Month: October 2013

Reach Out To 40 People Every Day

October 31, 2013Comments Off on Reach Out To 40 People Every Day

A community professional who contacts 40+
new, existing and/or, potential members every day rarely fails to build a

This might be by e-mail, phone, or
(occasionally) in person. 

Sadly, we rarely find a community
professional who will reach out to 40+ people per day. This is because it’s a
. It is mentally exhausting. It’s tough to track the relationship
development of each individual. It’s tough to be eternally enthusiastic about
the process. It's tough to greet and talk to everyone with the same enthusiasm.

Yet, these are the people we need. We need
people who are excited about reaching out to every participant. We need people
who are interested in everyone’s story and
want to build positive relationships. 

Too often job descriptions ask for people
with excellent verbal and written communication skills. These skills are useful, not essential. What we need are people natural in building relationships skills and have the ability to reach out
to 40+ people today. They can ask relevant questions and sustain discussions. 

If you genuinely reach out to 40+ people
per day, you almost certainly will succeed at building a community. Most people can't do this, but can you? 


* the
exception here is when they use a default, template, unpersonalized e-mail to
every single one of these people. Each approach should be completely tailored
to the recipient. 

Your Community Strategy Changes If You Have Lots Of Competitors

October 30, 2013Comments Off on Your Community Strategy Changes If You Have Lots Of Competitors

Your strategy will depend upon whether the
community sector is mature or young. Both are outlined below.

community sectors

In mature community sectors, the following
holds true: 

  • A large % of those in the topic
    already participate in the communities (or…)
  • A large % of those most likely to
    participate in communities are already members of one
  • There are several large,
    established, communities
  • There are many niche, smaller,
    communities (crowded space)
  • The oldest communities are 10
    to 15 years old

community sectors

In young community sectors, the opposite is

  • A small % of those in the topic
    (less than 10%) participate in communities
  • There are no significant,
    established, communities
  • Many potential niches remain

These are the two extremes of one
continuum. Age of the topic and technological nature of the topic largely
determines these.  


to match maturity

If you’re in a mature/crowded community
sector, you want to identify existing communities to sponsor/support, identify
smaller niches to satisfy, or identify specific things that people want to
achieve within the sector that require a collective effort. 

If you’re in a young community sector, you
want to create the first established community, quickly established a community
presence, and ensure all the key people are members or contributors to the

Your sector will probably be somewhere between
the two extremes. There may be niches available, but these may not be large
enough to be worthwhile. Hence, a support/nurturing existing communities might
prove a better strategy. 

Look at the existing community ecosystem,
survey members of the target audience, identify what % participate in
communities, identify the existing number of communities, then decide where you
lie in this continuum. Select a strategy to match. 

Employees and Knowledge Management Communities

October 29, 2013Comments Off on Employees and Knowledge Management Communities

In internal communities, employees will say
they don’t have the time to participate.

It’s more likely they’re afraid of

If you create something in writing,
everyone you work with can read it.

You might fear writing something incorrect,
appearing like a ‘know it all’,
appearing like you’re trying too hard to impress the boss, or being corrected by someone else. 

If you participate too often, people might
suspect you’re not spending enough time on your work. 

If the community has a ranking system, you
might fear beginning at the bottom of it.

These are real reasons we’ve heard for
members not participating.

Many people, perhaps the majority of people, aren’t
trying to connect/share their knowledge, increase their status within their
group, or help innovate. They’re simply trying to keep their head
above water without making waves. They’re trying to do their job without being noticed. They don’t want
the attention the community might bring them.

Many might not even feel they could provide
anything of value to the community. 

You can do two things here. First, note these
fears in your communications and tackle them head-on "we know you're concerned about {x}, but actually {y}". 

Two, more likely, don’t
anticipate that most people will join, at least not in the beginning. Target people that don’t have these fears. These, perhaps perversely, are often
the oddballs within the company. They might very well be the know-it-alls, the ego-driven types, the correctionists, and those trying to impress their boss. 

