Month: July 2015

Over-Communicating and Under-Communicating

July 31, 2015Comments Off on Over-Communicating and Under-Communicating

Going back to yesterday.

Once the relevant health authority issued a health advisory not to drink the water, people began to wonder over the next two days if it’s still in place.

Was it only for one area? Was it for 24 hours or 48 hours? Was it indefinite? Will people be told when the advisory is rescinded?

This is a problem when communicating with any social group during a difficult moment. The less you communicate the more you leave open to interpretation.

It would have been better to update every hour that nothing has changed. There’s no room for ambiguity there. Everyone knows when to expect the next update and where to go to find out if the warning is still in place. Everyone knows if the warning is still in place.

It’s really easy to under-communicate with your group. It’s very hard to over-communicate with your social group.

Have a very open communication policy. Offer a direct line to you. Create a place where people can get near-instant responses on topical issues. Issue constant updates on important issues even if nothing has changed. Your social group hates uncertainty. Don’t create any.

Brain-Eating Amoeba In The Water Supply

July 30, 2015Comments Off on Brain-Eating Amoeba In The Water Supply

My wife and I spent last week in New Orleans.

At one restaurant the waiter (too) calmly informed us there were brain-eating amoeba in the water supply and we would have to order bottled water.

This wasn’t far from the truth.

There was infectious Amoeba in the water supply which was was dangerous if it went up your nose into the brain.

I’m stuck by the power of the imagery in making the message spread. If you want a message to spread among your group, you have turn it into an image.

Clearly ‘brain eating amoeba‘ is more powerful than amoeba or infectious cells. Every single person we spoke to in New Orleans used the exact term ‘brain eating amoeba‘ and referenced the warning. We can visualise a cartoonish bacteria image eating our grey brain matter.

Any time we want a message to be remembered and spread among the group, we should turn it into a highly visual image.

The more visual and shocking the image is, the more it spreads. We think in images. So wrap your messages in a visual envelope and watch it spread.

Going Beyond Thank You, Changing Member Behaviour

Every time a member makes makes a great contribution to any type of social group, you have an incredible opportunity to increase the quantity and quality of future contributions.

Too often, we thank them. Gratitude is nice. It feels good. They might appreciate the gratitude – but it doesn’t change their behaviour or encourage future contributions.

Worse still, if your thank you feels forced, generic, or is similar to a message you’ve used for a member who has made a far poorer contribution, you will reduce the likelihood of that member making more or better contributions in the future. And today, most of our thank you’s feel forced.

We need to stop thanking members.

Members don’t create great content for your gratitude. They create great content to help the community or achieve a level of status within your community. Every time they create content, they need to know that the content rapidly helped them achieve one of those two goals.

Instead of thanking a member, highlight the impact the contribution has made to the community. Ask for a further related contribution. Tell the member about other issues members are wrestling with and how you think they could really help. Highlight how popular the contribution has been compared with others. Be really specific in explaining how the extra effort they made to create the contribution resulted in the extra impact upon the community.

Alternatively, highlight how it’s increased the status of the member. Tell the member how you’ve noticed they’re fast becoming one of the top people in {your} community.

Now they begin to past-align their actions towards becoming one of the top experts in that sector. They participate more and at greater volume. You’ve used psychology to change their mentality. That’s an incredibly powerful and valuable thing to do.

It’s polite to thank members. It feels good to thank members. The recipient might even like being thanked. But we’re in the business of using psychology to change behaviours. There is a huge opportunity to change behaviour after every single contribution a member makes. I really hope we take advantage of it.

Why Your Community Isn’t Growing (And How To Get Unstuck)

When you first begin to manage any online community, your day probably involves posting discussions, replying to posts, creating content, and welcoming new members.

That’s logical for an inception/establishment stage group. This is what brings a new community to life. However, if you’re still doing this a year later, you’ve become stuck.

You’re probably stuck if:

  • New members are joining, but the number of active members is consistent.
  • New discussions are being posted, but the level of activity isn’t growing.
  • You haven’t seen any big wins in the group.

