Month: June 2015

Structuring Calls To Action Within A Community

June 30, 2015Comments Off on Structuring Calls To Action Within A Community

When registered members visit your community landing page, what do you ask them to do? 

You can choose between four positive behaviours. 

1) Ask a question to get help on a problem (ask)

2) Answer questions (help)

3) Share advice/expertise (publish)

4) Find/consume information (find)

You want members to ask, help, publish, and find value. 

This often matches the stage of the lifecycle too. 

In the inception stage, asking for help is the key behaviour. In the establishment, getting responses from the right people is key. In the maturity stage, you need people to publish knowledge without prompting. Finally, at its peak, you want members to quickly find the information they need 


Key Elements of A Call To Action

A call to action has to cover three things:

1) What should the member do? (ask, help, publish, search)

2) Why should the member do it? (solve problem, help others, explore passion, build status)

3) When should the member do it? (right now, today, this week, when I have a problem, when you have a problem)

You only have 2 to 3 words to convey this action in a button.


The words you use matter:

Facebook, for example, uses "what's on your mind?

Screenshot 2015-06-29 09.52.38

Twitter uses a similar "what's happening?"

Screenshot 2015-06-29 09.53.33

StackOverflow offers several options. I suspect this is less effective than selecting a single behaviour to change. 

Screenshot 2015-06-29 21.56.32

NextDoor uses a combination of options (but guides the specific type of posts they want)

Screenshot 2015-06-29 21.57.46


Autodesk offers several calls to action, but they're harder to find. 

Search for information is most important, followed by asking for help. 

Screenshot 2015-06-29 22.01.45

Your community should have a clear call to action better than start a discussion, create topic, or even ask a question. 

The call to action must personify the action, motivation, and urgency necessary to get members to participate.


How To Create A Call To Action

A call to action appears as a button that appears prominently on the landing page that you want members to click. You train members in the behaviour

For example, let's imagine you're not getting enough questions, you need to train members to ask more questions.

One way is to put a call to action on the landing page of that community. This can be a simple button members click to take them to a place to 'post' a question. 

How you describe that button matters a lot. You only get 2 to 3 words. 

A few examples might be:

  • "Ask a question" (action, but no motivation/urgency)
  • "Get help" (motivation/urgency, but no action)
  • "Ask {communityname}" (action, motivation, no urgency)
  • "Ask for help" (action, motivation, and urgency)
  • "Post challenge" (action, motivation, urgency)
  • "Post your problems" (action, motivation, urgency)

You're training members here to ask a question whenever they're facing a problem they want solved. 


Calls to Action To Solicit More Expertise

You might want advice shared regardless if problems are posted. This occurs in communities dedicated to learning more about the topic and exploring new/related fields.

You will notice the very minutia of the words you use matter a lot. Most use 'give, share, or publish'. The connotations of 'publish' are usually strong. 

  • "Give advice" (not clear on the action, motivation, or urgency)
  • "Publish tip/advice" (action, motivation, urgency)
  • "Share advice" (action, urgency, no motivation)
  • "Give/share latest research"
  • "Publish a tip" (publish might be stronger than post)
  • "Post success story" (this trains people when to post. 

You have no shortage of words you can use at this stage. Creativity is useful too. 

Even better, have an open box with the option: "What are you struggling with this week?".

Now you're training members to post their questions to the community every week



Create a call to action that appears at the top right of the landing page for registered members of your community.

Decide if you need more members to ask questions, more members to reply to questions, or more members to share advice.

Use simple wording that describes the action, motivation, and urgency to participate now. 

An Abundance Of People With Questions

June 29, 2015Comments Off on An Abundance Of People With Questions

Most communities are matchmaking sites.

You're trying to match someone with a problem to someone who knows the solution. 

There's a critical mass about these things. You need the abundance of one side to attract the other. And that's the secret here. You should target and appeal to one side. One side will attract the other. 

If we have a question about programming, we go to a community where developers gather. We tend to recruit developers and programmers from these communities too. The paid work opportunities attracts more developers and programmers. 

StackExchange also thrives on this model. ModeyMayhem began by appealing to models. This attracted the photographers. The photographers attracted more models etc…

Don't try to appeal to both sides. Pick one and design the concept to appeal to them. 

Referral Fee

June 27, 2015Comments Off on Referral Fee

An important question to ask anyone helping you build a community:

"Do you get a referral fee if we buy from the vendor you recommend?"

And if you want to be trusted, disclose the answer before you're asked the question. 

Reasoning With Members

June 25, 2015Comments Off on Reasoning With Members

We justify our actions to ourselves using a scale of moral reasoning. We broadly like to think we're taking any action for a greater good. 

