The more power you share with the community, the most active members will be.
Yes, you have less control. But you trade control for participation.
The mentality changes. You’re not building a community for members. You’re building a community with members. It’s hard to do that when you’re exercising rigid top-down control. Worse yet, you prevent volunteers from helping you. You can’t scale a community without passionate volunteers.
But much power are you willing to give?
This isn’t solely about hard power (admin access), but soft power too.
Here are a few power sharing options.
- Admin power. Will you give some members the power to make changes to the platform?
- Content contributions. Will you let members create content that features prominently on the site? Will you give members weekly columns/featured blogs (and by doing so gain more prestige for members, but more contributions for you?)
- Recruitment.Will you give members responsibility for recruiting newcomers? Helping them settle in? Will you let members reach out to bloggers to write about the community?
- Governance, Opinions And Ideas. Are you willing to let members have responsibility for governing the direction of the community. Will they be able to set the agenda? Decide what content they want? Come up with opinions and ideas that might change the community? What if members want to create a crowdsourced community logo, for example? Or host their own events?
- Moderation. Will you let members manage discussions? Can they remove/approve posts? Create sticky threads? Edit comments? Resolve disputes?
- Power to change products/services.Will you let community members agree on what needs to be changed about your products or your organization? Will you give them access to the people that can change it?
- Role creation. Will you create roles for your members? Will you give people responsibility for areas of the site or topics that are of most interest to them?
Most organizations are far too nervous about sharing any of these powers with their community. They ignore that most thriving communities founded by amateurs are doing extremely well. They worry about what might happen.
Yet the ‘trusted member going rogue‘ is a rare occurence and an easy fix. By comparison, the community which doesn’t succeed because it refuses to share any power with members is extremely common.
Some things are worth pushing for. Giving members more powers is one of those things.
You have a short window to reverse a decline before it becomes a death spiral.
In a death spiral the activity drops, members visit less frequently, so activity drops further etc…You reverse a death spiral by starting again, back in the inception phase. That takes a lot of time, few organizations succeed in reviving a community in the death spiral.
Data is important here. You must measure the growth, engagement, and
Many community managers miss this window of opportunity. They don't monitor the key metrics of growth, engagement, and sense of community to identify and resolve potential issues.
For example, if you're tracking growth you might identify that the number of new members is beginning to dip. You can identify specifically why this is the case. Are less people visiting the site or completing the registration page? Are people that complete the registration page failing to make a contribution?
Using your data you can design an intervention to change this. For example, optimizing the newcomer to regular conversion funnel, initiating events to entice more members to join, or undertaking a WOM drive.
If you're tracking engagement, you might notice that a smaller number of individuals are accounting for an ever-larger number of discussions initiated.
The newcomers are crowded out. This is bad, over the long-term, activity rates will plateau and then dip. You can then design specific newcomers areas to get started, give the old-timers their own place or special roles within the community such as welcoming new members), or create a simple guide for newcomers to participate in the community.
These are just two of many possible examples.
Data is such a useful asset in the community development process. You have to set aside time to both collect and analyze it. Don't leave it several months. Collect it monthly and then adjust your activities accordingly.
I'm willing to bet that most communities that entered the community death spiral didn't track any data, at all.
Remember the 4 fundamental things a community provides its members?
These were a sense of belonging, mutual support, greater influence, and exploration.
You have to satisfy at least one of these.
You need to plan this. Don't hope it happens.
If you want to increase the sense of belonging, you encourage/facilitate the geekiest/hardcore discussions on the topic. You enable off-topic discussion. You use a high level of self-disclosure related discussions. You cultivate and highlight these sorts of interactions. You engage straddlers in these interactions.
If you want to increase the influence of the community, then you need to identify the things they want to achieve. You need to work with your community to create a plan to achieve this. You act as a community organizer. You champions the milestones, rally the community on the disappointments. You document the progress and the contributions individuals have made within the community. You promote the community activities and achievements through traditional media channels.
You need to pick at least one, and push hard to make it happen. Otherwise, there is an excellent chance it wont.
I was criticised for not having used Google+ hangouts before last week.
Someone who is heavily involved in online communities should know how to use all the latest technology releases, apparently.
Perhaps, but I'm not so sure.
Any technology that is popular today is going to be easy to use. Technology is getting easier every day. It wont take you long to learn (Google Hangouts didn't). It wont help much neither.
