Month: May 2016

Plan 3 Month’s Of Community Activities In 10 Minutes

Too many people are guessing what discussion, item of content, or activity to work on next.

You don’t need to guess in 2016.

Let Google guide you. Google knows more than you about your audience. You can do 10 minutes of research and put together a big list of discussions to initiate, content to create, and activities to host.

Step 1: Enter the Basic Topic Search Terms Into Google

Let’s imagine you want to build a community about surfing.

That’s quite a broad topic with a lot of competitors. So you might slice a niche for yourself…perhaps surfboards…and decide to build a community around this concept.

You need to figure out what audience to target (beginners, experts?) with what format of content (guides, blogs, pdfs, videos, images?), and what type of content (discussions, news, resources etc..).

Our first step would be to put surfboards into Google and look carefully at what comes up:


Note: Answerthepublic is also a useful site for relevant questions.

What do you notice here? Knowing where to buy a surfboard takes a lot of the top places, but the other categories (images and news) are really interesting.

This gives you some immediate discussion ideas for the community.

Discussion ideas based upon first search

  • Where did you buy your surfboard from? And would you buy from there again?
  • The ultimate surfboard photo thread – share your board!
  • Your favourite surfboard design (share photos!)
  • Do you think ‘competitor’s board’ helped ‘competitor’ ?

This feeds into other activities too. You might invite a top design expert for an interview, interview someone close to the competitor to ask about their board etc..But these questions are still far too vague for our liking.

While this is better than what 90% of community professionals do, you can still do much better by diving slightly deeper.

We want our discussions and content to be as specific as possible. So let’s look at the related searches.

Step 2: Using Related Searches To Get Specific Discussion Questions, Content, And Ideas for Activities

If we scroll to the bottom of the page, we see this:


This is really useful information!

While some of this audience wants to know where to buy them, a large number clearly want cheap surfboards, others want to know how to get the right size surfboards for them.

We can also see ‘beginners’ ranks highly here.

If we click on ‘beginners surfboard’ we soon see the exact terms and questions people ask to help us refine our discussions:


Step 3: Compile Unique Segments and Engagement Activities For Each

We can probably see 3 distinct types of beginners here.

  1. Beginners who only want the cheapest surfboards.
  2. Beginners who want to know the best surfboards for beginners.
  3. Beginners who want the best surfboards possible (cash-rich beginners!)

If you like, you could dig further into each of these.

For now, however, we can begin to create a few categories and drop the discussions, content, and activities into relevant places.

For example:

(click here for full image)

Audience Discussions Content Activities
Beginners who want cheap surfboards What is the least you would spend on a surfboard?
Where did you buy your surfboard from? Would you recommend it?
Selling your surfboard? – post it here.
How to negotiate a great surfboard deal
Survey results – how much members would spend on their first surfboards today
Surfboard price list – get the latest prices that members paid for their boards
#surfboardgraduation day. Sell your old surfboard to a newcomer today.
Interview with a surfboard scout – how Joe Smith got an [xyz] surfboard for $350!
Beginners who have money (but not knowledge) to buy the best surfboards If you could have any surfboard you want, what would it be?
Can beginners custom-design a surfboard?
What size surfboard should I get if….
Just bought your first board? Share the picture here..
The top 5 surfboards as voted by you.
And the surfboard brand of the year is…
5 Members describe their dream surfboard if price wasn’t a factor
ASK the experts: What surfboard would you buy for … ?
AMA with a surfboard manufacturer – get tips and tricks to get the best surfboard
Beginners who want to know how to be good beginners What advice would you give to a newbie buying his first surfboard?
What size surfboard should I get if….*
What board are you thinking of buying? Get advice from experts.
Should all newcomers begin by using foam surfboards?
What was your first surfboard and why?
What our top 10 members wish they knew when they bought their first board.
What’s changed about surfboards in the past 3 years?
15 warning signs of bad surfboards.
Surfboarding for beginners induction. Join our monthly live discussion to help newcomers get the best boards for them!

