Month: August 2016
Read this post by Dave from Agilebits.
“The reality is we could make Slack work for us but it would require constant policing. I simply don’t want to be that bad cop, and I don’t want to hire a police force either. Furthermore, Slack was not designed for the deep, meaningful conversations that are needed to move 1Password forward.”
One of the startling results of our survey is most organisations spend precisely 0 hours training their employees how to collaborate. Yet everyone seems to expect new colleagues to be great team players from day 1.
Consider that for a second. New employees learn who their colleagues are, how to do their work, where the break room is, and even how to safely lift heavy objects…but no-one tells them how to be an effective team member.
What tools should they use for which purpose? Who needs what information and when? How should information be delivered? What are the intricacies of the tools we should know?
If you don’t train now, you will need to police later. And policing isn’t fun.
This happens a lot. You launch a new idea, type of discussion, or content series and it’s instantly popular. It might be one of the most popular things you’ve done yet.
Over the following weeks and months, the popularity fades.
This is because what you launched is a novelty. It was original, fun, and surprising. Ultimately, however, it didn’t yield any major value to the group and the popularity quickly faded.
This happens with many things; types of discussions, AMAs, working out loud discussions, feature-style content, weekly live chats, breakdowns etc…
Don’t continually tweak a novelty hoping to regain the initial burst of popularity. This is never going to happen. And don’t constantly hop from one novelty to the next. You will never find enough novelties to sustain engagement.
Novelties capture short-term attention, but they don’t change long-term behavior. And it’s long-term behavior change which is the purpose of a community. Hopping from one novelty to the next is a bad idea.
A better approach is to test small ideas. See what grows in popularity one week to the next without an initial explosion. Look for things within the community already taking place that you can amplify. If you have lots of technology-related discussions, maybe list the top few each week. Share the latest technology news. Showcase a good example. Make small bets and find something that increases in popularity from one week to the next.
Which of these do you think will have the biggest impact upon collaboration:
1) Letting employees use social tools (slack, instant messaging, blogging) to communicate with one another instead of email?
2) Ensuring employees know where to find every document on a shared drive and keeping them updated?
Once outside of the social business bubble, it’s not even close. The biggest frustration isn’t that employees have to use email to speak with one another. The biggest frustration is losing time and opportunities searching for documents they can’t find.
The temptation will always be to gravitate towards adding a new exciting tool to the mix so people can communicate better. But going from email to slack isn’t going to have anywhere near as big an impact as figuring out the best way to tag, share, and store the documents you already have.
Of course, saying you’re going to go through your documents, figure out the best file structure, and train employees to save documents properly is about as exciting as cleaning out the garage. New shiny tools and becoming a social business is far more fun.
Email certainly isn’t the best tool to use for anything, but it’s probably not broken. Your shared drive however is probably a jungle of redundant information people have to wade through to find what they need. I’d fix that first.
Why people aren’t participating or why people are participating?
Both can reveal useful data, but the latter is usually more important than the former.
The problem with the non-participants is they might not be part of your target audience. They’re simply people who were caught up in the recruitment net. If you’re carving out a really unique niche (as you should), then most people won’t be part of your target audience.
Adjusting what you do to appeal to the non-participants can do a lot of harm. It feels smart to figure out why people aren’t participating. But it’s not usually a great idea.
Why people are participating, however, is really interesting. It reveals their emotional state and highlights the kind of emotions you can amplify to drive results. You can then work to amplify these emotions, which are the very emotions that will appeal to the crowd you are trying to attract.
Imagine a team sales meeting to brainstorm how to:
- Better identify real prospects from non-buyers.
- Quicker identify decision-makers.
- Increase the price point of a product or service.
A brainstorming meeting like this will often consist of each person sharing their opinions around a vague structure hoping to stumble across some magical insight.
Unless anyone in the room is an expert at sales, identifying decision makers, or has a proven track record of increasing the price point, the meeting is simply a cluster of opinions from which to make a decision (and if someone is an expert, let them make the decision).
I’d use the same time instead to research the best way to achieve these goals. This means each person talks to experts they know, researches the topic online, reads a book on the topic and then presents their best ideas a week later.
You can then discuss the feasibility of each idea in the meeting and come to an informed decision really quickly.
You can save a lot of time and come to much better meetings if each person is properly informed.
A community strategy is essentially the emotion you wish to amplify to change human behavior.
Changing the platform, revamping social norms, launching a new event…these are all tactics. Sometimes very effective tactics, but tactics nonetheless.
What changes behavior over the long term is emotions. A good tactic might significantly amplify an emotion. But a good strategy will amplify the efficacy of all tactics (even the bad ones).
We so rarely consider what we want members to feel about the community and their contributions to it. When we do consider emotions, we default to positive-sounding emotions. (e.g. we want members to feel excited and happy).
But are these the most powerful emotions? I’m not so sure.
Ask members how they feel about the community and how they feel when they make a contribution to the community (this works better in an interview than a survey). The data here will always surprise you.
