Month: October 2014

The ‘Starting To Drift’ers

October 31, 2014Comments Off on The ‘Starting To Drift’ers

This group of CommunityGeek members below worry me. 

Screenshot 2014-08-21 15.29.20

They're the members that are starting to drift. 

They haven't visited the community in over a week. They might be on holiday, but it's likely they're drifting.

The 'starting to drift'ers is a category that doesn't fit neatly within the lurker to regular continuum. Yet, these are the very people you still have a chance to save. They're drifting because the community doesn't rank high enough on their list of priorities.

The easiest thing to do is to contact them directly with a question from another member they can help with. You can be aggressive in this. You can have volunteers help you. 

Using LinkedIn Contacts To Grow A Community

October 30, 2014Comments Off on Using LinkedIn Contacts To Grow A Community

For most of us, LinkedIn is where we connect with our professional contacts.

If you're building a community for a profession, LinkedIn is a good place to start.

Export your LinkedIn contacts (LinkedIn > Connections > Keep in touch > settings > Export LinkedIn Connections) into a CSV folder. You can get your colleagues to do this as well. 

Remove those that clearly aren't relevant to your community effort. 

Now use this to grow your community. Ask for advice/exertise. Invite them to participate in a discussion. Ask who wants to be founding members etc…

It's far easier to invite those that personally know you to join the community than strangers. 

31 Clever Ideas From 9 Communities

October 29, 2014Comments Off on 31 Clever Ideas From 9 Communities

From the outside, you might think the community space is short of ideas. 

There aren't many new books, blogs, podcasts, or twitter accounts on the topic. 

We know this isn't true. There are lots of great new ideas. Most come from communities too busy doing the work to talk about it. Here are 31 clever ideas from 9 of my favourite communities. 

Founded: 2001
Members: 1.35m
Platform: VBulletin

The Student Room is a UK-based community which connects students.

There are three ideas here:

1) Use copy "Join now in 30 seconds"

2) Use a sliding button to filter out bots.

3) Have a welcome form which automatically posts a message in the welcome forum. This asks you to submit what you're studying, what you're interested in, and what you're thinking about.

4) Display the latest forum posts as the homepage for the community from a range of sub-groups. 

Their onboarding process (and messaging) is clever. Their use of sub-groups is also terrific (to watch an explanation of their onboarding process, click here).


2010 (relaunch)
Members: "millions"
Platform: Custom

StackExchange is a site originating from StackOverflow. The original white-label platform failed, but this was relaunched in 2010 with a focus on developing a growing series of complementary communities. StackExchange introduces three powerful ideas: 

1) Teach the audience how to ask good questions and give good answers.  You can't ask "what's the best…?". Best is too subjective a word. You can ask does platform x have {features} that platform Y doesn't? Teaching members how to ask good questions is a clever idea. 

2) Allow members to create sub-groups which they nurture and filter. Via theirArea51 site, StackExchange provides terrific guidance and has created a criterion for those that want to develop their own communities. Many of these are filtered out. Only those most likely to succeed are launched. 

3) Elect moderators by popular vote. You can read their policy here.

Founded: 2007
Members: 1m
Platform: Huddler

CakeCentral is a great community for a visual lifestyle product.

There are two good ideas to highlight here:

1) If the community topic is visual, use pictures over forum discussions posts. 

2) Allow members to submit tutorials on the topic (recorded or written).

3) Only allow members with enough credibility to create these tutorials. 

Ted Ed
Founded: 2013
Platform: GetSatisfaction

The education community for TED offers 3 clever ideas, most from the GetSatisfaction platform.

1) Highlight possible similar questions to ensure the same questions aren't asked repeatedly. 

2) Focuse on the most popular ideas and discussions, not the most recent. 

3) A 'giving praise' area where steers the community towards the positive (not the negative). 

Founded: 2008
Platform: Lithium

The FitBit community is dedicated to tracking and optimizing their personal health. There are two great ideas from FitBit

1) Create separate purpose-orientated areas within the community. FitBit has separate areas for product support, discussions about health/fitness, and activity groups – where members can band together to accomplish a goal. 

2) Showcase unanswered questions. An unanswered question is a challenge to other members to prove their smarts and ensures every question does receive a response. 