A lot of us are stuck at the moment. Many try to get unstuck with a big idea. That’s usually either a big marketing push (where new members dissipate as rapidly as they arrived) or a new platform (which only helps if yours is terrible to begin with).

You don’t need a single major change, you need dozens of minor tweaks. All of these tweaks fall into one of two buckets. You’re either going to do entirely new things or do your current actions better.


1) Do fewer tasks, but do them much better

You’ve probably heard of the Pareto principle. 80% of your results comes from 20% of your effort. Much of what you do today has no long-term impact upon the community. This is normal. You need to identify what isn’t working and stop doing it. This frees up your time to do other things.

This begins and ends with numbers.

  • Survey your audience members. Use surveymonkey and ask your members about their problems, hopes/ambitions, and what they spend most of their time doing. Narrow the scope of the community to these core areas.
  • Post fewer, better, discussions. Using the info above. Only post discussions on these topics. Guide newcomers to see these types of discussions first. Spend more time promoting and documenting the big discussions.
  • Participate less. As the community grows, you usually participate less – not more. You can stop replying simply to keep discussions going and instead create better quality responses that enhance the quality of discussions. This attracts more people to participate. Delegate the basic level responses to volunteers. This is beneath you now.
  • Test your on-boarding. Only welcome half the new members. See if this has a response. Typically the impact is minimal. Instead invest the time in tweaking each stage of the user journey until you’ve increased registration and first contribution by 15%.
  • Develop referral material. Develop joint ebooks for each member to share their best story/piece of advice. Publish the book with a lot of inbound links to community discussions. Invite everyone featured to share it on social channels and other sites. Create a system where members can proposal their own ebooks and everyone can share their best tips without you involved. Set up autoresponders for members who have made {x} contributions or been members for {y} to invite specific people to join the community (colleagues etc…). Create newcomer material just for people new to the topic. Find out what they search for and rank highly for your material.
  • Develop inbound links. You can pitch guest posts to sites and sharing remarkable community case stories. Ask a virtual assistant to create a list of the top bloggers/journalists in your scene. Spend time building relationships with each. Introduce them to the most remarkable stories and case studies in your community. Inbound links on big sites drive a sustainable number of members to your community.
  • Call for authors. Open up a weekly slot for an expert in a topic to publish a column/post. You can rotate the authors frequently or stick with the ones you love. Call for nominations. Task authors with publishing one item per month. You will increase their status, they get to post. Now you can post one less item per week.
  • Outsource basic tasks. Offload any tedious, repetitive, tasks (e.g. collecting data/reporting, welcoming, replying to bad quality discussions) to virtual assistants or other staff members.
  • Write down the community principles. It’s easy to get sucked into endless minor issues around a principle of the community that isn’t well established. Take the principles in your head and write them down into a page. Then reduce it to a paragraph. Then a sentence. Now, just 3 words. What are the 3 words that define your community? What makes this unique from anything else out there?

This isn’t comprehensive list. However, if you engage in just half of these, you’ll have find your community grows rapidly and you’ll feel less bored/stressed.


2) Optimising your existing activities. 

The second path is to do what we’re already doing, just much better.

Almost every task you do, from creating content to replying to a member’s e-mail, can be done better if you take the time to understand how. I’m going to tackle a few of these here.

