I was struck by this report about The WELL being sold.
"As other online communities and social networks emerged over the years, The Well's subscriber base dwindled to 2,693, which did not bear financial promise," the company explained in its June filing."
Each user pays $100 – $150 per year. That is $269,300 – $403,950 per year in revenue. This isn't huge by many organization's standards, but given the relatively low overheads with managing 2,693 members – it should be good enough for an entrepreneurial community manager.
Many community managers refrain from creating paid online communities. I don't understand this. You can develop a business model, target fewer members, and gain in-built exclusivity.
Given the choice between this and advertising as a revenue stream, which would you pick?
Abdul recently told me about a Facebook group created to tackle a spate of break-ins in the local area. Once the issue was resolved, the activity in the group declined. Then someone suggested to use it for other issues, now it's thriving again.
You can identify the single biggest issue that affects your town (or street), industry, your field of expertise, hobby, or your company and create a mailing list/Facebook group about it.
Invite a few people to join, initiate discussions, ask people to suggest their ideas about how to resolve the issue. Build a consensus to resolve the issue. Implement a plan to resolve the problem. Update people with tasks for people to undertake and milestones to achieve.
Once resolved, you can use the connections and energy you've established between members to turn a single-issue community into something far broader, and far better.
The hardest part is always building those connections between people. Once you've built them, don't abandon them. One of the simplest ways to build the connections is to create a community of action to tackle the single biggest issue.
People get upset when they feel something isn't fair.
Yet fairness isn't about the outcome, it's about the process.
You won't make people any happier by changing the outcome. You will make them happier by engaging them to develop a better process.
If they don't like the outcome, ask where the process failed. Correct that stage in the process.
The best approach is often to let members create the process for themselves to abide by. Your job is then to follow that process. Don't tweak outcomes, tweak processes.
The difference between someone reading and participating is huge.
Too many organizations aim to attract readers. They try to get experts publishing content that members want to read. This is a flawed content-driven community strategy.
The only viable community strategy has to be based around active participation between members.
If members are only consuming information, they're not emotionally engaged. They're not interacting with each other. They're not building relationships. They're not developing a sense of loyalty, community, and commitment to the group. They don't get emotionally involved in the community. They will quickly jump to anyone else that produces the same content slightly better, or slightly quicker.
If they're not participating, you don't get the ROI. You don't get the increased loyalty, repeat purchases, decreased marketing costs. You're in a cut-throat world of content.
If you want to build an audience, go ahead and publish a lot of content and compete with hundreds of similar outlets publishing almost identical content. That's a rough ratrace.
The alternative is to build genuine communities based around participation.
That means gearing everything towards encouraging participation. Prioritise the interactions, come up with ideas to stimulate interactions between members, shape an environment that orientates around interactions between members. Organize events and activities, highlight the most popular interactions, document what interactions are taking place.
The irony here is you don't need a community to write for, you need a great community to write about.
The best content for a community, is content about the community.
In June, Google+ said they had 250m registrants and 150m+ active participants.
Last week, Google+ said they have 400m registrants and 100m+ active participants.
Google+ sees this as a major accomplishment. The commenters seem to agree.
Surely it's a disaster?
Google+ has lost 33% of it's active members in 3 months — and they're celebrating(!)
Six more months of this, and the platform will have no active participants, just a bunch of people who clicked a few links once.
Therein lies the problem. Getting registered members is easy. It's fun to boast about, but it's meaningless. If Google+ hits 1bn registrants and 0 active users, what benefit do they get?
Getting people to click a link (especially when you can coax them into it from a huge, existing, userbase) is a simple task, but one that yield no benefits.
The real work begins after they click that link to register. How do you guide that journey to becoming a regular participant?.
If you were managing a community like this, you should press the panic button. You halt all promotional activities. You should delve deep into the newcomer to regular journey. Your single-minded goal is to find out where and why members are dropping out of becoming regular members and resolve the problems.
It gets worse, those 300m people that no longer use the platform are gone forever. They're not coming back. They didn't come back to Friendster, MySpace, Friends Reunited, Bebo, Second Life, FriendFeed, and hundreds of other platforms.
