The Huge ROI Of Small, Exclusive, B2B Communities

January 31, 2012 ,Comments Off

One client is in the early stages of community development.

It's a highly specialized community. It targets people within a niche, of a niche, of a niche. The total target audience is no more than a few hundred people. 

Why bother with a community that targets a few hundred people?

Because these are the few hundred people that matter. They are the people whom make buying decisions, give proper feedback, and use the products/services. 

Individuals in these communities can each be worth six to seven figures in revenue. This tiny, exclusive, community that no-one will know about (that's by choice), can generate a greater ROI than the likes of Dell, Best Buy, and most of the communities you've heard about. 

Whilst it might be the huge, customer-facing, communities that get all the attention. I suspect it's the small, exclusive, communities that generate the bigger ROI.

Registration is now open for The Pillar Summit's Professional Community Management course. This is an advanced, online, course which will equip you with the skills, knowledge and resources to be a world-class community manager. Click here for more information.

Learn The Skills, Knowledge, and Resources Of World Class Community Managers

January 30, 2012Comments Off

Over the the past decade, we've developed and refined a process for developing successful online communities for clients. 

We identified where clients are in their community efforts and then provide them with the skills, knowledge, and resources they need to progress their community further. 

Usually, this meant the client had an idea for the community but didn't know how to implement it. So we explained what they needed to do at each stage.We developed their strategy and community platform in line with best practices. We ensured they didn't make the mistakes many brands make. We gave them our proven scripts, templates and guides. And we trained their staff. 


The problem with consultancy

Unfortunately, this is time intensive. We can only take on a handful of clients a year and not every organization can afford our time.

So last year we wrapped our entire approach up into a course organizations could take. 

The course was the most advanced of its kind.

It's intensive, fully online, and highly practical. It delivers hands-on coaching, refers to over 100 case studies and just under 300 references to peer-reviewed material. We teach students how to develop communities and how to apply this knowledge specifically to their own community efforts.

We've run the course twice now and been blown away by both the demand, quality of participants, and results achieves by our participants. 

So we're very happy to run the course again this year.

We have opened registration for The Pillar Summit's Professional Community Management course. You can download the prospectus here:


(only read on if you want more information about the course)


The Pillar Summit Course

The Pillar Summit is comprises of 3 modules:

1) How to start an online community. This takes the participant from conception (just coming up with the idea of a community) through to critical mass (when the community has reached the stage where growth/activity have come self-sustaining)

2)  Successful Community Management. This is our flagship module. This covers how to manage an active online community. Specifically, it explains how to grow a community, moderate a community, build relationships, what types of content to create and how to sustain high levels of activity amongst members.

3) Advanced community strategy. This module covers scaling a community, how to develop and executive a community strategy, measurement, metrics and gaining a positive ROI. We also go deep into community and group theory. 


During this course you will learn how to: 

  • Develop any community concept from scratch to critical mass.
  • Identify the resources your organizations needs to dedicate to the community. 
  • Select and develop the best platform for your online community.
  • Ensure people join and participate in your online community.
  • Sustain high levels of engagement in your community.
  • Use advanced social-psychology, and community-psychology techniques to develop a strong sense of community amongst members.
  • Tackle common community problems such as participation inequality, disputes, low engagement, and weak growth.
  • Participate in a platform and build relationships with members in line with proven relationship-development theory.
  • Measure the community using reliable metrics.
  • Gain a clear, provable, ROI from your community efforts.
  • Train other members of your community team.


How The Pillar Summit is taught

The Pillar Summit is an online course taught through both extensive written material (over 70,000 words) and a series of live, interactive, webinars. 

Webinar lessons are scheduled twice a week (so participants around the world can participate) and recorded to ensure no participant misses a lesson. 

During lessons we explain how to apply the material to your community efforts. We outline the material, use case studies, and help you use the material to improve your community efforts. 

