Month: August 2012
You can save a lot of time and money by making a few small bets.
I stole this term from Ramit Sethi (who took it from Peter Sims, I believe).
Let’s say you want to develop a community in the travel sector. It’s an entirely new type of community. You want to test the idea before you develop the community.
Create a mailing list, LinkedIn, or Facebook group around the community topic. Invite 10 – 20 people to join it. Initiate discussions, interact with members and participate as you would any community.
You learn three important lessons from this:
1) Can you reach your target audience? You would be surprise how difficult it can be to identify specific members of your target audience, reach them, and persuade them to join a community. If you can’t do it at this level, why do you think you can do this at a higher level?
2) Can you sustain activity in your community? If the activity peters out within a week, that’s a bad sign. Either you’re not effective out sustaining activity, or the interest level in members is low.
3) Is the interest properly aligned? If members talk about something different than you anticipated, you have misconceptualized (not a real word) your community.
If you want to be especially clever, you can create several of these groups with different audiences to see what works best. It’s a small investment of time, that can help you refine and redevelop your community.
Don’t mandate participation. That never works. If you want employees to participate, the carrot works better than the stick. If it feels like extra work, you’re always fighting an uphill battle.
The problem is motivation. Why would employees participate? Isn't it extra work?
Back at PCGamer, the employees (writers) participated a lot in the community. They were the busiest people I knew, but they participated a lot. Why? Because they were the stars of the community. Their audience knew them. They felt like superstars amongst the audience.
You can apply this to your community. You can gradually build employees (especially those that develop the products/services) into the stars of the community. This may include:
- Hosting a weekly live-chat with a staff member.
- Inviting staff members to write a regular column/post.
- Writing what some of the staff members have been up to that week. This is a frivolous activity that helps members feel they know the staff better (it can be quite lighthearted).
- Interview staff members.
If you want employees participating in the community, you don’t tell to tell them it exist (or even the benefits of participating). You need to build stars amongst them.
There is no shortage of ideas here. The goal is to gradually turn employees into stars. This both focuses upon them sharing new insights and expertise, and encourages other employees to participate.
Events should act as major milestones in the development of your community. They don’t even need to be your events, just major events in your sector. Events shouldn’t be minor blips, but calls to action which unites your audience and sustains a permanently higher level of activity.
Most events struggle here. Most conferences fail to sustain the energy they create. They don’t have a plan to sustain the activity nor integrate the event with the community. Most communities don’t take advantage of the biggest events in their sector.
For the best results, integrate the two:
- Use the event as a call to action. This is the most important one. Use the event as a major call to action for your community. If someone is advocating for a new approach to a topic, then form an online community of practice around that specific topic. Invite people to join. Discuss how the ideas can be applied. Present conclusions. A single event can lead to numerous CoPs (or sub-groups within the community). My biggest complaint with TED is they completely waste the energy they spend so long cultivating at every event.
- Initiate discussions and create content about the event. Build discussions and content leading up to the event. This ranges from announcements about what’s coming up to, to discussions about aspects relating to the event. Preview the event. Then write a live blog during the event, do interviews with attendees. Finally, use the topics created during the event as content/discussions afterwards. Integrate the community with your community.
- Enable registration through the community. If people register for the event through the community, it’s easier to engage them in the community via event-orientated content, discussions, and activities. TeachForAll (one of our clients) did this well.
- Organize and facilitate sub-events/meet-ups. If lots of your members are attending the same event, help facilitate sub-events and meet-ups. If members are traveling far, and don’t know many people, it can really help if they are able to meet-up with members beforehand. If there are no sub-events planned, then help organize some for your community members.
- Help co-ordinate travel/support for those attending. Similar to the above, provide a place within the community where members can co-ordinate their travel plans. Drive and encourage co-operation between members.
Events create energy and potential that is hard to match. Events cement online relationships. You need to seize the opportunity they create. You need to integrate the event deeply within your community. You need to help facilitate those relationships and interactions between members.
