Month: November 2013

News Organizations and Community Managers

November 29, 2013Comments Off on News Organizations and Community Managers

'News organizations are increasingly looking for community managers.'

Are they? I'm not so sure. 

If news organizations are looking for people to create a genuine sense of community around their topic, then this might be true. Whisky magazinePCGamer magazine (former employer), and, to a lesser extent, The Economist, do this very well.

These magazines have people responsible for fostering genuine relationships between members, organizing events for the audience, subtly influencing the discussions, moderation, building up stars, documenting the best material, creating content about the community. 

These are typically the exceptions. 

Many news organizations (Daily Mail, Guardian, BBC News, CNN, FoxNews, HuffingtonPost) have highly active commenting areas "have your say!" - but very little in the way of a community. They attract online audiences, crowds, and, occasionally, mobs. 

News organizations don't want community managers. They want very good moderators. They want people to remove the bad stuff before they become legally liable. There is no shame in this. It's just a very different game compare with community management. Moderation is a maths and efficiency game. 

News organizations, like FoxNews, could begin hosting live Q&As with their writers, hosting regular offline events in different cities, finding and building stars within their field, initiating discussions around difficult topics, breaking the mass of people into smaller sub-groups, and documenting the history and achievements of the community.

They could become the epicenter for everything and everyone that matters within their field. 

Moderation and community management are two very different things. 

Community Lead Generation Machine

November 28, 2013Comments Off on Community Lead Generation Machine

Like a business, a community needs to generate leads.

These are people potentially interested in joining the community. 

A good community manager both generates leads and converts them into regular, active, members. 

Generating leads

This typically means content, events/activities, and direction interaction (see the CHIP process). The goal is to collect e-mail addresses or methods of directly contacting someone. 

  • Whitepapers. Use the community to co-create a whitepaper that tackles a difficult issue within the industry. The more analytical, the better. Let people outside of the community download it for free. 
  • Surveys. Survey your community member regularly and publish the results. The Community Roundtable does this well with their annual state of community management reports. 
  • Host live twitter chats. Set a day, identify the biggest topics, and debate the issue on twitter. Make a list of the people that retweet the material, participate, and can later be contacted.  
  • Funny. Create a collection of the funniest stories from community members. Turn this into an eBook or a single document that members can download. Make it easy to share individual stories on Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn. 
  • Events and meetups. Host an event either online or in person. Make a list of the people that attend. Directly interact with people at the event. 


  • Unexpected. Publish a regular list of stories from the community that are unexpected. These are usually member experiences. Thay might include best/worst experiences, an amazing revelation about a topic, or broadly a heartwarming experience. 



  • Referrals. If your technical, build in a simple process for members to highlight and select friends which might be worth approaching to join the community. This works very well on LinkedIn/Facebook/Twitter.



  • Social media channel. Review your own accounts and highlight the people that might be interested in joining the community. 



  • Commenters. If someone comments on your blog, they become a lead you can follow up with later. A very interested lead too.



  • Prospecting. You can also build up your own list of prospects from existing information (listed interests in social accounts etc..) and follow up with these directly.  


Take this as seriously as any type of lead for your business. Use a proper CRM system (we like Salesforce). Enter each lead with a follow up task (i.e. contact again in 1 week re: previous experiences with {topic}. Use a soft sales process.

Try to engage and build a relationship first (repeated series of questions/responses/self-disclosure) before asking them to participate in the community.

You need to create around a dozen high-quality sources of new leads for your community. A one-time activity is good, but having a regular channel which drives new leads for the community is far better. These sources need to be regularly updated and augmented with more material. 

Track your leads throughout the membership lifecycle. Ensure you always have a follow up action with each member to check in and see what more you can do to get them more engaged. Very often, simply identifying a new discussion someone can participate in is enough of a nudge to convert them into a regular, active, participant in the community. 

Community Builder Credibility

November 27, 2013Comments Off on Community Builder Credibility

To build a community, you need credibility with the target audience.

Few (if any) communities are created by outsiders to the topic. 

