Reddit runs the largest Secret Santa in the world.
The concept is simple. You sign up, fill in a simple form, state what you like/dislike, and receive someone else's information when it's live.
Over 58,000 people have registered so far this year.
What would it take to have a secret santa for your community? How much fun/activity would it generate? Probably quite a lot.
It's simple to execute (talk to your tech person) and great for a community bonding experience. You might not get 58k, but you should still get a dedicated core group of members.
My first online communities were for a video game called Counter-Strike.
From circa '99 to around 04 it was the most popular online multiplayer first-person shooter game. Unfortunately, we didn't look at the broader trends. We didn't see this coming:
Our TFAS (total feasible audience size) declined and we were trapped in a collapsing bubble. This happens a lot. A community just shrinks inside it's own interest bubble.
By comparison, look at the trend for it's close cousin Call of Duty.
Call of Duty didn't create gamers, they attracted much of the same audience we had. Instead of evolving with the audience, we remained resolute to the interest and shrank as the members vanished.
This was a tragedy. After years spent building a community, fostering the connections, facilitating events/activities, we then failed to evolve with the community and watched those same people, with the same ties, move to new communities with a specific Call of Duty focus.
The lesson is this. The interest that unites the audience is flexible over time. It's easier to change the interest than the audience. Keep a close eye on not just the trends for your topics, but any other rapidly rising trends and incorporate them into your community's topic.
If your precious members are interesting in something new, you have to include that in your community (or be prepared to lose the members).
Some successful community professionals express surprise that community building is such hard work.
They launched their communities and it just took off.
Yes, this really happens. Communities can go from inception to maturity in a matter of weeks. Facebook was like this (back when it was just a community for students at ivy league universities). You don't hear many stories about Facebook actively promoting or recruiting people at different colleges. In fact, for the first 2 years the site was closed to most people.
They built it and people came. Everything just fell into place. It was exactly what people wanted at the exact time they wanted it.
This happens when you get the concept right. The stronger the community concept, the easier everything else becomes.
Don't rush the conceptualization stage. Spend at least a month on this (maybe 3 months). If you get the concept wrong everything becomes far harder. Research is boring, but vital. The more data you have, the more closely you can create a concept that matches what people want, the more successful your community will be.
This doesn't mean you will have less work. It does mean your work becomes far easier.
Almost everything organization that fails, skips this stage. They assume they know without ever talking to a representative group of their audience.
If you do this badly, everything else (getting people to join, participate, invite others) is much harder. If do this really badly, you've killed your community before you begin.
Take the time to do it right.
It makes sense to discourage spam, porn, personal attacks. They're a distraction and a deterrent from participating in a community.
However, you should also discourage boring behaviour.
Boring, of course, is subjective. However, it's documented that certain behaviours discourage people from participating in the group. Forsyth cites these as:
- Tediousness. Communicating in a boring manner. e.g. too much detail, posting too long posts when most are short (or the classic TL:DR)
- Lack of disclosure. Not adding any new subjective or objective information.
- Egocentrism. Overtly or covetly promoting oneself amongst the group. Complaining about one's own problems.
- Low affectivity. Not expressing any emotions or opinions on an issue.
- Seriousness. Remaining too serious about every topic.
- Self-preoccupation. Lacking interest in other people e.g. failing to ask questions.
- Banality. Talking about irrelevant matters.
It's not just members that exhibit boring behaviour, it's community managers too (especially branded community managers).
When organizations participate in their own communities, they often fall victim to these mistakes. They often don't sound geniune. They're often too boring.
A little self-awareness goes a long way.
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This book combines a century of proven science, dozens of real-life examples, practical tips, and trusted community-building methods.
This step-by-step guide includes a lifecycle for tracking your progress and a framework for managing your community efforts
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We went through these before.
Who are you going to reach?
How are you going to reach them?
What are you going to tell them?
Why will they listen?
What will they do?
Why will they tell others?
How will they benefit?
How will you benefit?
If you can genuinely answer these, you're probably doing just fine.
Spot potential stars of your community and build their reputations.
Communities need stars. They need leaders they look up to. They orientate around the key figures in the group.
It's a skill to spot potential stars in the community and gradually build their reputations. You can mention them and their contributions in news posts, interview them for the community, invite them to write guest columns, give them areas of the community to be responsible for.
More than this, you need to build strong personal relationships with these members. You need to know what their interests are and how you can support their efforts.
My first online community was for a video game. We used this technique (by accident) to create stars out of many of the top players. It provided a strong boost to the community, provided lots of great content, and encouraged others to increase the quality of their contributions to reach star level.
Once you have stars, you have people you can write about, to support, to pay attention to. If one of your stars has an idea, you can throw the support of the community behind him/her.