Wikipedia attributes its volunteer problem to technology.
If it was easier to edit posts, more people would edit them.
Yet the technology hasn't changed much since its peak in 2007.
If it was a technology problem, how did they recruit so many volunteers in the first place?
Wikipedia can simplify the technology. It would probably help. More people might edit the posts. But this only adds more people at the top of the tunnel. This won't keep them there any longer. It's a temporary solution.
The problem is motivation. Why do those that spent the time to learn the technology no longer edit posts?
Too often we prescribe technological solutions to social problems. It's easier to change the technology. Move this button here, turn that to a lighter shade of green, and simplify the registration process. These things can help, but they're not a silver bullet. They mask the bigger social problems.
The real solution is usually social (or psychological). My guess is their motivation faded as Wikipedia's shiny object status faded. We know momentum is important. This decreased both each volunteer's motivation to edit posts and the number of people that wanted to volunteer.
Wikipedia never changed the volunteer commitment from desire to create something special (which faded once we took Wikipedia for granted), to an obligation to the Wikipedian volunteer community itself. The latter is more sustainable.
This problems afflicts many communities (and volunteer groups!). It's easier to recruit volunteers, contributors, and other help when your community is a new, popular, insurgent. Everyone wants to be part of it (I daresay, jump on the bandwagon).
Eventually, that shine wears off. You become part of the ecosystem, the establishment. Then the motivation dies down. We still love Wikipedia, but we're not dazzled by it.
To sustain long-term volunteer engagement you need to solve longer term motivation issues. I'd suggest the following. First, develop a comprehensive scale of increasing power for each person. This has to be open-ended, an individual should never 'cap out' of power they can have in their audience.
Second, invest money in the community of volunteers. Initiate regular meet-ups, provide freebies, organization annual gatherings, regularly seek their opinion. This needs times and investment. Your volunteers need their own special community. They need to be 'in it together'. Invest the time and money in this. It's worth it.
On Monday I mentioned it's easier to get people to create content for the community with an existing audience.
I missed an important point.
EVERYTHING is easier with an existing audience. The same rule applies. People want to participate in communities that are successful.
It's easier to get your employees involved.
It's easier to get internal buy-in.
It's easier to measure a lot of activity (than no activity).
It's easier to get people to join and convert them into newcomers.
It's easier to get coverage in external sites.
It's easier to attract volunteers.
It's easier to convert newcomers into regulars.
This has some implications. For example, don't promote your community to the masses early. Wait until you have some activity and then gradually ramp up your promotional activity. If you promote too early you will struggle to convert them into regulars. You will lose a lot of potential members.
The same is true with internal buy-in. It roughly parallels the success of the community. Aim to increase internal buy-in as the community-grows. Aim to attract more volunteers as the community grows.
With all this time you save, you can focus on the basics. Initiating and sustaining discussions, inviting people to join, and building relationships with early members.
Someone's going to get upset, no matter what you do.
The people that are upset will be vocal about it. The happy people will keep quiet.
You can try to preempt resentment by consulting with the community. You can ask the community what they want, run polls, and keep the community informed the entire time.
Yet what the community wants and what's best for the community can conflict. The community doesn't know how to develop the community, they only know what they (personally) like. They don't see what you see. They don't have your data and expertise.
Sometimes they don't like (or don't use) what they've asked for (I've lost count of the number of exasperated community managers in this position).
Worse still, you can cause problems where non-existed. Say you run a poll; 33% of members vote for option A, 33% vote for option B, and 34% vote for option C. If you go with option C, that's 66% of the community that are unhappy.
Years ago I interviewed Jesse Cliff, co-creator of the online game Counter-Strike. He told me his secret. At every update, they would receive thousands of angry e-mails. They waited a few weeks to see which complaints were still coming and tracked user data to see the impact the change had made.
What can you do?
First, accept people will get upset. People don't like change. Don't get offended, just wait to see how things are after a few weeks. Track your data and see if usage goes up or down.