In addition to this lesson, we also offer a huge number of extra benefits. These include: 

  • One to one coaching. We coach participants how to tackle their community-specific issues. 
  • The Pillar Summit’s Community Management Playbook. Learn how to tackle the most community problems communities face. 
  • Proven scripts for inviting members to participate, news posts, soliciting volunteers etc…
  • Weekly live-discussions. During these discussions we tackle common problems faced by members every week.
  • The Pillar Summit's case study eBook. We provide participants with an eBook for case studies in successful community management.
  • Template strategy documents, website wireframes, content and action calendars. Drag and drop your activities into our pre-designed documents. 
  • Checklists for your community efforts. Ensure you're following best practices and are undertaking every necessary activity to develop a successful community.
  • The Pillar Summit’s Community management Bible – the full text of every lesson. We don't share this with anyone else.
  • Access to several community management journals. Access a variety of academic literature to online communities. Especially use for niche industries.
  • Guest speakers from some of the world’s top online communities. Every week, we have a live webinar featuring a community manager of a highly successful online community.
  • Open-clinic hours where you can seek help for any problems faced by your community.
  • Practical assignments. These help you apply the material learnt during the lessons directly to your community efforts.


Previous participants

Previous participants have included community managers for Oracle, Amazon, Lego, GreenPeace, Telligent, TeachFirst and a range of marketing agencies, non-profits, and associations. 

Previous participants have given the course incredible reviews


Registration for The Pillar Summit closes on Feb 19. 

If you want more information either download our prospectus at this URL: or visit

We hope to see a few of you there.  

Is This Terrible Community Management?

January 29, 2012Comments Off

Every few days, someone will highlight an example like this of terrible community management. 

DreamHost is down. People are angry. No-one from DreamHost is managing the comments. This, therefore, means it's terrible community management.

I would argue that this might be great community management, at least from a community perspective. A common enemy is good for the community. A community united against you is still a united community. That's not easy to achieve. 

If the community were to find a way to band together and resolve the problem, community theory suggests they will be much stronger for it. There is some evidence of this happening. They're suggesting different hosting providers, for example. 

None of this will help DreamHost. Upsetting your customers isn't smart. Many of these customers wont be coming back. But this isn't the point (of this post).

Customer service and community management aren't the same. They overlap…in places. But they're different. The art of developing a strong community isn't synonymous with the art of pleasing every customer. They diverge, frequently. This isn't terrible community management (or community management at all), it's terrible customer service. 

A community practitioner sees a major problem as a big opportunity for the community to work together to find a solution. As a result, the community is stronger. A customer service rep should will press the panic button and tell the audience to sit tight until the problem is resolved. That audience has no power. 

This might seem like a minor, terminological, difference, but it's far bigger than that. Time to start considering if you're doing community management or customer service. 

Responding To Members

January 26, 2012 Comments Off

Yesterday a commenter asked how anyone can reply to all community member e-mails in an hour or less. It takes her nearly all day to get through them all.

The answer is fairly simple. 

You don't get all the e-mails done in an hour.

You only give yourself an hour to go through it (the hour is arbitrary).

You get through as many as possible in that hour. The rest of the time you spend developing your community

The danger here is spending more time on unhappy members and ignoring the happy people in your community.

Would you rather spend 20 minutes resolving a minor issue of one member or working on a piece of content that the entire community will like? How about spending those 20 minutes reaching out to potential volunteers who can help answer questions?

Or if you want to simplify this, let resolving individual members problems be the last thing you do in the day. Once you've got all the development activities done, work on the individual responses.

Essential Elements Of Community Platforms

January 25, 2012 Comments Off

Don't compare community platforms by the features they do/don't have.

Compare community platforms by the features that are essential to you and how well they execute on those features. 

The number of essential features is very limited. 

  • Discussion area. Members need a place in which they can interact. This will usually be a forum-based. 
  • Notifications. Members need to be notified when people have responded to their posts. This keeps members coming back. It sustains activity. 
  • Analytics. You need to be able to properly track what's going on. You need to know what's going on beneath the surface. 
  • Member profiles. Members need to create and use a consistent identity within the community. These profiles don't have to be overlook 

Looking at this, you can partly see why forum-only communities are thriving. They offer nothing but the essential features. They're far more successful than any feature-backed platform. 

But this neglects a more important point, depth of features.

Within each element, there are a range of subtle, but essential, options. Does the discussion area of the platform you're considering enable exporting of data, and integration with FB/Twitter? Can you embed the latest discussions elsewhere? Does it support different access levels, category creation, sufficient admin features, and customization of design?

Is it clear if there are any new posts when someone visits? Does it show both total posts or just the total number of new posts since the last visit? 

