Month: July 2016
We often wrestle with how advanced discussions in a community should be.
Should we let people come and ask the simplest, easiest, questions in our community?
Or should we demand that discussions should take place at a more advanced level?
Here’s a simple rule of thumb. Discussions in a community should focus on answers you can’t Google.
If we’re looking for a designer, we can search for designers. If we want to get a list of trusted designers that others have worked with and would recommend, that probably requires asking the question.
If I am overwhelmed with information on a topic and want to know which information is most accurate by the experiences of others, I need to ask others.
If we’re looking to find an accountant that has experience working with UK companies with staff employed in the USA and the tax issues involved, that’s probably not an easy question to Google.
If we want to know what everyone else is working on this week, we’re going to need to ask others like us.
If we’re looking for a sense of connection and to get a sense of how people like us setup their ideal workday, we need to ask that question of people like us. Google won’t help much there.
If we want to know how others afflicted by the same disease we have have handled feeling exhausted while expected to appear strong, we probably need to ask that in a community.
Most of the discussions you have with friends are probably questions you wouldn’t be able to Google.
I’d argue if people can Google the answer to a question, it probably doesn’t belong in a community. You can’t compete with Google. But Google shouldn’t be able to compete with you.
Make a list of 5 really critical pieces of information.
This can be information that’s critical to your team (or to your community).
What are the 5 most important things you know how to do that are game-changers?
It might be how you convert leads to clients, research and develop successful products, recruit highly talented staff members etc…
Now put someone in charge of keeping each of these 5 items updated. This means the knowledge is owned. This person is responsible for keeping the information at the best possible level.
They seek out feedback from people who use the knowledge and update accordingly. They seek out new ways to improve the knowledge. They ensure it’s properly tagged and easy to find. They make sure all newcomers acquire this knowledge.
This is what turns the information you already have into a powerful asset for everybody.
It’s crazy how rarely we do this. Most organisations have countless staff writing up important documents, publishing them, and watching them decay with each passing day. What a waste!
My colleague Todd is probably one of the foremost experts in community platforms today. He knows the capabilities and differences between each platform. He knows the costs of each platform. He knows exactly who to contact at each vendor for the best deal. He knows who can implement platforms and how to select a platform by any client’s need.
That’s a powerful piece of knowledge. The trick is to keep it updated as platforms rise and fall. As costs change. As staff move between different platforms. As new updates are released and we get more customer feedback on different vendors.
This works just as well in an online community as it does in an organisation. Determine the five critical pieces of information people need to know. Put someone in charge of keeping each updated and actually learnt by everyone else in the organisation.
Last week we ran a split test on our mailing list.
You can see the results below (or click here).
We predicted that ‘collaboration book’ would be the most opened subject line (all three were ahead of Mailchimp’s benchmarks), but the difference was surprising.
A +5% difference is relatively rare. This jives with what we’ve seen before. Namely that highly specific subject lines and question-related subject lines are associated with spam and are opened less. Interestingly, the unsubscribe rates for the first two emails were 25% to 50% higher than the last too.
Incremental improvements like this matter. Big wins (those that give a +10% increase in any metric that matters) are rarely the result of a one-off action. Big wins are the result of a deliberate process of incremental improvement.
You test newsletter and email subject lines/confirmation lines. You test what content ranks highly in search engines. You test what questions or activity gets people to participate for the first time. You test what discussions attract the most activity. You test different ideas for webinars and events.
In each test you’re looking for a few percentage point difference. About 5% is good. Over a long enough period of time, each of these add up into double-digit wins.
We’ve worked with hundreds of organisations. Rarely has any organisation rapidly increased growth or activity with a single big win. Yet most continue to embark upon huge platform changes and replacing staff searching for silver bullets that don’t exist.
The big wins are nearly always incremental. You test something, see what works, and adapt (you might be surprised just how simple some of these big wins are).
This means incremental improvement is also related to something even more important, the search for a better way of doing things. In our community we see many discussions based around problems people have, but few based around better ways to do things which aren’t clearly a problem.
If we want to get much better, we need to be on the hunt for fresh ideas to test in every aspect of our community efforts. This includes all the things you take for granted. You’re as likely to gain a few percentage points improving something you already do well as you are on something less successful today.
