Month: June 2016

Don’t Create Another Cacophony of Noise

Should I tell my team I’m writing this blog post right now?

Should you share that you’re reading it?

Should your team share what they’re working on today?

Well, it depends.

Well intentioned efforts to encourage people to share what they’re doing becomes a cacophony of noise. It makes your inbox look quiet.

There might be serendipitous value within that noise. Two people might discover they’re working on similar projects. You might get advice from someone with experience. The group might also develop stronger bonds.

But you’ll need to deliberately wade through a whole lot of mundane updates to find this value.

And it’s not smart to build collaboration efforts around serendipitous encounters. The value might trump the costs, but the costs are too high.

The goal of collaboration is to achieve your goal faster, cheaper, or better than you can alone. That means dividing up tasks, specialising in what you do best, and accessing the best possible information on the topic.

Can you see the problem with sending and receiving daily updates?

It doesn’t help you achieve any of these goals very efficiently. You can achieve every serendipitous benefit better by deliberately targeting that benefit.

  • If you need information to help with your work, you need to know where to find that information. Who do you ask? Where do you search? What terms do you search for? What specific information do you need? Have colleagues documented this information for you?
  • If you need additional resources to complete a task, you need to know who has time available and what their skillsets are. This is a relatively simple project management tool and access to free time on each person’s shared calendars.
  • If you have a useful article to share, you need to identify who needs this information, when do they need it, and how do they need it?
  • If you want a stronger sense of community, you can set up proper team bonding activities, live calls, establish clear superordinate goals, have more emotive (and open) discussions.

Don’t encourage colleagues to share what they’re working on every day. Focus on the goals of collaboration and build efforts around those goals.

Imagine your employees are racing drivers. They sit atop a pile of information, technology, and processes which all need to come together at the right time. They need only the right information at the right time in the right format. Train them where to find information, whom to ask, and how to ask.

Now any serendipitous benefit is a free bonus.

Stop Being Busy And Achieve Your Branded Community’s Big Wins

June 28, 2016 ,Comments Off on Stop Being Busy And Achieve Your Branded Community’s Big Wins

If you’re doing the same community activities as last year, if the work feels easy and repetitive, or if your growth has flatlined, you’re probably stuck.

Being stuck doesn’t feel great. You lose inspiration and feel burnt out.

You have two choices. You can find a new gig or work on a big win.

A big win is something that has a >10% impact on your community metrics. To achieve a big win, you need to free up your time, stop doing the low-impact tasks, and identify what has the biggest long-term impact for the largest possible number of members.

Step 1) Define This Week’s Goals and Current Activities

The first step is to define this week’s goals and activities.

This shouldn’t take you more than a few minutes.

Create a table with two columns. List your current community goals on the left. Typical community health goals might include:

  • Increase the number of active members.
  • Improve the newcomer to regular conversion rate.
  • Increase the number of posts per active member.
  • Build a stronger sense of community.
  • Improve the quality of discussions.
  • Reduce the number of negative posts.
  • Recruit volunteers to help grow the community.

(as a tip, you shouldn’t have any more than 3 of these at any one time).

Now write down your tasks for the week alongside the relevant goal on the right hand side. These often include:

  • Replying to discussions.
  • Welcoming new members.
  • Creating content/posting updates.
  • Searching for images.
  • Hosting a webinar.
  • Updates on Facebook/Twitter.
  • Collecting data.

If a task doesn’t help you achieve a goal, stop doing it. You should be able to free up 10% of your time in this task alone.

Now estimate how much time you spend on each activity per week. Alternatively, install RescueTime and track it directly.

Let’s imagine you follow this process and achieve something like this:

1 - withholdingtest

This is a snippet of the list rather than the entire list.

Step 2) Run A Withholding Test

Now we run a withholding test to find out how important each of these tasks are.

A withholding test is used by pharmaceutical brands, direct marketers and many others to determine the impact of a variable. It’s simply the process of withholding (stop doing) an activity for a select group of time/people and seeing what happens.

What happens if we cut the amount of time we spend initiating discussing, replying to discussions, and sending out newsletters by 50%? Does the number of active members/any metric you track also drop by 50%? If not, you can spend less time on that task.

You will usually find there is some negative impact (perhaps a 15% drop). After all, there was a reason you were doing these tasks. But it’s clear it doesn’t justify the amount of time you spend on it. If you cut your time on these tasks by 50% and activity drops by only 15%, you might want to drop the time by 25% and see activity fall by 7.5% for now.

At this stage you usually find that your most time-consuming activities have very little impact upon the level of activity in a community. You should be able to save 25% to 50% of your time using withholding tests alone.

Your goal is to cut out any task which isn’t the best use of your time. You’re going to need this time to focus on your big wins.

Step 3) Automate the repetitive (none-empathy) tasks

Next we look at automating as many of your remaining tasks for the week as possible. Any task that doesn’t require empathy or complex thinking can usually be automated.

For example, most members ask the same few questions. These can be added to an FAQ members receive when they join. You can add messages in the initiate discussion process to suggest they ‘search’ for the answer before asking the question.

Some common targets for automation here would be:

  1. Adding any question that appears 3+ times to an FAQ.
  2. Creating a document/wiki as a beginner’s guide for newcomers to easily find the most common answers to their questions.
  3. Using autoresponders to onboard newcomers to the community.
  4. Using autoresponders to nudge members to participate in relevant discussions.
  5. Automated segmentation into topical groups to contact about relevant activities.
  6. Open-calendar 1 hour sessions for members to book ‘support calls’ to get quick responses.
  7. Automated generation of sales leads from the community.

Ask yourself during every task, is there a way I can avoid ever doing this again?

Set aside one week and determine with each activity you perform if there is a way you can avoid ever doing it again? This should free up another 10% to 15% of your time.