Second, let the community know what's happening and why. Don't ask if they would like a new site, tell a new site is coming and explain why. Keep them informed on the progress (most members wont be interested).
Third, let members have input within decisions. Members feel happier if they have had some input. So let them decide if they would like the navigation bar in red or blue, or if the text should be italicised or not. Just don't ask if they want a new site in the first place.
You need to force through some changes for the benefit of your community. Members wont always understand. They will resent it. By giving them information and some input you can alleviate some problems. Don't overreact to the negative reactions.
An audience responds and interacts with you – not each other.
A community builds relationships around a strong common interest.
Most media platforms have an audience, not a community.
There are some great exceptions. HuffingtonPost, The Guardian, many blogs, and even radio shows have a intelligent (and less intelligent) debates.
Classic magazines like Amiga Power spent as much time writing about games as they did about self-indulgent community material – but it worked. My former employers, PCGamer, did the same. It built a community. It encouraged interaction between readers.
It's readers felt they were part of something. They frequently referred to readers, by name, in articles. That's powerful.
If you're trying to build a community around a media/content entity, you need to change the entity to faciliate a community. That means turning some pages to member columns, hosting live events/activites (online or offline). Featuring members in different ways. Summarizing the best member contributions. Setting goals/actions for the audience to undertake and reporrting on the progress.
For simplicity, focus on three things:
1) Featuring members. Interviews, mentions in articles, reviews/reports on member milestones, member contributions/comments.
2) Creating opportunities for members to interact with each other. Live events and activities. Ongoing debates. Letters to each other (not just the magazine) etc…
3) Establish common goals/purpose and culture. Have a personality. Have inside jokes that only some members get. Set common activities/challenges/goals for the audience.
We've received about 30 applications for the position of junior community consultant, mostly from people with a social media background.
It's tough to apply for it. There's no-one else in the world doing it. We rarely talk about it. Aside from The Pillar Summit, we're reluctant to advertise our own services. To clarify a few things, today will be an exception.
We help organizations develop thriving communities. That usually means one of three things:
1) Getting the community off the ground and running. If an organization wants a community, we take them through a step by step process of getting it going and reaching critical mass of activity. Our approach is based upon proven theory and refined by experience. We provide clear measurements, actions, processes for managing the community and ensuring everything is aligned with best practice (you would be surprised how many organizations make crazy mistakes).
2) Developing an existing community. Some organizations have communities which are struggling, others simply aren't sure what to do next. We diagnose these communities, use proven theory to create a strategy, and work with them in executing it over a 3 – 6 month period. This is intensive, it's data-driven, and usually involves training. The results are good.
3) Resolving special issues. Many organizations have specific problems. This might be developing a platform, training a new community manager, converting newcomers into regulars, gaining internal buy-in. We analyze the problem, develop interventions, and improve the conditions.
Our goal is to work with organizations for a short-period and have an impact that continues to pay dividends for years.
We do corporate training too, but usually under the Pillar Summit banner.
We have some firm beliefs, namely;
1) The process is the key to success. It's not the platform, nor the content, it's the process. Most organizations have no idea how to develop and manage communities. We have a very specific process for working with clients and developing communities in a measurable way. We transfer our knowledge, skills, and resources to our clients.
2) You must master theory and data. Can you imagine government creating policy by asking a few vocal people passing by? No. Neither should you with a community. Instead you need data. Data tells you where you are now. It explains what is/isn't working. Once you know where you are now, you use proven community theory to identify where the community goes next. Every single line of strategy and action we recommend is based upon data and proven theory. We don't guess or make things up. We get the information we need and then make decisions.
3) Communities can and should be measured. That includes health, progress, and ROI. We have a clear framework to track progress. It's important. Also, if we increase the return of a community by $1.4m, it's nice to be able to prove it.
