The Resource Problem With Successful Communities

March 29, 2013Comments Off

If your community grows too big, you might face a resource problem. You no longer have the staff  to manage the community (or communities).

You have one of two options

1)  
Encourage the community to run and
manage itself.

2)  
Get the resources to manage the
community.

Option 1 is terrific when it works. You
recruit and train volunteers to run their own community. There are some great self-governing, self-sustaining, communities.

However, it takes years for a community to reach this stage. Once reached, it is difficult to sustain and you sacrifice a significant opportunity to further
develop the community.

Option 2 is better, but also difficult.
Where do those resources come from? I suggest charging newcomers to join the
community. Develop a revenue stream from the community that covers, or
partially covers, the fee for a community manager. 

If a community manager costs $50k per year, you only need 210 members paying $20 per month to cover that. This isn't an insurmountable challenge. Alternatively, develop products/services that the community is willing to spend $20 a month for.

The First Discussions You Want Members To Participate In

March 28, 2013Comments Off

Newcomer introduction threads don't work well.

They're long, boring, few people read them, and usually encourage people not to participate (it's tough to talk about ourselves). There is little correlation between the people that introduce themselves and become regulars, and those that don't. 

The first discussions you want members to participate in is either an opinion-based discussion, i.e. do you think that …. ? or an experienced-based question i.e. what did you do in {x situation}

These discussions encourage members to invest their ego in the community. These increase the propensity of newcomers to visit the community to see the responses to their opinions/experiences. 

Your Personality Problem

March 27, 2013Comments Off

When you launch your community it's fun.

You're not going to be the typical community manager, you're going to be different. You're going to be fun, relaxed, informal, cool, or anything else you decide. 

You invite your friends to join you and get the community going. You participate a lot. You poke fun at people sometimes, you have long debates with people, you tell people to relax if they get too vocal in their complaints…this is just who you are. 

Then your community keeps growing. The behaviour that seemed appropriate for sub-1000 member communities is causing trouble in larger communities. You have revolts against your lack of professionalism. Members leave and start their own, rival, communities (which will soon face the same problems). 

This means you face a decision. You either become more professional in your approach and learn a little about community dynamics to handle such behaviour or you stay who you are and accept that this is what's going to happen in the community from now on. More so, it's only going to get louder. 

You can be yourself, be what your community wants you to be, or be who your community needs you to be. All of these seem like good options and they all have advantages/disadvantages. 

This is true of launching companies too. Mark Zuckerberg progressed from "I'm CEO, bitch" and referring to his users as "dumb f**ks" to a more professional demeanor he needs to attract and retain investors. 

There are no easy answers here. Just be aware that who you are when you launch your community, and how you interact with members, might not be a good fit when you have a large, growing, community. 

How To Become A Star Member Of Any Community

March 26, 2013Comments Off

What if you sent your community the following message:

Hi everyone, 

I'd like to share a few things that might help you be a star member of this, or any other, community. If this isn't your goal, that's fine. Keep participating as you are. We're thrilled to have you. If you want to be one of the star people, then read on. 

First, participate frequently. You can't be a star member of this community if you don't participate regularly. You can be a newcomer or an old-timer, but you still need to participate regularly. 

Second, add value in your contributions. Always seek to add a unique point of view, wrote your comments in a unique way, add information others don't have, or make your contributions extra-special in some way. More than any of the other tips, this is the most important. Perhaps do more research and answer questions more conclusively than other people. The more you go above and beyond, the more of a star you will be in this community. 

Third, follow the principles of Dale Carnegie. Be interested in people, avoid criticising/complaining, give honest appreciation, ask more questions than you answer, make other people feel important, talks in terms of other people's interests, use people's names (or handles), and try to be an optimist more than a pessimist. 

Fourth, don't get sucked into lengthy debates. It's great to debate. We encourage debates and opposing points of view. Be aware, however, that the people you're debating with won't agree with you. Nothing you say will convince them that you're right. In fact, research shows that people simply become more entrenched in their own views. 