We’re working on a book about collaboration.
We suspect the same scientific principles we’re using to build thriving communities can be applied even more effectively to improve the way organisations collaborate too.
We’re losing time and missing out on opportunities every time we collaborate. We’re hoping we can try and fix that.
But we need your help. We really want to understand how you are collaborating today.
If you can take 5 minutes to answer these 10 questions, I would appreciate it.
I’ll share the results of the survey with each of you that complete it. You can benchmark how you and your team collaborate with the rest of the group.
If you can share the survey with colleagues and friends, that would really help too.
P.S. Free video on turning visitors into members.
Here is a fun task. Keep a notepad next to your laptop. Any time you participate in an online community (or even an online discussion) write a quick note to yourself about why you did it.
What was your motivation? Be honest.
If every answer is ‘to help people’, I don’t believe you.
Next ask your colleagues why they don’t participate in your brand’s community. Assume any answers about ‘not enough time’ are about the utility of the community (i.e. the community isn’t relevant or useful enough to their work).
Ask what communities they do participate in and why.
Now ask some members why they don’t participate (try not to do this via survey).
Classify your answers into categories like:
- Utility (usually ‘not enough time’ or ‘too busy’).
- Competence (usually variations of ‘nothing to say’).
- Fear (worried about ‘looking bad’ to someone).
- Fun (no friends there, didn’t like the experience, didn’t enjoy the experience).
This isn’t a definitive list. Now look to see where most people cluster around. This highlights what you need to work on next. For example:
|Utility||Increase the relevancy of the community to daily challenges. Increase the speed of responses. Improve the quality of responses (i.e. recruit experts to answer questions from members or ensure each question does resolve the problem).|
|Competence||Ask people to share if an answer solved their problem. Create an educational guide on the major topics. Set opportunities for people to show their progress. There are no shortage of tactics to increase competence.|
|Fear||If it’s fear then create a more welcoming environment. Have an area to ask beginner questions and get help. Focus on guiding those first contributions. Let people share their biggest challenges. Consider making the community exclusive or allowing members to participate anonymously.|
|Fun||Make the culture more personable. Initiate more lighthearted discussions. Use off-topic areas more frequently. Looking for universal discussions you can promote.|
You might be surprised what your research reveals about why members don’t participate. Most of these problems are easy to tackle with a little effort.
There’s a gap between the communities that die and those that thrive.
It’s filled with communities that lack a remarkable edge. They lack the ‘thing’ that’s going to get people to rave about it, invite others, and decide to associate their identity with it.
It’s filled with communities that are functional. People use them when they have to (i.e. to solve a problem), but they’re not going to grow much neither.
If your community feels static, if it’s not growing, if you feel stuck you need to find and push an edge.
Your edge is the remarkable part of your community. It’s the unique gift that only you, through your vision, creativity, and determination, can bring to the group.
There are no shortage of edges, here’s a few.
|Practical Actions||Hypothetical Ideas|
You can add plenty of your own too I’m sure.
Spend 10 minutes with your team. Agree which edge(s) you’re pushing. Go through your upcoming plan of action. Align every item of content, every discussion, web copy, and events with that edge. Mentally prepare yourself to stick with it.
You need to go all in here.
If your edge is practical, remove anything theoretic. Ensure every discussion lists practical next steps. Demand event content lists how it applies to members. Remove discussion posts which don’t meet the criteria.
This is going to upset some people. Don’t worry about how many people you upset, worry about how many people you delight. The people that love the concept will participate a lot, they will bring in others that love the concept too. This is the very thing that gets you the kind of growth you need and want. Track your referral rates and online mentions.
However, this is the easy part. The hard part is sticking with the edge when the going gets tough.
What will you do when your boss’ boss suggests you broaden the focus?
Will you remove members who don’t have enough experience for your edge?
Will you remove posts and upset members to prevent blunting that edge?
What will you do when people get upset you’re not letting them talk about what they want?
If your community is about what your brand sells (e.g. a customer service community), you might be fine without an edge. There’s not much competition there. If you’re the biggest community in your field, your focus is on appealing to the masses, you can probably skip the edges too.
If you’re neither, you need to identify the edge you’re trying to push.