*there’s some natural overlap in these.

This is all activity to target to increase engagement among a specific segment with a unique need you can satisfy.

But beginners was just one of the key stakeholders interested in surfboards, now consider which other segment of surfers might have a unique interests in surfboards?

Step 4: Research The Second Biggest Segment

If we go back to the first results, we noticed that images ranked second.

Clearly images are important to a big segment of the audience…but who is this audience and what do they want?

If we click on images, we notice that design is the number one result….

Surfboards.003 (1)

We can probably assume that designing surfboards and customising surfboards is a big segment (we probably all knew this already, but the process matters).

We can also safely assume two things here.

  1. There is a group of surfers who love to customise their own boards.
  2. This group loves sharing images of customised boards.

We can infer that their motivations are impressing each other (why else share the images?)

Let’s do a proper search for terms like surfboard design and customising surfboards to see what comes up…



We can assume that the average level of knowledge of this group is quite low (note: the danger of this process is always appealing to the newcomers/beginners who are most likely to search for knowledge).

Now we have a good list of potential engagement topics:

  • Basic knowledge & discussion of the basics.
  • Theory of surfboard designs.
  • Sharing your design.
  • Findings and seeing the designs of others.
  • Video guides on designing surfboards
  • Get to know the big names in surfboard design.
  • Learn the software involved in design.

We can start to make some further educated guesses about the different groups here:

1. Design beginners. They need to know the basics. What software to use, how to design, what products to use, what’s in style etc.

2. Design experts who want to impress others. They want to take images of their boards, share images, and build their reputation.

3. Performance enthusiasts. They care less about aesthetics and more about how the design affects the performance. They want to get every edge for the top performance.

You can drill deeper into any of these if you like to get more specific questions and discussion topics.

For example, if we dig deeper into surfboard design theory we find:


Now we have 8 potential topics we can initiate discussions (within design theory alone) and create content around which we know are going to be useful to a large number of this audience.

We’ve also discovered a potential competitor term to our own community efforts (shaping forums)..

Likewise, if we dig deeper into surfboard anatomy (for the performance enthusiasts) we find:


I haven’t surfed, but Dave Parmenter might be a good person to interview.

Discussions about fish foot boards might be interesting, discussions on insight surfboards and rails would also be quite popular.

Once again, we can start making educated guesses about what each of our 3 new audiences might want here:

(click here for full image)

Audience Discussions Content Activities
Beginners designing their first surfboards What is the least you would spend on a surfboard?
What colours fade and which colours last for life?
Where can you buy a blank board to design?
How did you pick a design for your board?
The ultimate list of resources to design your first surfboard.
The basics of design theory. Avoid embarrassing mistakes in your surfboard design.
Five enduringly cool surfboard designs
Hands on workshop – our expert will guide you through designing your first surfboard
Correct your mistakes. Join our team in a live panel discussion to help you correct those design errors.
Design experts who want to impress others Who’s your favourite surfboard design expert?
Favourite surfboard design of all time…go!
What design would you love to create but can’t?
Struggling with a design? Post it here and get feedback.
Should you be culturally sensitive in your design?
Which designs for which location?
Most embarrassing design mistake…anyone?
The best designs from our Instagram this month.
Nominate your favourite design from these favourites.
What’s trendy in design today?
The story behind ‘xyz’ design (background, templates, and resources to use)
Design of the month competition.
Interview with the design of the month winner (how he selected, designed, and created this month’s top design)
AMA with the world’s top surfboard designer
Performance enthusiasts Is your board salvageable? Post pictures to get feedback.
How to solve the ‘xyz’ problem?
What is the most innovative design change you’ve seen this week?
Lift vs. drag – which do you prefer?
Speed benefits from fish foot surfboards?
Repairs a surfboard
How [person] created the [innovative performance] surfboard.
15 warning signs of bad surfboards.
LIVE DEBATE: [xyz] surfboard vs. [xyz] surfboard…which gives you the cutting edge?

