Month: February 2014

The Nagging Problem

February 28, 2014Comments Off on The Nagging Problem

Over time, you get a gut feeling for what's likely to be a major problem. 

A platform that takes months to develop, the lack of a full-time community manager, long delays to get anything done, inability to communicate in an authentic ways with the audience, lack of resources and internal obstacles, etc…

These are all potential showstoppers. All show symptoms very early on. For example,

The community manager is working on non-community tasks.

The platform is continually delayed in development.

Your e-mails don't get quick responses or it's too hard to schedule calls.

The community manager can't get responses from the target audience.  

Various bosses shut down valid ideas for internal reasons. 

In the past, we used to find workarounds. Can't e-mail all community members? No problem, we'll take other routes.

Today, we tackle it head on.

Nothing else continues until we've resolved the nagging problem. If you can't respond to an e-mail about the community today, how will you respond to 30 e-mails from the community every day later? 

I'd estimate about 80% of our clients have had a nagging problem we needed to solve. Trust me, don't find a workaround – fix the problem. 

The 15 Minute Window To Convert Newcomers

February 26, 2014Comments Off on The 15 Minute Window To Convert Newcomers

People make a decision to join a community quite quickly.

They hear about the community, browse a few posts, see something they want to participate in, then register. 

The moment they register, you have someone's attention. They're waiting and expecting messages from you. They're open to information from you. Every second that goes by, they become less receptive.

Don't waste these precious minutes. 

  • Instantly get someone participating in a self-disclosure discussion. In the confirmation/welcome e-mail, guide someone to participating in a topical, self-disclosure, discussion. Update this discussion each week. Skip the profile for now, engage them in an active discussion so they enter the notification cycle
  • Ensure interaction between members. Have volunteers to respond quickly to people who have made their first contribution in the community. Again, this is a short window. Every minute that ticks by is a minute that we're less open to responses. Ensure the response contains personal information and a further questions to prompt a response. 
  • Introduce to relevant members. If there are other members a newcomer should know, make the introduction. It doesn't have to be via the site. A relationship can flourish and bring future people into the group. This works especially well in sub-1000 member communities.
  • Prompt to ask questions. Establish a trigger/prompt that will get people to ask questions about the topics they're struggling with. This might be a simple e-mail or a discussion thread that asks people what questions they're struggling with. 
  • Use your auto-responders. Link activity (or inactivity) to automated autoresponders. If a member hasn't logged in since they registered, has made 5 or more contributions, has only made one contribution, send them an e-mail with something new and relevant in the community they should participate in. 

For most of the communities we work on, increasing the newcomer to regular participation ration is the single, biggest, quickest, win we can have. If you can't get someone to participate immediately, you've lost them. 

We can do a much better job here. 

Speaking At ForumCon, San Francisco – June 19th

February 25, 2014Comments Off on Speaking At ForumCon, San Francisco – June 19th

I'm very happy to announce I'll be speaking at ForumCon in San Francisco on June 19th

ForumCon attracts up to 500 forum experts/community managers to share tips, tools, and best practices for managing, growing, and monetizing forums.

The forum space is vibrant. We take the technology for granted. The term, forum, has faded in recent years but the technology remains the bedrock of almost every community platform out there. 

The space is more innovative than you might imagine. The old guard of VBulletin, IPBoards, phpBB, and MyBB are still around and popular, but they are joined today by XenForo, Vanilla, Moot, Discourse, and Huddler – all platforms pushing the boundaries of what forums are doing and testing new business models. 

If we can improve our ability to grow better forums, we improve our ability to build bigger, better, and more active communities. 

My talk will discuss the social science we can use to increase the levels of growth and activity in any community. If you want to attend, click here.


Strategic Priorities

February 24, 2014Comments Off on Strategic Priorities

We usually tackle the priorities in this order:

1) Internal issues. We tackled these first. They undermine everything else. This covers lack of buy-in, resources, skills, processes, technology etc..if there is anything we need to be a success, we work to get it. 

2) Health issues. If the level of active membership, activity, or sense of community is declining, we tackle this next. We analyze the data, identify the problem, and make specific recommendations. If there are opportunities to improve this, we work on this too. This includes, for example, improving the newcomer to regular conversion ratio.

3) Advance to the next stage of the lifecycle. Now we look to see how to move the community to the next stage of the lifecycle. Do we need to spend more time getting the right sort of growth, changing/adapting activity, increasing the sense of community? We set specific targets and develop an action plan to match

4) Align with long-term trends. Next we check that the community concept perfectly personifies the long-term trends. We ensure that the audience is moving away from the community to something similar. 

