More Activity Or More Members?

This is a strategic decision. Let me try to help you make it.

It's usually better to spend your time trying to get your existing members more engaged. 

You already have their attention. They already participate. The more active they are, the more newcomers are likely to convert into regulars. If they're more active, they're more likely to bring in other contacts.

However, if one of the following is true, you should focus on more members: 

1) Members aren't bringing in others (common when the community is either the first of its kind or members are very isolated.

2) The members are as active as they can be. This is common in smaller communities and communities targeted at doctors, lawyers, teachers, CEOs etc…

3) More activity per member wouldn't increase the ROI.

It's this third one that's interesting. We have evidence that suggests the more engaged members are in a community, the more they will purchase from the brand. But what if you sell a product/service which can only be purchased, say, once a year? More engagement wouldn't necessarily be beneficial.

This is where the utopian nature of communities meets business reality. It's why community managers need to know the ROI of their community. 

This is important because it defines the bulk of your activities. If you're trying to get existing members more engaged you spend your time interacting with existing members. You initiate, sustain and highlight discussions. You write/facilitate great content. You optimize the platform. You spend a lot of time organizing/executing engaging events and activities. You build relationships with top members.

If you're trying to grow the community, then it's different. You establish target segments, cater more to newcomers, optimize the newcomer to regular conversion process, engage in promotional activities (such as securing mentions elsewhere) and make the effort to directly invite people to join.

If more activity per member wouldn't improve the ROI of the community, it might be time to shift the balance of your time towards new members. 

We recently opened registration for The Pillar Summit's Professional Community Management course. This course will change the way you grow, manage and scale thriving online communities. Contact me directly if you're interested in attending.

What Clients Want -vs- Thinking It Through

April 29, 2012Comments Off

"We want the community to be much bigger!"

Do you have the resources to handle a community that's much bigger than what it is now? 

Can you engage the members you have now? No? Why do you think you can engage the members you don't have?

"We want the community to be far more active"

Are you going to put in the effort to make the community more active?

Are you going to organize regular events, start discussions, build relationships with people and prompt people to participate? Where are you going to find the time to do that? What gets cut from your daily schedule?

Wanting stuff is fun, thinking it through is less fun (more important though).

Keynote Speech In Canada and Other Activities

April 27, 2012Comments Off

I'm thrilled to announce I'll be doing the keynote speech at the MixMedias conference in Montreal, Canada on May 17th. 

You can sign up here:

Webinar with Socious

In other news, I'll also be running a webinar with Socious on the topic of my upcoming book; Data Driven Community Management on Thurs May 10th @ 1pm EDT

During the webinar we will explain proven techniques to develop your community and attempt to change the way you approach community management. 

It's free, you can sign up here:

Interviews with community experts

In the coming weeks I'll continue to interview some of the world's top experts on online communities for the Pillar Summit. Previous participants have included Howard Rheingold, Cliff Lampe, Justin Isaf, and Blaise Grimes-Viort.

You can sign up here: (you get a free eBook too!). 



Using Data To Prevent Rules Violations

April 26, 2012 Comments Off

If your community rules are being broken, there's a problem.

Don't just respond to it, resolve it. Keep track of whether it's the same rules being broken, or if it's the same members breaking the rules. The difference is pretty important.


Dealing with repeat offenders

If it's the same members breaking the rules you need to nullify or remove them. There are various tactics here.

The problem here is it doesn't scale well. You want to quicken the process rather than react to every member. This means you need to develop an intervention to tackle the awareness issue, and then the acceptance issue. 

This may involve introducing a simple 3-strikes rule, asking members involved directly to stop breaking the rules or having a wall of shame for members that constantly infringe against the rules. The trick here is to use data to identify the problem, develop and test an intervention, and then spend your time on more important community tasks. 


Dealing with repeated violations of the same rules

But what if it's the same rules repeatedly broken?

This is either an awareness problem (they don't know about the rule) or an acceptance problem (they don't agree with the rule). 

In this situation we can consider removing/changing the rules (is it really necessary? Is it preventing members from doing something they genuinely want to do?).  

If it's an awareness problem, you need to publicize the rule. Send an e-mal to all members, post a sticky thread or strictly enforce it for a short period of time.

But this doesn't scale well. New members still wouldn't be aware of it. 

Therefore, develop a a welcome guide which lets members knew how to behave. The trick here isto write in an entertaining/useful way that it gets read.