If you're building a community from scratch, you need someone with deep knowledge, a great reputation, and many existing connections within that field. You need someone that knows who to approach, what to tell them, and will be listened to. 

Every few weeks someone writes to claim the process isn't working. Their target audience isn't responding to their e-mails. Or, more likely, their target audience claims they're too busy to participate in the community. 

If your e-mails don't receive a response (or not a positive response), it's because you're not seen as someone worth responding to.

We get dozens, maybe hundreds, of e-mails a day. We scan our e-mail for the names we recognise, trust, or have value to us and respond to these first. If you're not one of these names, you need to become one of these names (or if you're an employer, hire one of these names). 

In 2008, Seth Godin launched a thriving community in a matter of days. He had the preexisting credibility to do that. He had been blogging, writing books, and responding to every, single, e-mail for over a decade. 

The greater your established body of work, speaking events, and other material within that sector, the more likely you will receive a positive response. This takes time. You can speed things up, but you can't cheat your way to this. 

The CHIP method helps, but has to be understood as part of a long-term plan to build a community. It might take 6 months, possibly longer, to build the sort of credibility where people do respond to your e-mails in a positive way. Until you have that, it's going to be very hard to get that community started. 

A lot of communities right now are failing because the community builder isn't establishing credibility, building connections, and acquiring the knowledge. 

The Power Of Creating A Strong Sense of Community

November 26, 2013 Comments Off on The Power Of Creating A Strong Sense of Community

We can agree a group of people standing in a room aren't a community. 

A community requires a psychogical connection – an understanding that they, together, are part of something. 

More than technology and interactions, we create a sense of community.

It's the most rewarding, positive, and powerful thing we do. 

We take groups of people and build a strong sense of community amongst them.

If, when looking at an activity, you ask; will this help us build a stronger sense of community?. The answer, 90% of the time, is no. You can skip these features, these problems, these activities. You can focus on the 10% of activities which actually help build a community. 

All the benefits (ROI) derived from communities is derived from creating a sense of community. If you can get the people you're targeting to feel a sense of community with one another, you're rewarded.

You're rewarded with increased propensity to share knowledge, high quanity and quality of interactions, better behaviour, increased retention, increased purchases of products. 

Better still, a strong sense of community makes everything else easier. It's easier to attract members, gain referrals, convert newcomers to regulars, sustain high levels of retention and participation. 

Yet, most don't even measure this. We don't check if the people participating in our groups actually feel a part of something. We don't check if they feel connected to one another. In fact, we rarely talk about creating a sense of community at all. 

When you create a strong sense of community, amazing things happen. 

When we're talking about a community, we're talking about the sense of community felt amongst individuals. This is what a community is. It's that psycholical feeling of being a part of something unique (and special). We need to talk more about it and engage in activities designed to increase this sense of community. 

What Has The Biggest, Long-Term, Impact?

November 25, 2013Comments Off on What Has The Biggest, Long-Term, Impact?

Do the proactive work first. We've said this before

Do the work that progresses the community. Be proactive, not reactive. Do the work that increases the level of growth, the level of activity, or the sense of community felt among members. 

However, this needs an addendum. 

Do the work that has the longest-term, most widely affected, impact upon the community first. For example, you could individually invite people to join a community or you could create a summary of the best community advice that forever attracts more people to join. 

You can write a content article, or you could reach out to three of your community's top experts and see if they want to write a regular content article for the community (and share it externally)

You can run a successful online event, or plan an annual, in-person, gathering for the community (with sponsors). 

You can reach out to five companies and ask if they might like to promote the community to new and existing employees as a useful source of content. 

You can review the conversion funnel and make specific interventions that forever increase the conversion ratio. 

You can schedule calls with your sector's top influencers to get them involved in the community – and then promote their membership of these influencers. 

You can create a dedicated 101 area in the community for people new to the topic – this becomes a designated place that attracts a lot of referrals. 

You can scan the current trends and realign the community concept, content, and activity to ensure the concept still personifies the interests of members. 

You're always going to be pressed to response to the 'emergencies'. The spam, the fights, the lost passwords. All these can wait. Focus on doing the important work. 

