Only Build One Community At A Time

August 31, 2012Comments Off

Sometimes organizations launch a community
for multiple groups at once.

You might create multiple communities around products, languages, regions, departments, or other existing groups. 

Organizations do this because
it’s the end goal. They think the way the community looks at the beginning is
how it will look at the end. They’re wrong.

Sometimes they do this because a
stakeholder might get upset. At The Global Fund we were forced into launching
communities in dozens of different languages because they represented
significant donors.

Neither of these are valid reasons. You still reach the end goal, just through an approach more
likely to succeed. The internal stakeholder will be more upset when their
community fails rather than waiting their turn for it to succeed.

Please don’t attempt multiple communities
at once. It splits your efforts, multiplies mistakes, slows progress, and has a
high failure rate.

Only build one community at a time. When it
reaches critical mass, then begin your next one. There are several benefits to
this approach.

First, you learn a lot from building a
community. You learn what does and doesn’t work. You learn internally how to
manage a community. You learn processes you can perfect and apply to your next
communities. Once you can build one community, it’s easier to build future
communities. But if you try to build multiple communities at once, you repeat
the same mistakes and have no second chance.

Second, you have focus. You can channel
your resources into getting each community off the ground. A community needs
that manpower to reach critical mass.

If you have a big enough team to develop
multiple communities at once – don’t. Use that team to build one community
really quickly and then work on the next. 

Use The Right Symbols To Get The Right Membership

August 30, 2012Comments Off

Last week I used a symbol some people
didn’t know ‘CoP’.

It meant a community of practice,
essentially a community for people that participate in the same activity
together. By using that symbol I excluded a large % of readers in exchange for
the specific people I wanted to reach.

If you recognized the symbol, you were more
likely to read the post. If you didn’t, you were less likely.

Community efforts are usually targeted at a
specific segment of the total audience. Your community might live in the
automobile ecosystem, but your target audience might be 40+ drivers.

To attract this audience, you need to use
symbols that have a specific meaning to that audience. This means identifying
words, events, activities, objects and anything else that has a specific
meaning to this group.

To learn the symbols you need to speak to
the audience. You need to identify the language that comes up
(phrases/expressions used), the events/activities they discuss, the cultural,
the specific interests and motivations they have. Look for the specific things
they mention that you have no idea about.

reach any specific audience you need to flood your community with symbols that
appeal to the group you’re trying to reach.
these symbols in community. Refer to them in the website copy, the confirmation
e-mail, news posts etc.. Name areas of the community after these symbols. Let
members use them in their profiles. Even use a symbol in the name of the community
itself (Element14).

other important lesson is exclusion. You have to exclude the majority of the
audience you want, for the minority of the audience you can get.

Some further reading material:

p.s. I'll be speaking about branded online communities on board the HMS President today for OMN London. If you want to attend, click here

Building Your Ragtag Band Of Believers

August 29, 2012Comments Off

Internal charts are usually idealistic and

I don’t care where the community manager
sits within the organization. We’ve worked with community managers from HR,
innovation, marketing, PR, tech support, customer service, CEO’s office,
fundraising, and more. It doesn’t matter nearly as much as you think.

I care whether the community manager can
build internal communities to support the external community.

We had a revelation two years ago. The
majority of successful communities we worked on were developed by a ragtag band of believers.

They came from throughout the organization.

Here is an example, at one organization it was Julia and Andrew from customer
support, their friend Karen from the web team, two interns (one of whom
literally didn’t have a defined role), and Sayid from legal. We gradually used
their informal contacts to increase the support and steadily grow the internal
systems to support the external community. By the time it appeared on the executive radar, most of the organization loved the idea.

This is how
traditional community building is done. You identify potential supporters and gain their support. The big meetings, the pitch to the CEO, the mass
messages explaining the benefits of the community, and the top-down commands to
participate aren’t anywhere near as effective as building up your ragtag band
of believers.