Maybe things will change. Perhaps the number are misleading, perhaps there is a grand strategy at work that we've not privvy to. As things stand, this platform is doomed.
Is it really amazing when online communities act like real communities?
Howard Rheingold has been documenting this for over two decades.
Communities (online or offline) are people interacting and building relationships around topics of interest. It shouldn't be a surprise when they mourn the loss of popular members, help to support each other, and rally around causes they hold dear.
Does the medium change the meaningfulness of the community?
My advice, treat online communities like offline communities.
Imagine these people live around your area. Which tactics would you still use? How would you get people to interact? How would you build and solidify relationships? How would you engage people in the first place?
The same tactics that work in the real world are remarkably resilient online too. The more you push for real-time activities, personal interactions between members, common goals/causes, community-orientated content, the more likely you will develop a genuine community.
Some more considerations:
- Offline communities don't continue growing indefinitely.
- Offline communities aren't (typically) spammed with marketing messages nor developed with ulterior motives.
- Offline communities don't ask people to take simple, meaningless, actions (like, share, tag).
- Offline communities are governed by bottom-up normative rules, not top-down enforced rules.
- Offline communities need careful nurturing and constant development.
We’ve covered this before, forgive the
repetition (it’s for the newcomers!)
Community management comprises of 8
Establishing and executing the strategy for developing the community.
Collecting data. Analyzing data. Establishing strategy. Developing action plan.
Communicating the strategy and action plan. Project managing.
Increase active membership of the community and convert newcomers into regulars.
Direct marketing, promotion, referral/word-of-mouth. Optimize membership
Create, edit, facilitate, and solicit content for the community. Create content
about the community. Use recognition and social influence principles.
Remove obstacles to participation and encourage members to make contributions. Initiate
discussions, develop and refine guidelines, solicit contributions, highlight
popular topics, remove the bad stuff.
and activities. Create and facilitate events to keep members
engaged. Initiate regular online and offline events, organize irregular online
and offline events.
and influence. Build relationships with key members and gain
influence within the community. Recruit and manage volunteers. Build and manage
an insider group.
experience. Improve the community platform and
participation experience for members. Increase social density, remove redundant
features, add new elements, and refine the design.
Integration. Advocate internally within the organization
and integrate business processes with community efforts. Measure and increase
the ROI. Integrate the product, price, promotion and distribution of the
organization/product with the community.
Everything you do in a community at any
time is focused within one of these categories.
The key to getting really good at managing a community is to
develop plan that spends the right amount of time on each activity for your
stage of the life-cycle.
Most of the plan will be repetitive week
after week, but always geared towards developing the community, not maintaining
We’re passionate about measuring the ROI of communities.
If an organization is investing in a community, they deserve to know what they’re getting for their money. When we
help an organization boost it’s ROI, we like to be able to prove it.
The most common objections to measuringthis ROI are
1) You can’t measure everything
2) it’s not about ROI
The first is right, but you can still be accurate. The second is misguided (what does engagement eventually lead to if not greater profits?).
There are a few techniques that can really help here.
1)Measure the increase since joining the community.
You can’t compare the spending habits of members to non-members.
Those that decide to join a community are already likely to be your best and most passionate supporters. You need to benchmark buying habits of members when they join the community and then 6 to 12 months later. This shows what possible influence the community has had on their behavior. If members (on average) spent $35 a year when they joined the community and now spend $55 per year. That’s $20 per year increase.
2)Non-members as a control group.
When Apple releases the iPhone 5, millions of people will spend more on Apple products. You can’t attribute that to the community. To remove this, you need to use non-members as a control group (we’re abusing science a little here).
Track the buying habits of non-members and remove any increase in spending from what you’re measuring. This gives you an amount that is attributable to the community. If the average customer (non-member) spending rose from $25 to $35,
that removes $10 from the above figure.
This is your secret weapon. You can’t track every purchase from every member (unless e-mail accounts are used to purchase the service and join the community). You need to survey the buying habits of your members. Not all members, but specific samples at certain times. This won’t give you an exact figure, but it will give you an accurate figure. You really want to know the value per active member – then you can multiply by the number of active members.
4)Multiply by years.
