Sometimes tiny tweaks can make a profound impact upon a community.
A situation like this is common:
An organization is struggling to get people to participate. They initiate plenty of discussions but few people respond.
Overwhelmingly, the most common problem here (especially in branded communities), are the discussions themselves. They suffer from one of five problems:
1) Boring topic. The discussion itself is too boring. It’s usually a conveying-information discussion. These get a weak response. The discussion might also be based around a topic which isn’t relevant enough to members. Try status-jockeying/bonding-related discussions. Make sure the discussion is based around a topic members have stated they are interested in.
2) Dull subject line. The subject line of the post doesn’t draw people in. There is a difference between a descriptive two words on what the post is about and then a subject line that draws people in.
3) Too formal/inhuman. The post sounds too much like corp-speak or fake-friendly. You may laugh, but this is the second most common problem we come up against. Online we’ve forgotten how to act human. A related problem is it fails to connect the question to a motivation on behalf of the sender. For example, the initiator doesn’t explain why they’re asking the question. They need their own relevancy/experiences to the topic/experience.
4) Too long. Posts that are too long don’t get a very high response. People will read hundreds of short posts before they read one long post. Keep discussions short.
5) Fails to ask a question. You might be surprised, but there are a lot of posts that simply don’t ask a question for others to answer. Don’t be coy about this, have a clear question for members to answer. Vary between open and closed questions. Closed questions tend to be better for newer communities.
If you’re trying to start a discussion, make sure you ask the question in the topic, keep it interesting to members, keep it relatively short, explain why you’re asking the question, and act like a human being.
Also, be on the lookout for discussions that are rising in popularity or have obeyed the rules above and consider making them stick threads. They’re likely to get a far higher level of response.
Simple stuff, but effective.
We've written before about the get more involved area and letting members apply their skills to the community (ABCD).
Kraut and Resnick suggest something even better. Create a list of things the community needs.
When members know what a community needs it offers them a chance to be influential within the community. It lets members feel important. It gives members a sense of ownership over the community. They are able to contribute their resources, skills, and experience in a meaningful way.
It's a very-simple way to motivate the community. Even better, you can actually get things your community needs. Perhaps you need a designer, some support at upcoming event, access to a ladder, or an expert on horticulture.
What if your community doesn't need anything? Then research what the community wants to do/achieve and what it needs to get there.
There is a process from maturity to mitosis that needs to be initiated by the community manager.
If you've done your job right, at some point the level of growth and activity should plateau. This is good. Only so many members can be interested in the community topic. Once the majority are in the community, growth will naturally slow. Check out Facebook's USA stats.
This is what happens in a mature community. The plateau isn't a problem, as long as you can sustain the community.
The problem is when you hit a decline.
The problem with mature communities
This happens more often than you might think. A successful community becomes too successful. The level of growth and activity increases until members no longer feel a sense of familiarity with one another. Information overload becomes a problem. It becomes difficult to follow what's going on.
Members lose a sense of connection with each other. The sense of community declines, followed by the level of activity. Soon the decreased activity leads to a downturn in growth and a death spiral.
Over time, an increasingly smaller number of members is responsible for an ever-greater amount of activity. More members feel left out etc, etc…
Moving from maturity to mitosis
If you're collecting data, you're tracking this. When you hit this dip (usually when the level of departing members isn't matched by newcomers, or when smaller number of members are responsible for an increasing amount of content) you need to advance your community to mitosis.
This means identifying popular topics or sub-interests within the community (a shared trait or a recurring popular theme) and building a new place within the community just for this. You can also build sub-groups for social circles that have developed within the community platform.
It means you need to shift your role from the maturity phase which is largely optimization of activities to mitosis, which means launching new, smaller, groups within the community where members again feel a strong sense of connection. This is the cycle part of community lifecycle.
It helps to have begun this in the establishment phase of the lifecycle to balance out the social density, but starting now is the next best thing.
Key tasks undertaken at maturity and mitosis
You wont change the plateau (that's an outcome of your success, congratulations!), but you will reverse the decline. You should be able to build a stronger and far more vibrant online community by managing smaller sub-groups.
Patrick writes about a member pretenting to commit suicide.
What should the community manager do?
The problem isn't what to do for this situation (it was well handled), but where you're going to draw the line. Do you get involved when a member lies about having cancer? Do you get involved when a member lies about a member of their family dying/getting really ill?
What about when a member lies about losing their job (either for sympathy or to save face). What do you do when a member lies about his wife leaving him? What do you do when any member lies about anything? Are you going to outlaw lying?
If you think this is a unique situation, just Google "Lied about cancer". You'll find over 19.9m hits.