This is important. It means you should state your position, ask a few questions and issue a few clarifying statements, but don't 'bite the hook'. Don't get sucked in. You can only disagree with so many people, so many times, before you become disagreeable. You will often have to make a decision between 'right' or being liked. Choose with great care. 

Finally, make things happen in the community. This is similar to our second point. If you post your interviews with VIP in the sectors, organize events, publish ebooks/training guides, volunteer to help out – it increases your profile considerably. Identify what we, the community need, and then make it happen.  

If every member of your community followed this, you would be flying. If you followed it too, well…that would be quite something. 

Celebrating The Happy Events

March 25, 2013Comments Off

It's good to let members submit their own, personal, news to the community.

You don't have to use it, but you really should. 

When members get a new job, get engaged/married, have children, publish a book, or another milestone, it's good for the sense of community to mention it; regardless of the community's topic. 

The 'congratulations to…' posts work well in all communities. You can have a weekly/monthly roundup if you like. This week we're congratulations Matt on the birth of his children, Susan on her new job, and wishing Robert all the best for his wedding

To many organizations, this might seem frivolous compared with the important task of information exchange. For community pros, they should see how powerful these frivolous posts really are for bringing a community together.

Reputation

March 22, 2013Comments Off

Some, like 4Chan, revel in their reputation
for rude/crass jokes and broadly bugging people. Others, like Mumsnet, love
their reputation as activists helping mums achieve their goals. 

Your community's reputation matters. 

If it's good, more people join the community and members participate more frequently. The better the reputation, the more
people want to associate themselves with the group identity.

If the reputation of your community is bad,
people participate less. They’re less likely to refer others to join the
community. Those that hear about the community become less likely to join.

Sometimes being bad is good. A rebellious
anti-establishment, community can attract the exact sort of members you want. However,
this is rare. It’s usually important to have a
positive reputation. This is a reputation you need to grow and nurture. 

You need a clear, consistent, message about
how the community helps members. You need to build relationships with the
influencers in your sector. Your community needs to work to improve its broader sector.
You need to be honest about any problems within the community and highlight the
actions you’re taking to resolve them. None of this is difficult to do. 

The 'screw them' attitude is fun for a while, but it will bite you later on. 

Your Own Participation

March 21, 2013Comments Off

Why do you personally participate in your community?

If your community is your hobby, then continue as you were. It's just for fun.

If you're being paid to manage the community, you need to know the goal of your own participation. 

Your goal in the inception stage might be to
stimulate activity to reach critical mas. This is reasonable. In the
maturity stage your goal might be to gain influence. This is also a credible
goal.

Yet, there is a clear difference in actions between
the two.

This is why it’s smart to know why you are
personally participating in the community and what you intend to achieve.

If you’re participating to build influence
and credibility, then refrain from the casual chatter and focus on adding
unique value/insight in every discussion.

If you’re trying to build relationships
with key members, then focus on the discussions in which those members are also
participating and on personal interactions with them.

If you’re participating to get the
community started, then you need to initiate discussions based upon the topics people most want to talk about (typically those which are most emotive, highlight common problems, common experiences or common aspirations). 

There is no harm in aimless participation, there is just no use in it either. 

You Don’t Need A Launch Day

March 20, 2013Comments Off

Launch days are a bad idea.

They build hype and anticipation. They shift the focus to the short-term at the expense of the long-term. They usually cost money and force the community manager to attract as many people to register for the platform in as short a time as possible. 

Launch days are part of the big launch thinking. We published an entire (free) book to resist this thinking. 

The alternative to launching is growing. 

You don't target one big day, you have hundreds of small days. You have days when you invite a few more people to join the community, then a few more. You repeat this process without fanfare or a major launch. 

You're in this for the long-term. You're not going to waste your potential and credibility on a launch-day blowout. 

Almost every successful community we see today were grown, not launched.

Challenging Community Dogma

March 19, 2013Comments Off

We need to proactively challenge community dogma with hard data.

Much of what we believe to be true, is a myth. 

I used to think the best way to hire a great community manager was to find a great community and hire the manager. I was wrong. The best way to hire a great community manager is to find someone that's incredibly passionate about the topic and train them up. 

I used to think that gamification was terrific for online communities, I was wrong. Studies show that gamification has minimal impact upon communities and could be negative in the long-term. 

