Month: April 2012

Ensuring The Community Personifies The Interests Of Members

April 12, 2012Comments Off on Ensuring The Community Personifies The Interests Of Members

Your membership isn’t static. Both the members and their interests change over time.

This means your community concept (the type of community, what it’s about, what the benefit of the community is, positioning, what happens within the community) can become outdated. 

It can happen faster than you might think. 

One of our clients was developing a community for those that worked in the video games industry. One month members were talking about the latest graphics, new technology, and the war for top talent. Then Zynga came along and the interest changed to micro-payments, game accessibility, and social media integration.

But you wont know this unless you regularly interact with members and genuinely learn what they’re interested in.

This is a long way of saying you need to make it a process to interact with a large number of members every 4 to 6 months to gain valuable data that you can use to ensure your community continues to correctly encapsulate the interest.

Don’t rely on numerical data for this, actually interview your members.

You want to know:

  • Problems/Challenges/Worries. What are the key issues they care about? What are they struggling with? What's stopping members doing/being what they want to do/be? What do members mention without being prompted? 
  • Experiences (successes, failures, everyday life). What is their day like? What do they spend a lot of time on? Why are they interested in the topic? What are their biggest achievements/failures?
  • Aspirations. What are their hopes, fears, and aspirations? What do they want to do in the future? What are their biggest fears? What do they need to achieve what they want to achieve? What do members predict will happen? 

You can use this data to tweak the foundations of the community. You can tweak what the community is about, what members do, what topics feature most heavily, and what content to create. 

It's easier than you think for a community to lose the interest of members. Fortunately, it's also easy to make sure it doesn't happen. 

First Visit Should Become The First Participation

April 11, 2012Comments Off on First Visit Should Become The First Participation

We've mentioned this before, but it keeps being ignored.

When someone joins a community, you need to get them to participate in an interaction immediately. 

Don't waste this first visit by sending a newcomer to their profile page. Too many communities are still doing this. Members will complete their profiles when they want to impress others in the community. They will only want to impress the people they've interacted with.

The next page immediately after registration should be a discussion or activity members can participate in with other members. They do this and enter the notification cycle. 

If you get this right, your ratio of newcomers to regulars will skyrocket. 

When Data Disproves Community Building Myths

April 10, 2012 Comments Off on When Data Disproves Community Building Myths

Many of the things believed about community management aren’t true.

They’ve been disproven by data and studies.

For example:

1) Lurkers are unlikely to ever become active members

We recently posted about the value of lurkers and how to use data to ensure lurkers are immediately engaged.

We based that post both from our experiences and proven studies (below). This post upset some community managers. They believed that all members begin as lurkers. As lurkers learn more about the community, they begin participating.

This is the social learning theory of lurking.

It’s one of three theories.

The other two are the personal trait theory (some people are born lurkers regardless of the community) and the other being situational disposition (lurkers will be engaged depending upon what the community does to engage them).

This study by IBM stongly refutes the social learning theory of lurking.

There is no data to support that lurkers will gradually learn more about the community then participate, just a handful of anecdotal stories.

Yet we still have conference talks, engagement models and a huge number of community managers believing this is the case.

Sure, this study is not all-conclusive, but given the choice between relying upon a handful of anecdotal stories or looking at studies, what do you want to use to guide your actions?

2) Game mechanics is only effective when members already know each other

Data can tell you other things. For example, game mechanics is only effective when members already know each other.

Which means it’s only worth adding game mechanics to existing communities with high levels of social capital.

3) Ensure a newcomer’s first contribution gets a good, quick, response

Another study suggests that the quality response to a member’s first contribution is the determing factor in whether a new participant becomes a regular member.

So whenever you see a newcomer with a 1 post next to their name, take special care to give them a quality response (and respond quickly!)

4) A branded community can increase customer sales by 19%, but rarely cultivates advocates

What about ROI? Well there are studies for this too. An interesting study suggests that online communities encourage customers to spend 19% more, but rarely develops advocates.

Using studies like these you can put together a very good idea of the potential ROI for your community.

Even if you disagree with any of these findings, you can use a similar process to see what works in your community.

These are just a handful of studies that refute things we widely believe about our field. There are many more.

Some studies will imply that most community managers jump in to resolve conflicts either too early, or too late. Others will tell you that your community doesn’t have a hope of succeeeding because the strong common interest isn’t relevant enough (and explain how to test it).

And there are many that will tell you what you need to do to get the community off the ground. There are even some cool predictive models you can use.

The point isn’t about the studies, but about the professionalization of our discipline.