  • Read outside of communities. Managing groups covers a range of topics ranging from e-mail marketing to personal influence. You can identify the top advice in each field and bring it into your work. For example, many internet marketers have mastered the art of getting e-mailed opened, read, and clicked. User experience professionals know what colours/font to use. There’s plenty more advice on conflict resolution and onboarding members too. Commit to becoming an excel in each tiny element of your role.
  • Resolve the emotion, not the question. Take a second to have an empathetic moment in every communication with every member. Some members truly do just information, but this will be the minority. Most people in most social situations want to experience some kind of connection. They want to feel listened to, valued, respected. You can be far more effective if you take a second to ensure you include that in every message.
  • Revamp/update your biggest attractions. Many members will arrive on pages which aren’t the landing page of the community. This will be the most popular items of content and discussions. Instead of continually creating new material, you can get far more mileage out of revamping old material. This might include using better keyword optimising, adding new facts to previous discussions, or simply releasing a new edition of a popular content item (authors do this a lot). Spend more time on your winners.
  • Use images of people in posts (especially social media accounts). Don’t use stock images of inanimate objects. Unless the image is truly spectacular it has little impact. Instead use images of people. Take photos of your next event and use images that match the expressions of different members. We empathise with people. Images draw us in.  You can prime people for the right emotions. On social media accounts, images also take up more space.
  • Tag people in discussions. If  you’re replying to a post or creating a discussions, tag the people you want to reply in it. Most modern platforms let you do this today. It notifies people and draws them in to post their own discussion. You also get to identify the experts early and ensure the quality of discussion is good from the beginning.
  • Add member opinions in content. When publishing an item of content, ask a member for their opinion and publish the quote in the article. More people will begin to read to see who was worth of being quoted.

If you can reduce the number of tasks you do, but do the core ones better, your community will grow rapidly. If you can test new ideas for long-term growth and participation, you will also find the community grows much better. All of which will help you get unstuck without spending a huge sum of money or time on platforms or marketing efforts you don’t need.

If you want to learn more of these sorts of tasks, we want you to come to our FeverBee SPRINT. This event is designed solely for community managers who want to get unstuck using the latest psychology. You’re going to learn from ourselves (and 16 of the world’s top experts) how to get into your members’ heads and use that knowledge to get more people to join and participate in your community.

I really want you there. Please sign up at

The Unfortunate Business of Lying To Members Every Day

July 24, 2015Comments Off on The Unfortunate Business of Lying To Members Every Day

Last year we worked with a community manager in the most dire of situations.

Her product was bad, they couldn’t fix it, and the community of customers was furious. They complained in the customer community. The company decided to stop participating there, essentially banning the community manager from her own community.

You’re going to be doing this work for a while. Your reputation is going to rise and fall with your successes and failures. I know community managers still riding a wave of goodwill after developing a successful community from years ago.

Here’s the problem.

You will never, ever, be a successful community manager if your product is bad.

You won’t ever be happy or content in your job. You won’t be respected by your audience. The best you can hope for member sympathy and a nice pay check. But sympathy won’t boost your reputation and a nice pay check won’t help you sleep at night.

You need more than that and we need more from you.

If your product is bad you’ll be forced to lie to your community. You’ll be forced to fake enthusiasm for something you don’t believe in. You’ll have to go to bed and wake up every morning knowing that’s what your job entails.

Knowledge of the product and passion for the sector matters, for sure. Far more important is your own passion for the product and company. If you think the product is awful, your customers do too. If you think your company treats people unethically, your customers will soon know that too. Worst yet, they’ll associate you with them. You don’t get to create a separation by being nice to people online.

Your time and energy are two of the most precious things you will ever give. Don’t give them to companies you don’t believe in. Work for less if you need to and help companies thrive. You’re far more likely to succeed and you’ll be amped every day to help make your community better.

Keynote At HigherLogic Super Forum (Oct 21 – 22)

July 22, 2015Comments Off on Keynote At HigherLogic Super Forum (Oct 21 – 22)

There are many reasons to host an event.

The best is when you have something urgent issue to discuss (usually a problem to tackle). The best events either create common knowledge between members or bring new expertise into the field.

I’m happy to announce I’ll be a keynote speaker at this year’s HigherLogic’s Super Forum event in Washington DC this October.

The goal is to bring a new world of proven psychology into an association space filled with a terrific number of online communities. I’m going to highlight how we can use an array of insights to increase the level of activity.

The event is going to attract the top professionals in the association space, along with many from the enterprise sector. You can sign up here.