Members: 1.35m
Platform: VBulletin

MoneySavingExpert is a community dedicated to helping members save money.

There is a great idea here:

1) Create a list of the most common terms/expressions used by members. This allows veterans to contribute and participate in an ever-updated, fun, glossary. It provides newcomers a clue to understanding what members are referring to. 

Founded: 2000
Members: 4.6m monthly visitors
Platform: Custom

Mumsnet is a powerhouse community for parents (usually mums) in the UK. There are many great ideas from this community:

1) Download their advertising material to see how they monetise the community.

2) Collect wisdom from members to create books to sell to their members.

3) Create 'local mumsnet' groups so people in close geographical proximity can connect to one another. 

4) Campaign on issues members care about to generate attention and bond the community together.

5) List the discussions of the day on the landing page of the community.

6) Syndicate content from bloggers. Syndicate the Twitter/blog feeds from your members into a single place within your community. Mumsnet has 5k parents blogging for them through this. 

7) Use books reviews to generate activity. Mumsnet has a very successful book club. 

8) Mumsnet regularly interviews the top VIPs in their sector. They approach the PR teams for the celebrities they want to reach and usually who they want. 

Platform: Lithium

AutoDesk is venerated for community today similar to Dell five years ago. The organisation manages a thriving online community. 

1) Use a simple front door to access a diverse range of communities and social efforts. AutoDesk has a simple main community page. The genius is hosting all the diverse communities in a single entry point to help members find what they need. The descriptions are short and specific. 

2) Create specific places for feedback and idea generation. This can overwhelm many communities. It's clever to create a separate place for any negative feedback to resolve. 

3) Create an area to test new software before anyone else (and get exclusive news before anyone else). AutoDesk does this with their IdeaLabs.

4) Create a recognition programme where members have to be nominated by other members. AutoDesk's Expert Elite programme is a great idea to get other members to reward those making great contributions. 

Founded: 2000 
Platform: Custom

Threadless, as most of you know, is a community orientated for artists and designers with a few clever contributions to the community space.

1) Use a recurring event as the basis for activity. The entire community activity is orientated around their weekly competition. 1000 artists submit their best designs which are voted on by the community. The top 10 designs are printed on various products (usually t-shirts) and sold to members of the community. The artists receive cash. 

2) Create a real book about the community. The Threadless book provided a great summary of the community's history and featured hundreds of contributions from members. As such, it was purchased by members of the community. 

3) Set challenges to get the {most/best} ever. Threadless sets members unique challenges to create a particular design. This creates huge excitement and a sense of competition between members. 

Using Group Theory To Create Communitas Among Groups of Strangers

October 28, 2014Comments Off on Using Group Theory To Create Communitas Among Groups of Strangers

I've been trying a few live experiments. 

As some of you know, my wife and I are travelling around the world (without flying). 

I'm writing this in Istanbul. By the time you read this, we'll be in Tashkent (Uzbekistan).

My goal is to create a momentary sense of communitas. When a group of people are within a confined space, I try to initiate a group discussion.

How quickly you can develop a momentary sense of communitas among strangers? 

I've performed a similar routine in hotel lobbies, elevators, cafes, Turkish bathhouses, trains, and buses. 

The answer is really quickly. 

My approach follows basic group theory. 

1) Wait until you're in a confined space with less than 10 people. This usually means there are less than 10 people to begin with. You can't build a sense of communitas among big groups very quickly. 

2) You have to begin small and gradually bring more people in. Turn to the person closest to you and ask a question/make a remark they're likely to agree with. It has to be based upon the context. You need to have one or two follow up remarks to continue the discussion. Don't try to address the entire group at once. 

3) You have to evolve the group beyond initial politeness. Be aware of who else is paying attention, ask them a question too. Disclose some information about yourself and see who reciprocates, continue the discussion. As two other people are talking, split the group discussion by initiating another parallel discussion with the person next to you. 

4) Co-create quick value. Solicit knowledge that allows the group to feel they've co-created value. This is easy while travelling. You can ask for advice on any topic and collate that as the discussion evolves. Everyone feels they created knowledge for the group. 