A Platform To Build Stars

October 28, 2013Comments Off on A Platform To Build Stars

When sectors overlap, new niches form. 

Initially, there is a period of chaos in these new niches. Nobody knows who the stars are. Nobody knows who are the most successful, influential, or who has the most power in this new space. For some sectors, take 3D printing, we're still unsure. 

The opportunity for community professionals is to use your influence to build stars. Identify the people creating the new resources, writing the best new material, running the top companies or events in this space, and regularly feature their work in the community.

These might be individuals from within your own community or those in the broader sector. Stars provide useful sources of content, expertise, and waypoints for others. You might find stars from within your own organization

In a short amount of time, you create a social order. You create the people others look up to. People come coming to your community to see what the stars (the upper echelons of their own peer group) are doing. Gradually you identify new people and begin building their reputations too. 

How Active Do You Think Your Community Will Be?

October 25, 2013Comments Off on How Active Do You Think Your Community Will Be?

If you have a forum, you need a lot of activity or it appears dead.

The same is true with most feature-rich, paid-for, community platforms. If you don't have a large amount of activity, it looks dead. 

This isn't the case for a mailing list.

The e-mint mailing list can go days, perhaps weeks, without any activity.

For a forum, this would be a disaster, for a mailing list it's fine. The list is always there for people when they need it. 

More importantly, people don't see (or notice), the inactivity. The community comes to them (via e-mail), they don't come to the community. 

If you're not expecting huge amounts of activity, or you're looking to test your community before launch, use a simple mailing list. Once you've outgrown it, then move to something more substantial.

Many of the problems we stumble across can be solved by using a simple mailing list. 

Avoid These Community Landmines

October 24, 2013Comments Off on Avoid These Community Landmines

Over the year’s we’ve compiled a good list
of reasons why communities fail. These are landmines to avoid during the
community development process:

  • A weak community concept. This is the ultimate
    showstopper. If your concept
    is weak, the community has no chance of success. The majority of failed
    had a concept that was either a) about them or b) does not aligns
    with the target audience’s goals and aspirations (very often, there is no
    specific, narrow, target audience). 
  • Selecting or developing the wrong community platform. I’ve seen organizations
    spend millions on custom-built platforms which fall far short of their needs.
    Select an existing platform (or at least use Drupal/BuddyPress). Lithium, Jive,
    Yammer, Socious, HigherLogic, Ning, Vbulletin, Vanilla forums and many others
    offer great platforms at different price points and customization.
  • Poorly designing the platform. If you select a good
    platform, but use a poor design, your community will struggle to succeed. For
    example, if you bury the latest activity below the fold (the scroll-down point)
    on the page. If you have large graphics taking up the homepage, or if you have
    too many features, the community is unlikely to succeed. 
  • Poor platform setup. Finally, for platforms, if
    there are other technical issues with the platform, this will lower your
    chances of success. This includes poor integration with existing systems, lack
    of core features such as notifications or a usable CMS.
  • Failing to hire a full-time community manager. If you don’t hire a
    full-time community manager, you probably won’t succeed. You need someone that
    is fully committed to building relationships, creating content, initiating and
    responding to discussions. This is what it takes to get a community off the
    ground. If you can’t hire someone, don’t build a community. 
  • Hiring a bad community manager. If you hire someone that
    lacks passion, expertise, or connections within the topic, you’re going to
    struggle. The ideal hire loves the community’s topic already, has a lot of
    experience within that sector, and bring many pre-existing relationships with
    them. You need someone that is capable of reaching out to strangers and
    fostering strong relationships with them. 
  • Short-term goals / misplaced expectations. Many organizations undermine
    their own efforts by establishing poor expectations about what success looks
    like. They compare long-established communities to their own fledgling effort
    and decide they have failed. Communities look like failures before they’re
  • Lack of direct outreach or relationship development. If the community manager
    doesn’t directly interact and build relationships with the target audience, the
    community will struggle to reach critical mass. Many organizations try to build
    a community using a macro approach. They invite lots of people and see what
    sticks. This is linked to… 
  • … A big launch. If the organization has a
    big launch, invites thousands of members to join a community, fails to properly
    cultivate a small community before trying to build a big community, the
    community won’t attract a core group of active members.