You can also catch me at:

  • July 13 – 15: MozCon (Seattle, USA).
  • Sept 14 – 15: J.Boye (London, UK)
  • Oct 7 – 10: Marketing Forum (Southampton)

Focus On Growing The Positive, Not Reducing The Negative

At a conference this past week, dozens of mobile personal hotspots were interfering with the event’s wifi connection.

The organisers repeatedly asked attendees to close their mobile internet connections. By the end of the third day, they had just about reached enough people for most people to get wifi.

When you highlight the number of people doing something bad, you’re giving the perpetrators safety in numbers. You’re creating a sense of majority among them – perhaps even a connection among them. You’re also telling everyone they too can do something bad without much personal consequence.

Far better to focus on the people doing something good. Don’t focus on the 1% of people doing something bad, focus on the 99% of people doing something good. I’d highlight the rising number of people who aren’t using personal hotspots. Create the sense that momentum is on the side of the good, not the bad. Get people onboard in celebrating the number gradually reaching 100% – give the minority fewer places to hide – and let them easily jump to the winning side.

I wonder how different the conversation about trolling would be if we focused on the 99.99% of people who don’t troll. Who are civil, pleasant, and supportive of one another. I wonder what would happen if we focused on growing the positives number instead of reducing the negative.

What Makes Groups Turn On Their Leaders?

Think of any power structure where a leader sits on the top.

The leader rules for as long as her rule is considered legitimate.

That word, legitimacy, can mean many different things. The earliest forms were divinity. Those that ruled connected themselves to divinity. Legitimacy can also come from power (physical), wisdom (age), skill (meritocracy) or popularity (democracy).

Legitimacy is sustained unless three things happen. One, your source of legitimacy is called into doubt. Two, the majority of the group stops believing those with power are using it for the benefit of the group. Three, there is clearly a better option. That better option is what stops the poor in most countries attempting a violent overthrow of their government right now.

Discontent can simmer for years without coming to the boil. Once the opportunity arises (often strength in numbers), a rebellion can be unstoppable. At this point either the leader has to ride it out, cave to the group’s demands, or go.

Many new leaders do the very worst thing. They try to make many changes to establish their legitimacy. This invites the group to rebel against them.

This is the danger of recruiting an outsider without clear, strength, popularity, or visible skill and asking them to determine the future for the group that consider her a stranger. The moment the leader proposes an idea the group doesn’t like, they will stop believing she looks out for the group. The new leader won’t be able to lead, only to follow what the group wants.

If you’re new to a group and don’t have the respected power, wisdom, popularity, or clear skill, you’re in a very real danger of the group organising against you. You need to establish legitimacy before you can lead. That usually means becoming popular.

Or, in practice, spending the first few weeks – perhaps a month or more – participating in every discussion you can, reaching out to members to get their feedback, asking members what they want, and gaining their credibility before taking decisive action.

More and more of us will be leading social groups of different kinds going forward. We’ll lead our friends, family, companies, communities, members, and customers. We need to get really good at establishing legitimacy (and helping our replacements to establish their legitimacy too).

If you’re not willing to do that, you’re probably not ready to lead.

Using Social Psychology In Online Communities (new video)

July 20, 2015Comments Off on Using Social Psychology In Online Communities (new video)

Sign up to FeverBee SPRINT this week. Prices will rise again on Thursday.

It’s so important that we master the psychology behind our work. It’s the single greatest secret to unlocking unparalleled levels of growth and activity in our communities.

To give you an insight into the kind of tactical tips the event will cover, I’ve recorded a short 20 minute video to help nudge you into the attendee column.

I hope you enjoy it. I think this is going to be an event that forever changes our profession.

You can find full details of the workshop here.

Make sure you sign up this week.

Using Associations To Prime Social Behaviour

Every colour, word, smell, image, sound provokes a set of associations we inherited growing up (and a few before we were born).

These associations prime our behaviour in curious ways.