5) Organize the next step. On three occaisions, we've subsequently met up with people from these groups. We've had food, drinks, and visited places with people from this group. But we always had to organize the next step first. 

This exercise has made our trip significantly more enjoyable. 

The key lesson here is the power of the initiator. These are groups all around us which never come together because no-one took the minor social risk of trying to unite them. It can be socially awkward trying to initiate a discussion (or bring people into an online community) and failing. 

However, the risk is low and the rewards are high. I believe that there could be so many terrific groups forming everywhere is we had more initiators, more people like you, willing to take that minor social risk at every opportunity to form these groups. 

Here's a simple task. Reach out to the 7 most powerful people in your field that live nearby. Invite them to attend a social drinks or interesting food gathering. No sales, no sponsors, no tickets. Just an invite for them to attend. Key lesson – only invite the 7 top people in your field to attend.

Make the activity itself fun. Make the food especially interesting (exotic, organic, unique service).  It’s easier for people to justify their attendance if the activity seems fun. Then host it again the next month.

Most of the time, the only thing missing is that spart; your spark, to get the group going. 

Thank You

October 27, 2014Comments Off on Thank You

This week we're hosting the world's top community professionals at FeverBee's SPRINT in San Francisco. 

We still have a few conference tickets remaining if you want to come.

It's taken a lot to organize an event on such scale in a foreign country.

  • To the awesome speakers who worked with us to create presentations that share practical, relevant, ideas and new tactics. Also for helping share their tips to showcase what people will learn at their event.
  • To our sponsors GetSatisfaction, Moz, Hootsuite, Brighttalk, Badgeville, and Kelloggs that helped make this happen. 
  • To our event planner, Sue, from Cappa Graham.
  • To the FeverBee team, notably Darren, Caty, and Callum.
  • To everyone that used the #fbsprint hashtag to share their best ideas. 
  • To everyone that completed this survey 6 months ago which helped us develop the event concept. 
  • All the vendors/suppliers that helped do the printing, design, sales, chairs, insurance, and much more. 
  • To everyone that signed up, especially those that decided to bring 4 of their colleagues. 
  • To all of you for your interesting, advice, and attention. I feel this event is the culmination of what we've been working on for many years. 

Going forward we hope to host two major events in year, one in Europe and one in the USA. We hope to see many more of you in the months ahead. 

We can't wait to see many of you in person this week. It's time to SPRINT.

Diffusing Member Anger

October 24, 2014Comments Off on Diffusing Member Anger

In any group, people will have problems.

If you're the authority within that group, you're the first stop for problems.

Don't deny the problem exists. Don't apologise (not yet). Don't claim you're doing your best. Don't claim you're covered by guidelines. None of these are helpful.

Just focus on clarifying the problem. 

Repeat the problem back to them. Literally, tell them the problem they just described in your own words. 

"to make sure I understood this correctly, the problem is ….."

Then ask further questions to clarify the problem. Ask what they want you to do about the problem. Gather as much information as you can. Then go see if you can resolve it. 

The more you try to understand the problem, the less the member feels you're part of the problem. 

You can't diffuse the anger until the other participant feels you've really understood them. Simply by making a genuine effort to understand them, they feel you're on their side.

If I knew this tactic 10 years ago, I would've saved myself plenty of anguish. 

The 4Chan/StackExchange Continuum

October 23, 2014Comments Off on The 4Chan/StackExchange Continuum

Imagine moderation on a continuum.

At one extreme is 4Chan.

4Chan allows pretty much everything that won't get Chris arrested. They wipe their database of conversations every night. 

As a result they get a lot of activity. Most of it is gibberish. A large quantity is pornographic. Yet the sheer quantity of that gibberish creates a powerful sense of community and widespread cultural influence (in memes).

At the other extreme is StackExchange.

StackExchange has a strict moderation policy that aims to generate the single best response to any discussion. They want facts not opinions. You can't ask 'What is the best widget?.' That's too subjective. Who defines best? You can ask if Widget {x} has more ZZ Bits than Widget {y}. That's informative and facilitates information – not opinions. 

As a result, StackExchange greatly restricts the sense of community but gets high quality discussions. 

Both of these moderation approaches are powerful positioning statements. They attract a specific type of audience. They facilitate a certain type of discussions. 

