Month: January 2016

List of Ideas

Last summer YCombinator posted a list of ideas they would like to fund.

I imagine that’s quite motivating. You don’t have to guess what they want, you can find the opportunity that’s right for your skills (and passions)

This links back to the 6 competence factors.

Why not tell people what kind of discussions you would like to see?

Or what kind of content you would love to promote?

Or which kind of people you would love to recruit?

Or what kind of success you would like to see?

You don’t have to limit activities outside of these topics, but you can encourage them within it.

It’s easier for your audience to feel competent if you provide the opportunities.

p.s. SPRINT London 2016 takes place in 23 days. I hope you join us.

The Individual Roadmap

Early on I tried forcing our team to take training. That didn’t work well. I’m effectively telling them “you’re not good enough”.

I’ve tried giving an unlimited budget and asking them to tell me what training they want. That doesn’t work well neither. They’re being asked to say what they’re not good at.

Overcoming defensiveness is a big challenge to improving someone’s skills and thus sense of competence.

A better approach combines two questions:

  1. Where do you want to go?
  2. What skills, resources, and knowledge do you need to get there?

These two questions work well in many contexts. It lets the individual identify where they need to go in the future. It lets you check your goals are aligned.

Then it lets them highlight what they think they need to get there.

An easier way to drive deep engagement is to get each person pursuing a roadmap they’ve helped to design. Works as well in your team as it does in your community.

Alcoholics Anonymous

January 27, 2016Comments Off on Alcoholics Anonymous

Competence factors work in support groups too.

If you attend an alcoholics anonymous (AA) meeting, you’re provided with advice and personal experiences (skills) to fight alcoholism.

You have daily/weekly/monthly meetings to share your story with the group (opportunities).

You might get a sponsor who can give you one to one support (skills).

AA participants learn to tackle each day at a time, not focus on staying sober for the rest of their lives (optimal challenge).

Members also receive sobriety coins for remaining sober (achievement).

Whenever you’re tempted to have a drink, you can look down at their collection of coins to see how far you’ve come (progress). The number of days sober keeps adding up.

These six factors (skills, opportunities, challenges, achievement, progress and recognition) combined make AA a powerful tool for long-term behavior change.

How can you use them to change the behavior of group’s you’re working with?

What’s The Best Compliment You Can Receive?

Last year, I sent an email to 10 members of a forum-based community who had been named member of the week (MOTW) in the past 6 months.

Can you guess how being a MOTW made the winners feel?


It didn’t feel real. It felt like a “made up thing” (two people used this exact phrase).

We’ve tried to optimise and scale recognition in a really bad way. When you send people a badge, thank them without being specific, and automate messages of gratitude, it does more harm than good.

Imagine giving a digital badge to a professor who published a groundbreaking paper. It would be remarkably condescending. Like the professor most of us over the age of 10 care far more about appreciation and respect.

Recognition is an important competence factor. We can do it much better if we focus less on the recognition of the act and more on making the recipient feel appreciated and respected.

Think of the best compliment you have received recently. Who would it come from? What would it say?

It would probably:

  1. Be from someone you respect or who was highly impacted by what you did.
  2. It would acknowledge the amount of work/struggle you put into the object.
  3. It would highly in detail how you helped them.
  4. It would be very personal. One to one, not a mass-announcement.
  5. It would feel sincere – not forced or created to fit a quota.

Yesterday someone explained how Buzzing Communities became the framework for community activities across the organisation. That’s probably the most powerful compliment an author can receive.

It’s powerful because it’s personal and detailed. It’s not a polite “thank you for the book” it’s “this is how your book helped us”. The impact matters far more.

At the moment we’re blowing the recognition factor on points, badges, and content-driven mass-announcements regardless of quality. Respect should come from someone we respect. Appreciation should include clear details how it helped them. We shouldn’t recognise people to fill slots in a content calendar. Mass announcements and automated messages help no-one.

I can’t remember many compliments made in a big, public, announcement. I rarely forget the private, meaningful, messages from people I respect.

Competence Factors and Deep Engagement

Most organisations chase visible engagement metrics.

It’s soul-crushing work that condemns you to posting click-bait on social channels in pursuit of valueless activity. It robs you of a great chance to help your audience.

A better approach is to use psychology principles to target deep mental engagement.

A great way to do this is to increase their sense of competence.

Think of something you find deeply engaging. You’re almost certainly thinking of something you’re good at. That’s not an accident. The better we become at something, the more we enjoy it (and the more we do it).

If you want your members to be more deeply engaged, increase their sense of competence.