At some point, you have to let communities work the way they're supposed to. They naturally shame and shun the liars. We have reputations for a reason. Let gossip work it's magic.
As perverse as it sounds, such people can be good for a community. They unite people against them. It makes those insiders feel even greater insiders. Enemies, attacks and shared events unite members.
Just don't become the lying police. Once you try to stop members lying to you (or each other), you're heading down a tricky path.
* Bonus fact. Up to 1 in 4 adults in the USA suffer from a mental disorder. Worth considering when you're deciding how to manage difficult members.
There is a big difference between members that visit to see what's new in the community and members that visit to see the response to their contributions (or because they've been prompted to visit).
For newcomers, the latter is usually true. They visit to see the responses to their contributions. If they don't get a response to those initial contributions, they stop coming back.
Regulars visit to see what's new in the community. It doesn't have to be about them. This is a group they belong to. They're embued with the sense of community spirit. They want to see what's new. They want to know what other members are up to.
This is why it makes sense to change the way you interact with each group. If you have a mailing list, regularly segment the people that joined in the past few weeks from the regulars. Send a different message to them.
If you're engaging individually, then with newcomers focus more on the response to their initial contributions. With regulars, focus on interesting things coming up in the community. Tell them what members like them have been doing. Tell them what's topical about people in the community.
Kevin writes a terrific post about employee value.
In the same department, you have a social media manager. You're paying this guy $70,000 per year, less than the email manager. This person is able to quantify the following contribution to the company.
- Facebook Likes increased from 11,439 to 14,903 in the past year.
- Twitter Followers increased from 9,493 to 13,771 in the past year.
- 401 F-Commerce orders and 345 Twitter click-through orders, at $100 AOV (neither program existed in the year prior).
- $74,600 annual demand.
- Profit Flow-Through Rate of 40%.
- Total Profit (not including employee costs) = $74,600 * 0.40 = $29,840.What is the value of this employee to your company? What is the potential value of this employee to the future of your company?You calculate employee value, don't you?
We've begun measuring a few of our client's community managers based upon something similar. The results haven't been dazzling. Some cost more than they generate.
The great challenge facing community managers is identifying, increasing, and communicating the value they offer organizations.
There is a worrying trend to spend disproportionate amount of time on the worst members of the community, usually at the expense of the best.
What makes more sense? To focus on your unhappy members or your happy members? Does it make sense to spend hours resolving one unhappy member. It's perfectly ok to boot out the members that aren't happy (or disruptive). They're not your target audience.
The happy members are the ones that refer others. They generate a disproportionate amount of activity. They are the rocks that the sense of community is based on. If they're not happy, if they leave, they take the community with them.
The worst members prick your ego. It's tempting to spend ages to get them out of the community. You want to prove you're right. But it's also a tragic waste of your time. Far better to put the ego side, spend more time on your best members, and no more than a few minutes on the worst.
Working with your best members to improve the community, give them ownership over areas, plan future events/activities, find out what they think would be terrific, has a much more beneficial longer-term impact. It is always a better use of your time.
You shouldn't know your worst members better than you know your best.
There are thousands of tactics that will make the level of activity in the community go up.
Initiate a poll on a topical issue and e-mail all your members about it. Host an exciting event and invite members to join (their friends too!). Turn the most controversial discussions into sticky-threads.
But there is a difference between tactics that make the level of activity go up, and the strategies which make the level of activity stay up.
The problem with the above is two-fold. First, these tactics always take time. You will always have to spend your time hosting/initiating these. This isn't a single intervention, it's something new added to your work load.
Second, members get tired of the same things. You can't repeat the same trick forever. Eventually the activity declines again. You can't always host more interesting polls, exciting events, or feature even more controversial discussions.
It's always better, over the long term, to develop a sense of community. To forever push your community towards greater familiarity with each other. To use the transferable community elements within your community strategy.
This doesn't make the level of activity go up, it keeps the level of activity going up.
It's registration deadline day at The Pillar Summit. If you're on the fence, there are 10 reasons why you might want to consider this course:
1) It will increase the speed you develop your community. Most community managers have no clear plan for growing and developing their community. They make it up as they go along. They ignore best practices and proven methods. We can greatly speed up the development of your community.
2) It will make you more effective and better at what you do. You stop wasting your time on unimportant, unnecessary, tasks. You focus on what matters. You immediately become better. You both know what you should be working and you will have been drilled in the skills to achieve it. Your productivity will skyrocket as a result of this course.
3) There is absolutely NO risk. If you’re not happy, you can get ALL your money back within the first 5 weeks. So far, just one person in the history of this course took that (and was refunded within 4 hours). Almost every participant gives it an incredible testimonial (feel free to ask them more about it!). We even did a free preview course to show off this material.