Most communities fall somewhere in the middle. They allow some off-topic and casual chatter, but not too much. They allow some bad language, but not much. They allow some debate, but restrict intense arguments. 

And if you want an average community without any unique positioning, this is exactly what you should do.

The alternative is to push the community (or create the community) more towards one of the two ends of the continuum. Be clearer about your moderation policy. Use it to set you apart from the crowd. Use it to attract the people you want and facilitate either high quality information exchange or a strong connection between members. 

What Are You Trying To Achieve With A Community Newsletter?

October 22, 2014Comments Off on What Are You Trying To Achieve With A Community Newsletter?

Are you trying to bring non-active members back into the community?

Are you trying to encourage your existing, active, members to be more active? 

Are you trying to build a stronger sense of community among members?

Are you trying to get members to take a specific action? 

Few pointers here. 

First, the newsletter is strategic. You send it out to achieve a specific goal that helps the community. If it doesn't help, stop sending it. 

The answer to the above will decide who the target audience. Only send the newsletter to that audience. The answer will also determine the content of the newsletter. If you have the time, create multiple newsletters to different audience segments.

Second, pick one big action/story/element to highlight in a post, not a dozen.

Third, you don't have to stick with the same goal for every newsletter. You can rotate them. The rotation might make newsletters refreshing. However, every newsletter needs it's own specific goal. 


The Core Components Of A Compelling Community Narrative

October 21, 2014Comments Off on The Core Components Of A Compelling Community Narrative

One art of building a community is creating a powerful, shared, narrative.

Note the key part of that story, shared. If members don't share that narrative, it's just another story. A story about the community that doesn't represent the community might repulse existing members. 

You can't arbitrarily create a narrative in a word document and expect the community to accept it. 

A history already exists. You can't change the past (although you can change the future to create a more compelling narrative). However, you can choose what to include, what to exclude, and how to structure the history. 

Your goal (in writing down the narrative) is to structure the history in a way that's compelling to members. If you do this well, members will read, accept, and share this narrative with others. 

There are several core components to a great community narratives.  

1) The founding story. This is your origin myth. In your founding story you need to celebrate the founder, highlight the previous reality and the new reality the founder tried to create. This often follows the hero's journey. The founder has unique qualities which led to them to try to create something new. 

The Pixar format works well here. You can usually find the founding stories of any group. Here is Pinterest'sUber's, and Airbnb's.

The story has to be interesting to read. End every paragraph leaving the reader dying to know what happens next. It should reflect truth, but embellishments can be useful. It needs to be short too. 

This is why it's important for a community to seem created not by a company but either by a) an audience member and supported by the organisation or b) a member of the company (let's call this the Robert Scoble/Rand Fishkin approach). Every community founded by a clear individual (or group of named individuals) is stronger than a community without a clear founder. 

2) The small group story. Next come the early followers. Who were the first members to join, how did they join, what was unique about these initial disciples. Think of these as the co-founder of the community.

It's good to put them into the history of the community. Highlight how their unique experiences, characteristics, or assets were useful to the community early on. Around 5 to 8 members tend to be good to mention at this stage. 

3) The early victory story. Now you need an enemy, an early threat to your small group's existence, or a challenge your community overcame very early on. This spurs future efforts to succeed.

You need something your group achieved early to unite them. This might be a member that was helped, a problem that was resolved, an event they was attended. Every social group needs an early victory to create a sense of shared history. 

You don't just need one of these, you can have several. The challenge is to ensure you have at least one. Make sure that there is a clear closure (new reality created) as a result of each victory story. 

4) The momentum story. Now you need the momentum story. People only join groups that appear successful and will increase their own self-concept. You need to highlight what the group is working towards achieving now. How is this momentum being sustained? What are the challenges that must be overcome? How can members help you overcome those challenges? 

A community narrative should be epic, exciting, and fun to read. Newcomers should be guided towards reading the community narrative and indoctrinated in the narrative upon joining the group. 

The narrative creates a separation of your community members from mainstream society. It gives members something to believe in, something to fight for, something they provides meaning in their own lives. People need to justify why they're spending so much time in a community, a narrative helps achieve that. 