Step 4) Delegate Remaining Empathy Tasks

The final time-saving step is to delegate tasks which require a human touch but aren’t the best use of your time. You should only be doing the work only you can do.

If someone else can do a task at a lower pay grade than you, they should do that task.

You have three groups of people you can delegate tasks to. These are:

  1. Volunteers (unpaid community members).
  2. Colleagues (paid staff, but not directly working on your community)
  3. Paid help (virtual assistants and community team members)

The kinds of tasks you might delegate to each will vary.

 Delegate Group Tasks they can perform How to engage this group
  • Initiating and replying to discussions.
  • Welcoming new members.
  • Moderation.
  • Publish content.
  • Host webinars.
  • Create high visibility volunteer roles members can apply for.
  • Designate a clear field of responsibility.
  • Share control/power
  • Provide recognition.
  • Include functional tasks with the fun stuff.
  • Answer product questions.
  • Answer brand-related questions.
  • Solve outstanding problems.
  • Profile colleagues in the community.
  • Host interviews or ‘ask me anything’ sessions with employees related to particular topics/problems.
  • Organize problem-solving question sessions with colleagues over 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  • Post a list of ‘toughest questions’ from members to motivate colleagues to prove their skillset in the community.
Paid support (team members or virtual assistants)
  • Scheduling posts / updates.
  • Researching future posts / content.
  • Finding stock images.
  • Replying to member tech questions using a checklist / FAQ.
  • Collecting data / producing reports.
  • Welcoming newcomers (maybe).
  • Recruit virtual assistants who know a little about the field.
  • If growing a community team, establish clearly unique roles.


Volunteers can perform most of the growth, content, activities, and moderation tasks in the community management framework.

Create high-status volunteer positions that include the kind of tasks that people want to do.
You can include some monotonous tasks too, but you have to also create opportunities for volunteers to do things they will enjoy. These are tasks which will increase their status and where they feel a strong sense of efficacy.

A good volunteer role should include:

  • A specific name (don’t call it a volunteer, give it a powerful name).
  • A clear field of responsibility (what part of the community are they most interested in?).
  • Power elements (give the volunteer unique access to the platform).
  • Recognition elements (provide volunteers with ways to build their reputation).
  • Functional elements (these are the relevant tasks you don’t want to do).

For example, if you manage a surfing community, you might let people apply to be your Surfboard Expert (name). This would be someone whose role is to stimulate and manage all activity related to surfboards within the community (field of responsibility).This might mean being able to initiate discussions, publish content, organize webinars, and remove discussions related to surfboards (power & recognition). They would be listed in a unique area and have the ability to speak on behalf of the group (recognition). Their role would also be to prune the bad surfboard discussions, invite more people to join and talk about surfboards, and schedule regular events (the functional tasks).

Next, engage your colleagues in community activities. You’re not a customer service professional. It shouldn’t be your job to answer every product/service question if others in the company can do it better. If volunteers can’t answer these questions from a checklist, you need your colleagues to help out.

Finally you may have the opportunity to secure paid support to help tackle many of these expanding roles. This might be additional community people to help you expand or virtual assistants (underutilized tool) to take on time-consuming tasks that aren’t the best use of your skills.

With a small amount of training, virtual assistants can perform many of the tasks which require empathy but not your direct involvement.

By this point you should have been able to whittle the number of tasks you perform down to the core few. These should be tasks that have been shown to have a significant impact upon your community that only you can perform.

This should free up most of your time to work towards your big wins.

What Is A Big Win?

A big win changes the behavior of a large amount of members for a long period of time.

A big win is something that boosts your desired metric by more than 10%.

A big win is a one-off activity that has a sustainable, long-term, impact.

Once you’ve managed to generate a sustainable level of activity in any community, you should focus on your big wins.

The problem as we’ve noted is most community professionals work at the bottom left of this table. Your goal is to move towards working at the top right of this diagram.


(this isn’t an exhaustive list)

Four Types Of Big Wins

There are four broad types of big wins:

1) Increasing the level of traffic to the community. This means getting more people to visit the community site for the first time. If this declines, activity gradually dries up. Ultimately getting fresh members is critical to long-term success in a community.

2) Increasing the conversion rates. This means increasing the number of visitors who participate. Most participation ratios hover around 1 in 1000 (first-time visitors to participants). This breaks down to 1 in 100 registering to join and 1 in 10 of those participating. There is huge scope for improvement here.

3) Increasing the levels of participation. This means increasing the level of activity from your current members. This means making your current members more active (without resorting to quick thrills).

4) Increasing the value of the community. This means generating a larger return on investment from the activity generated by the community. This might mean improving the quality of discussions, reducing the costs of managing the community, or aligning activity with clear ROI goals.

Sustainably increasing the level of traffic to the community.

Most people doing community work wait for people to arrive and then try to keep them. The easiest way to improve a community is usually to attract more members.

This must be sustainable. There are many ways to get the numbers up (hosting competitions, rewarding registration, hosting big events), however we need numbers to stay up. This is a long-term game.

There are four methods of doing this.

  1. Search traffic. Get more people to find you via relevant search terms.
  2. Direct traffic. Get more of your existing audience to visit.
  3. Referral traffic. Get traffic from existing large audiences (and members)
  4. Paid traffic. Get more people to visit through paid sources.

Your tactics here will probably fall within the following buckets:

Search Traffic Content
Inbound links
Onsite optimisation
Referral Traffic Guest posts
Direct Traffic Email campaigns
Community awareness
Paid traffic Social Ads (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube)
Social Ads Search Ads (Google, Yahoo, Bing)
Paid elsewhere (Blogs, paid media buys etc…)

Improving SEO Results

Read the Moz SEO guide first, then read some of the latest advanced material about SEO.

