Month: November 2014
The best traditions begin small.
They are things members, perhaps just 2 to 3, were doing anyway.
Over time they become convention. More people join in.
Soon they are accepted and adopted by the entire group.
If you're looking to start traditions in any group, look to see what people are already doing and highlight it in your content posts, newsletters, and more.
Help make it a regular occurence. Gradually promote it.
Karen writes about #DroughtShaming (a hashtag created to shame people that waste water):
"Drought shaming and other attempts at informal social control rely on social interaction, specifically our desire to seek the approval of others. If we don’t particularly care if others like us or approve of us we might not alter our behavior."
Do you allow public shaming of members (or non-members) who violate rules (both written and unwritten)?
If you do, you risk allowing public spats that can dominate all group discussion.
If you don't, the community can't enforce social norms upon members. This is a key factor in group cohesion. Members won't adopt social norms without consequence. Without social norms, group cohesion dies.
I'd suggest allow shaming (condemnation) with strong evidence (and a single, published, right of reply). Otherwise keep it to private messages between members.
As per the previous post, there is a big difference between building a community where there is a large, existing, ecosystem and one when there isn't.
In a large existing ecosystem, you usually need to work with the key actors in the network to gain their support. Your power and vision is tempered by the demands of these actors.
It might mean changing your vision to co-opt new influencers are they rise in importance.
This can seem frustrating (isn't working with people always?)
Wouldn't it be better if there wasn't a strong ecosystem? Sometimes, perhaps.
You can build from scratch and be that key influencer. You don't have to bow to the needs of key influencers.
The problem here is the trend towards being authoritarian and rigid in your view. The temptation is to shut down newcomers and new ideas instead of including and promoting them.
You might, for example, have a clever and unique idea for a community that explodes to life. You might even be able to pick and avoid the right trends to keep your community relevant. Sooner or later, however, your luck is likely to run out.
You might miss one big trend. This leaves the door wide open for new, rival, communities to emerge (as we've seen countless examples of before). Within a year, possibly months, your community is outdated.
If there is an existing ecosystem, work to build an inclusive, representative, community with shared power.
If there isn't an existing ecosystem, you can build one. But then help those rising in the ecosystem to have real role in the running of the group.
It might come as a shock when existing influencers and leaders within your topic's ecosystem don't join and support your noble community efforts.
It's easy to understand.
If you're an influencer, it's likely the existing ecosystem works well for you.
Every new entrant is perceived as a threat to your power (power is perceived as a zero sum game).
You don't want to change the status quo if you benefit from the status quo. You don't want to help support others that might reduce your power.
This is why many sectors are dominated by a tiny group of highly influential people who support one another to maintain the status quo. Outsiders are challenged and denounced. Outsiders usually need to break through without their support.
Of course, you can ignore the influencers and build your own audience from scratch. Once you become big enough, they'll help you in the hope you reciprocate.
Or you can engage the existing influencers in a piecemeal way. You can interview them, offer them guest posts, and offer them a chance to use the community for further publicity. They might link to you and given you token support. But they won't do this until your community is important enough to make it worth their time.
The better solution is to offer them real power in the community – perhaps more power than you. You have to stitch together a network from the existing key actors within the ecosystem for the community to succeed.
This means giving them a real role in how the community is run – not token efforts.
You have to approach them with an offer of more power, not less. At times they will do something that you disagree with – that's the nature of community building. You get the joy of building it, but not authoritarian control.
There are two common ways to build a thriving community.
The first is to begin with a huge audience and promote heavily to build a core, small, group.
The second is to begin with a very small, very passionate, audience. It helps to have both, but this is rare.
Most big organizations take the first option. They have big mailing lists with millions of members. There will usually be a few hundred die-hard members in the group to get the community started. Most customer service channels work well here.
Most amateurs rely on their existing relationships/passionate followings. They launch the community with their friends/relatives/existing connections and grow from there.
Both approaches can work fine (and often yield similar numbers). But it’s very hard to launch a community with neither a big audience or a strong, passionate, following.
Predicting The Conversion Rate Of Big Audiences Into Active Members
A common misconception is the conversion rates of big numbers.
Audiences of millions quickly become communities of hundreds. Using a few rules of thumb, we can estimate the conversion rates of big audiences.