Work on the tasks that have the longest, beneficial, impact. Look for things that forever increase the value of the community to members. 

Freezing Accounts

November 22, 2013Comments Off on Freezing Accounts

It's better to freeze accounts than remove them.

Removing an account removes the evidence that member existed. It removes a part of the community history. It removes a useful lesson about why a member was removed. 

It might also remove great material, provocative debate, or simply make previously popular debates nonsensical. 

It's not uncommon for the most active members to become the most detractive members. If this happens, removing their previous contributions would be a great loss to the community. 

Far better to freeze an account. If you freeze an account you keep previous contributions. You might one day unfreeze the account, if circumstances change. Some members might behave better after some time and reflection. 

As an aside, if members ask for their contributions to be removed – make sure you have the mechanism to remove them. Even better, have a mechanism for them to remove any single contributions they would like removed. 

Ideas From Similar Community Types

November 21, 2013Comments Off on Ideas From Similar Community Types

We don't spend enough time looking at existing communities to see what works.

The same tactics that work in a similar community 'type' (action, circumstance, interest, place, practice) will also work in your community. 

If you're managing a community of lawyers, see what works in a community for accountants, teachers, doctors, directors, accountants, etc…

If you're managing a community on behalf of a non-profit, see what works for greenpeace, oxfam, Kiva, Avaaz.

Too often, we look for a specific example within our sector. You can guess the problem here. It's already been done. If you want to innovate, keep your concept fresh, and make your community existing, you have to bring new ideas from similar community types into your community. 

Make a list of the following:

  • What discussions are most popular in similar community types?
  • How are those discussions initiated? How are they structured? How long are they? What emotion do they use? 
  • What activities/events are taking place? Polls, surveys, challenges, quizzes, online webinars, live chats.
  • How specifically are these events structured?
  • What content is published? How is this content structured? What is the most popular type of content? What specifically is clever/innovative?

Look for unique, new, popular, and otherwise clever ideas from similar community types from different fields and bring them in to your community.

Speed And Pivots

November 20, 2013Comments Off on Speed And Pivots

An observation.

The organizations that have the idea for a community, quickly develop a simple platform, and begin inviting members to it within a few weeks tend to succeed. 

The organizations that have the idea for a community, spend weeks selecting a platform, months developing it, and a year before they invite anyone to participate, tend to struggle…a lot. Typically they splutter along for six months before being mercifully cancelled. 

I suspect there is a simple reason for this. It's a reason familiar to those with a start-up background. It's the rapid speed of failure and revamping.

The culture of organizations that move fast seems ideal for community development. When you're launching a community, you're constantly testing and refining different approaches, platform features, and even concepts for the community. A community for book authors based in London to critique each other's works, might become a community for those in the book industry to share publisher leads within a few months. 

In the start-up world, this happens a lot. It's called a pivot. Twitter didn't stay a tool to inform people about what party you were at for long. Nor did Flickr remain as a real-time photo chat-room for more than a few months. 

Looking at the long list of organizations we've worked with, the successful communities tended to go through one or two pivots. The slower you move, the less pivots you can undertake before a senior exec cancels the failing project. 

The message, unsurprisingly, is move much, much, faster. Start simple. Start small. Focus on a few individuals. Identify what's popular and pivot towards that. Like many other things, failing is part of the process to be successful. You need to push through the failures quickly. 

The Mythology Behind Successful Community Events

November 19, 2013Comments Off on The Mythology Behind Successful Community Events

Every year, England celebrates a failed terror attack

Like many social events, this one began to reinforce one group identity over another. This event celebrates the survival and triumph of parliament over Catholic usurprers (and by association, all of Catholicism).

Events reinforce the group identity (often at the expense of a real or imagined threat/enemy). 

In difficult times, with divided loyalties, events serve as useful propaganda tools. Many of the most prominent events today trace origins to divided times. July 4th, December 25th, Thanksgiving, Easter etc…all celebrate one unique group identity at the expense of another. 

Social science predicts that organizing an event, with a mythology, based upon a specific date, with a unique activity to that group would bond a group together. This in turn increases the level of activity. 

