Month: January 2014

Naming and Shaming

January 31, 2014Comments Off on Naming and Shaming

Too often we focus on recognizing the top contributors. 

Yet this isn't very effective. These people are already top contributors, does giving them recognition significantly increase the level of activity? 

Apparently not

It might be more effective to name those that aren't contributing. It might be more effective to shame the freeriders into contributing. 

This won't work in large B2C communities, it's worth considering in smaller/internal communities of practice. Spend less time rewarding the top contributors and gently nudge the non-participants into contributing. 


January 30, 2014 Comments Off on viglink.html



As a surprise bonus, we’re also sharing a bunch of other free resources below. This includes:

I hope this helps. Don’t hesitate to e-mail [email protected] if you have any questions. 

Facebook Groups

January 30, 2014Comments Off on Facebook Groups

Facebook pages hold little value to community building. 

Facebook groups is a different matter. These have three big advantages over any other platform.

1) Audience size. They have a big audience which knows how to use the platform. 

2) Existing Habits. Members of the audience typically visit the platform every day, often many times a day. Thus you receive regular notifications. 

3) Simplicity. The platform is quick and easy to set up, and quite simple to manage.

The first factor isn't as important as the latter two. The audience size is irrelevant. What matters is how many of that audience you can reach. More people use e-mail, for example, but that's irrelevant unless you have everyone's e-mail address. 

The downsides are quite clear too:

1) Lack of control. You have very little control over how the group appears, what functions are available, the identity of the group, or anything else. Facebook might begin charging you to reach members of your own groups or remove a feature you like. This is a big danger. Facebook might remove the notifications feature, for example, and then members would stop visiting your group (the trigger would be broken). 

2) Lack of features. You can't create customized newcomer to regular conversion journeys, you don't have access to advanced stats, you don't have most of the basic tools most people have. You lose the ability to send a direct message to all members once you reach 5000 members. This is a big risk. 

2) Mixing Identities. In communities of practice, unique interests, and many other fields, people want unique identities. Facebook doesn't allow that. Many members won't join your community because they don't want to combine their online identities. You might not want your Facebook friends to know you're a huge fan of Harry Potter fan fiction. 

4) Tied to Facebook. Your group is tied to Facebook. If the popularity of Facebook declines, so does your group. You're not creating unique habits to visit a separate page. If anything happens to Facebook, your group will struggle.

Facebook groups can be a great tool to get a community started or for a quick/simple result. For the long-term, it's not a tool we recommend for our clients.

This is also true for LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest, and many other platforms. 

Value Of A Single Member

January 29, 2014Comments Off on Value Of A Single Member

Forums devoted to video games usually aren't worth much.

Gamers don't click on ads. They resist any form of control. They're as likely to hurt you as they are to help you. They don't have much money. They say things that make advertisers shudder. A conversion is worth $30 to $50 of revenue. 

Forums devoted to cars are worth millions. The age range is higher. Purchasing power is considerable. They click on ads more frequently. Each sale is worth thousands. The lifetime value is huge.

We were involved in a healthcare community two years ago. It was tiny, a few hundred members. Yet, each member had a $250k purchasing power for that specific service. Increasing the retention rate by just a handful of people, or attracting new sales, was worth millions.

The value you get from your members is greatly affected by age, gender, purchasing power, frequency of purchase, level of top-down resistance, and, for knowledge sharing, what knowledge they have to share. 

This is why it's important to check a few things before begin the community effort. Chiefly this includes:

  • Are they of an age (or cultural persuasion) that would make them resistant to doing what you ask them.
  • Do they have the spending power to do what you want them to do?
  • Do they have useful knowledge to share with one another? (we made this mistake once, but only once).

Simply by looking for existing communities (and doing 25 to 50 interviews with members of the target audience) you can get this information very quickly. Spend the time doing it, it's worth every minute. 

In many sectors, it's simply not worth building a community. 