I used to think that Facebook was a great platform for building communities, I was wrong. It's now impossible to reach most of your audience on Facebook, they shift the platform often, and you can't customize important newcomer journeys. 

I used to think it was possible and easy to convert many lurkers into regular members, I was wrong. The data shows that aside from a few anecdotal examples, this won't happen. People become lurkers due to a lesser interest in the topic or lack of initial engagement. The best way to tackle lurkers is to engage them in active contributions from the moment they join the community. 

I used to think it wasn't possible (or necessary) to calculate the ROI of a community, I was wrong. It's essential. If you can't prove your community helps the organization (to a financial value), it should be scrapped. 

I used to think personal welcomes were a powerful tool for converting newcomers into regulars. I was wrong. Personal welcomes don't scale, they're usually done badly, and there are far better optimization tweaks out there. 

We're better at community building because we continually test our assumptions. We go out there looking for data/studies that supports or refutes our assumptions. We change our thinking based upon the evidence.

There are a lot of sacred cows we need to challenge. How we use our time, how/why we keep people in a community happy, who we need to focus our time on, what types of platforms work, the value of community guidelines, the benefits to organizations, group influence etc…All of these have incredible scope for improvement.

But first we need to accept that much of what we think is right about communities is false. If we can't accept that, nor feel comfortable testing our assumptions and changing our minds, we're not going to advance. 

Over-Reliance And Diversification

March 18, 2013Comments Off

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Kevin mentions the danger of being dependent on a single platform.

This is true of communities too. If your community can solely communicate through one platform, what happens if that platform suffers a catastrophic failure? What happens if the company goes bankrupt?

Even if you could set up a new platform, how would you tell members about it? 

You need more than a single channel of communication with members. You need a mailing list that collects the e-mail of every member that registers.

You also need to have a Facebook and/or Twitter account where they can update members about things going on in the community.

Help members to connect beyond the community platform. Create informal networks through which news about the community can travel. Build up a resiliancy to future problems.

This is true of growth too. If all your growth originates from one channel, it's time to attract growth from others channels. 

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Attracting The Key People To Join Your Community

March 14, 2013Comments Off

Some people believe if they get the influencer, CEO, MD, star player, or expert participating in their community, everyone else will join too.

They might be right, but that doesn't change one simple problem.

Those key people won't join your community. They won't give up their time to help you. You can promise them the world, but they still won't participate for long. 

If you want the key people to participate in your community, you need to build the community first. You need to bring something to the table. You need to have a highly active community that provides the influencer with even greater influence.

Once you realize this, everything becomes much easier. 

The tactics for engaging influencers is simple. Offer them a regular expert column, interview them, mention them in news posts, let them know the community is talking about them, give an award on behalf of the community to them, and otherwise make them feel special.

The tactics, however, aren't the problem. The problem is building a community which attracts them in the first place. 

Increasing The Number Of ‘Useful’ Discussions

March 13, 2013Comments Off

If you want to increase the number of useful discussions, increase the number of non-useful discussions. 

Look at this image:

Bonkers
From a conveying useful information perspective, the most popular discussion has 0 value. However, from the perspective of encouraging people to bond and become emotionally invested in the community, it's very useful. 

When members become emotionally invested in the community, their level of activity goes up. When members participate in bonding/status-jockeying discussions, their level of activity goes up. When members get to know each other beyond the topic, their level of activity increases.

This doesn't mean posting questions in your community of practice asking what your members ate for breakfast, it just means shifting the balance of discussions. Ask members more for their opinions on a topic as much as you ask for their knowledge/information. 

This works in almost all types of communities. Business Fights Poverty (a client) does well to feature discussions that convey information, those that ask for opinions (bonding discussions), and those that encourage elements of status-jockeying. 

Featured

It's not difficult to find discussions that ask members what they think about relevant issues in the sector or ask experienced-based/hypothetical questions about how they tackled/would tackle specific problems. 

If you do this right, members will visit and participate in the community more frequently. The number of discussions that convey information will be a much smaller % of the overall number of discussions, but there will be far more of them.