With a little foresight and awareness, all
of these can be avoided. It might help to send this list to your boss before you begin your community efforts. 

Titles And Status

October 23, 2013Comments Off on Titles And Status

Karen writes
about titles and status.

Titles, Karen notes, are society’s way of
conferring and measuring status of members. In the USA (and elsewhere), titles
such as doctor, professor, symbolize unique achievement. Here in the UK, we
have Princes, Princesses, Sirs, Knights, Kings, Queens, Honorable, Right Honorable
and dozens more.

These titles
clearly wouldn’t be appropriate in most communities (especially those online).
However, you can grant unique titles to members performing unique roles. This
ties back to labeling
(people become the titles they’re given). 

Notice, above,
the term unique titles. Titled
acquired automatically upon performing set actions have limited long-term
impact. Recognition is a complex tool.
We want to achieve positive distinctiveness within our perceived peer group.

Titles can help
us feel we have earned and achieved this. Giving members titled in recognition
for what they have done solidified these contributions. Members are less likely
to achieve and forgo the titled they have earned. However, these titled should be
unique, subjective, and awarded ad-hoc. 

Surprise members
by a title that reflects their contributions. This is a title that appears next
to their contributions and in their profile. Announce the title to other
members (or several at once). This should reflect at least a year’s worth of
contributions to the community. 

If you give
titled too soon or too easily, they lose value to both new and former
recipients. Use wisely. 


3 Models For Building Large Communities

October 22, 2013Comments Off on 3 Models For Building Large Communities

We can separate current community efforts into three distinct categories.

These are the host-created model, audience-created model, co-creation model, or support-model.


The Host-Created Model

"We build it for you”

This is the standard organization-driven approach.
An organization builds a community for its target audience. This is usually a
singular community identity, often with sub-groups, as opposed to multiple
communities. Dell, AutoDesk, Mumsnet, Newark, Carnival, and many others took this route. 

In this approach, you gradually try to
convert most of your audience into active community participants. This is a long-term
process. This takes years, not months. AutoDesk’s community efforts are 15
years old. 

This approach is typically tightly
controlled. Most of the work and rewards accrue to the community hosts, not the
members. In this model, volunteers may eventually be recruited to help run
different areas of the community. However, in practice, this is rare.

In the host-created model, the organization is responsible for setting up and maintaining the platform, inviting members to participate, removing the bad stuff, creating content, and all the activities within the community management framework

This model offers one terrific benefit, you get to control all the inputs. You decide who, what, when, why, where, and how you build a community. You know exactly what actions to take. You also get to subtly influence the community to support your organization's goal. You put in all the effort and take all the rewards. 

The downside of this approach are the natural constraints. If everything depends upon you, it's limited solely to your resources. If you're not willing to hire an increasingly bigger community team, you reach natural growth limits. This leads to rampant participation inequality and the numbers game. Because of this very control organizations crave, it prevents the community from explosive growth. 


The Audience-Created Model

“You build it for each other"

An organization will aim to cultivate a passion group of fans who will build communities on their behalf. This is common for hobbies, beliefs, and cult products. Harley-Davidson, for example, has many fan-driven communities. 

In this approach, the organization cultivates a group of advocates through strength of the brand i.e. people want to associate themselves with the brand identity and thus create their own, independent, communities.

Each person brings in more people. Some call this the viral feedback loop, others call it growth hacking. For this to work, the organization needs both a cult-like brand name and a HUGE potential target audience. This 1m+ territory. 

This approach gives you the maximum possible reward for the minimum possible effort (community-wise, creating a cult-brand is nearly impossible). It is depending upon attracting people to create their own communities because they want the brand-association. Someone living in Oregon, that are interested in the topic, should feel compelled to create an Oregon group for those that love the topic. This approach allows you to reach the maximum possible number of people. 