Being good at technology has zero relevance to being a good community manager.
I'm more interested in how you start and sustain interactions on a platform; any platform. I'm more interested in how you cultivate relationships between people.
I doubt that becoming good at FourSquare, Twitter, Pinterest, Quora, YouTube has made anyone a better community manager.
Quick wins help establish momentum.
Quick wins show the audience that the community can make a difference.
A problem with most non-profit communities is they go for difficult, huge, victories instead of simple quick wins.
A quick win can be easy. Creating a community constitution can be a quick win. Let members say what they believe the community should stand for, what the community believes in and publish the summary document.
A quick win can be a live discussion with an expert speaker. Members ask questions. You record/transcribe the discussion and publish it.
A quick win can be helping one member achieve something. Perhaps get a job, get support, resolve a technical problem they have (using the collective efforts of the community).
A quick win might be taking a stand on an issue and getting a community statement in a newsletter/trade press.
Anything that your community can collectively achieve can be a quick win. If your community is just getting started, identify a few you can work on. If your community is stalling, you might need a few more quick wins.
Frequently refer to individuals and the impact they have made.
That impact doesn't have to be huge.
Initiating a good discussion is an impact.Posting a good blog post is an impact. Posting a good response is an impact. Helping run an event is an impact.
Even doing things outside of the community that benefits the topic can be a good impact (especially useful for communities of practice).
Feeling you're unique and that your contribution matters increases both your participation and the participation of those around you.
If you treat the community as a homogenous mass, people have less reason to participate. Their contributions wont be singled out from amongst the group.
This is why asking the community to do something as a collective yields poor results.
This is why you're probably extremely frustrated that members aren't responding to your calls to action.
This is partly social loafing. People do less in groups. If their contribution isn't recognised, if they don't feel it has they have a chance to make an impact, they wont make that contribution.
But if you have a community with 10,000 people. How can you make everyone feel like they can make a special contribution?
By ensuring that individuals are constantly and consistently singled out for their contributions. It should be all over your content and highlighted members.
You don't need to highlight every contribution, but you need to highlight a lot.
Not every member can make a difference, but every member should believe they can. T
he more members that believe they can make a difference, the more that will make a difference.
FirearmsTalk just made a major change.
They created a new forum for every US state, listed alphabetically.
They had a lot of demand from members, they claimed.
The problem with top-down community planning is the planner makes these sorts of mistakes.
The community is now dissipated across 50 categories. Some will be heavily used (see Texas above), others are unlikely to see much activity. The popular categories like Texas are buried way down the list (behind Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.
There is a right and wrong way to grow a forum. Top-down planning usually isn't the way.
You don't need to treat every US state (or any category) equally.
You need to respond to interest. If you have a lot of people from Texas in Firearms talk, you create a category for Texas. If you have a lot of members for North Carolina who want to connect with each other, then create a category for North Carolina.
If you have a lot of people interested in a specific firearm, then create a category for that firearm. But don't create a category for every firearm.
Keep the community activity as concentrated as possible and create new categories when the need and demand arise.
Professional community managers don't use guesswork, they have a proven process.
Professional community managers use data to identify where they are now, proven theory to identify where their community needs to go, and apply developed skills to get there.
For the past few weeks, we've worked 16-hour days to try and change the way a number of you approach community management.
We've tried to move you from reactive guesswork to professional community management.
We've covered conceptualization, the process you go through before you launch a community. We've explained how to establish the value of a community. This is a vital component to gain internal buy in. We've also detailed how to plan your week and how to convert newcomers into regulars.
If you've liked this, then we sincerely hope you will take The Pillar Summit's Professional Community Management course.
The course is our best work. It's intense, structured, highly practical and provides you with the skills, knowledge, and resources to develop and manage your community.
The course has been given terrific reviews by nearly every participant we have ever had.
Former students have gone on to develop and manage thriving communities for their organizations.
These communities include:
If you want to join our participants from around the world, then you need to let us know today.
We can be a little flexible upon receiving the payment (we know many of you work for organizations with a timely payment process), but today is the final day to register.
If you want to save your spot, then send me an e-mail by midnight tonight.
This is your final chance. We really hope you will join us.
Mary runs a community which receives millions of visitors a month, over a hundred registrations a day, and about 500 comments per week.