If you're working on your strategy/action plan, putting your steps in this order should help. 

Why Is Today Not Your Community’s Busiest Day Ever?

February 21, 2014Comments Off on Why Is Today Not Your Community’s Busiest Day Ever?

Think about that question.

Why is today not the most active today in your community's history? 

If it's the weekend, that's ok. People tend to visit the community less at the weekend.

If today is a national holiday, that's also understandable. 

And if the most active day was a week or even a month ago, that's not a big problem. All communities are subject to random fluctuations of activity. 

But if it's longer than that, something's up. You either have:

  • Fewer members participating.
  • Fewer contributions from participating members. 

Both of these will have some explanation. These explanations, in our experience, are usually one of the following:

  • Members are moving to a new community/platform. Perhaps a new community has arisen and is stealing members, or the activity is moving elsewhere to new platforms. 
  • The topic has become less interesting/evolving. You can use a Google Trends search to check this. Are people searching for related terms less? Or is the topic itself evolving into something else? If you were running a community about netbooks and ignored the tablets, you're probably not going to survive for long.
  • Your management of the community has become worse. Perhaps you're more passive, not intiating as many discussions, or not trying as hard. Maybe a big part of the community was driven by you participating and responding to discussions?
  • Growth has plummeted. Your turnover rate has changed. Less members are visiting the site or converting into regular participants. Something is driving them away. It might be worse SEO results or in-groups preventing newcomers feeling involved. 

Using various data points, we can identify the problem very quickly. Once you identify the problem, it's a relatively easy fix. 

You could argue, you once had one outstanding day. You hosted a major successful event, for example. If that's the case, then why not host more successful events? Why not post similar popular content? Why not have related discussions? 

The problem is most people don't pay attention to this very simple (sometimes too simple) metric. The longer ago your busiest day ever was, the closer you are to a dead community. Don't let that happen. 

Diagnosing A Community Idea

February 20, 2014Comments Off on Diagnosing A Community Idea

Virgin America's new social network will fail (like all of these). 

Study the idea: 

This partnership allows flyers to take advantage of those serendipitous travel moments where people with complementary business interests are in the same place at the same time – even if that place is on a plane somewhere 35,000 feet above the US.

Let's analyze this idea through the conceptualization framework.

Does the community interest fit in the MTER framework? 

Is the community based upon something we spend a lot of time or money on, or is emotional/representative of our identity in some way? Some people do spend a lot of time flying, but not by choice. It's not something we choose to spend a lot of time on. You don't feel an especially strong relationship with someone because you're both in the air at the same time. The answer is no, there is no real strong common interest here. 

Does this idea target a specific group of people?

By specific, we mean people who share specific demographic, habit, or psychographic traits. Flying could be argued as a habit, but it's a stretch. The answer is no.

Does the community have a clear purpose? 

Is it a community of action, circumstance, location, place, or practice? You could argue it's a community of place. Again, not a place that people feel an especially strong connection to. The purpose is very weak. 

Is it clear what will happen in the community?

Aside from 'making connections', there is no clear plan of activities of what will happen within this community. There are no existing habits being brought in to the community. There is no clear evidence that members want to spend their time during flights being connected to other people. 

By every account, this is a community concept that's doomed to fail. The concept is one which hasn't been properly evaluated. It's similar to many of these failures

You can use a simple framework to guide and diagnose your community. 

If you want to learn more, sign up to the Virtual Community Summit in London from Feb 20 – 21. 

This is the first event dedicated to mastering the psychology you can use to increase growth, activity, and the value of any community. Learn more, click here.


February 19, 2014Comments Off on Events

We've all heard stories, sometimes myth, sometimes real, about an event that changed the future. 

Events have the capacity to do that. Events have the power to forge connections, spark motivation, and set a new direction in any field.

Events can galvanize a group of people, give them a feeling that they're on the cusp of something new/exciting, and create the desire to achieve a positive distinctiveness among this peer group. 

Events can be a shortcut to achieve a lot of the goals you're trying to achieve. 

The size of the event isn't as important as the alignment of the message. 

Woodstock had half a million people, but that was an outlier.

The Sex Pistols Manchester concert had just 40 people, what those 40 achieved was incredible.