The challenge is to first identify who the stars might be (people with unique charisma, backgrounds, expertise, excellent contributions, skill etc…) and gradually grow both your relationship with them and their relationship with the community.
If you can identify what has worked for one community in another sector, it will probably work for yours too.
Research the same type of communities (action, location, interest, circumstance, practice) in different sectors. Identify what discussions, events/activities, and content are most popular in these communities. Then use them for your community too.
If 'Things Not To Say To A Barista' works, perhaps 'Things Not To Say To A Chef/Developer/Designer' will also work.
If 'What's your biggest client horror story?' works in a community for architects, perhaps it will work in your community of practice too.
If 'How did you react when you were told you had cancer' works in one community of circumstance, it will probably work for others too.
Don't stop at discussions. Look at what content gets the most comments, what events/activities do they use and which seem to be successful.
By going through this activity (it should only take a day or two), you have a huge list of things you can do to increase activity in your community.
You just need to a) identify your community's type and b) research communities of a similar site (but different sector!) and identify what's working for them.
In political psychology, it's known anger is the strongest emotion for increasing participation.
If you can make your audience mad about something, levels of participation increase.
The problem is you can't control anger. People stay mad. They get madder. They transfer their anger from one issue to the next. Once you press that anger switch, you don't know where you end up.
Yet 'happy' communities aren't the most active neither. Pleasant, polite, uplifting, optimistic discussions don't significantly increase participation in communities. In fact, polite communities are often considered boring. This deters participation.
Communities are stronger when they oscillate at the same emotional frequency. They're stronger when members see others reacting in the same way as they are. But which emotion should it be?
Which discussions will you decide to initiate, facilitate, highlight, and otherwise draw attention to? Do you look for discussions tinged with fear, disgust, sadness, joy, ecstasy, terror, or amazement?
More importantly, which emotion will you use when you create content, highlight relevant issues? What tone of voice will you embrace? What words will you use? Too formal/polite and you deter participation, too angry you might pull the pin on a loose grenade
We do know that more intense emotions lead to higher levels of participation. The answer therefore lies in the deeper levels of the Plutchik emotional wheel. Test different emotions. Use your subtle influence to test surprise, anxiety, anticipation, sadness, and joy.
Measure which lead to higher levels of participation and a stronger sense of community.
Reddit is more popular than ever…and losing money.
They've asked their users to buy gold accounts.
The honesty is refreshing, and it might just work.
But I think there is a better model.
The amazing thing about gathering together such a strong, passionate, community is you can identify exactly what they want and sell such products to them.
Threadless thrives on this. They earn over $40m a year selling products to their community rather than finding communities for their products.
I'd be working on The Reddit Guide to Life (and other community-created 'Guide to' books), Reddit merchandise (t-shirts etc where members could submit their favourite quotes/ideas), organizing/facilitating Reddit events/activities around the world, and exclusive areas of the site members can pay to access.
There are no shortage of ideas for monetizing a community. Look to what other successful communities are doing and copy that. Mumsnet, for example, sells their guides, has an academy that sells courses on Ancient Greek, Jewellery Making, Writing Sex In Fiction etc…, hosts sponsored events, charges organizations to host competitions, and otherwise has a highly diversified income stream.
Reddit users have money. They've raised donated over $2m to charity in the last few years. They're willing to spend the money on things and ideas that match their community ethos. The challenge is to find the products they want to buy. The process of doing that is the most valuable part of monetizing a community.
Aside: If Reddit gave their top 10,000 members free Gold accounts for 1 year, my bet is a) the majority of them would pay to keep it and b) far more members would upgrade to gold account.
Most communities have a terrible newcomer to regular conversion ratio.
Of 100,000 unique new ips that visit the platform per month, some 1,000 might click to sign up, 700 might complete the registration process, 250 might make an active contribution to the community, 50 will be active after the first month, and just 5 will be active 6 months later.
Yet the end result, regular active members, is exactly what communities need to survive. If more than 5 regulars depart over that time, the community is in trouble.
Long-term regulars are valuable. They bring not only a name most members recognise, but references to the in-jokes, connections to other members, upholders of the community culture, and their own high levels of activity. The time spent on these members is worthwhile. Their potential life-time value to the community is huge.
This is why it's worth building strong relationships with members (you should always know your best members better than you know your worst), soliciting personal investments form members into the community, and sharing influence/control with these members. They're all tactics that hook these members into the community for the long-term.
Yes, it's dealing with one member at a time. But if your ratio is anything close to 1 long-term regular per month, simply doubling that would be an incredible achievement.
You can now buy my first book, Buzzing Communities: How To Build Bigger, Better, and More Active Online Communities from the links below: