Month: March 2014
There are three big moments when someone is really excited about your organization.
The first is when they make the purchase. They're anticipating the arrival and use of the product/service.
The second is when the product/service arrives.
The third is the first time they use the product/service.
This gives you three opportunities to convert a new customer into a community member. This is a short-cut past the mental barriers that we use to filter out most spam.
When someone purchases the product/service, turn the post-purchase page into an invitation page to join the community. Include a direct invite to join the community in the confirmation e-mail.
Include an invitation to join and participate in the community within the product/service itself. If it's a physical product, include a simple invite card (like a business card). If it's a service, then ensure there are plenty of links back to the community. For example, the FAQ can be hosted on the community site or linked to community-generated advice.
Several week's after the purchase, follow up with another invitation to join the community and participate in an active, relevant, discussion for newcomers.
If you want to master the social science approach to building successful communities, sign up for our Professional Community Management course.
Registration is open now. The course begins on April 28th.
I'd estimate that around 95% of big new ideas tried in a community flop.
They're introduced, they're pushed, they gain some initial momentum, and then they flop.
In the worse case scenario they provoke a backlash.
Like managing any community, you need to consult and build support for big initiatives before you launch them. The hard work isn't the web development for the idea, the design, getting budget approval. The hard work is never any of these things.
The hard work is approaching dozens of members every day, asking them for their thoughts on the idea, incorporating what you can, and gaining their buy in.
Community organizers and those working in the traditional community space have been doing this for years. We're only just starting to wake up to it.
Our platform selection process has evolved recently.
It now looks like this:
1) Decide the platform category (budget, resources, skills)
The options are broadly traditional (forums/mailing lists), white-label, open-source, vertical enterprise (e.g. associations), business enterprise, or bespoke (don't do bespoke).
This depends upon the organisation's budget, resources, and skills. If the organisation doesn't have the manpower to maintain and update a platform, an open-source solution is a bad idea. Here we check the budget range, the designated person to manage and maintain the platform, and the organisation's previous experience in developing websites.
Next we check if there are any unique/special needs required. Security is a common one, integration with existing platforms, customized features/design, but it's not uncommon to have an oddball here.
With this information we can select the category of platform we're looking for.
2) Identify platforms with a bright future (innovation, customer base, funding)
We covered this recently. Now we look at Google Trends, Crunchbase (most recent funding), latest feature updates, and latest company news. Companies with no new news, funding, and a declining Google Trends probably don't have a long future. Platforms are a competitive space, you want to back a winner.
3) Look for successful examples (references, levels of activity)
Now we want to find as many people using these platforms as possible.
This means asking around, research, and building up as big list as possible. Then we drop the owners of the community a note to ask if they would recommend the platform. Platform vendors only provide references that gloss over the problems. We ideally want to talk to 5 to 10 people from each of the platforms we're looking at.
We also look at the successful examples the platform vendor sends. Is the community highlight active? Are people interacting with one another? What is the Alexa/Compete ranking? Ignore testimonials (would any company ever post a bad testimonial?)
By this stage, we have usually identified the three best options.
4) Check features
At this point we check the features the platform offers. We specifically look at the discussion area (compact, clean), notifications, integration with e-mail (people can receive an e-mail notification of a new discussion), news page, and any specific issue with the community.
5) Negotiate and validate (pricing, contract)
If it's a platform vendor, we schedule calls and negotiate pricing options.
Read any contracts/deals carefully. Some vendors sneak in unrequested applications/additions, demand a minimum 48-month contract, proclaim ownership over all content, or even reserve the right to contact your members.
If you see this in a contract, ask for it to removed. We also tell vendors we're considering multiple platforms and ask them to specifically highlight what they can better than the alternative options.
If the website doesn't have a listed price for the platform, you have broad room to negotiate. Some of the bigger, enterprise, vendors have dropped fees by 80% at this stage.
We no longer dwell too much upon what platforms the audience already uses.
There are three reasons for this:
1) There aren't many audience-specific requirements. Aside from e-mail (which can be integrated), it's rare that an audience won't embrace a new platform. The design/look/feel is more important than the platform. Some Pinterest-style communtiies are the exception here.
2) Most platforms can be designed to look like something familiar. You can design a platform to look and function like something the audience is already familiar with.
3) Having a great platform is more important. Sounds strange, but having a platform with a great future, which is proven to work, and which is widely recommend is more important. Audiences are more flexible.
The higher the frequency of e-mails you send, the less they will be opened by members.