If community members, on average, spend $10 per year attributable to the community, and you have 50,000 active members, that’s $500,000 per year. Multiply that by the year (and number of active members for each
year) and you get a very accurate projection of future benefits of the community.
We have 2 places remaining on The Pillar Summit
– Advanced Community Strategy course. If you’re fascinated by measurement, ROI, strategy, scaling, and social theory, you might like to sign up: www.pillarsummit.com/apply
You generally shouldn't start communities to attract new customers.
The only people that join, are people already in your audience (typically your customers).
Why would people that don't already purchase the product/service participate in a community about it?
Yet, there is an exception. Imagine if you sell high-price products and services (consultancy, most business services, homes, cars etc…), the potential value of each individual participant in the community is high (see the amazing value of B2B communities).
Instead of developing a community around your data security consultancy services, you can develop a community about data security. You invite the people you know in the sector to participate, gradually they invite others and it begins to take off.
Through this community you can identify potential leads. You can identify problems members are having and drop them a note to see if there is anything you can do to help. This doesn't scale, but it doesn't have to given the huge value of each person. If each participant is responsible for $50k worth of services, it is a valuable activity.
How much easier would it be cultivate and convert leads generated from a genuine discussions compared with cold calls. How much more credibility would you have being the founder of the community compared with other channels?
There aren't that many proven community building tactics.
You can learn them all with relative ease.
The challenge is when you use them and how you use them. The when requires knowledge. The how requires skill.
You need to undertake the right tactics at the right time. This requires knowledge of community development. A community in different stages of the lifecycle requires different things.
You would be foolish to individually invite members to a maturity community of 50,000 members. That's not a great use of your time. You would be equally foolish to try to secure promotional coverage for a newly launched community. That's not how communities begin.
You need to be fussy about which tactics you use and make sure you select the right ones for where your community is in the lifecycle.
Fortunately, this is getting easier. You have a strategy template here, the community development process here, and a more detailed explanation here. Using these three, you should be equipped to use the right tactics at the right time.
This is the bit that requires skill.
If the tactics is to individually invite members, then you need to be very good at contacting people and persuading them to join and participate in the community. This is not easy, even with a clear process. You have to be able to open discussions with strangers and convert them into ongoing relationships that benefit your community.
If you had a list of 100 customers right now, how many could you convert into founding members of an online community?
This is one skill of many. Organizing successful events/activities is a skill, growing the community is a skill, knowing how to effectively initiate discussions that sustain high levels of engagement is a skill, project management is a skill, building effective processes to manage the community is a skill.
Like all skills, these need work. You need to practice them. You need to test different approaches, different ideas, and read up on each of these fields. You learn what tends to get people to open an e-mail, read the e-mail, respond to it. You learn when to ask for something that benefits you. You get a natural empathy for the situation.
Reminder: You have 7 days remaining to sign up for The Pillar Summit's Professional Community Management course.
Aside from being very funny, there is a lot of truth to the Condescending Corporate Brand Page.
Whether on Facebook, or on other platforms, there is a rising tendency to patronize the audience.
It's an awful idea to ask members to 'tell us what you think', 'share this with your friends', 'connect with others'. It gets a poor response, feels plastic-corporate, and neglects all the amazing thing you can do that really build a genuine community. The people that reply is dwarfed by the people you're repelling.
There are two points here. The first is easier than the second.
First, you always have to talk like a real human being. Simple, but we tend to struggle.
Second, make a key decision early on. You're not going to appeal to the masses. You're not going to dumb-down your messages/activities to appeal to the bulk of the people. You're not going to talk down to people.
Talk up to your audience, not down. Make it more brain-intensive to be engaged, not less. Attract the people that are really interested and knowledgeable about the topic. Challenge your members to be better, smarter, more knowledgeable.
It's hugely more beneficial to have one committed participant than ten uncomitted participants. Every time you talk down to your community you're doing a lot of harm.
Most community strategies are either irrelevant, utopian, impractical, or have no understanding of how communities develop.
To tackle this, we're today releasing the strategy template we use for our own clients. You can download the template here:
Use it, steal it, edit it, whatever…just start using a strategy that's aligned both with the organization and proven community processes.