To increase SEO, you usually need to:

  • Improve the site speed and layout.
  • Improve the site’s mobile experience.
  • Revamp your site’s best performing content to better satisfy user intent (and reduce the bounce rate).
  • Write guest posts to attract inbound links.
  • Engage in digital PR to attract key links from major sites.
  • Combine similar discussions into one.
  • Create regular resources from discussions.
  • Help members optimize their discussions (headlines etc)
  • Create newcomer focused content series (a beginner’s guide like that below works well. Include the questions which appear on search most frequently)

This should gradually increase your search traffic. For most communities, this is the best source of newcomers (especially newcomers to the topic).

The majority of your member’s will find you via search. If you can spend time on only one thing to grow your community, this is probably the best use of your time.

Referral Traffic
We cover many of the referral traffic techniques in our Successful Community Management program. These tactics will broadly fall within the following:

  • Writing guest posts for relevant mainstream sites.
  • Interviewing / hosting webinars with popular figures in your field (notably bloggers, journalists, and others who can link to the interview).
  • Creating useful, powerful, video content which links back to your community.

Link outwards to people you wish to link back to you. Occasionally, simply asking for links helps too.

Direct traffic
Direct traffic usually comes from your existing audience and direct invites. Your mailing list is critical here. Most of us begin a community with an existing, large, mailing list and need to convert this audience into active community participants.

Alternatively we might find a large number of people follow us on other sites (social media) and we struggle to convert them into registrants for the community. This requires a process of testing different messages until you find the appeal which is most likely to convert a member into an active community participant.

These appeals might include:

  • A specific problem they want to solve.
  • An idea that might help them get even better at what they do.
  • Exclusivity of joining.
  • The group norm of conforming.
  • Something new about the passion they can learn.
  • A chance to build their reputation.

Social traffic includes all traffic which originates from social channels such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, Pinterest, and others. This isn’t usually a large percentage of your traffic and isn’t worth as much of your time as any of the above methods. The best process here is to share popular community discussions on these sites to drive traffic back to your community efforts and prompting people to share discussions they post on social channels.

Increasing Conversion Rates

This can be divided into three areas:

  1. Improving the number of visitors that click on the registration page.
  2. Improving the number of registration page visitors who become new members.
  3. Improving the number of new members who sign up to become active participants.

Your goal is to try and squeeze a 10% improvement from this process. If you can increase conversion by 3% at each stage, you’re nearly there.

There are several steps you can test to improve each of these:

Visitors to registrations
Registration page visitors to new members
  • Reaffirm the motivation with a quote/case study.
  • Reduce copy required to sign up.
  • Use single sign on.
  • Tweak who the confirmation email appears from.
  • Tweak the confirmation email subject line.
  • Tweak the copy of the confirmation page.
New members to participants
  • Improve the automated messages.
  • Send better direct messages from the community manager.
  • Tweak the welcome / confirmation email.
  • Change the post registration-page.

You can measure each of these in turn to check the number of people that visit, click, and perform the next step.

Your mileage with each test will vary, but the process remains relatively the same.

Increasing the level of participation.

The third big win is to sustainably increase the level of participation from those already actively participating in your community.

This is the process by where you convert participants into regulars and regulars into veterans. This combines self-determination theory with automation.

Specifically you’re looking to:

  • Increase your members’ perceived level of competence within the topic.
  • Increase your members’ perceived level of autonomy within the community.
  • Increase your members’ sense of relatedness to one another.

You can find an overview here.

Increasing sense of competence
  • Creating opportunities to demonstrate skill level.
  • Develop a skill/knowledge training program to increase the skill level.
  • Creating optimal challenges to tackle.
  • Developing recognition systems.
  • Developing achievement systems.
  • Ensuring members feel a sense of progress.
Increasing sense of autonomy
  • Providing choices over their behavior
  • Ensuring they can participate without feeling pressured.
  • Uncovering what members really care about so they can participate authentically.
  • Soliciting opinions of members in how they want to participate.
Increasing sense of relatedness
  • Increasing familiarity with other members.
  • Ensuring members like other members and have close friends in the group.
  • Ensuring members admire the skills and knowledge of other members.
  • Ensuring members connect with the community culture and develop a sense of community.

This works both in your one to one messages as much as any other content.

In your current messages do members feel more competent, autonomous, and better connected to one another? You can perform a touchpoint analysis of every message to check.

Increasing the value of the community.

The final big thing is increasing the value of the community to the organisation.

We covered this last week. This essentially means increasing the retention rates by aligning community behaviors with retention rate activities, increasing the number of customers, improving staff productivity, improving innovation, or making members happier/more informed/better supported (for non-profits).

You can find the full list from last week below:

This is where you would also find activities like improving the quality of discussions or performing tasks more efficiently to reduce costs.


In short, you want to save as much time on possible on work that you can eliminate, automate, or delegate to others. Then you need to focus on your big wins. These big wins will be things that increase the level of traffic, conversion rates, participation levels, or value from activity by more than 10%.

What We Look For When Reviewing A Community

June 23, 2016 Comments Off on What We Look For When Reviewing A Community

My colleague Hawk and I recently launched a weekly breakdown of communities.

If you’re feeling brave, you can submit your community here and we’ll share our thoughts each week. It’s free for you and fun for us.

If you’re not feeling brave, there are some relatively simple things you can check here.

1) The concept. Is it about the brand or based clearly round a problem people know they have, an opportunity they believe exists, or a passion they want to learn more about? Is there any evidence that this is a strong common interest? Are lots of people talking about it elsewhere?

2) The user experience. Is the user experience positive? Is content easy to read? Does it contrast well with the background? Are there long, block, paragraphs? Can the copy easily be scanned? What is the font / font size? Do the CTAs stand out? What is the line length?

3) The CTA. Is there a clear call to action for new visitors and/or existing members? Is this based around solving a problem, seizing an opportunity, learning something interesting, social inclusion (exclusivity)?

4) SEO. What are the title tags/meta description? Is the title tag optimised for what the audience might search for (and less than 60 characters)? Is the meta-description likely to be clicked?