Six Competence Factors

There are six broad factors that enhance the sense of competence.


These factors apply broadly across online communities, internal collaboration/knowledge sharing efforts, software, managing teams, and your own social groups.

The challenge is to design a journey to steadily increase your audience’s perceived sense of competence. This might not even be a single journey. It’s likely to be multiple journeys for different segments of your audiences (regulars, newcomers etc…).

The great thing is it feels a whole lot better to do engagement work with a clear mission to make members feel more competent than tricking them into meaningless posts and clicks.

This is the combination of psychology, case studies, and value that we study in depth during Advanced Engagement Methods. If this is the kind of work you want to learn how to do, you should join us.

p.s. A podcast about doing valuable engagement work with LinkHumans.

All That Engagement

January 22, 2016Comments Off on All That Engagement

Take five minutes to read this.

I’m 27 years old and have been building an online following for 10 years, beginning with a popular Livejournal I wrote in high school. A couple of years ago, after moving to Los Angeles, I made the transition from freelance writing to creating online video. The channel I have with my best friend Allison Raskin, Just Between Us, has more than half a million subscribers and a hungry fan base. We’re a two-person video creation machine. When we’re not producing and starring in a comedy sketch and advice show, we’re writing the episodes, dealing with business contracts and deals, and running our company Gallison, LLC, which we registered officially about a month ago.

And yet, despite this success, we’re just barely scraping by.

This is what the EV-GAP looks like. You get a lot of engagement and no behavior change. You spend your time frantically chasing any tactic that will boost the level of activity by a few percentage points. That usually means entertainment and short-term spikes.

Real value changes someone’s opinion, sense of social group, or creates new habits. You can’t do that by being entertainment. You have to do deep engagement work to change behavior.

If you think your members will collaborate and share more knowledge, help you or each other more, or buy more of whatever you sell because they see something entertaining, you’re mistaken.

On the positive side, doing deep engagement work is freeing. You no longer worry about activity and focus on the end result. You align your work to achieve that end result. You spend more time persuading your audience, building habit systems, and creating groups connected by a positive trait you want to reinforce.

You have almost unlimited choices in how you want to do your engagement work, I hope you make the right one.

Myth Picking And Member Behavior

January 21, 2016Comments Off on Myth Picking And Member Behavior

Our current beliefs about engagement are insane.

Here’s a common one:

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The more engagement you get, the more value you generate.

This is a really fun myth to pick apart.

For example, GoPro has a radical new engagement strategy which uses their popular Instagram account to transform advertising.

It’s helped them become the new king of content marketing which you should envy and emulate. They understand the importance of integration…and you should too!

Alas the company just laid off 7% of their workforce after sales tanked.

The Engagement = Value Myth

The unquestioned ‘engagement = value’ myth is very convenient.

It means we don’t have to do the hard engagement work which actually drives value.

It directly leads to the killer Engagement-Value Gap (EV-GAP) shown below:


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You can (and usually will) get a huge amount of engagement without seeing any value.

That’s because most engagement has no value, it’s superficial entertainment.

That’s great if you’re selling advertising, not so great if you’re selling anything else.

The Hard Work Of Deep Engagement

Any engagement work that doesn’t drive valuable behavior change over the long-term is a waste of your precious time.

That value might be greater knowledge sharing, more sales, better customer retention, social support, advocacy etc….

If you want any of these outcomes, you need to change behavior (or they would be doing it already!)

Behavior is the output of the interplay between our personal values, social and cultural influences, the immediate environment, and learned responses to previous actions.

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This is a complex system. Changes to one factor has tricky-to-predict consequences to others.

You might think you’re a nice person…until your tribe conflicts with another and the environment puts you in competition for a scarce resource. Suddenly, you’re spending most of your time being far less nice to everyone around you.

What’s The Hard Part Of Valuable Engagement?  

Valuable engagement occurs when you do any of the following:

  • Changed someone’s values, attitudes, beliefs, or opinions.
  • Connected a group of people whom share a common trait to positively influence one another.
  • Shaped the environment to be more conducive to the behavior you want people to take.
  • Shifted the perceived reward of the behavior and conscious motivation for taking it.

This is exactly the kind of work I’d love to see you and your team doing all day long.

This is where you can see how different activities should function. Content should change opinions, communities can influence social norms, technology can be optimised to nudge behavior, rewards and motivations can be shifted to create habits.

This is such amazing, powerful, valuable work to spend your time doing.

For our profession and our careers, it’s so, so, so important we understand this.

Everything you do as an engagement practitioner, from answering a customer question to posting your next update, should affect change in 1 of the 4 factors that drives behavior.