It has to tell members what they should be doing, not what they shouldn't. Long lists of guidelines are always ignored. Long guidelines don't change behaviour. 

If it's an acceptance problem, then invite feedback from the community on the rule. Or better, invite the community to work on a joint constitution that defines the rules. 

The goal here is to use the data you have available to pinpoint the problem and then introduce an intervention that will optimize your time. You have a choice to either continually react to the same problem, or try to resolve it.  

Domain of Knowledge

April 25, 2012Comments Off

Etienne Wenger wrote long ago about the importance of an agreed domain of knowledge.

He referred to communities of practice, but I’m sure it extends beyond that.

In every online community, there is knowledge people are expected to know. There are also upcoming questions. What’s new? What’s going to be the next big thing? What’s changing?

These are the questions that cause tension and conflict for many communities. They create difficulty for many people. They are also terrific for stimulating a lot of activity.

It’s these questions you can use to build a community around. You can identify untapped niches. You can host events/discussions/polls around them. You can invite experts to talk about them. You can further develop the community.

It’s great to truly understand the domain of knowledge, but it’s even better to know where the cutting edge lies. Make sure your community properly lives in that space.

The Pillar Summit: Summer 2012

April 24, 2012 Comments Off

We are now accepting registrations for the summer intake of The Pillar Summit's Professional Community Management course.

You can download a free prospectus here:

The Pillar Summit is the most advanced community management course of its kind. 

Our intensive 18-week online course will change the way you approach community management. 

Our goal is to accept good community managers and help them become great community managers. 

We drill participants in the skills, knowledge, and experience they need to grow, develop and manage thriving online communities for their organizations. 

The course is split into 3 modules of 6weeks.

The new semester begins on May 21st, 2012 and has 20 places available.

The fee for the full course is £5000 GBP and includes:

Module 1) How to Start an Online Community. This module explains the step by step process behind launching a community and reaching a critical mass of activity. 

Module 2) Successful Community Management. This covers the process of managing an existing community. We explain the framework, skills, and theory behind developing the community. 

Module 3) Advanced Community Strategy. This goes deep into scaling communities, building a community team, different community strategies available, and measurement/ROI.

If you already have a community (or community experience), you can take individual modules to suit your needs at £2300 GBP each.

If you want to find out more, download our free prospectus here:

We pack as much value into the course as possible. In addition to the weekly live lessons, this course includes:

  • Exclusive community coaching. We individually coach participants how to tackle the issues their community faces. 
  • 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, creating great content 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 – This is over 100,000+ words of written material. 
  • 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.
  • Practical assignments. These help you apply the material learnt during the lessons directly to your community efforts.

Download a prospectus to find out about all our additional support and materials for students, or contact us directly if you would like to discuss which modules are suited to you.

Free prospectus link:

If you want to register immediately, click here.

We look forward to hearing from you. 

Communities, ROI And Misplaced Enthusiasm

April 23, 2012 Comments Off

Many companies benefit from developing communities, but a greater number wont.

They don't have the resources to develop a community, nor sell a product/service that's worth building a community around. 

A few simply wouldn't be able to gain a positive ROI if they did.

I worry people mix the 19% increase in purchases figure here with a 19% ROI. We can all agree there is a big difference. 

If members purchase 19% more of the product/service, and your service costs $5 a year, that's an extra $0.95 per participating member. A community with 33,000 active members would bring in $31,350. 

This wouldn't cover a community manager's salary, let alone the platform expense, overheads, and other opportunity costs. Worse still, 33,000 active members isnt easy. It's going to take a few years. 

However if your products/service costs $1000 per year, an extra $190 per active member, per year really adds up. A community with 33,000 active members now brings in $6.27m per year. Even with 1,000 active members it's worth doing. 

That 19% figure (one of many) isn't the starting whistle for all companies to develop communities, it's a warning. If your feasible audience size multiplied by the service/product fee wouldn't generate a positive ROI, don't develop a community. 

So let's be optimistic about communities, but not overly so. That helps nobody. 

Paying Membership

April 20, 2012Comments Off

Over the past 5 years, no less than 5 people have approached us with exactly the same idea; an exclusive online community for investors. 

The concept is simple. Right now investors are getting advice from a mixture of reliable and unreliable places. It's a crapshoot. You can change this by getting the people that actually know what they're talking about in to the same place and charging them a fee for the service; say $100 per month. 

If we only get 1000 top investors, we will have a $100,000 per month business. "That's $1.2m per year – how can you say you're not interested?"

