participating in this community. 

The Student Room helps students be better students. Not enough communities do this. 

 

You can learn a lot about developing and managing successful online communities by looking at The Student Room.

A Brief Guide To Building Strong Relationships With Key Community Members

November 16, 2011Comments Off on A Brief Guide To Building Strong Relationships With Key Community Members

A community manager should cultivate positive relationships with top members in the community. 

These relationships provide the community manager with a great deal of influence over the community. They also boost activity, provide a feedback mechanism and develop volunteers. 

Offline, building a relationship is a relatively simple task. Online, we tend to struggle. We rush it, or play the numbers game. 

So here is a very quick guide on building a relationship with a top community member (or anyone).

1) Identify who you want to build a relationship with. Why this person? Judging by their past contributions to the community what do you and they have to gain through a relationship? Your time is limited, so you need to decide who to build a relationship with. Will it be the most prominent? Most active? Most knowledgable? Most experienced? Newest? Why?

2) Review their contributions to the community. Learn a little about them. Where are they from? What are their interests outside of the topic? What contributions to the community have they made in the past? What image of themselves are they trying to construct?

3) Question, compliment, or comment. Ask a relevant question, give them a compliment or make a statement you believe they will have a strong opinion on. All these will be based upon your research. You can't mass-mail this, each approach has to be based upon something specific. 

4) Continue the discussion. Ask more questions based upon their responses. Identify a topic of mutual interest. Look for ways you can help them. Endeavour to talk on the phone or participate in something together. Disclose more information about yourself (thoughts, feelings, experiences).

5) Sustain the relationship. Maintain contact. Don't make a connection solely when you need something. Schedule it in your calendar if you like. Find a time every week to continue the relationship. 

6) Only ask for something when you have completed the steps above. By far the biggest mistake is approaching someone too early. Wait until you have developed a strong relationship. It's best if you've already helped them do something first. 

This works for any type of relationship you want to build in almost any situation. 

Remember you should only ask the member to do something that benefits you after you have built a relationship. The benefit is the final step. Too frequently we treat it as the first step. 

Don't be reactive to relationship development. Proactively cultivate positive relationships with a large group of members. 

Vocal Minority And The Triumph Of Data

November 15, 2011Comments Off on Vocal Minority And The Triumph Of Data

In the Facebook Effect, David Kirkpatrick shares a memorable tale about the introduction of Facebook's news feed.

Members hated it. They repeatedly said so. It was going to destroy Facebook. They were all going to leave. 

Some community managers might've decided to change it back. They might have apologised. Facebook didn't. 

Why? Because their data showed them that members were interacting more. 

I dislike community managers declaring what the community does/doesn't like based upon what a tiny minority of members have stated. Those that are perfectly happy, usually wont say a thing.

It's impossible to summarize the feelings of a community based upon what members have said, you have to see what members do.

Only data yields you the answer. When you make a change, you need to decide what you're going to measure to see if members like it.

How The Community Management Role Evolves

November 13, 2011Comments Off on How The Community Management Role Evolves

If you’ve just launched a community, you will spend the bulk of your time inviting people to join and prompting them to participate. Your role is very focused upon gaining a high level of activity from a relatively small number of individuals. Anything else at this stage is a distraction.

But your role evolves. Once you've passed the critical mass stage, you need to focus on slightly bigger activities, such as organizing events, embedding processes, promoting the community, developing a strong sense of community, optimizing the conversion process and measuring your efforts

You shouldn't be doing the same tasks you did a year ago. Your role should be constantly evolving. This is why task-orientated community job descriptions fare badly against goal-orientated community job descriptions. 

The challenge is knowing when and how to evolve. You have to determine this in advance. e.g. Once we reach {x} we will begin doing {y}

Escalation Against Trolls

November 10, 2011Comments Off on Escalation Against Trolls

Someone bothering the community should be banned or suspended.

That’s simple enough.

If the individual creates new accounts or otherwise continues attacks on your community, you need to go further to resolve the issue (note resolve, not revenge).

Collect evidence of their activities and present this evidence to their ISP. Most ISPs have terms of service that prohibit spamming, harassment and otherwise being a plague to other individuals.

If a member keeps coming back, or makes remarks that are racist, incites hatred, or threatens other members, contact the police.

Don’t play the cat and mouse game. Don’t keep repeatedly banning a member.

Resolve the issue efficiently and move on.

The Ultimate Guide To Rewarding Community Members

November 9, 2011Comments Off on The Ultimate Guide To Rewarding Community Members

What’s the purpose of the reward? What will be different after you issue the reward?

A good reward scheme identifies a desired outcome and creates a reward, based upon human motivation, which changes an individual’s behaviour over the long-term.

A bad reward scheme will do neither. A bad reward scheme will find things that the organization has in abundance (free t-shirts, old products) and offer them to top members for their contributions.