You can design a much better table than this I’m sure.  

Now we have 2 core segments (beginners and designers) each comprising of three distinct groups of people we can target with dozens of messages, content, and activities

…and we’ve only been researching potential engagement activities for 10 minutes!

Step 5: Project Planning

From here you can begin eliminating groups you don’t want to target, focusing on the activities you feel will get the best return and start delegating who is going to do which of these (and when).  

This could easily be 3 months of community activity all mapped out.

What we’ve done today is to give you a really simple process to begin developing your engagement activity in a community.

You can use this to drive activity in an existing community (cater to new segments) or launching a new community (or sub-group).

In practice you probably want to supplement your research with interviews, surveys, studies of existing communities in the sector and similar communities. This helps you overcome the focus on beginner problem. Test relevant search terms, explore, see what comes up and use that within your community.

You should be amazed at just how quickly you can put together 3 month’s of activity on any topic you like.

Also see:

p.s. Workshop in New York next week, sign up here if you want to use psychology to build better communities.


Communities Of Practice And Communities Of Experts

May 27, 2016 Comments Off on Communities Of Practice And Communities Of Experts

In a simpler world, we would create communities of top experts to collaborate with one another to advance their expertise to the cutting edge of their field.

If you’ve tried this, you know this only works if the community is exclusively for the top experts. It has to feel private, special, and a reward for their perceived level of expertise. That usually means a really small group which only benefits the experts, not the hosts.

This works as much on the fear of missing out as it does on a true belief to advance the field.

Experts are hard to reach (unless they consider you a true peer), hard to captivate, and hard to solicit regular contributions from. Experts often see fellow experts as rivals for a limited share of attention. They’re more likely to argue from a defensive position on the minutia of what one another has proposed. Worse yet, when a bigger opportunity appears for them to share their expertise, they tend to vanish.

The idea of creating a communities of experts is alluring, but in most cases impossible to create. You can waste a lot of time, money, and effort trying.

Far better to create a community of practice. Find a group of people who truly enjoy the topic, who truly want to help each other, and are doing the work every single day. Forget the experts and influencers. Unite a group of people who don’t know the answers, but will scour the web for one another looking for the answers.

Good questions trump good answers by a long way. Dull questions solicit dull responses. Good questions drive engagement and activity. You don’t need more experts, you need more people with good questions. People get more value from a committed group of equals, people enjoy participating more in a group of equals, and it’s far easier to build these communities.

Let the experts stop by if they want, but don’t focus on them.

Given the choice between trying to recruit people who know the answer or trying to recruit people who would love to find the answer, go with the latter…every single time.

Do You Follow The Data Or Do You Persuade Members?

Let’s imagine your data and survey results tell you that members don’t like to create guest columns about the topic.

Should you do more of it or less of it?

Most people see the data and decide to do less of what members don’t like.

But this is a slippery slope. What members like best is precisely what they already enjoy doing. Members can’t like what they haven’t tried. In fact, most of the things they enjoy now they didn’t like before they tried them.

If you build your community around data alone, you are putting up a fence around existing behaviors…only now you have to pay to maintain the land.

If you want to be the leader chasing after his people, follow the data.

The alternative is to see that dislike of guest columns as a persuasion challenge and do more of it. The problem isn’t that members don’t like doing it. The problem is you haven’t persuaded them why they should do it yet.

Your message isn’t getting through.

That means finding better stories, shrinking the behavior change, working with a group of others to highlight positive examples, equipping people with new information.

If guest columns is one of the overlapping valuable behaviors, you’ve got to persuade people to create them. There is very little value in putting up a fence around existing behaviors. There is a lot of value in successfully changing behavior in a way that benefits you and your members.

If we’re not trying to tip behavior in our favour, what are we trying to do?

Today I’m presenting a webinar with Vanilla to explain how you can change the behavior of your audience. I hope you will join us. 1pm Eastern. Click here to signup.

What’s Missing In Moderation?

May 23, 2016 Comments Off on What’s Missing In Moderation?