5) Registration form. Does this only ask for the email address, username, and password? Is there any unnecessary copy that could be removed? Is social sign on well implemented? Is the design clear and present? Are there any unnecessary clicks required here?

6) Post-registration page. Are you immediately taken to a page that is likely to drive you to make an immediate post? Do you receive a notification or a special message tailored solely to someone who has just joined? Is it clear what the next immediate action is?

7) Welcome/confirmation message. Does this give you a consistent message to take the next action? Is it clear here what the next step is? What do you want people to do right now? Are there multiple CTAs inserted here?

8) Removing unnecessary/unpopular pages. Are there pages that are rarely visited or have limited content? Can we remove them and condense activity a little further?

9) Topic categories. Are these based around problems that people want to solve, unique passions, or opportunities that people want to seize? Can we combine/merge any of these?

10) Landing page / homepage. Can you easily see what’s new, what’s popular or who’s new and who’s popular? Is there a good menu of discussions to appeal to a broad type of member each time they visit? Is it easy to see the most popular discussions of all time?

11) Priming. Is there any negative or unintentional priming here in choice of words, images or anything else we might want to tweak?

12) Tone of discussions. Is the tone of discussions reflective of the type of community you’re trying to create? Is it fun and sarcastic? Positive and constructive? Serious and substantive? Do most posts and responses reflect that tone of discussions? Are all discussions receiving a good, quick, response?

13) Messages from community manager / Automation messages. Do messages from the community manager feel personalised and unique to me? Are they designed to either build a relationship or get me to take an immediate action? Do they avoid any cliches ‘thank you for joining….’ Does the automated email journal apply a motivational principle to encourage participation? Does it indoctrinate me better into the culture of the community?

14) Newsletter. Is this automated or cultivated? Does it only contain value or does it simply fill spaces regardless of quality? Does the newsletter remind people about the community or increase the perceived value of the community?

15) Social status. Is there a clear sense of community? Do people seem familiar with each other? Do they reference the history of the group? Do they seem emotionally on the same page? Do they have influence over what happens within the group?

16) Brand interaction. Does the brand participate well? Do they respond to discussions about themselves personally and with genuine care? Do they act like real people? Do they solicit opinions? Do they give exclusive information / previews to members first?

17) Integration. Is the community well integrated with the rest of the company? Are discussions clearly linked from various areas of the content. Is the community highly visible?

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but hopefully it’s a few simple things to consider if you review your own community.

If you want us to review it, share the link here.

It’s Time To Focus On Generating A Positive ROI For Your Online Community

Many community professionals are measured and rewarded by their ability to increase activity.

But the gap between activity and value is wide and growing.

The tasks which best boost activity (e.g. controversial discussions, less challenging interactions, and games/quizzes/events) don’t create more value…they just create more activity. You incur extra costs managing that activity.

Thus increasing activity tends to boosts costs more than value.

If we exclude advertising-supported communities, only a tiny percentage of interactions generate anything resembling value. You can see these in the following table:

Online Communities ROI Table

A table showing the ROI of online communities

You might have a community with millions of members participating in thousands of discussions, but how many of those discussions help you?

It’s probably not many, but we can increase that number.

Increasing Valuable Behaviors

Let’s imagine your goal is customer retention (for example).

What is likely to lead to retention?

Loyalty? Yes, but what causes loyalty? Three things stand out:

1) Perception of brand value compared with competitors. This is when you sincerely believe the company’s products/services are better. To increase this members would need to ask questions in the community and receive good, quick, responses from the brand. They would need to read and accept information about the brand’s products/services. Those are two very specific behaviors (asking questions and reading information)

2) Acceptance and attachment to the brand group identity. This is when you believe in the company’s mission and feel close bonds with other customers. For this to happen members need to make genuine friends and connections with other members. That means personally getting to know other people. Specifically this means introducing themselves to other members, having private discussions, and disclosing personal information about themselves. Again these are 3 specific, distinct, behaviors.

3) Switching costs. If you lose something tangible or intangible by switching, you’re less likely to switch. They would have to answer questions to earn points or status which afford them discounts on the product or credibility among the group.

Now we have 6 very specific behaviors which we can measure and try to encourage to increase retention rates.

  • Ask questions about the products.
  • Read information about the products/services (and mission)
  • Introduce themselves to others.
  • Participate in private discussions.
  • Reveal personal details to others.
  • Answer questions to build credibility.

This doesn’t mean we need to stop members broadly doing what they want.

It does mean we need to focus on also persuading members to perform the behaviors that generate value.

Changing Behavior

There are four key tools to change members behavior.

1) Building social norms around those behaviors.

2) Persuading members of the value of those behaviors.

3) Simplifying the behaviors you want members to make.

4) Better rewarding these behaviors.

Let’s take just one behavior, asking questions about the product.

How can we proactively encourage members to do more of that?

At the moment, members don’t do it for many reasons. They can’t think of questions to ask, they’re worried what others might think of them, or they don’t see the benefit of doing that.

Let’s use the norms, persuading, simplifying, and rewarding framework here:

table 2

These are all relatively simple ideas for just one single behavior you want to encourage. You might do some of these by accident already, but imagine how powerful it would be to deliberately plan activities around these sorts of behaviors.

You could do the same for another behavior, perhaps introducing themselves to others.

table 3

You came come up with far better ideas I’m sure, but the framework should help.

The goal is to be deliberate in getting more members to perform the behaviors which deliver the value you need.

If your goal is activity, that’s easy enough to do. But you will only end up increasing the cost without seeing results. If your goal is value (which it should be) you need to take a different approach.

Look at the table above. Decide the behaviors you need members to perform. Then persuade members (emotively) to perform those behaviors, build social norms around those behaviors, simplify these behaviors, and reward those behaviors.