Mastering The Psychology of Communities

January 28, 2014Comments Off on Mastering The Psychology of Communities

Technology changes a lot. 

People are relatively the same. 

If you can master the behaviour of people, you will forever be able to build bigger, better, and more active communities. 

The same principles that get people to participate in one community apply across all communities. The tactics change, sure, but the principles remain the same. 

Very soon, community professionals will be expected to know the basic principles from psychology, social-psychology, anthropology, community development, sociology, game theory, group dynamics, and apply these principles every day in their line of work. 

Once we learn these principles (and learn how apply them), we have a template we can use to increase the level of growth and activity in any community. The best community professionals, those that move up to strategist and director roles, are always those whom have mastered the science behind communities, not just the ability to be nice to people online. 

Being nice to people online is the most basic level of our work. It's important, but it's basic. If we want the profession to advance, we need to focus upon the science of human behaviour. We need to get really, really, good at this. This is what will seperate the good community professionals from the average ones. 

This is why we desperately want you to attend the Virtual Community Summit in London on Feb 20 – 21. We're going to try and make a great leap forward in our level of expertise overnight.

Never before, has there been an event dedicated to the science of communities. Never before, has there been such an incredible collection of dedicated community scientists in one room together. 

We've sold just under 75% of available seats at the moment, so if you want to attend please sign up soon. We would love you to join us in our goal to embed scientific principles at the heart of our work. 

Most Community Professionals Can Use Data Better

January 27, 2014 Comments Off on Most Community Professionals Can Use Data Better

There isn't a clear link between data we collect and actions we take. 

We recently discussed metrics in CommunityGeek. Everyone can identify metrics they measure, but no-one could explain how they use this data. 

It should work like this. You visit Google Analytics (or Omniture, or whatever) to collect specific data. You don't browse, you know exactly what you need. You drop the numbers into your model. This model has a decision point. Based upon this, you perform pre-determined actions. 

Here are a few examples.

1) 3 month decline in unique, new, visitors = more time on growth channels.  You measure the number of unique, new, visitors each month. If it begins to decline in 3 successive months, you spend less time participating in discussions and devote more time to promoting the community. This might mean creating slides of best advice, sharing case studies in external channels, or establishing sustainanable growth methods

2) 3 months of 30% visits from mobile = a mobile optimzed site. You decide that once mobile visits accounts for 30% of all visits in 3 successive months (not a blip), you will develop a mobile-optimized site. Each month you track the % of visits from mobile. Once the above condition is met, you invest in a mobile site. Again, here data directly affects actions. 

3) If new registration to contribution number > 5%, keep intervention. You made an intervention in the welcome e-mail to get more new registrations to make a post. The previous number was 5%. If this has increased, you will keep it, if it has fallen, you will try something different. 

A few important points about community measurement. 

  • Begin with a hypothesis, model, or condition that affects specific actions you take. If you don't have this, you're wasting time. 
  • Don't confuse health with ROI. Don't confuse community health metrics (growth, activity, sense of community) with the community ROI metrics (increased revenue/reduced costs). 
  • Measure what's important, not easy. What's important to measure and what's easy to measure are two different things. To measure the conversion funnel involves pulling data that spans unique visitors * unique new visitors, registrations from member database (different system), systematic sample to see how many made a contribution (manual observations). Not easy, but incredibly important.  
  • Spend only a few minutes in the analytics package. You shouldn't spend more than a few minutes in any analytics package. You're looking for numbers to drop into your model. Nothing more. The moment you begin browsing, your going to find noise, not signal. 

Here is the key question. Are you collecting data for your own vanity? Are you collecting data for your own self-validation (or self-preservation)? Or do you have an actual model and method of using the data. 

Unless you know exactly what you're going to do with data, there's no point in collecting it.  

How To Make More Accurate Predictions About Future Community Growth

January 24, 2014Comments Off on How To Make More Accurate Predictions About Future Community Growth

Most predictions are wildly optimistic. 