If you want a less inclusive debate, let the diehards dominate it.

Soon everyone with a moderate view is a ‘sympathiser/traitor/idiot’ and ‘doesn’t get it’.

Those with opposing views are bullied out of the discussion altogether.

The diehards win because others simply don’t care enough to keep going (hence why they’re not diehards).

Get a group of people with a moderate view together and the most popular members will be those who can express the most extreme form of that view.

Moderators are trained to remove posts and people which violate rules which can be written. They’re rarely trained to spot and tackle diehards who break unwritten rules.

They don’t remove members who violate codes of conduct which can’t be easily transcribed. They’re so rarely trained to stick up and encourage a minority view to have a more inclusive debate.

If you catch members making huge assertions (‘x’ is dead/ ‘x’ is the future) without referencing evidence, you have a diehard problem.

If you spot any variation of the phrase ‘s/he doesn’t get it’, you have a diehard problem.

If you see a discussion which began with opposing viewpoints and is now dwindling into a tiny minority of people discussing the small differences between extreme versions of that viewpoint, you’ve got a diehard problem.

If moderation is about moderation it needs to not just remove the rule breakers but prevent the extreme view drowning out the less engaged or interested moderate view through sheer force of self-assertion.

The Basic Principle Behind Successful Knowledge Sharing

May 23, 2016 Comments Off on The Basic Principle Behind Successful Knowledge Sharing

Most information in organisations (or brand communities) is shared from the perspective of the creator, not the recipient.

The creator publishes an article about a topic s/he finds interesting. The timing, length, format, and target audience (everyone) all suit the creator. Which is exactly why it’s soon forgotten by the target audience.

Successful knowledge sharing efforts provide the right people with the specific information they need at the exact moment they need it in the format that suits them.

This usually means every team member needs to know:

  • What information to share.  If we’re working on writing a new consultancy report, it would be useful to have examples of previous reports. Which means we need to share this report when it’s complete. Any time we regret not having a template to work from, we need to share the template we’re creating. Equally important is to share only the essential information. Too much information becomes unwieldly and demotivating to sift through. This also means pruning the information which is never used.
  • When to share this information. Too often information is shared once it’s been created instead of when it’s needed. A document shared too early is rarely recalled and used. We need to embed the document within a process by which it’s delivered to the receiver when s/he needs it. A checklist with links to relevant, updated, documents works well here.
  • With whom to share this information. At the United Nations we used to receive ‘Addendum to Addendum 3.2’ messages containing entirely irrelevant information to the projects we were working on at that moment. These emails mattered a lot to a small number of people. Finding those people is hard.
  • How to share this information. Slack might be a great tool for deliberation, triggering processes or fixing gaps in the process, but it’s not the best tool for sharing useful information (neither is email). PDFs, white papers, video training classes, workshops, books, podcasts, guest speakers can be equally useful tools.
  • Why they share information. More information is lost to apathy than retirement. People simply aren’t motivated to share what they need. Either they aren’t personally motivated (belief in the group mission, desire to help, finds the topic interesting) or professionally rewarded (recognition, promotion, salary increases) to share what they have discovered.

Too many discussions begin by asking the creators what they want, they should begin by asking the recipients what they need.

The Fear And The Thinnest Slice Of The Pie

May 19, 2016Comments Off on The Fear And The Thinnest Slice Of The Pie

7 years ago we began advising organisations to build communities. We sometimes struggled to make the leap from giving advice to organisations following our advice.

This changed when we understood the fear.

I’d advise organisations to begin small. Start with the smallest groups with whom you have the best relationships and who share a most clearly defined demographic, habit, or psychographic trait. Become the single best/most useful destination for a small group then slowly expand out.

‘Don’t worry about your other 49,500 customers for now, worry about the 500 you’re going to get started with’.

Unfortunately their bosses did worry about the other 99% of their customers.

When would the 99% join the community? Why not now? Why not just make the scope a little broader? Why not include a few more people? Why pay so much money for just 1% of the customer base? Why not wait to hire a community manager until we’ve gotten things going?