The Professionalization Of Community Management

For years, community management has been intuitive, adhoc, and reactive.

In the very near future, this will change.

We have enough data now to know what does/doesn’t work.

Community development is becoming data-driven, proactive, and based upon proven theory from social science.

This is a terrifc thing, it makes our work more reliable. It’s a win for both community managers and their employers. It makes us all better at what we do.

But it’s going to worry people who are bored by data, reactive to their communities and are blissfully ignorant that some of their deeply held beliefs are very wrong. And they should be worried.

Community Objective, Strategy, Strategy, Tactics, And Actions

April 9, 2012 Comments Off on Community Objective, Strategy, Strategy, Tactics, And Actions

There is some confusion about the strategic part of community management.

This is how we think about it:


1) Objective

 The organization decides the objective. This should fit with the overall strategic goals and mission for the organization. The danger at this stage is the organization doesn't properly connect the objectives to a measurable ROI metric. 

The objective for the community must either increases revenue or reduces costs.

For a community, these objectives will be one of the following.

  • Increase repeat purchases (existing audiences spend more)
  • Increase customer retention
  • Reduce recruitment costs (or hire better staff)
  • Reduce marketing costs
  • Improve R&D
  • Reduce customer service costs (or improve customer service)
  • Develop new revenue opportunities
  • Internal: Improve productivity
  • Internal: Decrease staff turnover
  • Non-profit: Fulfilment of mission*


2) Strategy for the organization

This is the important bit, the strategy to achieve one or more of those objectives is to create a community. The community is the strategy. Developing a successful community is what we do. 

This is where it gets difficult (and the point Venessa alludes to), the strategy for the organization and the strategy for the community are different. The former is to create a community, the latter is to progress the community through the lifecycle

The organization measures the ROI of the community against the objectives it's supposed to achieve. The community manager uses community health metrics. 


3) Strategy for the community

The community manager now diagnoses what stage of the community lifecycle the community is in now, then then plots a course to progress to the next stage.

This is important. By progressing a community through the lifecycle you maximise the potential of that community. You ensure the community grows as big as it can possibly be, it's engaged as members can possibly be, and there is a strong sense of community. It's the latter two that lead to the desired ROI.


4) Tactics

Now we have the strategy, we can develop the tactics. 

We can use a framework here: 

  • Growth
  • Moderation
  • Content
  • Events/Activities
  • Relationship Development
  • User Experience
  • Business Integration

We need to know what the priority is for each of these elements of the community management role. You can see how the time spent on each changes during each phase of the life cycle.  

Specifically, you need to know how you're going to grow the community, what your moderation goals are, what content you're going to create, what events/activities you're going to initiate, who you're going to build relationships with, how you intend to test and optimize the site, and whether you need to better integrate the community with the organization.


5) Action Plan (calendar)

Finally, you take all the actions listed above and place them into an action plan (or a calendar), which highlights what will be accomplished every day. This is important, it forces you to estimate how much time it will take and allocate resources (and make trade-offs) accordingly).


For organizations, their work ends at point 2, for community managers, their work begins at point 3. 

Dummy Accounts

April 6, 2012Comments Off on Dummy Accounts

You might be able to fool a few people for a while.

You might be able to use multiple accounts to get the community off the ground. You can use dummy accounts to initiate the activity you want other members to imitate. You can use the law of social influence to get members doing what you want. 

But it doesn't take a genius to figure out that there is a stupid idea. 

First, it's difficult to sustain. It distorts the community reality. It distracts you from the important work you should be doing. It causes you problems in the long run. In a normal community effort, if things aren't taking off you need to narrow or change the focus. If you're distoring things, you might never know you have a problem.

Second, it's the riskiest thing you can possibly do. If you get caught, it's game over. It's really hard to have multiple accounts and not get caught.

Do they post at the same time? Do they use similar language? Do they never argue with each other? Are the contributions a little too similar? Is there a lack of personality amongst them?

Put simply, don't do this. 

The Tragic Story Of Hyperlocal Communities

April 4, 2012Comments Off on The Tragic Story Of Hyperlocal Communities

Communities like Hampton People, East Dulwich, W14, and Harringay Online are fantastic, but they're generally the exception. 

Most hyperlocal community efforts are struggling

They should succeed. They fit the formula. There is a clearly identifiable and reachable target audience. There are a range of issues to get people engaged. There are existing connections between members. There are benefits from interacting with each other. A good community builder should be able to succeed here.

Yet still most fail.

They fail because they either focus too much on the technology, or too much upon news-style content. Technology helps, but rarely hinders. Hampton People, W14, and Harringay Online use Ning, East Dulwich uses a forum. Neither spend more than three figures a year.