Perhaps even deeper, how much space does every discussion take on the page? Are discussions spaced out in a way that only show 5 discussions on a page? Or does it show 25?

The mistake many people make here is they compare platforms by breadth of features they rarely need and are unlikely to use as opposed to the depth of essential features.

If you're in the process of choosing a platform, look to at the depth and subtle variation between the key features, not the breadth of features. 


A Simple Way To Stimulate Interesting Discussions

January 24, 2012Comments Off

If you want to initiate discussions which get a good response, you need to know a few things:

1)   What do your members really care about?

2)   What are your members’ biggest problems?

3)   What do your members do? (habits online/offline)

Once you know this, it’s relatively easy to initiate discussions along these lines (and highlight discussions initiated by members along these lines).

  • For example, what is the best way to…?
  • How many of you have found {x} is really difficult?
  • Have you ever found that….?

You don’t always need to ask for the solution, you just need other people to identify that they also have the same problem.

Ask a few members what their biggest problems are, ask what they really care about, ask what they do online/offline relating to the topic?

Or if you want to simplify the entire process, got to a relevant sector event, keep a list of what people are discussing (not the lectures, but informally), and build discussions around that. 

Community Management: Planning The Week

January 23, 2012 Comments Off

Professional community managers plan their week in advance.

Their plans are based upon data collected from the community (growth, engagement and sense of community), and knowledge of what communities need to further develop. 

Let's assume your community is in the establishment phase and you're a full-time community manager working 40 hours a week (I know, but let's imagine).

Using the Community Management Map, you would spend approximately the following amount of time on each element of community management:

  • Strategy: 2 hours (collecting/analyzing data)
  • Growth: 10 hours (direct invites, promotion, referral tactics etc…)
  • Moderation: 8 hours (initiating discussions, resolving disputes, soliciting responses, steering the community).
  • Content: 4 hours (writing content and encouraging others to contribute)
  • Relationships: 6 hours (personal participation, cultivating volunteers, befriending key members)
  • Events & Activities: 4 hours (planning online/offline events regular/irregular events)
  • Business Integration: 2 hours (Engaging employees and integrating price, producs and promotion etc…)
  • Technology: 4 hours (maintenance, optimizing areas of the site, checking out future technology)

Now you can slot these activities into a plan for each day.

For example, a typical day might include:

  • 9am – 11am: Growth tactics (invite 5 people, reach out to a blog for promotion)
  • 11am – 12.30pm: Resolve disputes, initiative discussions and solicit responses
  • 1.30pm – 2.30pm: Plan upcoming events for the week
  • 2:30pm – 4:00pm: Participate in current discussions. Reach out to top members, build relationships, ask if people want to volunteer.
  • 4:00pm – 5:00pm: Create content for tomorrow
  • 5:00pm – 6:00pm: Tweak registration homepage an test 

You wont undertake every activity on every day. Strategy can mostly be done on a once-a-day or once-a-week basis. Some urgent things might derail your plan, a major technical problem for example. As will internal meetings and other cumbersome events.

The purpose is to be proactive in your approach to community management. Establish a weekly plan based upon the data which highlights what your community need. And do your absolute best to work to that plan. 

The Internal Problems You Don’t See

January 20, 2012Comments Off

Last week a number of community managers claimed their biggest problem was internal. 

They didn't have the right support of the organization. 

This had many manifestations including:

  • Using the wrong platform.
  • Lacking resources.
  • Juggling multiple projects.
  • No budget for training.
  • Couldn't allow community members to contribute content.
  • Forced the community manager to use formal language.
  • Restricted off-topic conversations.
  • Demanding results too early. 
  • Removed criticisms. 

Do these sound familiar?

There are three problems here.

First, when asked, many had no plan for getting that internal support.

Second, despite the job description, your role is internal as much as external. You build that internal support for the community before you build the community (or take the job). We created a simple checklist to help organizations understand what they need here. 

Third, these miss a bigger problem. Branded communities are competing against amateurs. Amateurs have many advantages. They are far more successful at building communities that brands.

Your brand needs to offer an unfair advantage to compete. You need to use your big brand advantages to offer an environment which amateurs can't match. HarperCollins does this with Inkspot.

Getting the permissions and resources above are just the baseline requirements that let you get into the game. The bigger internal issue is this. How do you configure your resources to create this amazing community environment? 