The conversion rate is influenced by 3 factors; size of existing audience, strength of relationships/reputation with that audience, and existing competitors.
What % Of Your Total Combined Audience Will See Your Messages?
Most of the members in your audience can't be reached. First, we need to establish the real reach you have among your audience. Here's a few rules of thumb, it will vary by audience.
- Facebook Fans * 0.05 (few people see the updates)
- LinkedIn connections * 0.01 (even fewer see the updates)
- Twitter connections * 0.01 (noisy)
- Mailing list * 0.15 (or open rates)
- Other channels * 0.15
- Web traffic * 0.05
- Personal connections * 0.5
Multiply this figure by 0.25 to account for overlapping audiences (e.g. usually the people on your Facebook fans are those from your mailing lists etc…).
For example, imagine you have
- 10,000 FB fans (10000 * 0.05 = 500)
- 7000 LinkedIn connections (7000 * 0.01 = 70)
- 20,000 Twitter followers (20000 * 0.01 = 200)
- 50,000 members on your mailing list (50000 * 0.15 = 7500)
- 7,000 people through other channels (Slideshare, YouTube etc…) = (7000 * 0.15 = 1050)
- 2000 web visitors (200 * 0.05 = 100)
Thus from the initial figure of 96000 you would be able to reach 2355 (9420 * 0.25).
That means just 2.5% of your total audience will even see the messages you send out (if you want to skip the maths, this isn't a bad rule of thumb to use).
But how many will actually respond or take action?
Whether they respond to your message depends both on the content of the message itself and the strength of relationships with this audience.
If the e-mail is good, assume 5% of the figure above will respond to your message. This varies based upon the quality of relationships you have with them, but 5% would be ok.
This gives you just 118 people (2355 * 0.05) to get the community started.
That's 0.12% of your original total combined audience
(again, not a bad figure to use if you want to skip the maths)
Will They Take Action? 3 Questions To Ask
Whether these 118 people will participate depends upon you, your company, and the community concept.
A passionate fanbase that loves you is clearly better than a customer list you’ve been sending discount offers to for years. Tim Ferriss is a great example of someone who can launch a thriving community in minutes.
If the audience loves the community manager, is passionate about their mission, and wants to associate themselves with the founder, they’re more likely to join and quickly participate. This varies by sector. B2C companies tend to do badly. Niche, focused, fields tend to do well.
1) Do they know and like you personally? Do you have a good reputation? I don’t have data here, but I’d guess 30% of strength is determined by your reputation.
2) Do they know and like your company and your company’s mission? I suspect this accounts for around 20% of whether people join and participate.
3) Does the community concept personify what they’re looking for? We have a detailed model for this. I’d estimate it accounts for around 50% of whether they join and participate.
Even if all these are really strong, only around 50% will become active members.
The rest are lost to a variety of factors you can't control (e.g. too busy).
This drops your figure of 118 to just 59.
Typically, the community manager isn’t well known (5/30), the organization is well known (15/20), and the concept varies – but let’s assumes 25/50.
This means 45% or 23 people will become regular active participants in the community initially. That's 0.02% of your initial reach.
The third factor is existing competitors. If there is an existing community in your sector, it’s far harder to persuade people to spend time in your community. Why join yours and not your existing competitor communities?
The crucial question isn’t whether you have competitors; it’s what % of the above figure participates in the competitor’s community. If it’s 1 in 20, that’s not a big concern. If it’s 1 in 2, that’s much more difficult to overcome. Your community has to be the only community of its kind.
Let’s assume 10% of the above audience participates in a competitor community. This leaves you with 21 active members.
How many People Do You Need To Start A Community?
Now you stumble across the big problem. Reaching critical mass usually requires at least 50 actively participating members. This sustains a high level of activity, lets members feel efficacy of impact, and is responsive enough to sustain activity.
For customer service channels, this will be easier. You can guide all members with a problem to the community to get answers. For others, it's a bigger challenge.
In this scenario (and this is the most common one) you simply don’t have the numbers to reach critical mass.
Of course, you could send out multiple messages to the audiences above to bring more people in, but the reach factors rapidly degrade by around 50% for each subsequent push.
To reach critical mass, you either need a bigger or more passionate audience.