An edge is what’s going to attract the people you need. It’s going to attract the people who are dissatisfied with the status quo, the people who aren’t highly engaged in existing communities. The people most open to joining and being a part of something new.
It’s not even close, is it?
Try it for yourself.
Take a recent discussion you’ve had via instant messenger and say it out loud either by yourself or with a (patient) partner. Try to do this at a normal conversational speed.
We took a 30 minute one to one instant messenger discussion on Slack last week and read it out loud at normal conversational pace. It took 3 minutes.
That’s a big 27 minute difference.
If you have 7 working hours each day, that’s 6% of your day wasted. You can extrapolate your own company-wide costs and benefits here (cost per employee time, benefits of your team being 6% more efficient etc…).
It’s clearly quicker to say what’s on your mind than type it, wait for the other person to read it, write their reply, and then have them wait for you to read it etc…No surprises here.
But this changes as a group gets bigger. At around 5+ people, it’s usually quicker to use instant messenger. Multiple people can share and chime in with their opinion simultaneously. We can read quicker than we can listen.
Simple collaboration principles then.
1) If you’re making a simple request to a large group (where any recipient might have the information you need) instant messenger works as a great tool.
2) If you’re having a discussion with a group of 5+ people it may also make sense to go digital.
3) If you’re having a discussion with 2 to 5 people that extends beyond 3+ exchanges (via email, responses etc..) you should always call.
You might be surprised just how much time this simple tweak could help you.
p.s. Can you answer these 10 questions about collaboration?
Too many discussions begin with ‘how do we get….?’ usually followed by something people don’t want to do.
How do we get people to join and participate?
How do we get people to stop posting links to their own sites?
How do we get people to invite their friends?
How do we get people to create groups, initiate discussions, and remove posts?
It’s hard to get people to do something they don’t want to do. It takes time. You need to change the attitude towards that behavior. That’s possible to do, but you shouldn’t try to do it too often.
If most of your discussions are about getting members to do something, you’re always going to be fighting against the tide.
Better discussions begin with ‘who do we let…?’.
Imagine how that conversation changes things…
Who do we let join and participate in our community?
Who do we let post links to their own sites?
Who do we let invite their friends?
Who do we let create groups, initiate discussions, and remove posts?
Suddenly that same object can be seen as a positive. Instead of asking people to start creating their own groups, you can reach out to the smallest few with a good track record. Tell them you’re giving them a power no-one else has.
Instead of constantly removing links to personal sites you can reach out to a few people with a good track record and see if any of them might want to be responsible for this. Now members can submit their links to him/her for approval in a weekly ‘best of the web’ roundup.
When you change the type of discussion you’re having internally, your actions and tone of voice towards the community changes. The authoritative desperation (“Please stop spamming the site..or we’ll remove you!”) is replaced by a sense of control and rewarding the good members of the group (“Good news, we’ve decided to let each one of you submit your external articles for a weekly roundup. We have 2 volunteer editor places up for grabs!”). .
The best way to get members to do anything is very often to let a few of them do it.
We recently received good feedback on our design brief.
The design brief itself wasn’t particularly impressive. The positive feedback was more about we took the time to create a design brief in the first place.
It turns out most people looking for designers don’t do this. They tell designers what they want designed (i.e. a logo), how they want it to look (i.e. ‘like Nike …but better and in orange’) and when they want it by (i.e. ‘next week please’).
This provides a designer with too much scope and too little information. You can expect high communication costs through endless rounds of clarifications and misunderstandings.
Designers love working from design briefs because it answers all their questions in a structure they’re used it. Most importantly, it gives them exactly the information they need at the time they need it and in the format they love.
This should change how we collaborate.
Usually when we want something done, we begin with what we want to say, when we want to say it and use the format most convenient to us.
This is a mistake.
This forces the recipient to transfer the knowledge into a format they understand (mentally or physically). This creates gaps and misunderstandings. It consumes more of your time and produces worse results.
It’s always better to put your information in the recipient’s preferred format yourself than wait for them to do it.
Begin with the recipient’s perspective. How do they want to receive this information? (email, call, memo, report, slides, in-person meeting). If you’re not sure, ask. It differs by person and profession.