4) You get to join an elite group of highly trained community managers. The community management sphere is splitting between the people that think they know what they’re doing, and the ones that do. By taking this course you join an elite group of highly trained community managers using professional, proven, methods.
5) It will increase the revenue your community generates. We teach you how to identify the value of your community, then significantly increase it. If your community is earning your organization $500,000 a year, and that increases by just 10% as a result of using our methods (this would be low for us), that is a huge win. Multiply that per every year and it’s a bargain.
6) It will make your members happy. We teach you how to get inside your member’s heads and delight them. We teach you about psychology, motivation, and even happiness. We teach you how to build a strong sense of community amongst members. We teach you how to make the community a destination your members want to visit regularly.
7) We’re now offering it at a time and money saving discount. If you’re a busy person and can’t commit to the full course, or your company can’t stump up the money (we offer payment plans), we’ve now created a self-taught option which will be perfect for you. It takes just a couple of hours a week and you get access to all the lessons. Better yet, it wont interfere with your work.
8) Ongoing access. If you take the course you get indefinite access to us. Anytime your community faces a problem, you want a second opinion or need to seek out best practices on any platform issue. We have former members asking our advice on everything from growth, moderation, and hiring new community managers.
9) You get best practice documents. We also offer all our template documents. These are the documents we use for our clients. We have a complete strategy template, action plan, scripts for getting people to join and participate in communities, step by step flow diagrams for dealing with antagonistic members and conflicts, and website spec documents (and wireframes).
10) We don’t waste time on social media. Managing social media channels is easy, just post interest updates and respond to what members say. As we’re both aware, managing online communities is much, much, harder. We are precision focused on online communities (we don’t let social media managers take the course).
Our results speak for themselves, our members have developed thriving communities. Take a look at PatientsLikeMe, AVID.com, Amazon, Lego, or any of our graduates. It's an impressive list.
We’re proud of the course, it’s genuinely our finest creation. We want you to take it. We’ve seen how it’s helped other community managers.
If you could get a LOT better at community management, increase the money it earns for an organization, without incurring any financial risk, would that tempt you to take the course?
We hope so.
You can sign up here: www.pillarsummit.com/registration.
A bigger community isn't a better community. Growth alone wont increase the ROI of the community.
More members reduces the sense of community. Members feel less connection with each other. They visit less frequently. The level of activity per member drops. The ROI declines (despite growth!).
If you want to make your community bigger AND better, you need to juggle three things 1) growth, 2) activity, and 3) sense of community.
If you have growth + activity, but no sense of community, you have a highly active group that can vanish at any minute. This is typically an audience, not a community. They’re attracted to something temporary. They will be gone soon.
If you have growth + sense of community, then you have a group that knows each other well, but rarely participates. They don’t try to make the group better. There is no pulse that keeps the community going.
If you have activity + sense of community, you have a turnover problem. Over time members will lose interest on the topic but newcomers won’t be coming in to replace them. The community will gradually decline. In truth, it’s common for growth to take care of itself in these situations, but that’s a risky strategy.
This juggling act is hard. Focusing on one alone is the path to failure. This means you need to be measuring all three. It means you can’t just have a plan to grow the community, without also an idea of how you will sustain activity and maintain a strong sense of community.
Just remember, you can’t focus on just one. You need to balance all three.
Sign up for The Pillar Summit's Professional Community Management course and learn how to develop and manage a thriving community for your organization. You have 1 day remaining.
A community with high levels of activity and a lot of members might appear a great success.
But in perspective, it can be a big failure.
For example, imagine you've been hired by Apple to build their official community. You gradually build the community to 15,000 active members. Would you consider that a success?
Apple has a HUGE audience of incredibly passionate fans. The total market size is massive, the passion is high, only 15,000 active members doesn't cut it.
This is where we have to see the success in perspective to the total size of the audience and their existing passion for the product. Oprah has hundreds of active community members, but with an audience in the millions – well, that's not good enough.
Some successful communities should be much more successful. Some punch far above their weight. But a highly active community alone shouldn't be the definitive factor of success.
There is a difference between doing well, doing as well as you should be, and doing better than expected.
One of our engagement masterclass participants asks an important question, what if you don't have access to data?
Much of what we discuss is redundant.
I'd suggest that if you're using a platform that doesn't give you the data you need (or at the very least let you use Google Analytics), you should find a platform that does.
Without data you're working in the dark. It's the community equivalent of judging climate change by looking at the weather outside.
With data you will be much, much, more effective. If your salary is $60k a year, and data would let you optimize every aspect of your work, the benefits are in the short-term.
You owe it to yourself and your community to make sure you know what's going on in that community.