And if content was going to succeed, local newspapers wouldn't be struggling. All the communities listed above prioritise interactions over content. 

A few failed hyperlocal efforts simply give up before they succeeded. If the examples of Hampton People and East Dulwich are anything to go by, in the first few months you will only be getting a handful of members. Maybe 10, perhaps 20. This is part of the process.

If we want to build hyperlocal communities, we have to change the way we think about them. This isn't a technology problem to solve (Facebook-style). Enabling everyone to start a hyperlocal community wont make it happen. This isn't a content problem to solve (local news style). Pulling in RSS feeds and encouraging user generated content wont solve the problem.

What we need is a genuine community building approach. You identify your first members, initiate discussions, invite members to participate in those discussions, write content about what's happening in the community, and repeat as you grow. 

How To Find Your Community’s Founding Members

April 2, 2012Comments Off on How To Find Your Community’s Founding Members

It helps if you have an existing list of contacts to launch a community.

This is how most communities founded by amateurs begin. The founder reaches out to people they've known for years. They know these people are interested in joining a community. 

Some organizations confuse a list of contacts with their list of customers. They confuse the people whom know the founder personally and have developed relationships with the founder with those that purchase their products. 

The difference is big, the latter feels like another marketing-led approach to get people to do something that you want. It's selfish and usually fails. 

The better approach isn't to pretend you have good relationships with prospective founding members, but to build good relationships with founding members. 


Build your list of prospective members

That begins with building your list. You want a list of 50 – 150 prospective members of your audience. This audience needs to pass a two-qualifier rule.

They need to be {x} who {x}. For example:

'HR professionals based in London'

'HR Professionals under 30'

'HR professionals who believe social technology will transform the profession'.

Those qualifiers will be demographic, habitual, or psychographic in nature (who your audience are, what they do, and what they think).


Founding Members

You first members will typically be those who aren't influencers, and have shown an above average level of interest in the topic. There are several ways to identify prospective members. Let's imagine we're building a community for you; community managers.



Twitter provides you with a clear list of members you can reach out to. You don't get the e-mail address, but you can still add and engage these people online. 

The people that Tweet about the topic typically have an above average level of interest in communities. 



Facebook isn't always a terrific tool, it can be hard to identify the people that have liked a page, but it is useful for finding people who actively participate.

It's not only a case of identify the relevant groups/interests, but then finding the members whom active participate on these pages and groups. They can also be approached by a private message.



LinkedInContactsLinkedIn is excellent for professionals and has terrific search functionality. You can use LinkedIn to identify not only prospective founders, but also some of the most connected people in your industry. 

LinkedIn also allows you to contact individuals directly and begin the relationship building process. 



Conference attendees and meetup groups can also be an excellent source of founding members. Many publish their attendees online. It is easy to find channels to contact members. 

Meetup can be especially useful here, but don't ignore eventbrite and other event registration systems. You might need to search individually for conferences. 



Those that comment on relevant blogs and news articles are also a good source of contacts. You may not be able to find a direct channel to contact them, but with a little effort you can engage this audience in a conversation.

This is an audience that have shown an above average level of interest and are, generally, approachable. They also have opinions which they wish to share. 



You can also use sites such as StumbleUpon, Delicious, and Digg to identify those that have tagged popular contact. 

DeliciousYou may need to identify the names and search for the contact details elsewhere. However, those on social bookmarking sites typically are linked to other channels. 


Other channels

This is not a comprehensive list. You might also like to approach people that have written to you by e-mail previously, those that have reviewed relevant books, those on different platforms such as Google+, and friends/colleagues of your current employees interested in the sector. 


The Permission Approach

In addition, you might want to interview 10 known experts on the subject matter, publish this as an eBook and collect the names of people that download the book. 

You can then invite these people to apply to be founding members of the community. This gives you a direct contact and an easy means of reaching out to people you need to connect with. The key is these 10 experts need to help promote the book on your behalf. 


Build the list, then build the relationships

Once you have a list of 50 – 150 names, you can begin building the relationships. Don't rush this. If you personally reach out to 10 people a day, it will take you a maximum of three weeks. 

You need to sustain those relationships over a short period of time. Once you have trust, you can ask for their thoughts on the community idea and invite them to become a founding member. 


Founding members

Founding members need something to do in the community. It's not a fake role, it's a role with real responsibility and commitment. It embraces the real motivations of your members

If you get this right, you launch the community with a dedicated group of members to use it. If you get it wrong, you launch an empty platform.

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