However, we're surprisingly open to being given a rationale for our actions. 

If someone tells you you're taking an action because it supports the community, you're very likely to believe it. 

If you're trying to get members to start or stop taking actions, the rationale you give them has a big impact upon their level of participation. 

Here's a quick diagram:


Too often we assume the worst from members.

We focus our appeals to start/stop engaging in a behaviour at the individual level. This has several implications. We get selfish behaviour. We limit the level of commitment to the group. 

For example, threatening to remove a member unless they behave is far less effective than telling the member that it's hurting the community or causing you problems. 

Asking members to take an action to improve their reputation or help an individual isn't as effective as asking them to take an action because it helps the group. 

If you want behaviour that helps the group, use reasoning that supports the group. 

Add Status Signifier Fields To Every Member Profile

June 24, 2015Comments Off on Add Status Signifier Fields To Every Member Profile

Profiles aren’t reflections of who we are, profiles are reflections of how we want to be seen by members of the group. 

Profiles contain signifiers. These are traits we believe the group values. The more signifiers we display and the bigger/better/more valued the signifier is, the more we’re both accepted and achieve status within the group.

A few examples:

  • In a community of music fans, the number of live events might be the status symbol.
  • Among hipsters it might be the length of the beard.
  • Among CEOs, it might be books published or revenue generated.
  • Among local residents, the area they live in, time spent in the town, or services performed for the community.
  • Among parents, it might be combined age of children. 
  • Among employees, it might be length of time at the company.
  • Among dieters, it might be before and after photos.

Yet, this is too simplistic. We change our signifiers depending upon which sub-group we want to impress at any given time.

Newcomers to the community space might like to display the size of the community they manage or the number of communities managed.  Veterans might like to display the job title/role they have had at top brands. E.g. Head of Community, Apple. They might display the number of years working in the field. Each signifier appeals to a different group we’re either trying to gain acceptance from or trying to achieve status within.

Others might like to highlight the events they’ve spoken at or books published.

If that’s the case, have a member profile field for members to list what events they’ve spoken at.  This is the key to doing member profiles really well. Identify the traits members’ value (they’re usually displayed in the ‘about’ section) and turn them into specific fields to showcase value.

Make it as easy as possible for members to display the status symbols of the group.

You want to remove the general about information and replace it with signifier fields. This allows newcomers to quickly understand what traits the group values. As a result, they begin to display those traits. This tightens the group and spurs more activity. 

A Strategic Approach To Participating In A Community

June 23, 2015Comments Off on A Strategic Approach To Participating In A Community

You should participate in a community to gain influence. 

Influence isn't your direct authority. Influence is your ability to make things happen. When you ask members to take action, they take the action. That's a valuable skill to acquire. 

There are four broad pathways to influence summarised below:

Influence.001Path 1) Be likeable and charismatic.

You can avoid criticism and complaints. Use positive language. Inject energy and happiness into discussions. Frequently contact members to get the latest updates on their news. Be the person that initiates fun activities, brings in the in-jokes, makes members glad to be around you. 

Path 2) Create reciprocity cycles.

If you help people, they'll help you in the future. Contact your members and identify their challenges. Send through news items, make introductions, and offer frequent support and advice to help them. Don't ask for anything in return. Build up as many of these cycles as you have the time. 

Path 3) Be the expert (or the most talented)

Participate less, but make every contribution a valuable one. Add unique expertise or perspectives to every post. Summarise the latest trends or discussions from the top experts. Read the latest books on the topic. Go beyond the cutting edge of what members are doing and report back. 

Path 4) Leverage connections.

The better your social capital, the more influence you have. This comes in two forms. Strong relationships with key members in your sector. Weaker relationships with as many community members as possible. You can build strong relationships by playing to the influencers' egos. Interview them, invite them to host a webinar for your audience, flatter them. You can build weaker connections by being an active host of regular events/activities. Everyone knows who you are. You can travel and arrange as many coffee meetings with members as possible. 

You might be thinking, can't I do all 4? Only if you want to do all 4 badly. 

Those that try to take on more than one usually do none of them well. To gain influence you have to pick one of these paths and focus solely upon it. Likability is most common but least reliable. Reciprocity is most reliable but the most effort (and takes the longest). Expertise is the most difficult and competitive. Leveraging connections may be the easiest but least effective. 

Activity For The Sake Of Activity

June 22, 2015Comments Off on Activity For The Sake Of Activity

Interviewing a member who doesn't have anything interesting to say is a waste of time for you, the member, and the reader. 