When do they want to receive this information? Is there a fixed time they need it or a key decision point they want to get that message (one client once wanted information while in the car on the way to a meeting to brief his boss). You can schedule communications to work with this.
You might be amazed how much time this saves and how much it improves working relationships.
There is a lot of superstition behind community growth.
This superstition often leads to the doomed big bang approach or the equally unsuccessfully big promotional push (competitions, challenges, giveaways) to save struggling communities.
If you understand the science behind community growth, you will know why both efforts are always doomed to fail.
Better yet, you will know how to check your community is growing at the right speed and increase your growth rate.
By the end of this post, you should be able to change your approach to increase the speed of growth (and dazzle your boss with your scientific expertise).
How Fast Should Your Community Be Growing Right Now?
If you’ve created a highly transmissive community concept, have a focused target audience with dense connections with other members, and you’re keeping your members active when they join, the graph showing your number of active members should look like this.
Health Community Growth
This chart essentially shows that you begin with a small handful of members, see a sudden rise in active members as word spreads, before plateauing in the maturity phase.
This is the ultimate healthy growth chart for any online community.
You want your growth rate to as closely resemble the chart above as possible (we’ll explain why soon). Unfortunately, most communities don’t resemble this at all. Most communities resemble one of the four graphs below:
Check your active membership levels are healthy
The first check to see if your growth rate is healthy is to export the number of daily active members (or returning visitors if you need a proxy) and create a graph (used curve lines / trendlines) to see what your growth looks like.
This also gives you a very good indication of future growth potential as well. If things used to grow quickly and are now levelling off, it’s fair to say you’ve reaching peak potential.
Of course, if you revamp your focus (say, begin targeting SEO professionals and expand to inbound marketing professionals) your graph might more resemble an horizontal S shape below.
And this is the secret to communities that escape beyond their initial confines. They don’t perform some remarkable marketing tactic, they expand their focus to accommodate more members (while cleverly not losing their existing members).
Here’s a simple task. Export the number of active members since the community launched and create a chart showing this level of community growth.
If you can’t access this data, then use returning visitors from Google Analytics.
To make sense of this you might need to add a trendline as shown below.
Data from a former client above follows (despite a recent spike, we improved their platform), the path of healthy community growth (almost) perfectly.
The community grew to a level where the number of monthly active member is beginning to plateau. This is as big as the community is likely to get without a big change in focus.
And this is the part that might save your job one day. If you’re managing a mature online community (let’s say one that’s been around for 5+ years) and the number of active members is holding steady, don’t ever agree to increase this figure. Increasing the number of active members in a mature community can be a difficult (possibly impossible) task.
To understand why, we need to understand the bell curve and the rate of growth.
The Bell Curve, The Rate Of Growth, And The Spread of Diseases
The rate of growth is how many members you attract compared with the previous month.
If you attracted 200 members this month compared with 150 last month, your rate of growth is 50.
If next month you attract 230 new members your rate of growth has dropped to 30 (even though your absolute growth has increased).
Most communities have a zero rate of growth.
This means they’re still attracting new members but it’s almost exactly the same number of new members each month. It might be 30 this month, 30 the month before, and 30 the month before that. For mature communities, this is fine. For everyone else, this isn’t so good. This number should be steadily rising.
The ideal community resembles a bell curve below.
The rate of growth should (in perfect conditions) follow the bell curve above. It begins at 0, rises slowly at first until it hits the critical mass point. Then it rises rapidly until peak growth has been achieved before falling back down to 0.
Here’s the important thing to remember here.
The long-term rate of growth for all communities will always return to 0 on a long-enough time scale.
This doesn’t mean they stop growing, but they stop growing at any increased speed.
You see this bell curve in many places. Google Trends isn’t the best proxy, but you can see similar curves in many popular communities:
Product Hunt, for example, has probably just passed the peak of its bell curve. .
It’s probably still growing, but not as fast as it used to.
Mumsnet too is probably on the other side of the bell curve for now.
Facebook also fits the mold particularly well.Reddit, perhaps surprisingly, probably hasn’t yet (I suspect we’ll see a sudden flashover point soon).
Sometimes these are less easy to predict. Instagram might be near it’s peak while Snapchat is about to be close to the flashover point.