Regular, scheduled, e-mails with similar subject lines tend to be ignored.
This is why digests perform terribly compared with real-time notification of new activity.
We know what to expect in the digest. We believe we will browse it later, but we never do. It's never urgent. Never a priority. It never gets ready.
Even if you stumble upon a successful time, novel subject line style, and a format for an e-mail, that will only last until it becomes mundane. Then this too will be ignored.
Mix up the frequency, subject lines, and content of the e-mails which go out to members.
If open-rates decline, stop sending e-mails for a few weeks, then send two in one week. Use e-mails to bump up activity levels and notify members of major (genuinely) interesting things to pay attention to. Check the open rates and adapt as you go.
Here is an important question to consider.
Does the target audience you're trying to reach already interact with one another?
Do they know one another? Where and how do they interact?
The dream situation is an audience that knows each other, interacts frequently at events or via informal social situations, but has no central community they already participate in.
Here you already have a concept, you develop the platform, bring in existing offline discussions, create content about the members, and watch the community quickly come to life. The quickest successes, like Facebook, usually fall into this category.
More likely, you will have existing competition (existing communities) and need a refined, unique, community concept.
In both these situations, you're an enabler. The community exists and you're helping them be better at what they do.
If the audience doesn't already interact, you're a community builder.
This is far more difficult.
You need to individually reach out to people, make introductions and build strong relationships between them, breed familiarity, look for symbols you can embrace, gradually bring people into a platform, provide plenty of opportunities for members to take ownership over different areas of the community, identify the key topics they want to talk about it and repeatedly nudge members to do it.
If you're in the latter category, be prepared for a far longer and far harder struggle to get the community going.
We discussed priming once before.
The idea is you can prompt people into the right mindset (a participation mindset) when they join.
Most communities are so easy to join that the act of joining carries no significance. If you can sign up in 30 seconds and get a free eBook, it's worth doing.
Far better to prime members to be in a participation mindset when they join. Ask members what they intend to offer the community. Highlight the types of contributions which most help members. Solicit an early contribution/one tip from a newcomer when they join.
Imagine if you replaced the introduction thread with a 'my one tip' thread. Each newcomer would share one tip they have about the topic. It suddenly becomes much more interesting to read and newcomers immediately enter the participation mindset.
This week we opened registration for our community management course.
Here are a few details:
The course is divided into 3 modules of 6 weeks.
We run all modules each semester, but you take them sequentially (like a college year). Some people, for example, have completed module 1 and are working on module 2 this semester.
We run 3 semesters per year.
The course includes:
- Live and recorded lessons. You will never miss a lesson.
- Guest speakers from throughout the industry. We have a library of the best speakers in the world you can access.
- Over 100,000 words of written material.
- Our own template scripts, templates, and strategies. Learn how we tackle the hard parts of building a community.
- Unlimited personal coaching from us. Take advantage of this. It's us giving you consulting advice on your personal community efforts.
- Access to our playbook and digital library of case studies.
- Graded assignments. Prove what you've learnt.
- A certificate of completion. These are framed. You can hang it next to your degree.
In our course, we take participants to a higher level.
This includes things like:
- Creating a powerful community concept that attracts members.
- Developing and designing an excellent community website from scratch.
- Using scarcity and exclusivity to attract and keep early members.
- Reaching critical mass through momentum and social identity theory
- Using principles of habit formation to increase the frequency of visits and level of participation per member.
- Creating sustainable streams of new members.
- Increasing the newcomer to regular conversion ratio via applied data/science.
- Removing spam/negative material efficiently in small and large-scale communities.
- Gaining influence within and over the community.
- Measuring the health and ROI of the community.
- Building out a community team.
It's not an easy course. You are expected to do the work. But we think you can handle it.
If you want to learn more, click here.
Spent the morning looking for discussions that appear universally popular.
Four categories stand out; doing, thinking, using, and reading (or watching).
Members want to know what people like themselves are doing, thinking, using, and reading.
First, let's begin with doing. Members want to know what people like themselves are working on, struggling with, what they plan to do in the future, what jobs/occupations they have, what they do in their spare time. Discussions around these topics are universally popular.
Second, thinking. Members want to know what other members thinking about the most popular/controversial topics. Sometimes it's a genuine interest, sometimes they're just looking for a lively debate. They also want the knowledge that other members have. They ask questions to unlock that knowledge.
Third, using. Discussions about tools and equipment are forever popular. In almost any topic, we need to use something to help us be involved. Discussions to identify the best tools or comparisons between popular tools, or about specific situations are universally popular.