A good reward scheme can significantly improve the community, a bad reward scheme can hurt participation (see self-justification) and cause problems for those beneath the reward cut-off line. 

There are three questions with rewards schemes. 

1) Who do you reward? You have to segment your community members by activity, contributions, status, duration in the community and identify those whose behaviour you would most like to change. 

2) Why do you reward them? Your most active members are often those you don't need to reward. They're already doing exactly what you want them to do. By offering a reward you can create expectations of rewards and upset others. You have to answer why you would reward this group. What would be different in the community if their behaviour changes? 

3) How do you reward them? What are their motivations? Efficacy? Fame? Money? Power? Achievement? How do you translate these motivations into a reward you can offer?

4) How do you measure the effectiveness of that reward? When you issue the reward, how will you measure what level of influence it has on the individual's behaviour? What are the benchmarks you're following? You need to benchmark the group you're rewarding with those outside of the scheme. You also need to track this over a period of time to see if the reward delivers changed behaviour or just a temporary change in behaviour. 

A common mistake is rewarding the top community participants with free gear and opportunities without trying to identify the behaviour you wish to change.

Lets try a few reward scenarios. 

 

Scenario 1: Reversing A Decline In The Most Active Members

 You have a successful online community with a core group of 200 highly active members. These members have, on average, made 200 contributions per month for the past 12-months. Recently, however, your data shows this group is dwindling. Without them, you can expect responsiveness and activity to decline rapidly. You talk to a few members and realize that they're not as passionate about the organization or topic as they used to be. 

You decide to create a reward scheme to reverse this trend. From your discussions you know these members want a stronger sense of efficacy within the organization. You decide to set up a regular conference call for members to talk to people interacting with the products. You also create a special group for these highly active members in which employees participate on a regular basis. 

Over the course of several months you notice that this trend has been reversed and this group is highly active. You also begin letting these members invite others to join them on these calls which spurs increased activity and interest from others. 

 

Scenario 2: Spurring Increased Activity From Longtime Members

As your community has grown rapidly in the last few months, you notice that the level of activity within the community from your long-time members is significantly below that of average members. Since these members have strong relationships and knowledge you need them you be more active.

From discussions with these members, you get the impression they don't feel special anymore. The new wave of members has drowned out their previous status as community veterans. 

You create a special profile badge which appears next to their profile image highlighting their veteran status. You also get the company CEO to sign letters thanking them for their support over the years and sharing a couple of thoughts about how the community has impacted the company over the last few years (appreciation & efficacy motivations).

You also split-test this scenario. Some members receive the letters, some receive the badges, some receive both. It's clear that the letters have no impact, but those with badges and those who received both have increased their activity in approximately the same ratio. So you stop the letters and focus on developing ever-better badges for long-serving members. 

 

Scenario 3: Helping Members Overcome the 5-month Hurdle

Your conversion tracking showing that few members are still active after five-months. This leads to a high amount of churn and means that no sense of community is developing amongst members.

Specifically, you notice that an initial surge of activity tapers off after three months and ends after five months. You talk to a few members and see a common trend, they simply don't feel they have many connections within the community. 

You introduce a reward scheme. Once members have been active for three months, they can apply for special privileges, such as writing content for the community, moderating discussions, helping to organize events and otherwise supporting the community (note, you give these to other members).

Following this tracking process, you realize that this reward scheme has made a small, but limited, impact member participation. You try staggering the rewards over a period of several months, which boosts participation higher. You keep tweaking this scheme and monitoring the results. 

 

A Precise Tool

Rewards schemes are a precision tool designed to change behaviour from a specific segment of users. Don't use rewards as a blunt-instrument and don't assume that members just want free stuff. Identify the segment you need to reach, understand their behaviour and motivations, then create a scheme tailored to changing their behaviour. 

Also notice that the best rewards are usually things that have no monetary value, but appeal to a member's individual motivations. 

Good Dreams And Increased Status

November 7, 2011Comments Off on Good Dreams And Increased Status

It’s better to discuss the dream of your community, than dwell too frequently upon specific actions it takes.

How will the world be different in the future as a result of the community?

This plays upon our efficacy needs. We like to feel we've made an impact upon the world. We like to be part of groups that are changing the world. 

What is the vision that members can get behind? What does your community stand for?

But not all communities are suited to dreams, some are better suited to status. 

Your community shouldn’t be a community for engineers. But a community for an engineers who believe … or do …. or wish …. or want ….

Status refers to the past. What has the community done? What type of people join the community? 

It’s easy for people to get behind a community than has good, strong, dreams or affords a higher level of status. 

If your community doesn’t talk about status and doesn’t have any good dreams, now might be the time to gradually introduce them. 

Swarm Sydney

November 6, 2011Comments Off on Swarm Sydney

This is a quick reminder.

I'll be in Australia this week speaking at Swarm Sydney.