How To Convert Newcomers Into Regular Members

January 19, 2012 Comments Off

There are a few golden rules for converting newcomers into regular members of your community. Here are 5 rules that should help. 


Golden Rule 1: The community concept must closely match the member’s interest

In studies undertaken by Lampe and Johnson (2005), Arguelloe et al. (2006) and Kraut et al. (2008), the single biggest determining factor in whether a visitor became a regular, active, member was their strength of interest in the topic.
You determine this when you’re conceptualizing your community. The more your community concept fits their interest, the more they will be interested in that community.
If you already have a community that’s struggling for participation, you can narrow the interest to a stronger interest shared by a more specific group of people. Then you can approach people in that group to join the community and establish momentum.
For example, a history teacher in London is far more likely to participate in a community for history teachers in London than a community for all teachers or even teachers in London.
Be exclusive when developing the concept for the community. You need to narrow down the audience and match their interests are tightly as possible. Remember, in most categories, you will be competing with bigger, more established, communities. By excluding a large number of people you ensure that those that do visit are more likely to become active. 

Golden Rule 2: Promote things happening in the community

If you’re like most community managers, you wait for visitors to stumble upon your community then throw the kitchen sink at them to keep them active.
This doesn’t tend to work well.
The key to getting a high conversion rate is to ensure that your visitors already know what they’re going to participate in before they join the community. You can’t do that if the only visitors you get are drifters. You need to be more deliberate in your growth strategy. You need to reach your members before they visit your community.
Reach members before they visit the community
There are, broadly, four channels of growth (1) Direct invitations (2) Word-of-mouth from existing members (3) Outbound promotion and (4) Search traffic.
If you want a high conversion rate, you need to identify discussions, activities and events taking place within the community that others might want to participate in. Then you need to promote these discussions, activities and events through these channels.
For example, you can directly invite 5 members a day who have mentioned an interest in something relevant to a topical community discussion. You might find these on Twitter, comments on blogs/news stories/Facebook etc…You can ask them to share their opinion on the issue and send them the link to do so.
Another approach is to create a community eBook of top advice on your community’s topic. You can ask members or anyone with an excellent tip to join the community to make a contribution to this eBook. Then you can publish the eBook with links included to areas of your community to discuss the topic further.
You can set up an event with a well-known VIP in your community’s ecosystem (perhaps your company’s CEO?). You can solicit questions beforehand from members and ask top bloggers/influencers if they have any questions for the individual – which in turn might gain you coverage on their platforms. Your target audience has to join to ask a question (and visit to see the response).
You can initiate a poll/discussion on a very topical issue which people in your sector feel strongly about. You can promote this poll/discussion to your audiences on Facebook/Twitter/Mailing lists and ask them to vote/give their opinion. As the poll spreads, more people can join to submit their opinion on the issue.

Golden Rule 3: The conversion process neither begins nor ends with the registration page