This is either terrific or terrible. It
depends on your perspective.

For some, it removes their excuse for failure. Two
people we interviewed last week complained their community failed because they
didn’t have support. No, their community failed because they couldn’t get

For others, community building just became
much easier. Skip the big wins. Find people that might be interested. Have a
coffee with them and bring them round to your way of thinking.  

Online Communities: Best Practice Or Innovation?

August 27, 2012 Comments Off

We attend a lot of meetings that focus on innovative concepts rather than applying best practices. 

Best practice is proven to achieve results in the most efficient way. It's something that is supported by case studies, data, and theory.

We know, for example, it's best practice to engage newcomers in a specific, interactive, activity, upon their first visit. We know it's best practice to encourage and facilitate self-disclosure questions between members. We know it's best practice in CoPs to document the body of knowledge and focus discussions on the edge of that domain of knowledge. 

Innovation is different. Innovative practices refer to concepts, ideas, or new approaches to old problems. As per the nature of online communities, innovation is mostly technological. 

Gamification is innovative. We know it's used by some successful communities, but we don't know it's used to develop successful communities. Using most social media platforms is innovative. Most big communities have them, but we don't have any data that says they're better than the old platforms. 

You can tell where this is going. Best practices trump innovative practices every time. You should only look for innovation when you've mastered best practices. If you can't grow membership, increase activity, and sustain a strong sense of community, then you don't need to worry about the new, innovative, stuff yet. 

Simple Example Of A Successful CoP

August 24, 2012Comments Off

A quick example.

Take a look at Home Energy Pros

It’s another successful community of practice created on a simple white-label platform.

It’s one of many examples.

You don’t need to blow your community budget on the platform. The number of organizations that can spend $50k on a platform and have no budget for a community manager is insane. It’s something we need urgently need to change. More examples of successful communities on simple platforms should help.


Using Social Proof To Increase Activity In Your Community

August 23, 2012Comments Off

We all know what social proof is by now. Yet many communities don't use it as often as they should. 

To brutally simplify it, people do what they see other people doing. 

If you want people to participate in your community, show them a lot of people participating. 

Dead threads, empty categories and other  bad social proof. They show that the community is inactive. 

Look at these discussion boards from Cafe Pharma:

Screen shot 2012-08-19 at 01.09.20
All of these categories have activity, but by not showing the activity they're significantly reducing the level of participation. People want ot know what's new and popular. Show them that. 

Now compare that with this: 

Screen shot 2012-08-19 at 01.15.20
Here you clearly see the quantity and recency of posts. It's more motivating to participate. 

This manifests itself in other ways. Take a look at Home Energy Pros below:

Screen shot 2012-08-20 at 09.23.32
Here you see very successful and popular threads mixed in with complete dead threads which need to either be removed, quietly buried, or moved to a different notification area of the community. 

It's easy to think that these things don't matter so much, but they're important. When you visit a community and recent posts are lingering from almost half a year ago, your decision is made for you. If it appears a dead community.

Screen shot 2012-08-20 at 09.26.06

The sneaky way to change this is to frequently modify the post dates. But that is a temporary solution. Any regular visitors will instantly see what's happening. The better way is simply to plan a calendar of upcoming posts in advance and stick to it. 

Don't underestimate the importance of seeing regular activity within the last twenty four hours. We look and identify these signals. 

Screen shot 2012-08-20 at 09.29.16
This is also why pruning is so important. When you see groups and categories in your community which haven't had any activity in a year (or even six-months), remove them. The social proof they're giving to members is prospecting. 

Screen shot 2012-08-20 at 09.31.42
This is also why you might want to think carefully about who you allow to create groups. You might, for example, have a criteria for groups that members have to pass for the group to be created. The key thing is ensuring members see what's new and what's popular in your community.

Screen shot 2012-08-20 at 09.35.14

Yet this reveals just one side of social proof. The other is highlighting the specific activities you want members to participate in. For example, you can use sticky threads and content to highlight certain activities. By making these activities more visible, and giving more attention to these activities, more members are likely to see the cues and follow suit.