The Hombrew Computer Club meetings attracted a few dozen to a hundred, but they provided the impetus for dozens of technologies that changed the world. 

Tomorrow, we're going to begin with 200. We're going to try and make the shift from discussions about technology, removing the bad stuff, and being nice to people. We want to change community management to a profession that is focused upon psychology, social-psychology, and other related disciplines that apply to any type of community. 200 should be enough to achieve this. 

What's important about events, is the alignment of the message. This theme is important. Everyone has to share the idea of the event. If they don't, they shouldn't come. Those that do come will be those looking to be part of something special. 

Negative Voting And Attribution Bias

February 18, 2014Comments Off on Negative Voting And Attribution Bias

If you allow members to vote a comment up, it may encourage further contributions. It may also allow the best material to rise to the top.

If you allow members to vote a contribution down, it discourages contributions. Even worse, it may breed dislike between people. 

This is a variation of the attribution bias. If someone votes your contribution up, you assume it's because it's a good comment and you're a clever person for posting it. Each positive vote reinforces this view. You deserved that positive vote. 

However, if someone votes your contribution down, you assume it's because the person is vindictive or somehow damaged. As a result, you're more likely to take revenge by voting down any future contributions from that person. This breeds unnecessary conflict. 

Worse still, members fear rejection more than they want validation. They fear making contributions because it might be voted down. They participate less. A community professional recently told me about a sharp rise in contributions after removing negative voting. 

There is no real use for negative voting. Members can ignore contributions they don't like (or simple disagree with their own contributions). They can report comments directly that are against the rules. Positive voting lets the top contributions rise to the top naturally. 

If you want to learn more, sign up to the Virtual Community Summit in London from Feb 20 – 21. 

This is the first event dedicated to mastering the psychology you can use to increase growth, activity, and the value of any community. Learn more, click here.

6 Questions For Internal Knowledge Sharing Communities

February 17, 2014Comments Off on 6 Questions For Internal Knowledge Sharing Communities

We begin with interviews. We interview as many people as we can. We put together the common findings into a survey format. Then we invite a bigger group to do the survey. 

We want to identify the current barrier to knowledge sharing within the organization's community. This means identifying the answers to the following questions:

  1. Do employees know who to share information with?
  2. Do employees know what information to share?
  3. Do employees have information to share? (the answer to this is sometimes disturbing)
  4. Do employees know how to share information
  5. Do employees know when to share information?
  6. Do employees want to share information? 

Who to share information with?

This is a knowledge problem. The employees need to know who to share their knowledge with. Which specific person(s) within the organization would benefit from their knowledge? They need to have a greater/broader understanding of the organization and the ability to find people. They need a system to look up or discover other people whose work would benefit from their knowledge. 

What information to share? 

Similar to the above, what information/knowledge do they possess which would be relevant to others? 

If you put a gun to an employees head and told them to participate in the internal knowledge management community (or community of practice), would they be able to do it? If not, it's a knowledge problem.

Do they have information to share?

Are employees looking up new sources of information? Are they collecting it from other employees, looking at news journals, or doing their own tests? If they don't have information to share, you need to work on building these processes.

Do employees know how to share information?

This is usually a technology problem. Do they know what information to share, through which channels, and in what format? Is it better to share some information through specific channels?

Do employees know when to share information?

Is there a trigger to prompts employees to share information? What time during their day (or in what situation) should they share information through the community? You need to carve out the time during the day to do this and then make it a regular habit. 

Do employees want to share information?

We leave this to last, but it's the biggest one. If the motivation isn't there, they won't do it. They often don't share because they want to be seen as unique, don't like other people (or have silo-conflicts), are worried other people will use the information to get a promotion above them. You need to address and tackle these concerns. 

Embed this into objectives, use a negative nudge (fear of missing out), appeal to being seen as among the experts in the organization. 


If you're just beginning a project to get employees to share more knowledge, the above is a good starting point. 

If you want to learn more, sign up to the Virtual Community Summit in London from Feb 20 – 21. 

This is the first event dedicated to mastering the psychology you can use to increase growth, activity, and the value of any community. Learn more, click here.

The Real Fallacy

February 14, 2014Comments Off on The Real Fallacy

In our experience the biggest problem isn't organizations expect members will use a platform if it exists (if you build it…), it's organizations believe their audience wants to spend their spare time talking about them. 

This is the real fallacy that kills most community efforts.

Your audience doesn't want to talk about you.