As we have just covered, the conversion process doesn’t begin with the registration page – it doesn’t end with the registration page neither.
The registration page is as a primitive counter than a genuine attempt to gather useful information. Beyond, possibly, the member’s e-mail address and ensuring they use a consistent name throughout the community, what else do you genuinely need?
We need to focus on how many active, participating, members you have. To do that, we need to focus on what happens after the registration page. 
Beyond registration
The conversion process involves optimizing the journey. To optimize this journey we need to understand its major milestones.
In most communities, members must register before they participate (it’s actually better if they can submit their first contribution before being asked to give a username, password and e-mail to register). After the registration page, it’s essential that the very next page is either the activity they have chosen to participate in or an invitation to participate in a topical discussion.
For example, after a member registers they might be taken to a page which reads: “Glad you joined, we’re eager for you to get started. Perhaps you can tell us if you believe that {opinion} on {topical issue}?” This should include a link to the discussion. You can also include this in the confirmation e-mail if it’s easier
The principle here is you absolutely must do everything in your power to persuade the newcomer to make their first contribution within that first visit. Once they make a contribution, they enter into the notification cycle. They’re told about people who reply to their contributions. They’re motivated to see how people responded to their contributions, and make further contributions themselves.
Remember to update the topical discussion on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. You can test different sorts of discussions to identify which has the highest conversion ratio (see rule 5).
Sustaining contributions
A single contribution alone isn’t enough. You need to keep members active for 3 to 6 months. Only a high level of contributions over a sustained period of time will ensure they become regular members of your online community.
This is where you combine social and technological processes to optimize the conversion process. Lets begin the technological processes.
The goal isn’t just to drive interactions, but to ensure the members feel a greater sense of community over time. One tactic to accomplish this is e-mail reminders. There are two types of e-mail reminders. The first are e-mail reminders after members have been a member for a certain period of time, or made a certain number of contributions. The second are e-mail reminders after members have been absent for a period of time.
For example, after a member has made their first contribution, you might like to set up an e-mail which explains a little more about the community. It might reveal the history of the community, or mention a top member, or highlight another activity the member might like to participate in. It should include links to ask questions about the community or of a community elder.
The more members participate, the more they learn about the community. This should not be overwhelming. You may begin with establishing an automatic e-mail after members have made 5 contributions, then 20, then 50.
Social processes
Finally, there are various social processes you can implement to keep members engaged for a sustained period of time. Some communities run an adopt a buddy programme in which a volunteer group of members adopt newcomers and slowly guide them through the process of becoming an active member of the community. This works well, but you need a large group of willing members to participate. That takes time to cultivate/nurture. 
Another process is to have newcomer related threads, beginner tips, beginner questions, graduations and awards. Create activities specifically for newcomers. You might, for example, give specific threads to newcomers at an early stage of the community process. You might host beginner tips where experienced members can give advice to newcomers – and you can direct newcomers to that advice. You can set up a beginners live-chat about the topic where newbies can ask the experts. 
You can have a newcomer of the month award, as voted by other members, in which newcomers who have made significant contributions to the community can win a small prize. Or you may have a ritual/graduation for newcomers who have reached a certain level of contributions or been a member for a specific amount of time. You can congratulate them in a newspost or newsletter, give them access to a unique area of the community or include them in a list of regular, active, members – perhaps even add something to their profile page (or let them customize something – say an avatar).
Golden Rule 4: Help members overcome their social fear of participation

Members of a community have an inherent social fear about participating in a new community. We all do. We might not be conscious about this fear. It’s not a fear that keeps us up at night. It’s just an ever-present fear of social rejection or individual irrelevance.
It’s a fear that we will ask a stupid question, or wont receive a response to our comment. It’s a fear that we don’t know as much as other members. It’s a fear that member will criticize us for asking something stupid. This fear reduces the number of participations we make to a community and stops newcomers from posting anything of importance. They feel they might never be accepted as members of the club.
You can help members overcome these social fears. There are five steps here.

  1. Ensure every discussion receives a response within 24 hours. If we see that every discussion receives a reply, we don’t have to worry about looking foolish that no-one responded to our discussion. It reduces this fear to zero.
  2. Send members unwritten rules of the community. Lampe and Johnson (2005) note it’s important for members to know the unwritten rules of the community. How can they avoid looking stupid on their first posts? What questions have been asked often and should be avoided? How do people frame a discussion? In short, write down the unwritten rules of the community (you can let existing members do this) and send them to newcomers.
  3. Ask newcomers to start a discussion. This sounds obvious right? But you can ask members to start a discussion on a certain topic. In your automated messages, or to the broad group, you can invite them to start discussions from a newcomer’s perspective on a unique topic. You can provide them with a list of possible topics, if it’s easier and ask them to reply to these existing questions.
  4. Feature highly active discussions. You can increase the motivation to make a contribution. You can feature the top discussions in the most prominent areas. This acts as social proof to others. This shows others how to participate and the benefits from doing so.
  5. Turning initiators into heroes. Like the rule above, you can turn those initiating discussions into heroes within the community. You can frequently mention great contributions by name – and you can take special care to refer to individuals who make a great contribution as their first contribution. The greater the level of social proof, the better.