This is how we create value.

Getting Good At Affecting

An advanced engagement method is laser-focused to affect change at one or more of the 4 levels that determine behavior.

For example, if you want to change someone’s beliefs, you need to know how to communicate persuasively (both in content and in your personal interactions).

There is a deep, deep, well of strategy and advice here. It means knowing how to understand what members want, deploy credibility cues, determine message strategy, use the right medium, structure messages persuasively, deploy the right metaphors and contrasts etc…

But we spend almost NO time talking about any of this. We’re too busy looking for the next quick tip to get any form of engagement.

Please stop doing this. It’s not only killing our profession and your career, it’s killing innocent puppies too (probably).

Our goal with Advanced Engagement Methods is to bridge this gap. We want to take you and your team to a level where we no longer think about quick-engagement tips, but focus on driving meaningful value through real behavioral change.

We opened 20 registration places last week. We have 13 remaining.

You can learn more below:




Mastering Old Skills, Learning New Ones

Video editing is complex and overwhelming. Thanks to some great resources, I’m finally getting the hang of it.

Like any skill, you get to 80% of professional quality quickly. Beyond that, it gets harder. Each extra hour of practice yields diminishing returns.

This presents a choice. Do we want to spend our time getting incrementally better at managing members in a community or quickly equip ourselves with new skills?

My belief today is simple, stop trying to master old skills and learn new ones.

You can learn the key principles of building knowledge systems, audience profiling, advanced email marketing, staying legal, SEO, driving engagement with social ads and a lot more very quickly.

This is what we’re going to do at SPRINT London 2016.

We’re going to give you the most valuable skills from the disciplines that can most help us right now.

If you want more talks on moderation, how to create a community strategy, and creating advocates, this isn’t for you. We’ve covered these to death already. If you want to equip yourself with a range of vital skills from other disciplines, you and your team should attend.

Sign up before Jan 23 for advanced-rate tickets (£230).


Million Dollar Engagement Stories

January 19, 2016Comments Off on Million Dollar Engagement Stories

A friend of mine earns $215k every year doing digital engagement.

He hasn’t updated his Twitter account in 7 months. His Facebook page is empty. I don’t think he’s ever written a blog post (I doubt he reads many neither).

He doesn’t participate in Facebook groups or attend industry events.

I can’t see any visible output of his company’s engagement efforts. His company’s Facebook page has just under 600 fans and syndicates news content from the site. His company’s Twitter page gets about the same level of activity as ours (zilch).

There’s no public community.

What Does He Do?

He runs an online community…just like a lot of you.

He runs a private, hidden, online community for a specific group of senior people in the banking sector.

Can you imagine how hard it is to engage people at this level?

He needs to:

  • Identify who they are. He uses a LinkedIn Recruiter account to pinpoint the key people he needs at each institution.
  • Contact them. You can’t email people out of the blue at this level, you need a referral. That means building relationships at a lower level first (often 2 to 3 links away). This takes months.
  • Establish trust. He’s trained himself to use the right words, tone of voice, authoritative body language, and selects the medium that sustains the right credibility and value among the audience.
  • Solicit valuable contributions. He wants them to share their biggest frustrations so his company can design superior solutions. The more they feel listened to, respected, and involved in designing the solution, the more likely they are to purchase his company’s service.
  • Keep them active. He has to persuade them to make valuable contributions over the long-term. That’s a big behavior change. Why stay there after they’ve shared their frustration? He has to build a sense of connection between fierce competitors and satisfy their deeper motivations.

(Oh, and each of these people has a discretionary budget between $700k and $11m).

Mediums and Messages

He uses LinkedIn to identify the people he needs to reach, phone and email to build relationships, and hotel rooms in exotic locations (that are nice to visit at that time of year) for the in-person events.

LinkedIn Recruiter, phone, email, mailing list, hotel rooms (and probably a good CRM too)….when was the last time you read anything about using any of these tools better?

Can you even imagine trying to engage this audience via blogs, Facebook, Pinterest and eBooks?

The skills that he’s mastered are so completely different from those the visible engagement crowd talk about.

  • He knows how to thoroughly research and map out the network of his target audience.
  • He gets inside his audience’s heads and understands their deep motivations (not just easy goals or what they say they want)
  • He identifies the specific keywords they use which are unique to them.
  • He uses the medium the audience best associates with trust and credibility (e-mail lists and fancy hotel suites, interestingly).
  • He encodes his messages in persuasive, yet sincere, language. He deploys psychology to his advantage.
  • He’s mastered the right microskills (strong message openings, tone, length, body language, trust/credibility cues etc…)
  • He can identify the uniting factors that get fierce competitors to collaborate.
  • He can induce a state of self-disclosure in each of the people he works with. People express their fears and concerns to him. They build trust quickly.