If you're going to do an interview, it should be with someone who will share and summarise expertise, introduce new viewpoints/perspectives, or disclose a remarkable piece of information. 

Hosting a live discussion without something interesting to discuss is just as futile. If you can't get the right people to attend or you don't have an urgent topic that needs to be discussed, don't host a live discussion. 

It's very easy to create an entire calendar of actions you will take. It's much harder to make each of them earn their place on that calendar. 

Given the choice between posting a dull interview or letting a day pass without fresh content always pick the latter. 

Trolls Don’t Go To 4Chan

June 19, 2015Comments Off on Trolls Don’t Go To 4Chan

The best way to attract trolls is to declare war on trolls. 

Can you imagine a more tempting target? 

Declaring yourself a troll-free zone may assure existing members you're taking action. But it's going to attract a lot of trolls. 

Deterring trolls isn't a secret. Reduce the impact and increase the cost of trolling. 

The impact includes the reaction from their post. If the post is quickly removed, no-one reacts, and few people know it occurs, the trolling was pointless. Declaring war on trolls is the opposite of this. 

Increasing the cost is an efficiency process. You can approve all member accounts. Only allow newcomers to post in specific places (or make a limited number of posts). You can have members or moderators help one another to remove trolling remarks. Twitter's new approach wasn't bad. You can pursue legal action too. 

Reduce the impact and increase the cost. Pick both. 

Summer Reading for Busy Community Pros

June 18, 2015Comments Off on Summer Reading for Busy Community Pros

I imagine you'll have plenty of time to read this summer.

Here are some favourites from the past year. 

1) Amanda Palmer – The Art of Asking. Look specifically at how she engaged fans, promotes their problems, and create a culture of constantly asking for and receiving help. My favourite book of the year. 

2) Michael Chwe – Rational Ritual. This is a tougher read, but an important concept to understand. We need to create common knowledge among members. This common knowledge helps members to take 

3) Rob Friendman – The Best Place To Work. A terrific and practical overview of self-determination theory and it's application to a workplace. You don't need to make much of a leap to apply this to building a community too. 

4) Matt Lieberman – Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect. A mind-blowing book that covers the science behind social. If you ever want to talk intelligently about how the social parts of the human brain works, read this book. 

5) Olivia Fox-Cabane – The Charisma Myth. If you're not as influential, popular, or success at managing communities or gaining internal buy-in as you think you should be, it's probably not what you're saying – it's how you're saying it. This book has some good tips for being better in person (and online).

Happy summer. 

How to Build a Successful Branded Community Without a Huge Audience, Big Budget, or An Exciting Product

June 16, 2015Comments Off on How to Build a Successful Branded Community Without a Huge Audience, Big Budget, or An Exciting Product

Welcome to the 3rd of 3 frameworks for the month.

You can read the sweet spot and the model for getting people to join and participate first. 

If you just want to see this week's model, click here

It’s time to end the big lie behind successful branded communities.

Most success stories you read about didn't succeed because they organized fun activities for members (nor put members first in some unique way).  They succeeded because they had a huge audience, big budget, lots of support or an innovative product to begin with. 

Reading about ABSI success stories is dangerous. They make us believe it's easier and quicker to build a community than it really is. They make us believe communities grow much bigger than they really do. 

Most of us aren't ABSI. We're NABSI we have no audience, budget, support, or an innovative product to work with. The approach we take to build a community is VERY different from ABSI community professionals.


Years ago, I began researching how most successful communities began.

I summarised this in The Proven Path (free download). The results were curiously similar (and very different from what we typically read). 

The path the overwhelming majority of success communities took is VERY different from the path you read about in 'big brand' success stories

We've conceptualised this into a lifecycle. One that's both practical and useful for developing a community. 

The online community lifecycle


Your first members are people who already know, like, and trust you. A community needs an identifiable founder with existing contacts and genuine motivations for launching a community. You have to go through the CHIP process before starting a community.

Create content, host events/activities, interview key people in the field, and participate in existing groups/communities. You don't even need a platform at this stage, just a few people who can talk somewhere on the internet (e-mail and Facebook groups are fine). 

It’s important here you’re an expert in the topic before you launch a community. You need to know what’s at the exciting edge of the topic, where the clusters exist, what needs aren’t being served.

We created CommunityGeek, for example, for people interested in a scientific approach to building communities.

Sign up (or volunteer) to attend as many events as possible. Interview key people and publish your findings. Participating in existing groups. Have as many coffee meetings with prospective members as possible.

You only need 50 people to get this thing started.

But it takes a full-time effort to get those 50.