Better yet, narratives helps newcomers identify their own role within the community's future. This drives further activity a far stronger sense of community 

You can include quotes and stories from members in the narrative. The more mentions of individual members the better. You can include pictures, stories, and a list of in-jokes/references that will help members make sense of the community. 

It's important in your own communications with members to subtly refer to different elements in the community narrative. 

A narrative is a powerful tool that unites communities. It creates shared experiences, establishes agreed norms, and helps us make sense of the context/content of current actions. Narratives created shared symbols, shared history, and the perception of continued progress. 

The Endless Quest For More Activity Is Killing Our Communities

October 20, 2014 Comments Off on The Endless Quest For More Activity Is Killing Our Communities

For just over a year now, I've spoken to community professionals who bristle at the same problem.

The way we make decisions for our community is wrong.

We make decisions that will increase activity in a community.

We're measured by our success in increasing activity (or member counts).

If we succeed, we have a very active platform. But a very active platform isn't a community. You don't get the benefits that a community provides.

In fact, many of the actions we take to increase activity destroy the sense of community. 

Community professionals build communities

We are community professionals. Our goal is to create communities. We need to stop making decisions that will increase activity and starting make decisions that will increase the sense of community. Sometimes we get lucky. The two are closely correlated.

Communities aren't highly active platforms. The're not technology, they're not cost savings, they're not even people.

They're the psychological feeling that people believe they are part of a community. We often need to do things that seem strange to develop that sense of community. We might reduce the focus of the community, create strong boundaries to joining, celebrate a minor member milestone, participate in seemingly silly social events. 

But, every single one of these actions, is carefully considered to create a stronger sense of community. 

Too often we push too hard on activity and forget what we're trying to do is get people to feel a sense of community.

Creating this sense of community helps us achieve goals. Those goals include knowledge exchange, social capital, customer loyalty, better collaboration, and cost reductions. 

Every single decision and action you take in your community should be designed to increase the sense of community that members feel with one another.

This will usually mean it answers positively to one of the following questions: 


1) Will this decision make boundaries between insiders/outsiders more visible?

2) Will this decision make people feel safer voicing their emotions on a topic?

3) Will this decision increase the sense of belonging and identification with the group?

4) Will this decision encourage people to invest more (time, energy, and emotions) within the community?

5) Will this decision help spread a common symbol system?


1) Will this decision give members more influence within the group (i.e. to make things happen?)

2) Will this decision help the group achieve goals external to the group? (group efficacy)

Integration and fulfillment of needs

1) Will this decision allow members to achieve a higher status within their community?

2) Will this decision give members a better sense of belonging (i.e. not feeling alone), explore a topic with others like them, support one another through unique circumstances, or allow them to achieve things they can't alone? 

Shared emotional connection

1) Will this decision increase the frequency of contact and familiarity between members?

2) Will this decision improve the quality of contact (i.e. move the contact up the hiearchy of communication

3) Will this decision give close to previous shared activities between members?

4) Will this decision help establish or reinforce agreed group norms? (i.e. not your norms enforced upon a group)

There are two follow-up questions to every positive answer. "How will it achieve this?" and "is there any better way of achieving this?" (better = cheaper, faster, more reliable, more effective.)

Using this framework

The difference in using this framework is you often forgo increased activity in favour of developing a stronger sense of community

A gamification system might increase activity, but no-one has shown it linked to creating a stronger sense of community (it might even do the opposite). 

Paying a six-figure sum for an expensive, good-looking, platform might increase activity. However, imagine you used that money to directly help your members (or the community) achieve it's goal (it's reason for existing). That would create an incredible sense of shared success that no platform change would ever match.

We need to embed the notion of sense of community deep within our decision making process. Will the actions we take in our community today lead to a stronger sense of community? 

More importantly, we need to measure our success by improving the sense of community (using a quarterly/bi-annual survey – SCI2) and not via the activity metrics. Activity is good. Lots of activity might be really good. But it might also be a complete waste of time if it doesn't also entail a stronger sense of community. 

It's an urgent problem

Organisations are wasting thousands, often millions, on tactics designed to increase activity in a community. They're spending months panicking about how to increase activity and ignoring the fundamental thing that reliably does increase activity (a stronger sense of community). 