A Much Better Way To Use Slack (and any collaboration tool)

June 15, 2016 Comments Off on A Much Better Way To Use Slack (and any collaboration tool)

The wrong way to use Slack is as a substitute for email.

This is when you create separate channels based around departments (usually with one general group for everybody) and tell everyone to participate there instead.

The benefit is now everyone can see, search for, and participate in discussions.

The downside is this becomes an overwhelming amount of information, it drastically increases the time spent communicating (this is not a good thing), and everyone is invited to share opinions regardless of their experience or expertise. Your decisions change to accommodate the opinions of people who shouldn’t be influencing the outcome.

A better way to use Slack is as part of an advanced collaboration process that cuts communication, not as a substitute for email that increases it.

Here’s how:

1) Create purpose-driven channels. Don’t setup static channels, use purpose-driven channels. Don’t have a channel for the sales team, have a channel for specific leads, clients, or goal. e.g. improving the sales pipeline. Don’t have a channel for marketing, have a channel for revamping the website.

2) Only invite people when they’re needed. Only invite people to join at the exact moment you need their approval, advice, opinion, or to perform a specific goal. Once they have performed that goal, they should leave the channel.

This is the hardest part. Most people like to see every project through and chime in on every subsequent action. Resist this urge. It leads to people in dozens of channels participating far beyond their qualifications. This means that you (yes you!) will have to leave channels frequently too.

3) Ensure all the information is ready for them. Before you invite someone, make sure they have all the information they need to perform the action you want. And make sure they only have that information. Remove the irrelevant files at this stage. You can drop them back in later. Make sure they work in shared google / dropbox documents linked to the channel too. Remember the principle, the right information for the right person at the exact moment they need it. Make sure you set a deadline for the action too.

4) Set the channel purpose to the next step needed. Set the channel topic to the next step required. It should be possible for your boss to jump into any channel and see what the next step is and what’s holding things up. Using Google Docs you should be able to see the very next word that has to be written. This will save you when people get sick, take vacations, or leave the company.

5) Integrate relevant tools. Using Zapier you can do fun things. You can setup notifications from Quickbooks when invoices go out or get paid. Or have emails from specific people or a client e.g. “” go directly into the relevant channel when you’re on vacation (far more effective than an away message). Or include notification updates from Google Docs or forms. Or have new salesforce leads / prospects sent directly to a sales person. Or add actions to the calendars of colleagues.

6) Archive documents and close the channel. Once the purpose has been achieved, ensure the documents and discussions are archived in a shared folder and close the channel down.

When this system works well, it lets you coordinate tasks, track progress, reduce time communicating, and ensure your team are working to their strengths.

Remember the goal isn’t to increase communication, it’s to reduce it.

How To Get People To Join, Visit, And Stay Engaged In Your Brand’s Online Community

At our New York workshop last week, we set aside 90 minutes to tackle problems put forward by participants.

In situations like this, it’s really tempting to focus on the solution. Everyone wants to know the solution to their problem…at least until the next problem arises.

Learning the solution isn’t anywhere near as useful as learning the process to find the solution. Once you learn the process, you can quickly identify the solutions to your own problems.

We’ve covered this before, but here is a basic process to stimulate some thinking with some new updates.


If you want more people to join, more people to participate, or to keep them active, you can use this model to ask yourself very simple questions which will help you identify the answers.

Most community engagement problems can be solved by following this model.

Step 1: Why People Don’t Join And Visit Your Community Today

This is by far the most common question. If you have an audience of 50k names, why do only a small fraction of them become community members. Why don’t most people join or participate. Part of this is the law of big numbers, the other part is mistakes you’re probably making.

1) Awareness: Do they know you exist?

Most of your target audience doesn’t know you exist. That’s often hard to accept…especially after you’ve sent them emails, reminders, posted the link prominently, told them in a myriad of different ways. Of the few that have heard you exist, the majority have long forgotten.

This presents some big questions, can you reach the people you want to join. Do you have a list of people and a method to contact them? Will they open your messages? Do they associate you with someone credible? Do they act on your messages?

  • Build a bigger list of people you can reach. Improve your SEO, build a bigger mailing list, or grow your audience on social channels.
  • Increase your perceived level of trust (follow the CHIP process). This helps get your messages opened and listened to.
  • Improve your persuasion skills. Run a persuasion check after you write your messages. Ensure the details are as persuasive as possible.

2) Value Perception: They don’t see the value

This occurs when the community concept is wrong. What you’re offering isn’t closely enough aligned with what the audience wants or needs. Relevancy is really important here. What % of discussions/content is useful or entertaining to the majority of your members?

  • Identify what the audience wants and how they want it. Use this quick process.
  • Survey your target audience to identify hopes, fears, and goals. You can use our template here. Find out how much experience they have, where they’re based and what’s stopping them from overcoming their goals.
  • Simplify your appeal to a single message. Drop the word ‘community’, focus on a specific goal. This is your positioning. This book is worth reading too.
  • Ensure the most relevant discussions appear on the homepage for first-time visitors.
  • Highlight the social rewards of joining and participating. Is it exclusive? Will people be one of the first to join? Is it where the top people participate? Is it where the cool group hang out?
  • Be clear about what behavior the community replaces. What does the community help people do better than they do now.

3) Trust: They don’t trust you to deliver on the value.

This is usually the result of someone not knowing who you are or having a bad first experience with your community. The credibility challenge we’ve addressed above, the experience problem is more complicated. If someone didn’t get the value they expected during their first few visits, they no longer trust you to deliver on the promised value. It’s hard to recover these members, but you can fix it for future groups. Either make simpler promises to keep or work extra hard on the newcomers.

  • Develop an instant alert for first time posters. Ensure they get a good, quick, response to questions. You have to defy their expectations to create positive associations with your community.
  • Follow up on first-time posters to see if they solved their problem.
  • Spend extra time on members who made their first post and set reminders using to follow up.