5000 members after one year, 15000 members after two years. Even if you could get this many registered members, only a handful will be active. 

The overwhelming majority of communities we consider successful have around 100 active members. That's all. 

More accurate predictions are usually in the 50, 500, 1000 region. That's 50 after a month, 500 after a year, 1000 after two years. 

There are better, more accurate, ways of making predictions. This all depends upon whether you have a mature community or an inception-stage community. 

1) Current growth rate. All things considered, your growth rate today is likely to be the growth rate tomorrow. Next week is likely to be similar to last week. For mature communities, last year is likely to be similar to next year. Simply by knowing your current growth rate, you have a rough estimate for future growth rates. 

2) Growth of similar communities. Speak to people who have founded similar communities. How many members did they have after 1 week/month/year? Be careful not to select solely the hyper-successful communities here. You need an average of several similar communities (the good and the bad). 

3) Existing networks. If you're just starting, how many people do you personally know well enough to invite to join the community? How many people do they know? Test the basic reproduction number (R0) with a free, sharable, resource. This is a term to measure the likely spread of diseases. This will give you an idea of how many people will tell others about the community. Now you have a rough idea of the potential growth.

If you're really clever, you can put together a simple model which combines elements of the above to give you an idea of the future growth of the community. 

We need to be better at making growth predictions. Bad predictions, even made in good faith, set high expectations that reflect badly on us in the long-run. Far better to take the time to make a realistic prediction. 

Making A Strong Argument And The Dilution Effect

January 23, 2014Comments Off on Making A Strong Argument And The Dilution Effect

The marketing of your community is much stronger if you focus on one core message and don't include minor or irrelevant information. 

In The Social Animal, Aronson retells Zukier's fascinating study of 149 undergraduate students. The question went like this. 

"Which student has the higher grade point average?

  • Tim spends about 31 hours studying outside of class in an average week.
  • Tom spends about 31 hours studying outside of class in an average week. Tom has one brother and two sisters. He visits his grandparents about once every 3 months. He once went on a blind date and shoots pool about once every 2 months."

Most participants in the study believed Tim is smarter than Tom.

This is known as the dilution effect. If you include weak or irrelevant information it dilutes the key information. Adding a free gift card to a car purchase makes people less likely to purchase the car. 

Focus on the core target audience and the key appeal in the promotion of your community. If you cater and try to appeal to everyone, it dilutes the message. Don't include irrelevant or minor information.

People should join your community because _______{your answer}______________. (end the message at the full stop. Prune the message. 

Look For A Member’s Experience And Expertise

January 22, 2014Comments Off on Look For A Member’s Experience And Expertise

Do some research into the last 10 members that registered.

Look up their names, usernames or e-mail addresses on Google.

Identify their LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+ page. Identify where they are from, what they talk about, who they work for, what profession they work in, and anything else of interest. 

Look specifically for things they have done in the past that could be useful to the community. In Community Geek, for example, we sometimes find a member has a background in anthropology, or running large-scale communities, or communities with special security considerations, or internal communities for large, geographically-dispersed, organisations. 

This is exactly the type of expertise we want in the community. We drop them an e-mail to ask if they would be willing to write a short piece about the topic. It would really help members to {…something relevant…}. 

Be sure to highlight specific experience/expertise (not generic). Refer specifically to previous things this member has been through. Be specific about how it will help the community. Always say a short column – so it doesn't feel like much work. 

The purpose here isn't just to solicit good content, it's to make a member feel their experience is more useful. The're more likely to become a regular member if they make a contribution. We want a member to instantly feel appreciated by the community. 

If it goes well, you can invite them to write a regular column on the topic. 

Public Allegations

January 21, 2014Comments Off on Public Allegations

One member warned another not to do business with a third member.

She had heard too many bad things about the third member. First she posted the warning privately. Then she posted the warning publicly.

All hell broke lose. 

In private, these allegations aren't a problem. In fact, they're beneficial to enforcing desired community norms. 