You can learn more about Australia's first community management conference, and buy tickets, here: http://swarmsydney.com.au/pages/program

Does Your Community Have A Strong Future?

November 4, 2011Comments Off on Does Your Community Have A Strong Future?

Communities are based around a strong common interest.

Will the number of people interested in your community's topic rise or fall in the future? 

A big fallacy of many product-based communities is they rise and fall with the popularity of the product.

By focusing solely on one product, and refusing to adapt, their popularity is limited to 2 – 3 years. That might be a year to get the community started, a year of good popularity and a year of decline.

It's brave to spot a trend in the ecosystem and make a major change in the community as a result.

Your community might not like it. 

They might need it, but they might not like it.

FujiFilmX100 enthusiasts recently changed their community. They noticed that Fuji continued to expand their range and refocused the subject matter of the community. It's a clever change. 

If you predict that the number of people interested in your topic is likely to shrink in the future, it makes sense to refocus that interest.

High Value Community Management

November 3, 2011 Comments Off on High Value Community Management

What can you do that an intern with a few weeks training can't do?

If you spend your time welcoming members, removing spammers, responding to comments, writing content, answering questions, resolving disputes, and tweaking the platform, then you might struggle to think of an answer.

Worse, your answer might be to proclaim that you're less likely to make mistakes

That's not good enough. 

All these tasks are important, but they're not difficult. They can easily be outsourced. They treat the community as a problem to be managed. The company just wants the community taken care of. They don't want to be bothered by it. 

So what's high-value work when it comes to developing communities?

Exactly that. High value work is developing communities.

I'd pay a premium for a community manager that can analyze where the community is now and set a direction for the future. This would include an action plan about what s/he would achieve every single week.

I'd pay a premium for a community manager that can ascertain the ROI of the community and then steadily increase it. 

I'd pay a premium for a community manager that can create and execute a defensible plan for growing the community, increasing participation and building a strong sense of community amongst members. 

I'd pay a premium for a community manager that can steadily build an internal network of support for the community, and increasingly integrate the community into the organization's activities. 

I'd pay a premium for a community managers that proactively cultivate relationships with the top 100 members of the community and those in the community's ecosystem. Can you use your earned influence to shape what members do in the community? Can you get top people in your sector to give interviews, participate in events and submit guest columns to the community on a monthly basis? Can you get media coverage for your community as often as Mumsnet does? 

There are a lot of high-value community management tasks that are incredibly valuable to a community. The key is they're all proactive and focus upon development, not maintenance. They treat the community as an asset that needs more attention and nurturing, and not a problem to be managed. 

If you came in to work today without a plan for what you want to achieve in your community this week (not actions you take, but an improvement in the state of the community), then you're probably not doing high value community management…yet.

The Process

November 2, 2011Comments Off on The Process

A recent client is frustrated with the community development process we co-created.

She’s fed up of messaging dozens of people every day. She’s tired of creating content about the community. She doesn't want to spend time building strong relationships with members. She asked for short-cuts. Could she send the same message to multiple people, for example?

That's the wrong question.

The right question is 'is this approach working?'

You can hate the process as much as you hate an advert, but if it’s working – then keep running with it.

The process is also where we separate those who want to be community managers from those that should be community managers. Community managers should love interacting with dozens, potentially hundreds, of people every day. If you don't, this probably isn't the industry for you. 

A Radical Change In Our Approach To Branded Community Platforms

November 1, 2011Comments Off on A Radical Change In Our Approach To Branded Community Platforms

Too many sites make the same mistake as TasteTheGlenLivet (below):

Glenlivet

This could be a thriving online community. They claim to have 20,000+ members, but few are participating.

At every single stage they put aesthetics before function.

At every single stage they made it more difficult to interact.

Just spend a few minutes browsing the community. It might look nice, but it prohibits interaction when it should be facilitating interaction. It's difficult to find where you could interact.

Now compare this with successul communities for Whisky such as Connosr, WhiskyMag, WhiskyWhiskyWhisky, Whisky.com?

Do you notice a pattern? They all make it easy to interact with others. Everything is built around interaction. You can see dozens of conversations you can participate in right now.

We need a profound rethink in our approach to branded community platforms.

Too often we ignore that almost every successful community is based around a forum-based platform. Too often we hide the interactions in favour of content and brand image considerations. 

I've been in meeting that have neared the shouting stage trying to make this point.

Will your image be better with an empty community around a beautiful site or a thriving community on a simple, functional, site?

You can't tell your designers that you want a community site and wait for them to come back with ideas. You need to tell your designers that you want a community that:

1) Features the latest interactions on the front page of the community platform.

2) Features the latest interactions in the most prominent areas of the community platform.

3) Lets members participate in no more than three actions (click, enter e-mail and desired username, participate).

If branded communities simply followed these very simple rules, they would be far more successful. We wouldn't see the likes of Ducati, GenerationBenz, and TasteTheGlenLivet destroying the potential of their communities.

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