This is also why so many non-branded communities succeed. The founder already has a good reputation and contacts through this blog/connections. If you spend just 3 months CHIPping away, you’ll have a big enough chunk of audience to start a community.

Once you have them, you have to find what problem, opportunity, passion, or social need exists which isn’t being served (see the last model for more details here). Begin inviting these people to discuss it (facebook group, e-mail, meetups all work well).

You don’t need to spend any money to do this. You don’t need to do anything except build those relationships for the first 3 months.

Once you’ve got your 50, you can use the next 3 months to establish a clear vision for the group, invite these people to become co-founders of the community, and give them real, meaningful, work to do with responsibilities and autonomy to act how they wish.

You’ve just gotten started. Congratulations.


The next group of members will be friends of friends. These are people your friends tell about the community because they know it’s right for them. That ‘right for them’ means this community is going to be for those that absolutely love the tiny niche your community is focused on.

Your community concept is crucial here. It has to be laser focused and the only community of its kind. Don't make it about the organisation, make it about the topic. Have at least two qualifiers. A community for {x} who do {y}. 

Don’t allow any discussion/content/members who fall outside of the community concept. This community will only grow if its laser focused on satisfies the crazy enthusiasts with unique interests. You want prospective members to think ‘finally, a community for people like me!’.

Exclusivity works well here too. The more narrow-focused the community is on a group of 50 to 500 people, the faster it will grow. You’ll still be directly inviting people, but you should see the community gradually begins to take off itself. More growth will come from organic channels.

This is usually where you’ll develop and launch the community platform. By this point you have enough people who actively want to use the platform (a common mistake when developing a community).

This stage typically takes 6 to 12 months. Your key role is getting the right people to join, creating content to satisfy this growing niche within a niche, organizing activities, and starting to introduce elements that build a powerful sense of community.

These elements include soliciting high levels of self-disclosure, introducing common symbol systems, giving members increasing levels of autonomy, and creating a shared history.


This is where many communities struggle, falter, and die. Moore called the 3rd group the pragmatists.

This group joins for a clear benefit.

 That benefit will be unique advice/expertise or reputation of being a member. In the ultramarathon community for example, regular runners began to join in droves to get expertise they couldn’t get from regular runners.

During this early majority stage it’s important to adjust your messaging to highlight the practical value of the community (unless you want to keep it exclusive/small – which is a valid option) and produce as much material as possible highlighting the practical benefit.

Most of the branded communities fail because they try to begin at this level. They don’t realise that the first members want something new, unique, and exclusive, nor that it’s hard to create a community full of practical advice if you’re the one giving the advice.

You don’t need to create the best expertise, you need to highlight and distribute the best advice shared across your community. You need to adjust your messaging (both on homepage to members/non-members and outbound for promotional purposes) to stress the unique advice/expertise/value of being a member.

In almost every possible sector the hardcore enthusiasts should have unique expertise that interests every other sector. If you get this right, this is a time of sharp growth. You will see increasing numbers of new members joining the community.

A big challenge is ensuring you convert as many of them as possible into active members, hosting off-line activities, and recruiting volunteers to help you run the community.

It’s also only at this stage you should expect to capture value from the community

This is an entire year into the community development process. If you can’t wait this long, might be best not to create a community.

The best way to capture value is to integrate the community efforts with the organisation. That means give discounts/seek product advice from members, give members early access/sneak previews etc…

This is usually when you grow from around 250 members to 1000 members. Note this is actively participating members. If just 1 in 4 members are active, this would be 1000 – 4000 members total registered members. If members make on average 5 to 10 posts per month, you should see around 250 to 5000 posts (approx. 160 – 300 posts per day).

(5,000 TO 10,000 ACTIVE MEMBERS)

Building a community is similar to drilling for oil. If you drill with the right equipment (credible founder) in the right spot (great concept) you’ll find oil gushes out quickly.

Over time, however, the pressure eases as you’ve attracted most of your members you’re likely to attract. You will discover this once you cross the 50% barrier. The remaining possible members become increasingly difficult to reach, attract, or retain.

This is when the growth in new members begins to slow down. This doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong, it’s just natural saturation as a result of penetrating through most of the audience you can feasibly reach. You can audiences in new regions or related sectors if you can, but it’s usually not a viable method.

The number of monthly active participating members varies wildly at this stage. The average appears to hover around 5,000 to 10,000 active members (probably around 25,000 to 50,000 registered members).

Members at this stage join not for the unique benefit, but because they see everyone else is joining. They don’t want to be left behind.

At this stage you need to change your messaging again to highlight the size and success of the community. It’s only at this stage you want to boast about being the biggest or most successful community.