Social proof is powerful. It permeates through much of what you do in the community. The way you design, manage, and cultivate your community is heavily influenced by the social proof you want to provide members. You always want the community to appear highly active and popular.

Sometimes that means removing the threads that didn't get a response (though it's better to respond and solicit contributions to these). Sometimes, it means giving the popular activities greater prominence. 

The Pillar Summit’s Online Community Management Course

August 22, 2012 Comments Off

We're excited to announce the dates for the Autumn semester of The Pillar Summit's Professional Community Management course.

The semester will run from September 24th – Nov 5th (6 weeks)

During this semester, we will run all three pillars:

The fee for the full course is £5000 GBP (all three pillars). Each individual pillar costs £2300 GBP. Discounts are available for multiple participants from the same organization. 

You can only take one pillar per semester. We have 10 places available per pillar. Applications close once each pillar is full. 

You can find testimonials from former participants here:

If you want to sign up, or have any questions, please contact us by e-mail or call: +44 (0)20 7792 2469.

Thanks everyone. It's always a thrill to run this course and we hope we have another batch of terrific community managers sign up. 

Designing The Perfect Newcomer To Regular Journey

August 22, 2012Comments Off

Perhaps the biggest benefit of using your own platform is you get to control the journey from newcomer to regular participant. Facebook, Twitter, white-label software, and even many enterprise platforms don't let you do this. 

We've covered this before, but let's try to present it as the 'ideal' journey for a newcomer. Treat these each as unique steps. You can optimize each one in turn. These steps are also listed in the priority of importance. If you get the first one right, the rest might just take care of themselves. 


Step 1) Awareness

Goal: Motivate members to participate in a specific activity within the community

This step usually gets ignored. How do people hear about your community? Do you wait for people to join or approach them? The biggest influence upon someones likelihood of becoming a regular participant is their level of interest in the topic.

This means two things. First, you need to make sure you have a tight (very focused) community concept. A community for social media professionals working at humanitarian organizations in Geneva than a broad social media community. If in doubt, tighten the concept. 

Second, you need to reach out to members with the strongest level of interest in the topic. Don't wait for members to join, proactively seek them out. Identify people that have taken actions in the past (such as blogging, tweeting, participating in comments of blogs, linkedin, facebook groups) that have shown they have an above level of interest in the topic. 

What you tell these prospective members is important. Don't invite these members to join. Don't tell prospective members that there is a new community. People don't care about this.

Tell them about activities taking place within the community. For example, invite prospects to participate in an interesting discussion, or an event/activity, or to contribute an opinion/collumn in response to a previous contribution.

You want them to be in the participant mindset before they even reach the community platform


Step 2) First Visit

Goal: Ensure members find something to participate in

In the first visit, members need to see something they want to participate in. Too frequently we focus upon getting members to read. That's easy. Getting them to particiapte is more difficult.

Once members visit you know to show them the latest activity taking place within the community. This means ensuring you always have popular, interesting, discussions at the top of the page. You need to use sticky threads to achieve this. Don't waste space on large graphics or hide the community behind a communtiy tab. 

Screen shot 2012-08-18 at 23.28.15
Screen shot 2012-08-18 at 23.29.58

If you're really clever, you can show a different page to newcomers than you do regulars. The single goal at this stage is to help visitors find an activity they can participate in. Keep the latest and most popular activity above the fold on the landing page of the community.

Prospective members should be able to find a discussion/activity they want to participate in within the first 30 seconds of visiting your community. If they don't, you're either attracting the wrong people, poorly positioned your interesting discussions/activities, or don't have interesting discussions/activities taking place


Step 3) Registration and Participation

Goal: Get members ready to participate within 1 minute

Speed is the key element of this stage. Any longer than 1 minute and you lose a lot of people. The ideal journey goes like this: a member clicks on a thread they want to reply to, they click reply, they are taken to the registration page, they enter their name, e-mail, password and an anti-spam question (e.g. "What colour is a banana?"), then they're taken back to the thread to reply. 