(note, if you’re reading this post months/years later after publication, these graphs might look very different. Let me know how our predictions did).
The Basic Reproduction Number And The Bell Curve
Your bell curve will follow your basic reproduction number.
The basic reproduction number is a term network scientists have borrowed from epidemiologists (people that measure the spread of diseases). It simply means the number of additional cases (infections) each individual case generates.
The higher the number, the faster the spread of the disease. Your rate of growth is dictated by your basic reproduction number.
In our context, this means the number of active members each additional active member generates.
How might an active member bring in a newcomer? There are four main channels:
1) Members might create content that is found via search engines and brings in more traffic whom become members.
2) Members might share content on social channels and bring in others.
3) Members might mention the community to their friends offline.
4) Members might write about the community on their own sites which have significant traffic (this also increases search rankings).
(p.s. The more you can encourage members to do the following, the faster you grow).
Your basic reproduction number is influenced by:
1) Contacts. This is the number of contacts made between your regular members and the susceptible population (the no. people interested in this topic).
The easiest way to calculate this is to track mentions of your community URL and estimate the reach of those mentions (twitter is easy, web traffic/Facebook is more difficult). There will be a big overlap here (many susceptible members follow the same people on Twitter, for example). Some tools let you estimate this overlap (hootsuite, brandwatch insights), others might not.
2) Probability of transmission. This is the likelihood of each contact ‘transmitting’ the community to someone else (i.e. someone joining the community as a result of that contact). Highly transmissive communities have a powerful, relevant, community concept and excellent UX / calls to action that invite a newcomer to join and participate.
You can measure this by dividing the number of new registrations each month by the number of external mentions of your community. If your combined reach of mentions is 200,000 people and you have 100 new members, your transmission rate in each contact is 0.05% (this is the most simplistic method, it overlooks the overlap mentioned above).
3) Duration of active membership*. This is the length of time someone remains active in the community compared with that time period. The longer someone remains actively sharing community content, the higher your reproductive number. If you’re churning through members, your reproductive rate is lower. This is calculated by average length of actively talking about the community for that same time period (for example, 30 days would be 1. 15 days would be 0.5).
Your basic reproductive number is the contacts * probability of infection * duration of infection.
If each additional member doesn’t bring in at least 1 new member (directly or indirectly) your community will enter a death spiral.
This is the really critical lesson here.
If your basic reproduction number is below 1 (i.e. if you’re not getting at least 1 additional new member for each member you bring in, no marketing tactic on earth can save you). All that time and money you spend promoting the community is inevitably wasted.
Explaining The Bell Curve
This also explains why growth begins slowly, suddenly rises, and then falls almost as fast (the bell curve).
In the beginning, you have a small number of ‘infected’ members and a large number of ‘susceptible’ members. The probability of being ‘infected’ with the community concept is small but rises exponentially with each additional member that joins.
If you meet two infected people, for example, you have twice the probability of contracting their disease. This will grow slowly at first before reaching a sudden flashover point (or tipping point) where the probability is rising so quickly due to infinitely more people becoming infected. The probability of transmission isn’t change, just the number of infected members.
This rises until you reach the peak growth, after which your rate of growth declines because you begin to run out of susceptible people to ‘infect’. Everyone already likely to join the community already has.
So why doesn’t the number of new registrations eventually fall to zero?
Because there are always new people becoming interested in the topic. In mature communities your long-term rate of growth will closely mirror the number of newcomers becoming interested in the topic for the first time. If this number rises, the community rate of growth might rise again for a period. If it falls, your growth rate falls too.
This is also why new communities should focus on people with plenty of experience in the topic while mature communities need to better cater to newcomers.
The Bell Curve And The Online Community Lifecycle
We use the bell curve of new registrations in our online community lifecycle too.
Again you see how the number of new members rises as you progress through the lifecycle before eventually falling to a more sustainable rate based upon newcomers to the topic.
What Actions Do I Need To Take To Improve My Rate Of Growth?
Everything we’ve covered before gives us some scientifically valid ways of growing our online communities.
1) Measure your current number of new members (or clicks on your registration page). Is this speeding up, slowing down, or holding steady? Compare it to the charts above to see if they are healthy.