If you do it before this stage, you're driving away the early members who want to be part of a unique, different, group. Your tasks otherwise don’t change much during this stage. You continue to optimize newcomer conversion, attract and retain volunteers, and be as efficient as possible in managing the community. This stage typically lasts between 18 months and 24 months.


By this point you have a mature, established, online community that is highly influential within its sector. You’ve reached most of the members already within that topic that you’re likely to reach.

Now it’s important to optimise your community for newcomers to that topic.

It’s only the newcomers that will continue to replenish your community over the long-term. This means you need to create guides for newcomers to the field, a place for newcomers, and ensure your communications change to how you can help those become very good at the field within a short amount of time. 

At this stage you want to consider search, paid adwords, and researching what steps people take when they first become interested in the topic and how to reach them during this process.

For example, in a previous community we approached various organisations inviting them to send their new staff in the role to our community to get expert advice when they joined. This gave us a constant supply of new members.

Every topic has people who will go through similar steps when they get started. You need to insert yourself in those steps and become the ultimate resource for newcomers.

At this stage, you will almost certainly find you need to create multiple sub-groups for different regions, specialisms, or roles within your community. Create this one at a time and promote each until it has reached that critical mass stage.  

At this stage it’s also important to constantly to pay close attention to trends within your sector. It’s easy for a community to be left behind as the topic evolves without them (Read Marketing Myopia). 


I’ll keep to the bullet points:

Stage 1: Founders: Begin a community with a laser-focused mission to build strong relationships with 50 founding members by creating content, hosting activities, interviewing experts, and participating in existing groups.

Stage 2: Enthusiasts: Grow the community by finding people who share a unique passion within the field and connecting them.

Stage 3: Early majority: Focus on using the unique focus to create unique value. This will be tackling problems, opportunities, exploring passions, or unique social value.

Stage 4: Late majority: Focus on the meta-information. Become the biggest and best at what you do.

Stage 5: Newcomers: Finally orientate your community to people new to the topic. Build sub-groups for the experts and pros.

Change your messaging, efforts, and approach as your community develops. 

Asking For Help, Indirect Reciprocity, and Amanda Palmer

June 15, 2015Comments Off on Asking For Help, Indirect Reciprocity, and Amanda Palmer

I remember my first week at the United Nations. 

We didn't have the budget (or time) to hire translators to convert a campaign into multiple languages. I made a suggestion, let's ask our members if they can help. It was not well received. 

It was too risky. A member might make a mistake. Far better to have no translation at all.

In their minds, it was better to deny millions of people access to a campaign to help refugees than risk an easily fixable error. 

That logic still doesn't make sense to me. 

How many people would have jumped at the chance to do their bit to help the United Nations?

I wonder if by genuinely helping us they would have felt a stronger sense of ownership over the work we were doing and connection to one another? That stronger sense of connection would have led to even more donations and advocacy when we really needed it? 

Reading The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer, I'm struck by the incredible power of regularly asking for help. Help finding locations for a gig. Helping finding a place to stay for the night. Help finding equipment they need at the last minute. Help supporting a fan in difficult times. All of this helps to build a powerful sense of community. 

And this links back to the very nature of why communities existed in the first place; indirect reciprocity.

Every member in the community shares in the power of giving and receiving, but without keeping count.

We help when we can and we ask for help when we need it. The community is a way of identifying who can and can't be trusted to reciprocate your reciprocity when required. 

The reason few organisations see success on the Amanda Palmer scale is they only ask for three types of help; buy, donate, or share (content). The first two are financial, the latter is selfish. When we restrict avenues of help to those three, we rob our members the chance to feel better connected to us by letting them genuinely help us. 

The week after my translation idea was shot down, 24,000 people signed up to translate Facebook into 100+ languages. Wikipedia had a slightly smaller number translating articles for them. Many blogs survive by guest contributions riddled with grammatically errors. Reddit receives help from people creating and running subreddits (as does StackExhange). Most successful communities have volunteers too. 

There are an infinite number of ways a member, fan, or customer can help you that don't involve a financial exchange. They can give you ideas, help other members solve problems (that you highlight), take responsibility for tackling problems, help employees visiting the neighbourhood, answer product questions from other customers. Every one of these will help your members feel better connected to you and another. 

Bob Kraut recommends having a regularly place on the community listing exactly what help is needed at any given time. 

If you your or your members are struggling with a problem, ask for help. It's probably what Amanda Palmer would do

What Is Privacy?

June 12, 2015Comments Off on What Is Privacy?

Christopher Allen has written the best overview of online privacy I've read yet. 

Grab a coffee and read it.

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