The goal in someone’s first contribution to the community isn’t to match their expectation, but surpass them.

4) Competitors: Other places deliver the value better.

Many of us face a competitor problem. If you’re a Q&A community and Google gives better, quicker, and more trusted answers, you have a problem. If you’re going up against an established competitor with a similar concept, you have a problem. If a newcomer enters with something unique, perhaps a better culture, you have a problem. Sometimes internal politics falls within here too.

Do a competitive analysis before you launch the community (if you didn’t, do it right now). Find out where else people go if they don’t get the answer to their question, where else they participate, and how they participate. Find out what people believe makes you unique and exemplify that trait.

Step 2: Getting People To Join and Participate

If you want someone to join and participate, you have to deeply understand what they truly want and align your user journey through that entire process. This begins at the moment they first hear about the community to the moment they have made their first contribution.

Screenshot 2016-06-12 19.54.23

Very few people join and participate in communities to become a long-term participant. If the community satisfies their needs, they might become a regular member, but to persuade someone to join and participate, you usually need to satisfy an immediate need or want.

The key here is you don’t create the interest, you exemplify it better than anyone else.

You have three broad options here:

Screenshot 2016-06-12 20.01.54


1) Determine what members want. Using interviews, surveys, and your research, identify what members want to do. This will be combination of a) what they’re doing now b) what they’re searching for, and c) what they say they want. is useful here. You should be able to develop audience clusters with unique needs and the format of activities they want.

If you only want engagement, this is the simplest route to take. The downside is these behaviors might not benefit you at all. You can pick those closest to you and build a community around that, or adjust what you want around what motivates members below.

2) Adjust your messages and behavior around what members want. This means issuing a values survey and identify what drives and motivates your members. You can use our values survey.

You can adjust any behavior and messaging to align with the values of your audience. Your goal is to find overlaps that benefit both members and yourself. If security is high, you want members to check their current efforts are aligned with best practices, for example. More examples are below:



If the behaviors here still don’t overlap with what you need, you need to persuade members to do what you want. This begins before you launch the community.

3) Persuade members to do what you want.

Persuasion means having an existing audience to begin with whom are willing to listen to you. This usually means interviewing people who do/don’t perform the behavior and uncover their emotive reasons for taking/not taking actions. Focus on how they feel and share these stories. Then shrink the behavior change to something that requires less time, money, effort, deviance from habits, or social isolation. Finally add new information which supports the behavior (but doesn’t contradict what members already believe).

If you follow this process you should be able to identify the action and messaging you need to use to persuade members to take the action you need them to take. The messaging should be based within a problem, opportunity, passion, exclusivity, or conformity to the crowd.

Each has pros and cons as we can see.

  • Solving a problem. Easiest to get people to join, hardest to get people participating once they have solved their problems. Most Q&A communities have terrible long-term levels of participation. People visit, ask a question, get a response and never have cause to visit again. I’d estimate around 95% of communities are based around this idea.
  • Seizing an opportunity. This is similar to a community of practice (CoP), members get together to share their latest ideas, research, and findings to help the group. This is hardest to get started (people have to share without benefit to themselves), but easiest to sustain once it takes off.
  • Exploring a passion. This is where you build a community for the diehards who want to learn more about the topic or connect with others as fascinated as they are. This is very hard for a brand to create and it’s usually better not to try.
  • Exclusivity. This is where you find whom most people in the sector admire and invite those people to form an exclusive group. This is the simplest way to launch most types of communities. Over time you can gradually allow more people, but it begins, small, tight, and focused.
  • Following group norms. This is where you establish that the majority of people in your sector are already participating in the community and others should join to avoid being left out. This only works for the dominant community in its sector.

Here you’re looking specifically for problems, opportunities, deep passions, who they admire, and what most people are doing. This is both what you build a community around and what you want people to do when they initially participate in the community.

Once you have the messaging, you ensure it aligns with every touch point through the user journey.


Each one of these messages should be aligned with a problem, opportunity, passion, exclusivity, or group norms. These should be based upon the research you’ve just completed. At this stage, you’re giving people what you know they now want. You should use their exact words and language here.

The next stage is what happens when they visit your community. This is where you need to encourage them to perform that behavior right now.


The difference here is usually one of specificity. You want to be really specific about the contribution you want them to make. Don’t talk about joining the community, talk about the action they will perform once they have joined the community.

Your goal at this point is still focused on getting people to participate immediately. This ensures people perform the behavior for the first time. You want every single message to align on this journey. Whatever motivation you’re using, you want it reflected throughout the entire journey here.

The message will change with the medium. Title tags are about 60 characters, guest posts have unlimited character counts.

But the goal is to reflect a theme. If your members want to design their own surfboard, that message would appear at the interruption point (you might create great surfboard designing content with a call to action (see our experts share their top 10 surfboard tips) which links back to a discussion post in the community.

Once they arrive and read those tips, the encouragement point focuses on a specific challenge e.g. ‘post your surfboard size questions here’ or opportunity ‘share how you picked your surfboard design’.

By the end of this process, you should be able to get a lot more people aware you exist and actively participating.

Step 3: How do I keep members actively engaged and participating?

If you want to keep members actively participating, they have to either feel they are getting better at the topic, feel they are gaining more autonomy within the group, or feel better connected with the group. Even better, provide members with a sense of all three.

This usually means you need to work at the macro (group) and micro (individual) level.

Take your members whom have made 1 to 20 contributions and send them the perceived psychological needs survey. Adapt it to your specific context. This will identify what needs are and aren’t being satisfied at the moment. You can’t tackle all 3 stages at the same time, so pick the one journey which is lacking at the moment and focus upon that.

Competence Journey

Competence is the most important for communities based around solving a problem or seizing an opportunity.