The downside is unpredictability. It IS hard to cult-brand. It involves making hard, expensive, choices. It's hard to identify and positively motivate brand advocates to build communities for you. You have very little control about what they do. You're dependent upon volunteers. 


The Co-Creation Model 

"We build it for each other"

In the co-creation model, both the organization and the members provide value and split the rewards (tacitly). This means the organization provides a platform and members of the audience do the community development work. 

StackExchange, Ning, LinkedIn, and many others have taken this route. They provide a platform that makes it very easy to build a community. They simply the process as much as possible. However, audience members are ultimately responsible for building the community. 

There are two variants of this model. The first is the StackExchange approach. Here the platform is standard and the audience builds their community for StackExchange. Like the audience-created model, they are attracted by the strength of the brand. The benefits accrue almost solely to StackExchange.

StackExchange use a pre-launch platform, Area51, to nurture concepts for communities before they’re ready to go live. On this platform, members must get a large number of members committed, give examples of discussion topics, and prove it can succeed before it becomes a ‘real’ community.GetSatisfaction is another example here. Each new member reinforces the strength of the brand identity. 

The second is the Ning model. Members
launch communities, customize it as much as they like, pay a fee, and very
often keep the rewards. Each community is allowed its own, unique, identity to
cater to that particular audience. This works when the technology is strong and
people have a desire to create communities within the sector.

Ning isn’t the only example. If you have a
large audience, you can find people within that audience who want a simple, tailored,
solution to building a community for their audience.

The key for this model is the platform must help the individual achieve something that requires a group. Teachers, for example,
might use a single platform to build small groups for each class. is another example. 

The success of this platform relies upon three things. First, a popular brand name. If people didn’t like StackExchange/Ning/GetSatisfaction and want to be associated with the site, they wouldn’t build communities upon it. Second, a large audience. Third, a very simple platform to use. 

The benefit of this approach is you get both a higher level of control and maximum possible reach than either of the two previous models. The downside is you have additional resources issues. 


Which approach to use? 

Any organization can take multiple
approaches. The host-created model is the standard, but only because it is the standard. It's neither the most successful nor the most reliable. If you have a large, defined, target audience,
it may be better to create a platform or build a reputation that encourages
them to build their own communities – rather than trying to create a single
community yourself. 

Imagine if AutoDesk, for example, allows
anyone interested in computer aided design to create their own groups around
any particular niche topic. The community, becomes an entirely new platform for
hundreds of other communities. Each one of these people would bring in multiple
more people.

There is a huge opportunity for those with
a large potential audience to take a different model, a model that attracts
more members taking on more of the work. There is more potential here than we think. 


Free Webinar: Ning and I are hosting a free webinar on advanced social sciences today at 5pm BST, 12:00pm EDT, and 9am PST. You can sign up here

All Community Professionals Should Be Accountable To Numbers

October 21, 2013Comments Off on All Community Professionals Should Be Accountable To Numbers

Chas left Runkeeper feeling burnt out. Key quote here:

“Rigid, predictable, and constrained was how most of my days felt. Forced to respond to a certain number of support tickets in a certain amount of time with a certain level of customer satisfaction. {…} 

Nonetheless, while metrics are important, I was beholden to the numbers, not empowered by them.”

Most community professionals would like to work without numbers. If you have no targets, you can't fail. Some highlight examples of members being happy or a vague sense of community utopianism is justification for their employment.

This isn't enough. Whilst, customer support tickets are best left to customer support teams, real numbers should be used to track the results of the community manager's activity. 

If we hire a community manager, we want to know how many members are active in the community each week, how many posts are made, and their conversion rates. This is where you spot the difference between good and very good community managers.

A very good community manager might be able to get 4 or 5 of 10 prospective members to join and participate. A good might just get 1 or 2. This is a big difference over the long-term. Having these numbers and benchmarks helps considerably. 