2) Increase the number of contacts between members and interested non-members. You can increase this by making it easier to share content (prompting people, including sharing options, providing invites members can use, integrating their social accounts etc…). You can also increase motivation to share (involving members in the creation of content, improving the quality of content, creating really useful material to share that helps newcomers, doing remarkable things). You might create a social norm that it’s expected to talk about the community.
3) Increase the size of the susceptible audience. If you’ve hit maturity, most members are in competitor communities, or you’ve already churned through most people, you need to expand the audience you’re targeting. You can change the topic focus to attract newcomers, focus on newcomers to the topic or deliberately make the jump across a barrier to a new group (e.g. different languages/locations).
4) Create a more transmissive concept. By far the most powerful way to increase growth is to make your community more transmissive. Some communities explode to life because the concept (the very idea) of the community is so relevant and exciting. Change the name, unique focus, type and purpose of the community. This is the most cost-effective improvement you can ever make.
5) Keep regular members active for longer. If you can increase the retention rate of your members (you measure this right?), you can increase the amount of time someone in your community might transmit the community to others. This is going to mean increasing their sense of competence, relatedness, and autonomy within the community.
You’re probably thinking “but I’ve already tried to do that and it isn’t working!”
Believe me, if this isn’t working then neither will any typical marketing tactic.
Marketing tactics accelerate the speed at which a community with a >1 reproductive number spread, but won’t save one with a reproductive number
You get a short spike in activity followed by a longer decline.
Speaking from personal experience, the best way to improve your community is to improve the concept. Everything else tends to stem from how transmissive the concept of the community is. Sadly this is also the thing we most quickly overlook.
Don’t compare the growth of your community against another, especially a mature community. A mature community with thousands of members, millions of inbound links, a hard-earned high search ranking/reputation will attract more members than your fledgling effort.
What’s more important than absolute growth is the rate of growth. Is this rising or falling? Does this match where you are on the lifecycle. Don’t ever try to promote a community until you’ve managed to get a reproductive rate >1 . Throwing more members at a failing community simply delays the inevitably agony.
Measure and track your growth rate against the examples above. Slowly increase the growth rate by making it easier to share community activity, expanding the susceptible audience of the community, creating a more transmissive concept, and keeping your regular members active for longer.
This sounds more complicated than it is. The key message is to forget promoting your way out of your problems. Instead go deeper and increase your reproduction number. Everything else improves from there.
*technically this is the length of time a member stays actively promoting the community, but this is almost impossible to track
Everything changes when you see information from the perspective of the information seeker.
I have thousands of documents stored across hundreds of folders in my Dropbox. They stretch back over a decade now. Many of them contain useful lessons, time-saving templates, and material we could use in the future.
Unfortunately many of these are titled “[Client name] report”, “Richard Millington Presentation 3 FINAL”, or “Strategy and Metrics”. These titles make it impossible for the very people these documents might help to find them. This directly leads to a less informed team, duplication of work, and spending time hunting for the useful documents.
If someone asks, I might be able to recall which client we learnt which lesson from or where a useful document might be stored. But as more time passes, this becomes less likely.
In your organisation, the natural employee churn rate means this information is usually lost forever. On a company wide scale, the time spent replicating this work really adds up.
The problem is the creator of this information rarely considers how people might try to find the information.
Few people consider when people are likely to need this information, what they are likely to search for, and where they are likely to search for it.
A few important useful tactics here.
1) Onboarding and direct training. For critically important lessons and training, embed these within the onboarding of employees and direct training of existing employees. This can be via emails, webinars, internal courses, new employee handbooks etc… You have to directly insert this information into the onboarding materials. This usually means ensuring the onboarding materials are stored as a shared doc accessible to most employees.
2) Folders people are likely to visit. For less important knowledge or templates/resources, you need to discover where people are likely to look. For example, instead of saving each client strategy or proposal in a unique client folder, you might create a ‘Strategies’ folder and drop them in here instead. This works with presentations too.
3) Use longer and more detailed tagging. Ensure files are saved under names that are likely to show up in a search. For example, “Richard Millington presentation” becomes “Millington Moz 2014 Sense of Community”. This highlights the speaker (me), event, the date, and the topic. All four of which might be used to search for the slides.