Most of all, just keep it simple. 

Screen shot 2012-08-19 at 00.08.56

In practice, few platforms have optimized this. Too many ask for more information than they need. If you have a platform that can't take people back to the same page, then take them to a specific page created for newcomers that highlights an activity they can participate in straight away. 

If you have to use a confirmation e-mail, then edit the content of that e-mail to direct members to a community activity they can participate in. 

The goal at this stage isn't to persuade members to create an online identity for the community. Don't ask any questions that don't relate to the name, e-mail, and password. The goal is simply to get them through this stage and back to participating. Letting members register through FB/Twitter accounts works well too.

Don't write personal welcomes from the community manager to every member. That's not very effective. Focus on making a difference. Either write personal messages to members that have made one contribution already and are likely to become regulars, or members that haven't made a contribution so you can put them on the right path. Be systematic. Collect data and figure out if it's working, if it's not, stop doing it. 

The registration to participation process is extremely quick. Every extra second loses a lot of members. If you reduce the time this takes and direct members toward a specific activity, the number of active participants should skyrocket. 


Step 4) Return visit

Goal: Secure a second contribution.

The biggest influence upon whether a newcomer becomes a regular (after their first contribution), is the speed and quality of the respond to their first message. If they don't get a response within 24 hours they're gone. Give priority to ensuring newcomers (the people with a 1 post count) get a quick response. 

The quality of response also matters. The response needs not just to answer the question but to continue the debate. You want the newcomers returning to respond to further questions. This means asking a further question and encouraging the contributor to return to respond. It also means soliciting the opinions of others in the conversation. 

In addition, make sure your notification e-mails are opt-out by default, are short, originate from an individual, and have a clearly identifiable subject line. Don't use summary e-mails unless they're specifically requests. The click-through rates plummet with these. Make sure the body of the e-mail is very short and there is a clear call to action to click the link. Measure what works, refine the copy, length, and language. Long-winded notifications with multiple links are destined to be ignored. 

Getting the second to visit a second time depends entirely upon getting a quick response to their first contribution. The speed and characteristics of this response are important, but so is the process by which contributors learn their contribution has received a response. 


Step 5) Continued Participation

Goal: Socialize members, build strong relationships between participants. 

To turn a newcomer into a regular, they need to be socialized.

They need to get to know other people in the community. They need to visit the community out of habit, not out of necessity.

This is where sense of community elements matter. You need regular events and activities for members. You need to highlight and facilitate self-disclosure related discussions between members.

You need to write content about members in the community (not just the established members, but newcomers too). Every member should feel like they have influence within the community. Provide opportunities for members to have ownership and influence over areas of the community. 

Finally, provide an informal of social ladder which members can claim through increased contributions. Reach out to the most active and rapidly rising contributors for support. Feature these members more frequently. Gamification can help for established communities, but it's not essential. 

You need to move heaven and earth to ensure members interact with each other, and not just with you. Shared events, self-disclosure discussions, content about members are the pillars. Other useful elements include creating a shared history, initiations/rituals after members have been around for {x} months, and {something else}. 

Most communities have terrible newcomer to regular conversion ratios. If you can improve this, you can rapidly increase the number of active members in your community. Most other problems you think you have in your community pale in comparison to a terrible newcomer to regular conversion process. 

How To Maintain A Great Community Spirit As Your Community Grows

August 21, 2012Comments Off

Matt Cheney points to this disgruntled Hacker News member.

The community isn’t the same anymore, he says, people are less constructive, less helpful, more snipey.

This is one opinion, from one member, on one day. It might reflect the concensus. We need data to test this. However, let’s assume it’s true for now.