For example, when we say something is “not scary“, “not bad“, or  “not dangerous” our brain instantly picks up on the words ‘scary’, ‘bad’, and ‘dangerous’ and primes our mental pathways accordingly (which influences our actions).

Right now your brain is associating this post with scary, bad, and dangerous….Boo!

This has an impact in social settings too.

Let’s imagine you wanted to prime members to participate. You need to create connections to objects that they associate with participation. Does ‘sign up’, ‘register’ and ‘add your thoughts’ create the right associations?

There’s a big difference between using the words  ‘post’, ‘create’, ‘share’, and ‘submit’ and using the word ‘publish’ for example. Each conjures very different associations. There’s a big difference between being labelled as a member, contributor, author, or volunteer too.

Think of the images that are displayed on your site too. Are they stock images used to fill gaps because ‘images are good‘? Are they photos of people similar to the members you’re trying to reach (or aspire to be) taking the actions you want your members to take? Does your audience see people like them doing what you want them to do?

Are the images of people you feature expressing the emotions you want members to feel when they read the post?

Consider the colours. What best primes members for the actions you want them to take? If you want safe/standard ideas use the blues and greys to match. There’s a guide here. If you want the scary and dangerous ideas (yikes, did it again!) use the reds and purples. You can even consider the font you use too. Here’s another useful guide.

You can create use second tier connections too. When primed with words like forgetful, wrinkle, people walk slower. What works objects in your sector conjure up images? Perhaps New York with ambition? Family with compassion? Beaches with relaxation? These can easily prime the type of contributions you will receive.

Sadly different groups make different associations with different objects. Colours can mean different things to many people.

A simpler way of thinking about this. What do you want members to be thinking when they move from one stage (room/page) to another? What will prime them to take the kind of contributions you want them to take? If you want them to read, ask them to read. Call them an audience. Tell them about your ‘latest updates’. If you want them to reply, ask them to review, test, or check the material etc.

There is a LOT of scope for improvement here. At the very least, we can be more careful about not creating associations we don’t want. That would be a killer mistake.

The Messy Baggage Behind Complex Social Groups

July 12, 2015Comments Off on The Messy Baggage Behind Complex Social Groups

Everyone brings a lot of baggage into every social setting.

That baggage includes good and bad relationships, established habits, existing belief systems, values, culture, hopes, fears, and ambitions.

Before you can build any social group, you have to do two things. First you need to build a relationship with members (individual outreach) to understand their baggage. The more they disclose with you, the more they trust you. Believe me, you’ll need to reciprocate your own fears and share your own baggage.

Second you need to get a group of them in a room together to agree on the baggage. If, at the very least, the audience can agree on the baggage you can agree on what a process would look like to tackle the baggage.

This takes a lot of bravery (which is why you’re paid to be there).  You have to suggest people highlight which relationships are dysfunctional, who they like/dislike (and understanding why) what their ambitious are, what the established ways of doing things are etc…

There are two other great benefits of this process. The first is you gain the trust of your audience. The more time you’re willing to spend trying to understand the baggage people bring into the room (and why they bring it into the room) the more credible you become as a founder of a social group.

The second benefit is you find some ideas just won’t succeed. The community manager might not be held in high enough esteem to bring the group together. They might be associated with the wrong faction within the company. Some people might see the group as a threat or a disruption to their work. This community might be just the latest in the long-line of frustrating initiatives put forward by management.

Any of the above can kill the idea and put you out of work. All of which you can tackle if you’re aware of them.

Too often we launch the community and work backwards to unpick the baggage preventing participation. Far better to begin with the baggage and work forwards.

Designated Expert

July 10, 2015Comments Off on Designated Expert

If a member has proven adept at gaining skills or experience within a particular topic, designate them as an expert.

Members can apply to be an expert or nominate each other.

Create new experts on new topics as necessary. They’re role is to seek out and publish the best information on the topic.

They get a badge to emphasise their status. Newcomers get to know whose opinion might be worth seeking out and trusting.

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