Essentially this refers to acquiring new skills and knowledge, having opportunities to apply these assets, tackle challenges at the new skill level, feeling a sense of achievement from tackling these challenges, gaining recognition from others, and having a visible sense of progress.


If we shaped this by how much time we spent on each today, recognition would take up 90% of the picture whereas the other five factors would be squeezed into the corner. We spend far too much time on recognition at present and far too little time on ensuring people acquire new skills, can apply them, have challenges to tackle, and feel a sense of progress.

The reason why many people don’t participate in our experts community is they simply don’t feel like an expert. They don’t feel competent enough to participate. This means we’re not providing them with the knowledge to participate or not providing them with challenges (questions they can answer) which they feel they can tackle.

You can solve this by developing a competence journey for newcomers. This might look like this:


Here when someone joins they’re prompted to ask a question at which point they get a response which is twice as fast, twice as detailed, or they get twice as many responses as they were expecting.

After this they’re prompted to share if the response solved the problem and added a skills list of people who we can tag into future discussions on that topic. When that happens, they’re tagged in and begin to feel like an expert. Over time, we’ll invite them to contribute to bigger topics within their realm of expertise.

This is a very simple journey, you can create your own (better) journeys.

Autonomy Journey

Next we make sure people feel a growing sense of perceived autonomy support. This means people believe they can act in line with their true beliefs and values. This doesn’t get anywhere near as much attention as it deserves.

The biggest problem is we try to force members to do what we want instead of asking them what they want to do. This immediately compromises their autonomy. This is a big problem.

Increasing a sense of perceived autonomy support usually means a combination of four things.

  1. They can choose how they participate. You provide them with choices and options, but they get to make the call. You might increase give members rising levels of power, rights, or admin access) to make this decisions in the group.
  2. They don’t feel pressured. This means you’re not pestering them with messages they don’t want to perform behaviors they don’t want to do. This refers to the rest of the group too. If the group norms violate their values, they won’t participate over the long-term.
  3. They can behave authentically. Similar to the above, but instead of not feeling pressured to do what they want to do, they are supported to do what they want to do. If a member has a unique interest within the topic, they are supported to explore it. They aren’t mocked or ignored, but supported. Both this and the option above is where moderation policies can prove very important.
  4. They can share opinions on the community. Not only are they free to share opinions on a range of topics, but their opinions are actively solicited within the community. You sincerely work hard to get individual opinions on the community and incorporate those into your decision making.

At the practical level, a simple autonomy journey might look like this:


You might ask newcomers (or existing members) how they might like to be involved, guide them to a place where they can participate, design further options to participate based upon their response, and check in on how they’re doing later on. Again, this works at the very micro level. Your challenge is identifying which parts can be automated and which might need volunteers.

Relatedness Journey

Relatedness refers to the state of knowing the other members of the group, liking the other members of the group, and feeling that they like you. While toxic environments and fights are enticing in the short-term they usually prove corrosive over the long-term.

This connects strongly to building a powerful sense of community (also here) at the macro (group) level and working on the individual journey each participant goes through. The stronger the sense of community, the more people tend to participate and embrace the culture of the group. A typical journey might look like this:


Here when a newcomer joins you find out a way to identify people with the same kind of challenge or opportunity and introduce them. This can be done via tagging as well. You might then introduce them into a sub-group (or have volunteers help do this) and perhaps later to individual existing members.

What you want here is for every member to feel they have a small handful of good friends within the community and a large number of acquaintances. Finally we might ask those whom are doing well to form their own sub-groups in the community and invite relevant newcomers to join those groups.

As per the other journeys, you can adapt this to fit your own specific needs (and develop far more complex/better journeys than this).

Where do these messages belong?

You broadly have two options here. You can send out automated messages from you or personalised messages from you using reminders. You might find this automation guide useful (this tactical post too).

A simple table might help with your planning.


Identify the specific order messages will appear either automated or individually from you. You might begin by sending out the same messages to all members. As you become more comfortable, you might setup ‘if then’ automation rules based upon whether people open messages, take action, visit specific discussions etc…

You should be able to drop at least one of your journeys into the table above. As you see the results you can tweak, try elements from different journeys, and extend the journeys further.

Follow the process and find your own results

As we mentioned in the beginning, being told the answers isn’t anywhere near as important as learning the process to get your own results.

If you learn the process, you can discover the bottlenecks relatively easily. You simply need to ask basic questions until you find out where things are going wrong.

If people aren’t visiting, you have an awareness or trust people. If people aren’t joining, you have a value or relevancy problem. If people make one contribution and drift away, you have a competence, autonomy, and relatedness problem.

Work through the process and you’ll be able to solve many of your own community problems. Good luck.

What Is Collaboration? Not Communication

June 9, 2016 Comments Off on What Is Collaboration? Not Communication

You can easily confuse communication with collaboration.

You might be talking to your team often, sharing lots of information, giving lots of opinions, coworking on Google Docs, and not collaborating well at all.

This is because communication and collaboration are two very different roles.

You collaborate to achieve a goal faster, cheaper, or better than you can alone. This is achieved by dividing up tasks (to perform them concurrently), soliciting better information than you have access to (from those with the best information), and/or ensuring everyone can specialise in what they do best.

Yet collaboration entails costs. That cost is the time spent communicating and coordinating.

When 5 people are sitting around a room collaborating, these costs rise fast.

If you have 5 people in a meeting for 1 hour, you need to achieve your goal 5 hours quicker or around $500 (assume $100 p/h per person) better than you would alone. If this becomes a weekly meeting for 3 months, you need to achieve the objective at least 60 hours quicker than you can alone.

Improving collaboration is essentially the game of maximising the benefits (quicker, cheaper, better) while minimizing the cost (time spent communicating and coordinating).

Yet most groups focus on maximising the communication (the cost) while minimizing the benefits (dividing tasks, specialising, soliciting useful knowledge). Most groups focus on ensuring everyone is involved in as many different tasks as possible. That’s the exact opposite approach to getting great collaboration.