Finally, reading. We want to read what others are reading. We want book recommendations. Sometimes we want film and music recommendations. Mainly, however, we want the book recommendations.
If you're looking for discussions to highlight or initiate, any of the above should get a good response.
Symbols help unite groups. Online or offline, we share the same symbols as the groups we belong to.
Symbols is any idea, image, expression, or entity which has a unique meaning to insiders. Outsiders might not understand it, but insiders do.
The quantity and depth of connection with the symbol, the more we participate.
But it's hard to introduce new symbols. It feels fake.
This is why hashtags like #pepsitothemaxi never take off on twitter.
You need to identify existing, unknown, symbols and amplify them to a broader group. This works both online and offline.
In the 1940s, Shmaryahu Gutman turned Masada from an unknown story of suicidal extremism to a powerful symbol for Zionism (and a popular tourist attraction).
Element14 is quite literally a symbol for engineers.
Many old-timers in the community space share chat moderation and usenet groups as symbols. They might even share some classic books as symbols.
On Mumsnet, the expression penis beaker has become a symbol.
If your community lacks clear symbols, look for existing interesting stories, images, or other idea that merits greater recognition.
Begin referencing it subtly in content and discussions. Interview someone involved with it. Use repetition over a sustained period of time to increase awareness of the symbol. Bring in early adopters of the symbol to mention it more frequently.
Once established, reference the symbol liberally within the community. Reinforce your community's symbols throughout the site.
Until 2006, I did community management like everyone else.
I would launch the site, try to get lots of people to join, and then work hard to keep them active. By this point, I had many years of experience.
I thought I knew everything.
Then I stumbled across this article. It completely changed the way I approached communities. Any smidgen of success we've had since then I attribute directly to reading this article.
The article outlined the most important part of communities (building a psychological sense of community). It highlighted how much I didn't know. It proved that we can bring proven social science into online community building.
Based upon this (and reading over a thousand other social science articles) we developed a new approach. We developed a social-science driven approach to building communities.
Our success rate (partly thanks to our checklists along the way) is now close to 100%.
For the past three years, we've trained the world's top community professionals this process. We've trained people from Google, Amazon, Wikipedia, LEGO, Oracle, EMC, Autodesk, Mozilla, Greenpeace and many more how to use proven social science to build incredibly successful communities.
On April 28, we're relaunching our Community Management course. It's fully online, it won't interfere with your work, and will teach you a huge amount about building thriving online communities.
Registration opens today and closes when all places are taken.
We invite you to apply here:
If you're trying to encourage knowledge sharing within organizations, two strategies seem to work well.
The first is a competition strategy. Q&A-orientated sites do well here. Members are effectively in competition to generate the best idea. This works well in competitive, individualistic, cultures with a low sense of community and porous borders between social groups (i.e. a newcomer could become popular quite quickly).
The key to this is ensuring that the borders between social group are porous. It should be clear that you can rise up relatively quickly by sharing your best information and impressing other people.
The second is a collaboration strategy. In organizations with a strong sense of community, mutual agreement on goals, or with low levels of mobility between layers, a collaboration strategy works best.
The key here is finding people with the time to submit their responses. They want to help, but they're very busy. You have to involve people at a deeper level in the goals of the community and the problems it wants to solve. You have to create a very strong desire to participate to help the organization. That's not easy.
The challenges of both strategies
The problem with the former is generating the questions to be answered. People don't submit questions because it undermines their being the sole expert on the topic. This means you need to set topics or an agenda that stimulates activity which can be answered.
The problem with the latter is getting responses to questions and soliciting visits in the first place. This means having clear goals for the community, documenting the group history, and more traditional team-building activities so people make the time to help.
Neither strategy is superior, but you probably need to pick one.
Peter flips communities.
He buys communities (mostly forums, applies best practices to them, increases the monthly revenue, and sells them for a profit).
Traditionally, this work was the domain of internet marketing and monetization experts. They could take an existing community and squeeze more money out of it by applying better monetization systems.
Today, people with a community background (experience in growing membership and increasing activity) are moving in to this space. They apply best practices, establish fresh inbound sources of growth, restructure the community to increase activity, boost the sense of community, improve the monetization, and sell the community for a profit.
Doesn't this sound exactly like the skills most organizations need too? Don't they need people to come in to the community, check what they're currently doing, apply best practices, boost the levels of growth and activity, and show how to better harvest value from these communities?
If you have a successful track record of doing this, I predict you will never be out of work.