Golden Rule 5: Let your data be your guide

We’re not living in the digital dark-ages anymore. We have an insane amount of data to guide us. This is a simple rule, let your data be your guide.
You can measure every single step of the journey. You can pinpoint with an insane level of accuracy the exact moment where members are dropping out. You can test and refine different stages of the process.
Don’t make assumptions about what is/isn’t working, drill deep into your data to pull out the relevant insights. Some data you might like to collect, includes:

  • New visitors to the platform. This shows the success of your promotional efforts.
  • New registered members to new visitors. This shows how many people make it through the registration process.
  • Newly registered members whom make a contribution. Self-explanatory, this shows how many members make a contributions. It highlights how motivated they are to participate and the level of social fear.
  • New members who initiate a discussion. This is important. It shows how many are moving to a stage where they feel comfortable making a contribution. 
  • New members who remain active after 3 months. You can use a sampling technique here. Look at 100 members from 9 months ago against 300 members from 6 months ago. How many are still active after a certain period of time?

I’m not going to cover this rule in detail, lets save data for another day. This link might help for now: measuring an online community
If few of your members are remaining active, it's probably because your conversion techniques are limited to a welcome e-mail and a dull greeting from the community manager. If you follow these rules, your conversion ratio should increase considerably.

p.s. We've just reopened registration for The Pillar Summit's Professional Community Management course. More information at

Latest Activity -vs- Latest Discussions

January 18, 2012 Comments Off

It's no contest, go with the latest discussions.

If you have a decision between which to give most prominence on your platform, always go with the latest discussions. 

The latest activity gets clogged with information which is irrelevant to most members. It includes who befriended whom, objects which members liked/disliked, members sending each other messages via their profiles and a detailed list of discussions related to a single thread. 

The latest activity might make your community seem more active, but the majority of the category is redundant to the majority of members. It gets ignored and vital home page real estate is wasted. 

Latest discussions however provide a simple navigational method of showing which discussions you need to get involved. It's those active discussions which drive communities. Contributing in a discussion is far more valuable than any other form of activity. It's these discussions which you most want to encourage.

It's a no-brainer, showcase the latest discussions (at least above latest activity).

Asset Based Community Development – Let More Members Be Involved

January 17, 2012Comments Off

Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) is a different approach to traditional (offline) community work from Kretzmann, McKnight and co

Traditionally, a community organizer talks to members. They identify what problems members have, summarize these and bring the community together to resolve them. There is a problem with this approach. The community is forever seen through the lens of the problem. It focuses people on the negatives, not the positives. 

ABCD is different. ABCD seeks to utilize the assets within the community. They find out what skills and resources members have. Then find ways people can use these assets to help the community. It's a more sustainable approach, it doesn't forever perceive the community through the lens of its problem.

Online we take a similar approach to community organizing. We identify a strong common interest, then bring people together to talk about it. But we tightly control it and struggle to let more people become involved.

I suggest you give members a chance to contribute their skills and resources to the community. Let members list their skills/resources in their profile. Ask your members, who are good at writing, web development, marketing or show great interpersonal skills.

It shouldn't take long to find volunteer roles for these skills, nor find members who have skills in, say, HR to use them to help community members get jobs. 

Individuals love to feel appreciated for the skills they believe they have acquired. Online or offline, people want to feel they have contributed. It makes sense then, to include ABCD within your community approach. 

It sounds like a warm, fuzzy, idea and inconsequential to getting real ROI from an organization perspective. But having a community in which hundreds of members have a genuine sense of ownership is more important than most imagine.

New Features

January 16, 2012Comments Off

Resist the urge to add new features.

Live-chats, picture sharing, collaboration areas, member blogs, and video uploading all usually do more harm than good (and these are just the obvious examples).

Beyond a forum/discussion area, there are few features a community essentially need. Unless there is either a clear demand for a new feature or there is a sufficient social density to get the benefits (more on these in a second), it hurts the community to add them.

With too few members, new features dissipate activity. This causes long-term negative impacts. If 30% of members talk via live-chat instead of via a forum, all discussions receive fewer responses, the community looks empty and loses momentum. That momentum matters more than you might think. 

Most new features are added on a whim and not based upon community need. It's usually better to refine your most used features than add new ones. 

So when should you add a new feature?

If you have a highly active community, but the sense of community is relatively low, it makes sense to offer features that will encourage members to share experiences in more personable ways; like a chat room feature. 

If members have a low level of familiarity with each other and limited levels of self-disclosure, offering a feature to upload images can make sense. It helps members build trust and familiriaty and spur a greater sense of community.

But adding new features is strategic. You measure which features have succeeded, and which haven't. It's not something to be done on a whim. You add specific features for specific reasons. Those are based upon community development.