This is all about fear. Focusing on so few people feels risky. Focusing on a lot of people feels safe. The irony is the opposite is true.

I should have armed them with stories of organisations that went big and failed badly.

I should have given them stories of expensive failures and the stress/frustration trying to reach 50,000 people at once induces.

I should have given them stories of people, many I know personally, who began small and could grow steadily, catering to each group in turn and how great it is for members to finally find a unique community just for their specific challenge/interest.

I should have told them inspiring, emotive, stories about all the communities that began small and thrived.

Everyone you deal with today (your members, your boss, and your colleagues) have preconceived notions about what feels risky and safe. If your idea sounds risky (almost any idea does, it’s new and different), people will resist it. You have to change those ideas before you can take action.

What Will You Do With All That Activity?

Screenshot 2016-05-16 10.45.32

Most organisations with a community today are squandering its potential. They’re squeamish about asking members to do something (anything!) because they fear rejection.

They pay to host discussions but refuse to influence them. This is a big mistake.

Next week I’m teaming up with Vanilla Forums to host a webinar that will change the way you think about managing your community.

I’m going to explain that you shouldn’t be paying for the upkeep without exerting influence, why we waste our community’s greatest assets and how we can (and should) develop programs that guide members to take the behaviors that will drive business success.

Here are some things we will cover:  

  • How we use a scientific approach to go from guessing what behaviors to solicit from members, to knowing what behaviors to solicit from members.
  • The persuasive techniques and emotive stories we’ve used to get members to take actions for our clients.
  • How to reduce the rejection rate of the behavior by creating consistency through smaller trigger behaviors.
  • Why most new information is rejected and how to create information that your members will use to rationalise future behavioral decisions.
  • How to sustain new behaviors over the long-term.

If you’re just getting a community started, this isn’t for you. However, if you’ve got a lot of activity already, you should sign up. This might just help.

May 25, 1pm Eastern


Focus On The One Big Problem

Recently we’ve been looking at how we best store and display useful information in communities.

Most make the same mistake. They try to store all the good ideas instead of solving the problems that affect most members most often. This becomes an overwhelming problem with overwhelming amounts of information generated. Not good. No-one can find what they want there.

A better way is to begin really small. Focus on the single most common question(s). 80% of discussions are about the same few topics (tip: this is usually the equipment used for the activity).

Work to solve that one problem first.

  • Beginner level: Create a single page on the topic. Write a brief introduction, determine the key categories (what to get, where to get it, how to use it etc…) and then create links to the discussions posts of the most useful advice. Any time someone shares something new, add the link under the relevant category. Add a community ‘topic’ page in the navigation bar of the community.
  • Professional level: Same as above, but summarise the knowledge shared in each post on the page with a link back to the relevant post. Caravanistan does this well. If travellers recently report the Kyrgyzstan border is closed on Tuesdays, that’s now mentioned on the page with the post linked to for more information. Use the new posts to refine information and keep it updated.
  • Expert level: Once a page is established, recruit those that shared advice to keep it updated with the most relevant information. Make sure it doesn’t fall victim to bloat. If people are looking for equipment, they don’t want the product histories, just the comparison, prices, reviews, and recommendations. Now move on to the next page.

When you try to store every useful idea, you end up feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and unsuccessful. When you focus on helping definitively answer the best questions, you can easily spot useful tips that fall into this field.

Aside, a few months ago my colleague Todd shared a private Google Doc used by a small, group of community professionals to make platform decisions. It lists the platforms, the core features, the prices, and self-reported experiences of each. Anytime anyone gets a new price or has a new experience, they can add to the document.

That’s a simple, effective, and powerful way to create a useful resource.

Store Your Stories

Download and install evernote. Make sure you have the Chrome extension in the top right of your screen.

Whenever someone shares an emotive story (fear, anger, joy), clip it and tag it by the emotion (here are 8 to get started).

Save it under an evernote project.