A paying membership can be terrific. It can attract the best people, reduce lurking, increase the sense of community and earn you a good profit.

But it's not easy. You have to conquer the chicken and the egg problem, decide what you charge for (access to the platform, to participate, contact others, customist profile etc?), and set a price point that communicates value.

Some basic principles

  • Start exclusive, charge the rest. Let the VIPs in for free. Get the community going. Charge the non-VIPs. This attracts both the VIPs and increases the value of the community. If there are no VIPs, then at least have an exclusive group.
  • Offer more than the community shell. You have to sell more than the community shell. Paying members want something more tangible. At best you'll struggle to attract people, at worst a free rival community can poach your members. The CR Roundtable does a good job here. They don't just charge $30 a month to connect with others, they host regulars calls, events, reports and case studies. 
  • Don't charge for services that prohibit interaction. One community charges members a fee for features that include seeing if someone has posted on their profile. That's insane. It restricts interactions, which are the lifeblood of the community. What works for dating sites, wont work for most communities. 
  • Don't nickel and dime. Have a single, flat, fee. Don't use micro-payments or anything similar for a variety of different add-ons/extras.
  • Reduce fees for great contributions or top members. The goal is to encourage people to participate as much as possible.
  • Let members try for free. Let members have access for one month and plan out what they do an receive during this time. Ideally, you want to charge members automatically unless they decide they want to leave the community.

The competition to paid communities are free communities. If someone else can offer something that seems similar in value and survive on advertising income, they will do it. You need to establish a value proposition that includes the best people, best information/advice, best activities/events, and 

The communities that make this work are highly profitable and well regarded…but it's not easy.

What Discussions Are Most Popular To Men And Women?

April 18, 2012Comments Off

Paul Adams quotes the work of Robin Dunbar in Grouped:

"Women talk to form social bonds more often than men. Many of their conversations are aimed at building and maintaining their social network. Men more often talk about themselves or things they want to appear knowledgeable about, often because they are trying to impress the people around them"

This is consistent with our clients over the past few years.

When you review the types of conversations that are most popular, you find a few common rules:

1) Posts with questions in the topic tend to get a bigger response than those without.

2) Closed questions (do you prefer {x} or {y}?) do better than open-questions (What do you think about {x}?).

3) The shorter the post (over 50 words), the more responses (though not always high-quality responses).

4) Bonding and status-jockeying discussions are more popular than conveying information.

If you're building a community, you want to shift the balance of discussions you're inititating/highlighting in favour of bonding-related discussions for women (example) and status-jockeying discussions for men. 

Aside: I strongly recommend you read Grouped: How small groups of friends are the key to influence on the social web.

Growing A Community: A Campaign-Based Process

April 17, 2012 Comments Off

There is a process to growing a community. It’s not something that should be left to chance. It should be part of a coherent community management strategy.

I prefer growth to be campaign based, which means a heavy focus upon growth over a short-period of time. There are a few steps to follow for campaign-based growth.  


Step 1) Identify the need for growth

You should only grow your community for a reason that benefits the community. This reason will usually be because:

1) Growth is needed to sustain the community. This is true when the community hasn’t achieved critical mass, is in a decline, or needs a rejuvenated focus.

2) Expansion. There is an opportunity for the community to expand further into an associated, but relevant topic.

3) Penetration. The community has not yet penetrated deeply amongst its target audience.

Note: That growth is rarely the answer to low levels of activity. If you can’t engage the members you have, why do you think you can engage the members you don’t have?


Step 2) What channel to grow the community?

There are four channels to grow the community. Direct marketing, promotion, word-of-mouth, and search. Search is redundant. Therefore you need to decide what channel you need. If your penetration levels are low, it makes sense to use word-of-mouth activities. If you’re expanding, you probably need promotion. If you’re trying to reach critical mass, you probably need direct marketing.

But you can use a combination depending upon the target audience you’re trying to reach. You might, for example, use direct marketing to reach the first few people to grow the community then switch to promotion and WOM activities for the broader group. 

Let’s assume for this example you’re using promotion.


Step 3) Target Audience

Who are you trying to reach? Be very, very, specific here. The more specific you are the more you can target your community to this audience. Target a specific segment within your audience. This will be a segment identified by demographic, habits, or psychographic variables.

If you manage a community of lawyers, you might target those with an interest in a particular type of law, a location, a shared belief, or common career goals. 