While everyone else was rushing to get the ‘the next great tip’ to boost activity by another 2%, he was mastering a body of deep engagement knowledge and refining his microskills.

And, it turns out, these are exactly the kind of things that drive valuable engagement.

This is what will distinguish you from the visible engagement crowd.

Other $1m+ Success Stories

He’s just my favourite of many people who are using a range of advanced engagement methods to drive real value.

Another friend works with a mass consumer audience. She optimises the user flow with multiple engagement methods (such as deep profiling) to guide each to their perfect place.

She hosts events that over 3k people of this audience that pay $1200 to attend every year (that’s $3.6m just in event revenue).

Community participation is directly correlated with attending her events. And she excels in driving the best possible contributions from every single participant over the longest possible period of time.

Every single person has a unique experience in her community.

She’s using advanced engagement methods to do valuable engagement work.

Learning about new platforms, where to find stock images, and discussing what metrics to track doesn’t get you to this level. You’ve got to explore things like understanding cohort analyses, undertaking deep research, driving behavior change, and mastering key microskills.

You need to know how to engage members persuasively, use the right language, work methodically through the engagement process.

A Mountain Of Band Aids

This is hard work.

It’s always simpler to add to the mountain of temporary engagement band aids than resolve the deep engagement issues.

Eventually, though, it becomes harder and harder to balance that mountain. You might be feeling that now.

We don’t want you to spend the rest of your careers in community management, social media, knowledge management, or innovation chasing visible engagement down the dark rabbit hole and coming up empty. 

But if you’re not, and you feel the current tips you’re getting are inadequate short-term solutions, then I urge you to visit Advanced Engagement Methods.


January 18, 2016Comments Off on Orlando

Next week I’ll be speaking at the Brands Only Summit in Orlando.

It’s hard to get an exclusive group up and running.

You have to have a lot of pre-existing credibility. You have to turn down a LOT of potential clients, customers, and members to pursue a vision you hope excites others as much as yourself.

Andy Senovitz and the team at have done a great job bringing together every top in-house social professional for eight years now.

If you’re the top social professional at a big name brand, you might like to join the group at:

See you there.


I received an e-mail after my last post.

“Can you make your emails shorter and easier to scan?”

That’s right. Make it shorter. Simplify. Dumb it down. Cut out explanations. Remove the metaphors. Ask people for less in the bewildering hope of getting more.

I could also use a how to headline and add bullet points.

It’s true, the longer the the posts, the higher the unsubscribes.

That last one was 0.6% – a new record!

Do you know what else is higher? Sales, useful feedback, behavior change…

Don’t worry about unsubscribes, they’re not the people you want to work with.

The short, snappy, posts get more visible engagement from the people you don’t want. They’re thrill-seekers with low attention spans.

Deeper Engagement Posts

The 1,000 – 10,000 word posts, that cover a small topic in a lot of depth, attract clients.

Every single one of our clients has come from doing valuable engagement work.

This means getting the referrals, hosting events, and creating detailed posts that others don’t have the knowledge, resources, or (more likely) the patience to create. This is the engagement work that attracts the people that do deep engagement work – the very people we love to work with.

The Cool Visible Engagement Crowd

There’s a cool crowd out there that want you to chase visible engagement deep into the noisy marketplace.

They want you to be in the entertainment business. They want you to spend your time doing silly, frivolous, stuff to drive engagement.

Please don’t play that game.

Go the other way. Go to the place your competitors can’t or won’t go. Go deeper than they can, write longer articles than they will, do more research than they can be motivated to undertake.


Notice we put the link to advanced engagement methods at the bottom.

We would get many more clicks if we put it at the top.

So why at the bottom?

Because we don’t want people that click the first link they see. We don’t want curiousity seekers. It’s the people that get to the bottom we want to hear from.

Divide And Conquer Engagement

January 12, 2016Comments Off on Divide And Conquer Engagement

Have you ever come across this really annoying piece of advice?

Find out what motivates your audience and do that”

This is really terrible advice for three reasons:

  1. Your audience doesn’t know what motivates them.
  2. Your audience doesn’t share the same motivations.
  3. If you satiate that motivation, they go away.

Right now we spend too much time guessing what motivates our members and using a single message in our messages, activities, and content.

This is nuts.

I want to highlight an advanced method to driving high levels of engagement in communities, knowledge management, collaboration, and web apps.