4) The organization has to own it. We don't manage communities on behalf of clients, the client should own this. We don't build platforms neither (though we do have best practice documents and work with clients to develop specs/pick vendors). Ultimately, we don't manage communities for people. Other organizations do, and we wish them well, but it's not something we believe in.
5) A community isn't social media. Sorry to everyone that applied with a strong social media resume, but we're looking for a community person.
We're small, tiny even. We hire great minds and train them to be brilliant community consultants. It's tough, intensive, but you quickly become able to diagnose and develop any community.
We're looking for genuine enthusiasm (as evidenced by previous activities), excellent knowledge in collecting and analyzing data (if you've never used a spreadsheet, move on by), great presentation/communication skills, and terrific references.
The role includes lots of data gathering. Your day might involve dozens of calls gathering qualitative data, producing a thematic analysis, presenting the information, developing strategies based upon that data etc, consulting with clients and responding to questions, spending time being trained in community theory.
This is not a community management role. It's not social media. We do very little social media work. It's entirely a very deep level community consultancy position. One of the first in the world.
If you're interested in joining us, e-mail us.
(If you're interested in working with us, e-mail us too!)
I don't like content-driven communities. The model is usually backwards.
In theory it works like this. You get 20 to 50 people creating content for your community, this attracts people to the community.
The problem is few people want to create content for a non-existent audience. Those that do soon get bored when their articles get a limited response (this is why most bloggers soon give up, they don't get over the no-audience hump).
People are motivated by efficacy. They want to have an impact upon their surroundings. If few people read and respond, that impact is limited. The motivations dies.
It's hard to get people to contribute content for a community few people visit. You need to build the audience first. It's not a chicken and egg scenario. You can steadily build a community a few people at a time, initiate discussions, facilitate early interactions, and then gradually invite people to contribute regular blog posts.
It's the audience that attract the content creators, not the content creators that attracts the audience.
We're hiring again.
We're looking for a junior level community consultant to join us at FeverBee.
You will be helping clients develop and manage effective online communities.
This includes helping develop community strategies and implementing tactics based upon proven theory, undertaking audience and sector analysis, analyzing data, and writing and presentation information, and taking clients
Some travel will be required.
The perks are good. You get to work at home (results only work environment). You set your own schedule (within fixed deadlines). You get advanced training in community management and consultancy.
You should be…
You should be terrific with data and research (some training here would be ideal). You should have a deep knowledge of online communities (in all forms), you need excellent writing and presentation skills, and you need to be 100% reliable (whenever you say you will do something, you're expected to do it).
And, of course, you need to have a genuine passion for this work. You need to be fascinated by the science of communities and the impact of connecting millions of people around thousands of diverse topics.
Recent graduates are welcomed to apply. Bilingualism is an advantage, but not essential. You can be based in Europe or the USA. We're looking to find a brilliant spark to train in a specific approach to communities (and way of thinking about communities) rather than a seasoned pro.
If you're interested (or know someone that is), e-mail me: [email protected].
There is no deadline. We'll stop looking once we find someone great. So be quick.
Big changes are usually a bad thing. They’re expensive (both time and money), members don’t like them and it’s difficult to predict their impact upon the community.
Sometimes, the logic is just wrong. New platforms can guide the actions of members once they visit the community, but it can’t attract new people to the platform in the first place. If not many people are visiting the platform, then a new platform wont solve that. This depends entirely upon your growth efforts.
If your community is failing, it’s not usually because of the platform. If your community is succeeding, then why change the platform?
Instead of changing the platform, aim to continually refine it. We prefer continuous tweaks. We’ve covered many of these before (link).
For example, very simple changes can have a big impact. Changing the length and copy of the confirmation e-mail, repositioning the registration banner, or tweaking the notification messages can have a far bigger impact than a new platform.
Another example, if you get rid of the large banner graph at the top of the page an replace it with the latest discussions in the community, you will find the level of activity rapidly increases.
Spend the rest of the budget on more and better community mangers. Just please, stop spending so much money on expensive platforms. Spend the money on finding the best people to manage them.