The upside here is proper tagging, taxonomy, and training are an untapped method to save a lot of time. The downside is it’s painfully boring to explain and implement.
Yet that’s exactly the process you need to do. In resources created by your members or your colleagues, you need to ensure the critical knowledge is learned, the folders are structured so people can find the information, and the files are saved using terms people are likely to search for.
You have a relevancy problem.
It’s easy to understand, harder to solve.
Your first members join and participate because they love beach metal detectors. To them the gap between beach metal detecting and any other kind is as wide as a canyon. Right now, your community is 100% relevant to their unique interests.
As the community grows a more diverse group joins with increasingly diverse questions. This means the overall relevancy of questions begins to decline and the percentage of members who participate declines with it.
You can tackle this if you understand relevancy and the methods to sustain it.
What Is Relevancy To Communities??
Relevancy isn’t binary. An issue (discussion/activity etc..) isn’t either relevant or irrelevant. There are plenty of degrees between the two. Where an issue falls on your relevancy continuum depends upon the impact the issue has and how immediate it feels.
Impact is the perceived weight (or value) of the problem/opportunity/social connection being discussed. Immediacy is how quickly we need to solve it or can take advantage of it etc..
Let’s imagine an update to Discourse terrifyingly breaks our community. We urgently need to fix this problem or risk losing members (and prospective clients!). This makes the problem high impact and high immediacy (HIHI). HIHI issues are those most relevant issue to us.
When members visit your community, you want the majority of your menu of discussions to be HIHI discussions.
But there’s a problem here. A HIHI issue to one member will be very different to another.
What’s most relevant to me isn’t what’s most relevant to you. On a mass community scale, this soon becomes a big problem.
For example, we might ask in our community if anyone else using Discourse knows how to fix the problems caused by the update. While this is the most relevant issue to us, it’s not relevant to the 99% of members using other platforms.
Previously 10 of the previous 10 were relevant. Now you have 9 relevant discussions and 1 irrelevant discussion. Of course 1 irrelevant question doesn’t matter much in the great scheme of things. But when that 1 creeps up to 3, 5, and then 9 (as it inevitably does), you can spot the problem.
If the number of responses to discussions, the level of activity per active members, and the amount of time spent on the site is in decline, you have a big relevancy problem.
The challenge is to keep the experience highly relevant while allowing for growth.
3 Methods To Tackle The Relevancy Problem
Even if you do spot the relevancy problem, you need a method to tackle it.
There are three common methods.
1) Curated Relevancy. This is where you curate a list of the most popular discussions. The assumption is what’s most popular is also most relevant to most people. These tend to be either high impact to a large’ish group of people.
You limit other notifications and send these out as email digests or newsletters. If you can’t do anything else, do a ‘best of’ list and try to find the best content that will be most relevant to most of your members (try not to automate this, that’s lazy).
2) Self-Select Relevancy. This is when you create a list of possible preferences (topics, groups etc…) that members can select from and join. Members then only receive notifications or messages about this content.
The problem is members usually don’t choose at all, they stick with the defaults you give them. To make this work you need to be firm in encouraging members to decide what content they want or which groups they wish to join. They then only receive content about these preferences (an updated level is to let members set up preferences/groups themselves that others can choose from).
3) Automated Relevancy. At the highest level is where you use an algorithm to send people content you suspect will be most relevant to them. This combines what people have viewed so far, what discussions they have participated in and only showing/notifying them of related discussions.
Amazon, Quora, and Facebook use machine learning algorithms to do this well. Each member receives a highly personalised experience.
None of these options are ideal. The first has only a small impact the second is tough to enforce, and the third requires a lot of technical expertise and a customisable platform.
Your solution will probably lie at the outer limit of what your technology (and your boss) lets you do. You might have automated autoresponders based upon member actions which drops them into segmented groups. They then receive unique ‘best of’ newsletters based upon what’s best within that particular topic.
You might run a semantic analysis to identify word trends and set up groups based upon those trends and encourage members to join those groups.
You won’t find a single answer to solve the problem. It’s more important that you’re thinking about how to solve the problem. You need to explore what your technology can and can’t do here and develop the best solution you can with what you have.