However, if the allegation is posted in public, things spiral out of control. The subject of the allegation is forced to respond to defend his status. Bob's friends must also defend him or risk injury to their own status. 

These attacks soon get personal and move into dangerous ground (morally and legally). 

There are three solutions here. Each solution has its downside.

The first is to ban public allegations against individual members. But wouldn't it help a community to know if a member had a track record of causing problems for members? 

The second is to require tangible proof to support the allegation. This sounds logical, but what is considered proof? Is support from a member's friend proof? What is the bar to reliable evidence? Does this place you in dubious legal territory? Do you allow statements from the member? Do you allow appeals? Judges? Juries?

The third is to tell members to come to you with such accusations. You can look at the evidence, get both sides of the story, and make a quick judgement call. This works, except it's likely to foster resentment against you.

When dealing with a public statement that is critical of another member, be aware of the social dynamics in play.

Applying Behavioural Models To Online Communities

January 20, 2014Comments Off on Applying Behavioural Models To Online Communities

There isn't a single definitive, validated, model that explains community behaviour.

However, the most popular models are coalescing around similar topics. 

The BJ Fogg model, discussed here, sees participation through the prism of motivation, ability, and triggers. You need members motivated to participate. You need to make participation very simple. You need triggers that prompt members to participate. 

You can apply and test different aspects of this model to sustainable increase the level of growth and activity in a community.

Another model is the Triandis model (pictured below).



If we apply this to communities, we can say participation is shaped by 8 broad factors;

1) Do I believe my participation in a community will have an impact?

2) Did my previous participation have an impact?

3) Do people like me tend to participate in this sort of community?

4) Does my role within this topic induce me to participate? Am I expected to participate?

5) Will participating in this community help me achieve my personal goals? 

6) Am I emotionally provoked into participating?

7) Have I participated many times recently?

8) Is there anything in my environment (or on the community platform itself) which may prevent me from participating? 

A community scientist would look at these models, look at the research, and figure out how they can be measured (attitude, social factors, affect, past behaviour, intentions) and then put in place a practical plan to address each of these issues.

You can target specific interventions at specific people to achieve the desired result of more activity from your existing audience. You can diagnose exactly what is going wrong. But you can only do this if you have a behaviour model you can work from. 

This is the new level we need to be operating at. Scanning through the existing community groups today, the discussions are beginner at best; Should my brand use Pinterest/Instagram? What listening tool should I use? Where can I find a community job? Should I let companies sponsor my community? 

This is why we invite you to attend the Virtual Community Summit in London this February 20 – 21. We're going to take the first steps to converting community managers into community scientists. We hope you will join us

If you can't make that, consider joining CommunityGeek; a community for people looking to master the science behind communities. 

Why We Fail

January 17, 2014Comments Off on Why We Fail

In a moment of nostalgia, I went through our entire client roster to see how they were getting on. There were a few failures in the group. These failed for one of three reasons:

1) The community manager quits. Communities take time to develop. The community manager needs to build relationships with lots of members and be the force that gets the community off the ground. If the community manager quits (especially after we've trained them) that sets the entire process back. 

2) The platform takes forever to develop. The longer it takes to develop the platform, the less likely the community will succeed. The clients that go from zero to a complete platform in a month are those most likely to thrive. They can learn, change, and adapt quickly. Platform problems were the most common reason for failure. Organizations spend so long developing overly-complex, expensive, platforms, they fail to do the fundamental community work. 

3) Tough decisions aren't made. Developing a community concept means making tough decisions. That tough decision is usually excluding a large number of the potential audience to focus on the group you can reach. It's to make the community about the topic (or the audience) rather than about the subject. If you don't get the concept right in the beginning, nothing else matters.

The fascinating thing about these failures is they are all preventable with a little foresight. 

You can make the tough decisions early. You can decide to use a simple platform. You can train two members of staff to be community managers instead of one. 

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