When a community is launched, it attracts the most knowledgeable, enthusiastic, or friendly members. It’s precisely these people who either a) know the community exists b) are passionate about joining or c) are in your existing friendship group.

As people join, there is a high level of interaction between a relatively small group. As a result of the contact hypothesis, they begin to like each other. They’re helpful. They take their social cues from the founder.

This is sustained for a while. As a result, it gradually attracts more people. Gradually, the ongoing growth attracts the less knowledgeable, less enthusiastic, and less friendly members. It attracts people that read or visit the community because everyone else does.

The level of familiarity declines. There are more members who have joined in the past few months than were there before. This in turns leads to the problem highlighted above. What is the solution?

You have three options.

1) Close the community to newcomers. When you have enough members, you have enough. Close the community. Have an application form people fill out to join. Only let those that fit your criteria join. Alternatively, charge newcomers for membership. Focus on the members you have, not the members you don’t have. You might also want to gradually make it slightly more difficult to join, perhaps add more friction (or steps) to take to join the community).

2) Enforce strict rules. Delete or remove negative or provocative comments. Change the social proof that newcomers see in the community. Ban members that make negative or critical comments. Frequently remind newcomers about the rules concerning criticism and unhelpful comments.

3) Design and develop specific nudges. Change the platform. Give members a ‘helpful’ button. Ensure helpful and constructive comments are more prominent and visible. If members make {x} unhelpful comments, make it more difficult for their comments to appear. Change the text above the comment box to suggest members write a helpful comment. Highlight the successful projects that have been launched by Hacker News (or your community) e.g. “5143 HackerNews members have provided 11,412 constructive comments that have created 71 startups”.

These options present a decision.

Do you want a community with a great community spirit but less members?

Do you want a great community spirit but with high moderation costs?

Do you want a great community spirit but with a never-ending number of technical tweaks to make?

The decision might be made for you. If you have a platform you can’t change, and a limited moderation budget, then closing the community is your only option.

Either of the three can work, but you need to pick one. If you have a community that’s rapidly growing, at some point that community spirit will begin to drop.

Decide beforehand how you will maintain the early community spirit.

99% Of Community Building Principles Apply To Every Community

August 20, 2012Comments Off

Seth riffs on waiting for the perfect example.

This is relevant for community builders too.

Don't wait for examples from your specific sector. The difference between building a community for clowns, baristas, middle-aged fans of rock, backyard-chicken  typesdoctors, and accountants is not as great as you might imagine.

99% of the same community building principles apply to every community.

You still start small and grow big. You should still allow off-topic discussions. You should still have a simple, activity-orientated, platform. You should still use regular events and activities, personally engage with individual members, create content about the community etc..

Too often, principles that are deemed 'non-serious' are ignored in the belief that members will only want to discuss the most serious issues facing their sector. That's not true. Go to a local meet-up. How much time do you spend discussing the meaty, serious, stuff compared with general chat? 

Many organizations are waiting for the absolute perfect example of a successful community in their sector before they know what to do. Of course, by then it's too late and their playing catch-up.

There are many things we know work well. Don't ignore them. 99% of community building principles apply to every community.

Junior Community Consultant

August 18, 2012Comments Off

Applications are now closed. Thank you to everyone that applied.

Platform Demographics

August 17, 2012 Comments Off

We recently had a client keen to know which demographics used a platform the most.

For example, who uses Facebook the most? Who uses Ning the most? Who uses forums the most?

There is surprisingly little data on any of these, but it misses the point.

The demographics aren’t evenly weighted. There are more 21 – 35 year olds than those aged 65+. Therefore, most platforms will appear more popular with 21 – 35 year olds. That doesn’t make it the best platform to use for your community if you’re targeting that audience.

It’s more important to know what % of a demographic uses a platform. This tells you what platform/technology is best suited to your community. The 65+ audience might make up only 2% of LinkedIn users, but 60% of the 65+ online audience might know and be comfortable with LinkedIn.