There are exceptions. There are a handful of product support communities that are very active. People have problems and use the community to get help. But these are generally the exceptions. You probably can't name more than a dozen of these. 

The key step to get right, more than anything else, is the commuity concept. It's like launching a product. You launch with a concept and quick begin reiterating and adapting to suit the needs of the audience. You have to be quick, perceptive, and able to change things like web-copy and promotional tactics very quickly.

Most importantly, you have to begin small. Try to find a concept that works with a few dozen, maybe a hundred, members and then expand. 

A few more tips I'm sure we've covered many times before:

  • Target a segment within your broader target audience. Your initial members have to have as much in common as possible. Exclude the majority to get your community off the ground.
  • Make the community about your members' fears/aspirations. Make the concept dedicated towards something members want to achieve e.g. Backpacking Light
  • Don't make the community about you/your brand/your products. Make the concept about something the audience wants to (or better, already does) talk about. Base your community concept around what the audience has already told you they're interested in – then invite that audience to participate. 
  • Bring outside habits into the community. Bring existing discussions, events/activities, problems/challenges, workflow processes into the community. The more habits you bring in, the easier it is to get someone to visit and participate in your community.

You usually have to attend a few meetups, participate in existing discussions, meet a lot of the audience for coffee, and interview a few dozen of this audience to really understand what the audience talks about. 

Align all your promotional messages with the community concept. 

If you want to learn more, sign up to the Virtual Community Summit in London from Feb 20 – 21. 

This is the first event dedicated to mastering the psychology you can use to increase growth, activity, and the value of any community. Learn more, click here.

CMXSummit And The New Frontier

February 13, 2014Comments Off on CMXSummit And The New Frontier

Last week, David Spinks hosted the most important event in the history of online communities. 

Nine terrific speakers shared insights from psychology, habit formation, their own personal experiences.

If you want a recap, click here

What made this event special is the remarkable attendees didn't ask what platform to use. They didn't ask how to remove spam. They didn't talk much about the tools. Tools are pretty simple. 

Instead they asked the important questions. They asked questions that apply to every community. What motivates members? How do we form habits of visitation and participation? What rituals work best in which communities?

I sense we're on the cusp of a change. We're going to be less platform-focused and more social science focused. Knowing how to motivate members through using the right messages is going to be important. Knowing how to influence the community through proven processes will become common knowledge. Having the skill to get members to form habits will be critical. 

We're seeing this change in our own inbox. Every question used to be technology related. Now most questions are about the psychology of communities. This is a really big and important change. 

These are the skills that every community professional will soon be expected to know. This is the new frontier in our work. This is what we should most be excited to explore. 

We're hoping to follow in David's giant footsteps next week at the Virtual Community Summit in London (Feb 20 – 21st) .

We're going to go deeper than anyone ever has into the psychology and science in our work. We're going to equip every attendee with the fundamentals of sciences and then host a workshop so you can apply these skills directly to your own community efforts. 

We hope you will help us continue what David started here and sign up to attend:

Wisdom of Communities

February 11, 2014Comments Off on Wisdom of Communities

In 2009, illusionist Derren Brown performed the miraculous feat of predicting the lottery numbers (after they drawn). 

He claimed this was the wisdom of the crowd. He collected a group of 24 people together, asked them to predict the numbers and averaged the answers. Magic.

Of course, wisdom of the crowds doesn't work like this. The aggregated knowledge of clueless people provides no further insight on a topic. 

Compare this with a community determing the value of each german footballer (soccer player). The values closely reflected actual transfer fees. Each individual had some expertise, shared it, and the average came close to the real result (so close, that actual transfer fees are based upon the community predicted values). 

Or look at Intrade. Intrade proved more accurate than any individual expert in predicting both the 2004, 2008 elections. In fact, it proved so accurate that it attracted media coverage during 2012 – at which point large, suspicious, bets were made to favourably skew election coverage.

In topics where everyone has a small piece of knowledge/expertise, wisdom of the crowds works well. Wikipedia articles are now more accurate (and updated) than Britannica's.

Averaging out the sum of knowledge by all contributions will lead to more accurate results than those from experts. In topics where members have no ability to make accurate forecasts or no knowledge on the topic, this is a bad idea. 

If you want to learn more, sign up to the Virtual Community Summit in London from Feb 20 – 21. 

This is the first event dedicated to mastering the psychology you can use to increase growth, activity, and the value of any community. Learn more, click here.

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