If you want to improve collaboration, you need a system for dividing up tasks quickly, figuring out how to get the right specialist in at the right moment, and providing the right people with the right information when and how they need it.

Solving Major Problems In Online Communities

June 5, 2016 Comments Off on Solving Major Problems In Online Communities

Olivier has an interesting question about community board structure.

How do you simplify 300 boards spread across 100 products in 9 languages developed over 15 years?

One solution is to distinguish the good boards from the bad ones. Define what makes a healthy board. Archive the unhealthy boards. Identify your members’ core needs today. Restructure the community categories around those needs. Build categories around clear use cases instead of legacy products that age and die.

The missing problem here is the problem. What problem is this trying to solve?

If you’re going to embark upon a massive restructure of a platform, disrupt every member’s learned behavior, and spend a huge amount of time and money, you better be darn sure you have a clear problem you’re trying to tackle.

And you can’t have a clear problem without a hypothesis. Thus a better approach is to begin with that testable hypothesis.

1) Begin with a testable hypothesis

Let’s begin with a list of possible problems here.

a) Members can’t find what they’re looking for and leave.

b) So much thin content is hurting search traffic.

c) The engagement rates of members is lower as discussions are spread across so many places.

d) So many discussions overwhelms newcomers and hurts the newcomer to regular conversion ratio.

Each one of these is a falsifiable hypothesis. You can prove it false. This is where you should begin with any major community activity.

2) Look for evidence that supports and refutes the problem

You can then begin looking for evidence that both supports and refutes the hypothesis.

  • Members can’t find what they’re looking forUse Google Analytics, exit surveys, and member interviews to tell you if this is true. Look carefully at the bounce rate and the % of members who say they couldn’t find what they were looking for. If the % is >10%, you might have a clear problem to solve.
  • Thin content is hurting search trafficTools like SEMRush, Moz, and Google analytics can give you a good idea if your search rankings are dropping for key terms as activity becomes increasingly disparate and duplicated.
  • Low social density is hurting engagementYou can run a small trial with one product to see if concentrating discussions significantly increases engagement from active members. Benchmark the increase against other forums over the same period and you might have an answer.
  • Bad newcomer to conversion ratioYou can study the newcomer to regular conversion journey and identify where people are dropping out. Do they visit but not register? Do they register but not participate? Do they participate and not stick around? Cross-reference this with how long they spend on the page (i.e. did they get their answer) and you have a pretty good idea of what’s causing people to vanish.

Remember here that unless we also look for evidence which refutes the hypothesis, we’ll inevitably prove it true. You’re bound to find the 1 person in 100 that supports your viewpoint if you ignore the other 100. Make your assumption on the balance of evidence.

3) What is the best way to solve the problem?

This is the part we really screw up. Because we’ve begun with the platform question, we only see platform solutions. But if one of the above problems does exist, we need to identify the best solution to that problem.

This tip could save thousands of organisations millions of dollars on expensive platform migrations and redesigns.

Changing the entire board structure might be the best way to tackle the above challenge. But I doubt it. I think there are better ways to tackle the above problems than disrupting everyone with a new structure.

Consider, for example,

  • Help members find what they’re looking forUse search data, surveys, and interviews with members to identify the 20% of topics which generate 80% of the discussions/requests. You can then feature these discussions more prominently within each category, create eBooks around these topics, or send them to newcomers in the community. Which do you feel will have the biggest long-term impact upon your community?
  • Increasing search trafficYou could simply remove articles/discussions which don’t attract any search traffic at all. Or you might instead try to plan discussions, activities, and content around the key things people search for. You might simplify or combine existing discussions into single definitive discussions for each topic.
  • Increasing engagement rateNotice the problem with this goal? It’s not specific. Do we mean increase the number of active members? Increasing the level of activity per active member? Let’s get more specific, how about we decide to get existing members participating more. We might go for some big wins, like having major VIP interviews, handing over more control to members, or host a major event to drive more activity.
  • Improve newcomer to regular conversion ratesRevamping the boards might help, but I suspect that getting the right automation journey, personal welcomes, and build giving members an early sense of competence, autonomy, or relatedness will have a much bigger impact.

I could easily be wide of the mark here and changing the board structure might be the solution. But given how quick, cheap, and non-disruptive it is to implement most of the above solutions, I’d certainly test them out before embarking on a huge, expensive, project which is likely to upset a lot of members.

Before you do something this big, this expensive, and something that disrupts the community for every single member you want to be dead clear about the goal and exhaust the other methods to achieve that goal here first.

There are countless organisations whom have invested vast sums of time and money into major revamps and not seen any impact. I’m tired of hearing about them. Usually they don’t know what goal they were trying to hit in the first place.

Believe me, it’s much easier to hit the target once you know where it is.

Improving Employee Collaboration Is So Rarely About The Platform

One of the first things I learned from Nancy is collaboration can rarely be tackled in isolation.

If you want to improve collaboration, yes you probably need to get a good platform.

If you want people to use the platform, they need to be persuaded about it’s value. They have to trust the person telling them about its values. They need to want to help one another.

Unsurprisingly, people only want to trust their boss, help each other, and ultimately collaborate if they enjoy their jobs.

If you try to tackle just the platform or motivation to use the platform level, you’re probably going to struggle.

Yes, when you’re learning from Jon he doesn’t want his employees collaborating with Joan’s team because of a longer-term dispute, you can feel like you’re shaving the yak.

But it’s all connected.

If you want your employees (or customers) to collaborate more you ultimately have to find, or help, a segment feel better socially connected, more autonomous and more competent at their work.

A few weeks’ ago we invited Ron Friedman – Author of The Best Place To Work to join us for an exclusive webinar.  It was the most popular webinar we’ve done this year. I hope you like it

(if the video doesn’t show, click here).

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