The Core Challenge Is To Reach a >50 To Launch The Community
This is the core challenge that many organizations face when launching a community.
They simply don’t have a big enough or passionate enough audience to make a community succeed. There are all broad figures. I’ve tried to average most of the company’s that have approached us.
Our feedback is usually the same. Use the CHIP process (create content, host activities, interact with others directly, and participate in existing groups) to increase your audience size and your own reputation until the numbers are >50.
Community building begins long before you launch a platform.
It begins with building an audience that is willing to listen to you.
Everything else is easy if you have a big enough size or passionate enough members
Two-factor authentication will soon become the norm.
Almost every large organisation (with at least one competent security professional) we work with will now only use a platform with two-factor authentication.
Here's a simple explanation.
Authentication (checking you're the right person to be accessing the community) can be done by three factors:
1) Knowledge – Something the user knows (e.g. a username/password)
2) Possession – Something the user has (e.g. a mobile phone/bank card)
3) Inherence – Something the user is (e.g. biometrics – fingerprint/voice/retina)
In the UK, banks require people to use both a username/password and a chip and pin to login. Online communities are heading the same way.
For example, a member might have their e-mail hacked. The hacker then uses the 'forgot my password' feature to gain access to dozens of communities (more if the user is foolish enough to use the same password for every feature) and wreak havoc.
Two-factor authentication stops this by sending a code to the member's phone to change or retrieve the password.
Likewise, a hacker might retrieve a member's password and attempt to access the community from a new IP/device. Two-factor authentication can send a code to the member's phone to validate this is the real person.
Salesforce, Google, iCloud, Dropbox, Facebook and others offer two-factor authentication (you should turn it on).
Until biometrics (voice recognition software) improves, the best systems will require both a username/password and a mobile phone to access the community from a new location/device or retrieve the password.
This won't stop the top 1% of hackers getting in. It will stop the other 99%.
If you're not sure how or if you can implement this, I'd begin hassling your platform provider for it.
If you're a platform provider, I'd make this a priority.
A few months ago, I was honoured to speak at Moz's incredible Inbound Marketing Conference.
I learned more from this conference than any other I've been to.
They have just released their video bundle, you can buy 17 hours of footage from terrific speakers for $399. I recommend it.
You can watch my talk below:
If you're trying to get a community to take action, make sure the action is something members will enjoy.
Telling members to sign petitions, write letters to their politicians, stand in the cold and shout at people entering shops aren't tactics people will enjoy.
It's hard to get people to take action, if the action is something we don't want to do.
You can ask members to give you feedback, or you can ask them to tell you the one thing they dislike about your products. You can ask them to pretend they're the CEO, what would they change on their first day?
If you give it a little thought, you can make almost any tactic more enjoyable.
The best actions are the ones that you members will enjoy.
When a member joins your community, they're giving you power.
The more people in your community, the more power you have.
That power might mean more money, more prestige, greater efficacy, bargaining rights etc…
Members don't mind you benefitting from their participation - as long as they feel you have their best interests at heart first.
They leave if they feel they're being used.
In fact, they don't even join if they feel it's a marketing ploy.
Trust in almost all institutions is shockingly low. It's hard to overcome this trust gap.
If members don't believe your motives are sincere (often personally you, not your organisation), they don't join or participate.
Read The Guardian's membership announcement. You can now become a member of the Guardian. The article notes readers would happily give the Guardian money to be members.
Does that sound like The Guardian has sincere, honest, motives?
Members might not mind paying but they don't want to feel monetized. They want to feel the Guardian is supporting them to achieve their goals, not vice-versa.
Visit Netropolitan, a homepage so bad it might be a spoof. Do you feel the nameless founder has the best interests of his prospective audience at heart? Do you feel the exclusive, rich, audience they're targeting is going to trust this site?
There are three key elements here:
1) Have a named founder (or founders). It's easier to trust a person than an institution. Ensure your community is founded by a named person who can explain their motivations for starting the community on behalf of their organisation. The more the founder is known, respected, and connected to prospective members before launching the community, the easier it will be.
2) Explain your motives to members. Explain clearly how you benefit from hosting and running the community. Don't be coy here. Be direct about why you're doing this. Don't let members' suspicions run wild. Better yet, explain how you only get what you want from ensuring members get what they want.