After 6 months, you should have dozens of powerful, emotive, stories. You will have stories of distraught customers and delighted ones. You will have stories about intense levels of frustration and anxiety. You will have stories about mutual respect and trust. You will have some good oddball stories.

Start learning the core elements of these stories.

“Member ‘X’ was really frustrated about ‘Y’, she posted this in the community, member ‘C’ responded…Member ‘X’ was really delighted to find the solution”

Now start spreading the best stories.

Start spreading the ones that will make people in the organisation feel great about the work they’re doing (“thought you all should take a second to read this amazing story by…”).

Start spreading stories that should provoke anger and get people to take notice (“I’m sorry to share this, but we’ve had a member today who wasn’t able to…..”).

Start spreading the stories that provoke fear (“I’ve seen two of our top members recommend our competitors today because….”).

Start spreading stories that spread awe (“Just noticed that one of the key influencers in our field has joined the group…let’s raise our game this week”)

Forget reporting metrics. Your boss probably doesn’t care about the number of likes, shares or active members as you do. Your boss does care when customers explain they’re leaving for competitors or they share their joy in something you did.

Remember that emotion tagged ‘joy’? Make sure you have plenty of positive stories from members there. You will need them to get through the rougher days.

Far too often we let our best stories go to waste. We don’t share with them other members, our colleagues, or even use them to improve our own mood. Don’t let the best stories disappear, tag them, store them, and share them.

You Deserve More From Your Work

May 16, 2016Comments Off on You Deserve More From Your Work

More understanding from your boss and colleagues, more opportunities to demonstrate what you’re capable of, more training to become the best at what you do, more freedom to pursue the tasks that most fascinate you….

You deserve a lot more from your workplace than you’re getting today.

And if you’re responsible for a workplace, you need to offer more.

Today most of our work comes not from organisations looking to build communities for their new vacuum cleaner, but from organisations who realise they need their employees to collaborate better, to feel more connected, and to be better at sharing the right information with the right people at the right time.

At 10am Eastern today, I’m hosting a webinar with Ron Friedman, author of The Best Place To Work, my favourite book of the past year.

Sign up here:

Ron Friedman (who has a Ph.D in social psychology) uses the latest research from the fields of motivation, creativity, behavioral economics, neuroscience, and management to reveal what really makes us successful at work.

We’re going to cover broad workplace principles, collaboration etiquette, and more much.

P.S. If you’re looking for tactics to boost community engagement, visit our webinar with Salesforce here.

The Unlimited Query Challenge

May 12, 2016Comments Off on The Unlimited Query Challenge

Signing up for a Wistia account, I came across this box.


It’s quite easy to change this to ‘What is your main goal in the community?’

Most people converge around a relatively small number of goals.

Now you can guide each person into unique groups, discussions, and set of automation rules based upon their specific objective (you can do this by any dropdown menu you like, but problem seems the most common).

This masks a more interesting challenge though. With Discourse (which we use) and many other platforms today we’re entering a stage where we can tag and segment members by almost any filter we can imagine.

Want to create a unique segment of members that joined 3 months ago, participated twice, and now only view once a month? We can do that.

Want to create a unique segment of members that have viewed 7 or more discussions mentioning ‘platform integration’ and replied to 3 of them? We can do that too.

Now any filter has become possible, we’re only restrained by our imagination…and that’s proving to be quite a headache.

What would be the best filter to run? What would you do with the information?

P.S. Don’t miss our webinar with Ron Friedman on Monday. Sign up here:

The Best Place To Work + Hawk On Motivation

On Monday May 16th, you’re invited to join a webinar with Ron Friedman and I.

Ron is the author of the The Best Place To Work, my favourite book of the past year.

Ron is going to talk about what the world’s best workplaces do differently, the science of getting things done, how to motivate employees towards excellence, and the psychology behind productive work teams.

You can sign up here:

My colleague Sarah Hawk, recently teamed up with HigherLogic to publish this free eBook on automation and motivation. I strongly recommend you download a free copy.

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