Lots of groups, organizations, and, yes, communities try to host successful events. Yet most ignore the key mythology that makes events succeed. 

    • Pick a date that has a unique relevance. Don't randomly pick a date, select a date that has a unique significance to your audience.
    • Embrace existing mythology. Birth of christ, gunpower plot, conquering Britain, gaining independence, great events have a great mythology. Whose birth, what product launch, what significant event matters in your sector? 
    • Facilitate relevant events. A speaker is fine, running a marathon might be better…for running communities. Your topic will entail unique events to your sector – use these events.
    • Plan the interactions. Don't hope interactions happen, structure them. Put people into groups. Host afterparties. Plan who will interact with whom, and when. 
    • Narrative. if possible, take the audience through a journal during the event. This narrative should be emotional. Highlight or break down progress. 
    • Closure. Have specific closure. End with a bang. People remember the best part of the experience and how it ended more than anything else. 

Remember that events began small. There was a small olympics before a big one. Don't expect the first event to be huge. Events take time to build up and gain acceptance. 

Call for Speakers – Virtual Community Summit (London, Feb 20)

November 18, 2013Comments Off on Call for Speakers – Virtual Community Summit (London, Feb 20)

On Feb 20, we’re hosting the Virtual Community Summit. This is an annual gathering, in London, of the world’s top community professionals.

This year we’re exploring the science behind communities. We want to investigate how proven social science can be used to build better communities. If you're an expert in this field (and you’re good on stage) put yourself forward to speak.

We’re specifically looking for topics that cover the following fields with special attention to how they affect communities:

  • Psychology
  • Social-psychology
  • Anthropology
  • Community development
  • Data and statistics

We’re probably looking for specialists outside the traditional community speakers’ circuit. We want people that can explain the theory and how it applies to communities. Case studies are very much welcomed here.


A few rules for speakers

Before you make a submission, a few rules about talks this year.

1)   Make short, sharp, factual, actionable points.

There is a big gap between things that are interesting and things that are actionable. Focus on the later. What will people do differently as a result of what you’ve told them?

Support your points with data/theory that others can see. Make a point, then prove the point, then explain the implications of that point. Then include that implication in your summary.

Everyone has opinions. We want the facts. Tell the audience what they need to know, not everything you know. This isn’t a talk to prove how smart you are, it’s a talk to change how the audience builds communities. Focus on that ‘change’.  

2)   Prove your points. If you make a big statement, back it up with data. Understand that data. What was the sample size, how reliable is it, what are the counterpoints? How much can we generalize this? If you use a survey from 100 moms in one community and apply it to all communities around the world, we’re going to challenge you. 

3)   Don’t go overtime. You have 15 minutes and 5 minutes for questions. If you go on longer than 15 minutes we’ll stop you. Practice your talk, cut out everything that doesn’t need to be on there. After 15 minutes we’ll cut off your microphone. We don’t do this to be mean, we do this so all the speakers have equal time to speak. 

4)   Don’t pitch. We fully intend to bring an air-horn to this event. If you try to pitch, we’ll use it. We’re not joking. 

5)   Use the SUCCES formula. If it helps, use the succes formula. Make your talk Simple, Unexpected, Concrete (specific), Credible (backed by data), Emotional, and explained via a story.

6)   Include a handout. We’ll take care of the printing. Provide us with a practical handout that people can use. Bonus points if it’s in the form of a flow chart, checklist, or specific action steps. 

7)   Do something interesting. Yes, you can use powerpoint…but why limit yourself to that? If you want to stand out, stand out. Bring an inflatable dingy and do your talk while pretending to ride that if you like. Just make it interesting. Please run any pyrotechnics past us first. Make your talk real. If you’re showcasing social sciences, then use social sciences within that group right there and then.