3) Ensure your actions match your stated motivations. Prune your own social media posts for any possible action/comment that could expose you as a hypocrite. Always act true to your motivations. Moz's Rand Fishkin is the best example I've seen here. Don't become affiliated within any group that would make it impossible to work with any other group in your sector.
This advice runs contrary to the majority of branded communities. Yet, it's exactly what community shows to work.
Right now, most communities founded by organisations fail. Communities founded by amateurs succeed. We trust the motives of amateurs more. We're willing to help them become successful because they're helping us succeed.
The challenging facing most organisations is to find the right person they can help (and maybe hire) to found their community. If you have an existing community, be clear about who started it and why.
- How to optimize and design a community platform.
- How to increase activity in a community.
- How to promote or grow membership in a community.
- How to get employees to join and participate.
- How to master psychology behind community participation.
- How to measure the health and ROI of a community (in metrics!)
- How to launch a community from scratch.
- How to manage a community with a limited budget.
There is a lot of advice about building communities online.
Much of it won't apply to you because you use a different definition of community than the person giving the advice.
As community professionals, we tend hold many different definitions which broadly fall under three distinct categories. These are:
1) The Common Interest Definition
The first is the common interest definition. It’s a community when people share a common interest. If I’m interested in Game of Thrones, then I’m automatically a member of this community. I’m a stakeholder, and thus a member, regardless if I actively participate in any specific place.
You hear this in the news. “The LGBT community thinks….” or “the cyber-security community is concerned about…”. The media isn’t referring to some specific, identifiable, group of people. They’re referring to people that share a common interest.
When people talk about Obama’s online community, they’re typically talking about the interest-layer level. A lot of people discussing their start-up communities also usually fall into this category.
A variant of this is the sense of community definition. Here it's a community if it's members feel they are a part of that community. It doesn't matter if they participate in a specific place.
2) The Specific Place Definition
The second is the common interest + interact online definition.
Here the community label is applied to any group of people that interact around their common interest in a specific, visible, place.
The tool doesn’t matter. Forums can be a community, blogs can be a community, Facebook groups can be a community, 10 people in a local hall can be a community.
At this level, comments on news websites, customer service channels, and more are considered a community. Those that post comments on the HuffingtonPost, for example, are considered a community here. Those that participate in customer service channels are a community by this definition.
3) The Relationships Definition
The third category is common interest + specific place + relationships definition.
At this level, members need not just a common interest and a place where they interact, but they need to develop relationships with one another to count as a community.
FeverBee uses this definition. We believe communities need a final distinguishing feature to separate online audiences from crowds, mobs, and other types of social interacts.
Short-term transactional communities (i.e. places where people interact without developing relationships don’t qualify). This disqualifies lots of busy online platforms. Those that post comments on blogs or on news stories usually don’t count, for example.
What Works Depends On What Definition You Use
What works to create a movement like Obama’s is different from work works to facilitate a lot of blog comments on news stories, which is different from what works to build communities that foster genuine relationships.
If the advice you're getting isn't working for you, it's probably because the you and the sender hold two different definitions of community. Ideally, we would distinguish between the levels using crowds, audiences, mobs, etc…but these terms are less appealing than community.
For now, the challenge when looking for advice is to find people that hold the same definition of community as yourself.
Trolls need two things:
1) Anonymity. It's hard to be a troll if your real-world friends might find out what you're doing. To prevent trolling in gaming communities, I've contacted ISPs, employers, friends/families to suggest their colleague/son/student stop (it's quite effective).
2) Isolation. It's hard to troll people you like. A study from Wi and Lee notes those that gain high standing within a trolling community are less willing to to go extremes. Those more isolated, troll more.
One trolling community, Wi and Lee note, bans use of nicknames and hanging out in the forums. Nicknames and building connections reduces trolling (which is the goal of a trolling community).
Think 4Chan here. You have no way of really knowing who else is a member. You're anonymous and isolated.
We can apply the opposite to help reduce trolling. Reduce anonymity (not to be confused with pseudonymity). Require use of a consistent identity within the community.
Force early connections. When someone joins the community, force early connection with other members. Encourage the off-topic discussions. Try to build early, strong, connections to other members in the community.