Imagine how different your job would be if you had to grow membership and increase activity, not just manage it. 

We should embrace this level of accountability. We should track progress. We should qualify our success.

You may be surprised how much more effective you are when you hold yourself accountable to a few simple numbers. 

What’s The Worst That Could Happen?

October 18, 2013Comments Off on What’s The Worst That Could Happen?

You don’t have to use your imagination, you
can see what has happened to other organizations. 

The extremes are not hard to find.
Communities have been the cause of many tragic events. 

Online bullying has led to suicides.
Members have killed other members over petty disputes. Crimes have been planned and committed. Members
have slandered celebrities and the community has been sued. Communities have
been conduits for everything from sharing of copyright/obscene material to
organized crime. 

These are the extremes. Any one of these
can spell the death of a community.

Then there are the more common problems. An
organized revolt or protest by community members against the organization. Employees might publicly explode (or implode) in the community. Disgruntled
former employees may publicly releasing private information through the community.

I’d suggest you spend a few hours putting
together a list of both the worst things and most likely things that could happen. Plan now for how you would respond and handle each. Being preventative is good, but something will slip through, so have a plan. 

Converting Event Momentum Into Community Activity

October 17, 2013Comments Off on Converting Event Momentum Into Community Activity

Events create momentum. They foster connections. They engender excitement and anticipation.

There is a small window, immediately after an event, to sustain that momentum and convert it into a community.

Don’t ease up after an event, push harder.

Identify the key topics and invite people to share their thoughts on the topic within the community. Put together a working paper on behalf of the group related to that topic.  Invite attendees to give suggestions within a community for the next events.

Publish a roundup of the key topics at the event. Continue the informal discussions you had with members in the community

Let members share pictures through the community from the event. Make introductions and encourage members to cement their new-found connections from the event.

It would be a tragedy, having spent so much time building up anticipation of an event, to let its success immediately dissipate. 

Influence Or Remove?

October 16, 2013Comments Off on Influence Or Remove?

There are sometimes good reasons to turn
off comments. We don’t allow them here for example. This isn’t the place where
we want to build a community.

You should never turn off comments because
you don’t like what people say.

You should either;

a) Influence what people say (more
possible than most realize)

b) Remove the
comments that don’t suit your community 
(the common approach)

c) Remove the
people saying things you don’t like (the most effective approach).



There are several methods to influence
behaviour. The most common is to showcase the behaviour you want. People
broadly do what they see others doing. If they see fights, personal attacks,
and more they’re going to engage in them. If they see thoughtful, constructive,
debates they’re more likely to participate in them.

Second, in the onboarding indoctrinate
members you the philosophy and culture of the community. Embed a sense in pride
of being accepted into the group. Even for a news sites, to register for the
site ensure people go through a proper indoctrination process.

Third, easiest, is to prime behaviour
immediately prior to posting comments. If you added a box a member must tick
before the comment box appears which states “I understand comments can
unnecessarily hurt people and will ensure my comment is constructive, useful,
and doesn’t cause unnecessary offense
” the level of offensive comments is
likely to be far lower.

Similar experiments have been shown to
significantly change a range of behaviour including offensive comments,
cheating, and stealing.


the comments

This is the standard approach. You identify
the negative material and remove it. This is expensive, requires, large
moderation teams, and doesn’t scale well. The best in the business, e.g. Justin
Isaf, can do this incredibly well.

However, removing comments typically
provokes anger which causes further offensive comments.


the bad people

You can ban accounts and IP addresses to
remove people whom post uncivil comments. You can use a proper
escalation process

A few will work around this, but it will
remove the majority of negative comments for the future. Far better to ensure
members have to register (and remove the registered members violating the
community principles), than to endlessly remove bad comments.

Shutting down comments because you don’t
like what people say is the lazy, defeatist, approach. Far better to change
what people say or remove the people that are causing problems. Don’t let a
tiny minority of people ruin communities for everyone else.  

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