They don't see the ROI of their efforts and think it's because they don't have enough activity. This is almost never the case. The reason a positive ROI isn't achieve is because you've got a lot of activity but a more limited sense of community. 

This then creates the belief that communities themselves don't work. That, maybe, communities don't generate a positive ROI. This couldn't be further from the truth. The truth is communities do generate an incredible ROI, they just haven't developed one yet. 

If we could do one thing better right now, it's to align all our efforts to creating a stronger sense of community in every group to which we're a member and stop endlessly trying to boost activity.

The Optimization Trap

October 17, 2014Comments Off on The Optimization Trap

Picture the newcomer to regular process as a conversion funnel.

You can optimize every stage of it. 

Awareness > Visit > Browse > Registration > Confirmation e-mail > Confirmation > First contribution.

I once hired someone with a great copywriting background to look at a client’s newcomer to regular conversion funnel. He would be paid a fixed amount for every % he increased that funnel by (without reducing traffic).

He did a terrific job. He reduced the churn and increased the number of people making a first contribution by a double-digit percentage.

Can you guess how he did it?

By asking questions and offering incentives.

He provoked curiosity to visit the next page. He reduced the number of places a prospective member could click, and effectively deployed the many great tools of the copywriting trade. 

But participation dropped. More people made a first contribution, but far fewer made a second.

When challenged to get members to 10 contributions, he wasn't able to do it. 

There is a right and wrong way to optimize the conversion funnel. The right way is to align the benefit with a specific motivation and balance the need to optimize each stage of the process with the long-term need to socialize members in the community.

The wrong way is to offer short-term rewards for participation. This is why split a/b testing rarely works well for communities. The same tools you use to get people to click on the next page are often the antithesis to getting members to become regular, active, members. 

Be careful about optimizing. You may get better results (at least for limited, short-term, participation), but it might perform worse over the long-term. 

The Hierarchy of Communications

October 16, 2014Comments Off on The Hierarchy of Communications

If members can only interact via the platform, it will take far longer to develop the community.

This is because the level of social presence (awareness of an intelligent other) in the discussions are low.

See the hierarchy of communication mediums below (1 is highest).

  1. Members communicate in person.
  2. Members communicate by phone.
  3. Members communicate by voice-chat.
  4. Members communicate in IM/SMS.
  5. Members communicate in chat-rooms.
  6. Members communicate by social networks.
  7. Members communicate via Twitter.
  8. Members communicate by forums.
  9. Members communicate by blog posts/videos/UGC.

Notice that forums, videos, and blog posts rank last. You have no idea if and when anybody will respond. This is a big problem. By driving and confining communication to a platform we're deeply restricting the ability of people to feel a sense of community with one another. 

It can happen, sure, but it takes much longer. 

We want our members to interact in mediums with the highest levels of social presence. As a general rule, the more real-time the better. Here are some simple tips:

1) Create a list of your members' Twitter accounts and encourage members to add their own twitter account and follow other members. Introduce a hashtag and encourage interaction via Twitter. Live discussions also work well here.

2) Add community members as FB friends. Host an event and send out an invite via Facebook. Ask members to add people they met as friends on Facebook. Let members invite others they are friends with to attend the event.

3) Host regular, live, chat sessions to discuss a common problem. Use a time-limited chat-room format. Alternatively, simple use a Twitter hashtag. You can do this once per week. 

4) Create a large number of small groups on WhatsApp. Make these groups problem orientated, local in nature, or simply sharing a commonality. Build lots of these sub-groups. Skype groups, Telegraph and many other tools work well here.

5) Have calls with members. Personally try to schedule calls with members. The more calls you have, the closer bonds you have with each member of the community. Send an invite to 8 members who participated in a discussion to join a skype call about the issue. 

6) Faciliate offline events. If your company has a few hundred dollars to spare per month, put it behind a bar in a different city each month and encourage members there to meet up. Host one annual gathering per year for all members. 

You want to drive your members up the hierarchy of communication. This increases the sense of community they feel with one another. Better yet, it makes the community resiliant to platform changes (or downtime) and encourages members to particiapte through ever newer communication tools. 

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