Divide And Conquer Engagement

Key lesson 1: You’re not dealing with identical robots.

Every person has unique goals. Those goals are fluid too. Your priorities in life change from one year to the next (often from one week to the next).

The more you try to develop the one message to rule them all, the less engagement you’ll get.

Your audience is just too diverse to respond to a single appeal. You need to use what we call Divide And Conquer Engagement.

You need to divide your audience into smaller clusters you can tackle (or in marketing speak develop your buyer personas).

Knowing How To Divide (Less Goals, More Motivations)

Let’s imagine you’re running a health and fitness community.

You’ve got men and women, young and old. They want to want to get fit, show off a six-pack, or become hulkamaniacs. That’s immediately 12 unique groups (m/w * y/o * getfit/6pack/hulks) you can help to achieve their goals.

But, remember, these goals shift a lot. So we want to know their motivation.

Take those young men that want a six-pack. Some will want it as a personal symbol of achievement, others to impress friends, and a few (or, okay, a lot) to attract partners.

If you focus on the six-pack level, you’ll lose them once they’ve either hit their goal, changed their goal, or realised the goal is too difficult.

If we focus on the motivational level, we have something more reliable and we can use at a broader level. It’s a lot easier to help people with their need for achievement, to impress friends, and attract partners than just get a six-pack.

So now these 12 unique goal-driven groups can easily become 36+ highly-focused motivational clusters. 

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Of course 36 unique groups is far more than most of us has the resources to cater towards. So we can do one of two things:

  1. Target the biggest segments first. Sequentially tackle individual segments, moving from one to the next.
  2. Target the easiest segments first. Begin with those you have the most relationships with and build from there.
  3. Target broader segments. For example, tackle just people who share the same motivation + goal, regardless of demographics (this might drop your clusters above from 32 to 9). The more limited your resources, the better is it to target broader segments. Focus groups that share the same goal for the same reasons.

Conquering The Clusters

Now we have unique clusters, personas, or segments (whichever wording you like best) whom we can help.

We do that by creating individual promotional messages, catered activities, and unique user flows.

If you have 9 unique clusters, that might over the course of the year mean 9 unique promotional ebooks, social ad/SEO campaigns, webinars, and entry/registration pages.

These would lead into 9 unique user flows that guide them into their own sub groups with content and discussions tailored specifically to the group.

This journey should be entirely catered to the group. That means featuring people they admire, people most like them (especially in images) and content that begins with their current position.

Now here comes the motivation twist. You can also include material that will cater to their motivation of, for example, impressing friends. You might host activities which highlight how to dress to impress, walk and talk with confidence, develop leadership skills, earn more money etc…

This keeps people engaged over the long-term and goes beyond just the narrow goal people originally came for.

How Do You Uncover The Motivation

What motivates you to read this right now?

It’s not easy.

I’m guessing your answer was along the lines of:

  • I want to increase engagement.
  • I want to help my audience achieve their goals.
  • I want to get better at my job.

These answers aren’t the truth. To get to the truth we need to dig a little deeper in our interviews and surveys.

This means asking:

  1. Demographic details (age, location, profession etc..)
  2. What they want (goals)
  3. Why they want it / how it would feel to achieve it (this is the specific point where you need to push deeper)
  4. What’s stopping them right now?

Look specifically for keywords that suggest a competence, autonomy, or relatedness appeal (remember the CAR?). You should be able to build up a good list of words that arise here and deploy them liberally in your copy.

This guides your entire effort to engage your audience.

Take engagement. Why would you want to increase it?

Because it benefits your company? You want to impress your colleagues? You want to finally feel good at your work? Get paid more?

But why do you want those things?

Do you want to feel a sense of achievement at last? Increase your social standing? Or are you worried your boss or peers don’t respect you?

We have to go to deeper with questions to get the real motivations. Even then, many people struggle to be completely honest with themselves (and especially strangers).

So now we might design our engagement efforts but also include an increasingly broader array of skills to impress their boss and gain their respect.

But all of this involves going one-level deeper.

This is the kind of advanced methods we want to be able to deploy to increase engagement in every engagement routine we ever work on.

You’re Invited To Join Advanced Engagement Method

Between today and February 29, we’re accepting a maximum of 20 registrations for Advanced Engagement Methods. Our goal is to close the engagement-value gap by providing an advanced level of training that helps you escape the scramble for instant metrics.

If you’ve been struggling to increase engagement, understanding the psychology part of this, achieve your big wins, and get a lot of new ideas, I hope you will get in touch.

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