She asked how she can persuade members to invite their friends to join.
But is that the priority right now?
Is referrals/WOM marketing tactics going to do much but add more to the millions figure and little to the number of comments she receives every week?
The best source of growth for her, and established communities, is optimizing that conversion funnel from visitor to regular participant. These are the people that already know you.
Identify specifically where members are dropping out. Do they visit but not click the registration option? Do they begin registration but not finish it? Do they finish it but not participate? Do they participate once but never return?
Once you identify, specifically, where people are dropping out you can design a precise intervention to change this. For most established communities, this is the best source of growth.
More info: Converting newcomers into regulars.
Sign up for The Pillar Summit's Professional Community Management course and learn how to develop and manage a thriving community for your organization
If members are used to using the community for one reason, it's very difficult to get them to use it for another.
Most branded communities are customer-service channels, not communities.
The problem is it's not easy to convert a customer-service channel into a community. It's hard to turn a bunch of people used to asking for help, to a bunch of people talking about the topics that interest them within your sector.
You can begin adding interest-related discussions and hope things takes off. But that's unlikely.
The better option is to create a new place. Begin again at the inception stage of the community lifecycle. Invite a few of your more active members to join. Keep it exclusive in the beginning. Initiate discussions. Invite people to participate. Respond. Build content around what's happening. Gradually open it up to others.
People who aren’t being paid to develop a community build the most successful communities.
How many communities can you name, founded by organizations, that compete with any well known online community?
In a direct battle between two similarly themed communities, the one founded by the amateur usually trumps the one founded by the organization?
But why is this the case?
Organizations have many advantages. They have resources to build better platforms, have a huge mailing lists, might have an existing library of content and can pay experienced community managers to work for them full time.
The problem is none of this makes much of a difference for building a community.
The best platforms are usually the simple, cheap, ones. Mailing list contacts are irrelevant for starting a community, you just need a small number of friends to get going.
And most community managers only have experience of managing (maintaining) a successful community, not a proven process for growing and developing a new community.
Even this list neglects the bigger problems of professional community management. The pros usually work within difficult rules/limitations (last year one organization said their lawyers wouldn’t let them respond to questions about their products). They struggle to speak in a personable way. They have limited patience to see the community through.
There are two ways to resolve this problem.
First, act like a passionate amateur.
Make real relationships with a small number of people before you get started. Continue to develop real relationships with an increasing number of people as you grow. Use a simple platform. Put a passionate person in charge of the community, not someone from a different industry, and give them time to make it work.
Second, create that unique environment. Use the real assets of being an organization such as unique expertise, opportunity to let members make a genuine difference, do outreach at a faster pace, host interesting events, bring in key industry contacts, to create a community that amateurs can’t match.
You have 4 days remaining to sign up for The Pillar Summit's Professional Community Management course and learn how to develop and manage a thriving community for your organization.
Talking like a real person is far more difficult than we imagine.
We've been brainwashed by years of corp-speak. We've largely forgotten how to connect with non-employees.
If you're running a community on behalf of an organization for the first time, you might assume this is easy. Most people do.
There are a lot of subtle nuances, expressions, and seemingly minor variables which will significantly impact the development of the community.
If you're doing outreach to a prospective member, and you speak in the third person, make the message too long, don't properly space out the message, don't clearly explain your connection to that person – you're chances of getting a reply plummet.
If you're replying to members, and can't meaningfully connect with them, you're going to struggle. If you don't have the passion for the products/topic as they do, they sense it. They drift away.
If you're writing content, and it just has that slightly corporate whiff, that lack of personality, that lack of familiarity or caring, it's going to repulse members.
If you initiate discussions that just don't sound right, have the aura of someone that doesn't really have much experience in that sector, you're not going to get many responses.
If you're managing a community on behalf of a brand, spend some time going through communities. See how members talk together. See the personality they use, how they create discussions, what type of discussions work best, and how content is written.
Too often, we assume that these communities (especially those targeting business professionals), should be entirely formal. A quick glance at LinkedIn communities would tell you that's not the case
Every professional community manager I speak to claims they know this. Yet nearly every single one will make one of these mistakes.
You have 5 days remaining to sign up for The Pillar Summit's Professional Community Management course and learn how to develop and manage a thriving community for your organization.