Target Groups

The target audience for this audience includes: 

  • C-Level Execs
  • Community Directors/Strategists
  • Community managers
  • Moderators
  • Social media professionals
  • Solo entrepreneurs
  • Start-up professionals 
  • PR professionals,
  • Marketers
  • And others 

Deadline for submissions

    • Dec 31 – Submit your proposal. This is the final deadline. If we get enough talks we like before then, we’ll go with that. So don’t wait until the last minute (in fact, send us your proposal this minute!)
    • Jan 3rd – Notification. We don’t wait around. Once we get your proposal we’ll review it immediately and decide if it’s a great fit for the event. If you’re not chosen, don’t be disheartened. It might be we have 5 talks on a very similar topic and have to pick one. It might be you’re too late.
    • Feb 1 – Complete presentation. We need the presentation complete by Feb 1. That might be the slides or whatever else you need to prepare. This gives you enough time to practice it and us to give some feedback on the talk.
    • Feb 2 – 6 – Practice session. We’re going to have a practice session. There are three reasons for this. First, if anyone drops out, we have a recorded session we can use as a backup. Second, it allows us to give feedback and work together to ensure the presentation is fantastic. Third, and I hate to admit this, it ensures you have actually got this done in time.

Proposal Format 

  • Title: {benefit lead}
  • Key points to be covered
    • Key point 1
    • Key point 2
    • Key point 3
    • Relevant data/theory
    • What format will you present this in?
    • Who are you to give such a talk?
    • Any other information?

* We have 1 remaining 45 minute slot, and about 10 * 15 minute slots.

Send these to: [email protected] 

Why We Hate To Brag, But Do It All The Time

November 15, 2013Comments Off on Why We Hate To Brag, But Do It All The Time

No-one you know shouts; "hey look at me, I have an incredibly important job and earn a lot of money!"

Society would consider this rude, self-absorbed, and rather insecure behaviour

We all want to impress our peers. The challenge is to do this subtly. So we drop socially acceptable hints:

You see tweets such as:

"A long boring work trip from Sydney to Los Angeles, and the coffee in the business class lounge is awful" 

Notice the (not so) subtle clues. Work trip suggests an important person. Sydney to LA suggests an important trip. Business class suggests money/status. This is followed by a suffix about the coffee to appear less overt. 

You see subtle references to holidays, meetings at important places, or with important people. These message imply status, success, and an idealized life. You see mentions of exercise to suggest health and virility. 

The key element here is acceptable subtlety. We want to brag. We want to show off. We want to increase our status amongst our peer group – but we want to do it subtly!

We want to highlight our own achievements, showcase indicators of our own status, be associated with successful groups and people…but without being seen as either annoying, self-absorbed, and insecure.

There is an invisible social line between acceptable and non-acceptable boasting.

It's this line that's challenging community professionals. If you set up a recognition/reward programme using platform design, gamification, labels, and personal remarks, you might do more harm than good. If you call someone an expert, if you declare them 'the mayor/boss/king/ninja/champion', you might find they resist the label for fear of being perceived as a showoff. 

You see this in extreme forms. Note the social media professionals who repeatedly proclaim themselves not to be experts. They want to be seen as experts, thus the use of the word, yet not be associated with the insecurity that accompanies it. In internal communities this problem is especially apparent. 

There are no practical, proven, steps here. If you understand and emphasize properly with your audience, you know where to draw the line. If you don't, you'll cause embarrassment and resistance. Be careful. 

Make It Fun

November 14, 2013Comments Off on Make It Fun

For a community of practice, the temptation is always towards the serious. That's serious discussions, serious content, and serious events. 

This puts the community into the work (groan!) mental bucket. It's something extra we have to do. It's hard to succeed when people categorise your community into that mental bucket.

Your community joins a long list of tasks…usually at the bottom of the list. It's after e-mail, facebook, writing reports/documents, and every other possible thing someone can do before they get to working on your community. 

Far better if the community was fun – or at least began as a fun community. Fun isn't difficult. It doesn't mean cat pictures, neither. It means members sharing fun stories, complaining about things, talking about their frustrations, and speaking to each other the same way they do during a social gathering. 

This is a difficult sell for most organizations. However, having discussions asking whose going to the next meetup have far more value than the most technical discussions. They get people visiting because it's a fun thing to do. 

People don't think of Reddit as work do they? 4Chan and Mumsnet either. In fact, these communities have become respites from work. That's a powerful thing. 

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