Step 4) Outreach

Now craft your outreach to this audience. This outreach should highlight something within the community your target audience can do. That might be a discussion you want their opinion on, an exclusive event they can participate in, a poll you would like their vote on, or interviews with members they might like to read.

The golden rule here is to not to promote the community, but relevant activities to this audience within the community. This means you will need to initiate these relevant activities. Thus it’s important to know who you’re targeting.


Step 5) Landing Page

Now we go through the conversion process. When they reach the landing page, why not have a special message to this audience with a clear direction of how they can participate in the relevant activity you promoted.

For example: “Based in Boston? Just Arrived? Want to attend a Boston legal meet up? Click here”

Make sure you optimize this specifically for the newly arriving masses.


Step 6) Activity/conversion action

Now you plan the series of activities out. There will be a drop-out rate here. Not every person you outreach to will become a regular member of the community.

However, by planning out a few weeks of activities for these newcomers to participate in, you can optimize this to ensure as many people as possible who join the community become regulars.

If the topic is Lawyers in Boston, make sure you have an interview with a well known Boston lawyers. Let others submit questions. Host a meet-up for lawyers in Boston. Write articles relevant about the Boston lawyer scene and invite a guest columnist from the area. 


Step 7) Relationship building

Finally, try to engage the remaining people on an individual basis. Have personal contact. Build relationships with these members. Those that have got this far benefit most from your time. They're those most likely to become regular long-term members.


Step 8) Evaluate & Repeat

Now you evaluate what worked and repeat with a different segment when/if necessary.

The key point here should be obvious. The goal isn’t to get people to visit the community, or register. The goal of growth is to get regular active members of the community. To achieve that you need to plan this progress through the community. 

Other Ways To Develop A Community

April 16, 2012Comments Off

Sometimes people don't want visit a platform to interact with each other.

At least not at first. Not all online communities will be developed on a traditional platform. 

…and that's ok.

We have a bad obsession with the two-step, platform-led, approach. Step 1) Get people to visit the platform. Step 2) Get people to interact.

The problem with this model is that step 1 is just one of several possible approaches to achieve step 2. If you can get people to interact in other ways, then you don't need a traditional platform (yet).

In fact, it's usually better to build social capital before you launch the platform.

Just because this is the most visible model, doesn't make it the only model (or even the most common model). There are other ways to get people to interact with each other that don't rely upon a discussion board. 

This is especially true for communities of practice, hyperlocal communities, and communities in which people can meet in person. 

Hosting a weekly conference call and recording the notes can help. Organizing a regular meet-up works well too. In many cases, it's easier for someone to subscribe to attend a regular event as opposed to a never-ending series of discussions. 

How about having people send one tip a month on a challenge they're facing, or give one recommendation a month. That's a simple trade-off to create a wealth of knowledge and builds social capital between members.

If your platform-led approach is struggling, try something else. There are no shortage of approaches to develop a community.

Turning Data Into Community Activities: A Simple Example

April 13, 2012Comments Off

Yesterday we addressed audience analysis. Let’s work through an example here. Imagine you run a community for street dancers (random example).

As part of the audience analysis, you ask about their aspirations. Through a series of interviews, you identify some common trends. Many want to form a local group, appear on a music video or appear as a supporting act at a local gig (I’m making this up, I have no idea what street dancers want).

Now you can plan discussions, activities, and content around these.

You might initiate or highlight discussions such as:

  • What are your top tips to appear at local clubs?
  • How many of you have recorded a video?
  • How did you find your crewmembers?

You might organize events such as: 

  • Live discussion: What do local clubs want?
  • Meet-up: Organize a find a crew for your area
  • Guest speaker: How I recorded my breakthrough video

 You might create content such as:

  • 10 members share their stories of finding and growing their crew.
  • The member-created ‘how to record your first video’ guide.
  • Interview with {member}: How I secured my first paid performance.

You might also tweak the community concept to ensure it personifies the interest. It’s now a community of street dancers looking to earn a living, or create their own videos, or find crew members.

In addition, you might recruit volunteers to take responsibility for keeping these aspirations satisfied with relevant content and discussions.

One volunteer might be responses for writing regular tips about recording videos, interviewing members on the topic, hosting activities/online workshops about it, and otherwise ensuring your community is the best source of interactions on the topic.

You can take it further. You might work with your top members to develop a course for members to achieve these aspirations. You can earn money here and help your members get what they want. 

There are no shortage of opportunities. The important step is to ensure you regularly understand what members want and know how to take that data and apply it to practical activities within the community.