The answers will be more nuanced than joy, happiness, and excitement. Really push for people to explain how they feel when they make a contribution. Now translate this into an emotion you can amplify.
For example, members might say they want to be seen and recognised by others, see how other people react to their posts, or appear as an expert. These are motivations, not emotions. They might feel lonely and want to be accepted by their peers, anxious that no-one will respond or excited when people do, and jealous of the top experts.
This gives you some pretty interesting strategies then. You might amplify loneliness and build the sense of community to overcome it. You might focus on the excitement of getting a response and the surprise of a good idea. You might focus on the jealousy of the top experts.
This leads to some pretty clear tactics too. Let’s use a simplified example:
|Content||Interview experts who share the most tips.
Provide guest columns to top experts.
Solicit the opinions of top experts on regular news items.
|Moderation||Provide top experts with moderation rights.
Add a ‘star’ or ‘recognised expert’ next to those who collect the most likes on their tips. Turn tips created by top experts into sticky threads more frequently.
|Influence||@mention the top experts more frequently in discussions.|
|Events and Activities||Invite top experts to attend and speak at relevant events.
Host webinars with top experts.
|User Experience||Feature the top experts on the front of the site. List the number of tips shared or likes received next to each contribution of experts.|
Notice now the tactics directly connect to the strategy and the research you gained from the interviews you conducted.
Right now we’re seeing a big search for more tactics at the expense of a sound, researched, strategy. Going mobile, hosting an AMA, or writing a roundup article without a clear idea of the emotion you’re trying to amplify is like throwing darts without a dart board to aim at.
Try to deeply understand how members feel when they join and participate. Now look at possible tactics to amplify that emotion. These are often cheaper, more effective, and easier to measure than what you’re trying today.
For example, if you have 100 daily active users and 1000 monthly average users, your active members visit on average 3 days per month. 3 days per month isn’t terrible, but you would be hard pressed to say the community had become a habit for most members.
The most successful communities, apps, and websites become part of our personal or work habits. We visit them every day to see who or what is new. If we don’t visit, we worry that we might be missing out.
Of course, this stickiness metric could rise while the overall number of members falls (lower growth, losing the less interested members). Which isn’t so great. So this data alone isn’t useful. To avoid the broken thermostat problem we need to turn this data into something actionable.
Two useful ways to use this data.
1) As an overall health indicator. If this figure begins to rise, keep doing what you’re doing. If it begins to fall, stop and drill deeper into lower metrics to identify the problem. You want to discover if your triggers are the problem, if motivation is the problem, the platform is the problem or the reward is the problem.
2) To track specific interventions. If you’ve recently changed your strategy, this will be a great indicator of whether that strategy is successful. This tells you whether the new types of discussions you’re posting, events you’re creating, or content you’re writing (which seems popular) is changing habits. Very often the things that are popular don’t change habits.
There are plenty more complicated (and important) metrics out there. Fortunately, this one is easy to track and reveals an important piece of the puzzle.
Make a list of what your team does that drives the biggest results. Then make a list of what you plan to do in the future.
From this you can build out your team’s knowledge acquisition plan.
For example, let’s imagine your team writes content to persuade members to take action. You might want to learn the top techniques used by journalists to tell a story, copywriters to persuade people, and nonprofits that solicit donations via their written material. You might also want to learn how to rank highly for relevant search terms.
This is all knowledge you can get from experts in each field.
Now imagine your team is about to do something they haven’t done before (e.g. run a conference). You want to learn what you need to know. You also want to know how to negotiate the best deals, deal with union labor, avoid being charged for wifi installation (believe me), find reliable suppliers, how to generate immediate interest, attract bulk-purchases, comply with local laws, and stay on time (harder than it seems).
Now seek out the experts and experiences that will ensure your team acquires exactly this knowledge. Look for conferences that tackle these challenges instead of generic themes. Find training courses that cover these issues. Pay experts a few thousand dollars to mentor your team for a day or two. This kind of knowledge is exactly what’s going to move the needle for you.
Too often we give team members a training budget and tell them to spend it. That’s a dumb idea. Far better to identify what drives results now and what you plan to do in the future and ruthlessly pursue the best knowledge for both.
Several organisations let go of multiple community staff members (and friends) in the past three weeks.
Each organisation had previously claimed the community was successful and very important to them. So, what gives?
Two things. First, just because your boss or CEO says they believe in the importance of community, doesn’t mean they do. At least not enough. Community activity is often several layers removed from clear value.
It’s no surprise the most thriving categories of branded communities are those closest to clear value (customer service, employee knowledge sharing, and emotional support).
Second there is a difference between a positive ROI and a positive enough ROI. A positive ROI is >0%. But a positive ROI alone isn’t enough when the budget axe falls. You need an ROI that trumps other departments (HR, sales, customer loyalty etc..) or the axe falls upon you.
Community staff are let go because the community isn’t generating value or the value isn’t believed.
Your biggest priority today is to identify and spend time with each stakeholder to identify what they wish to see from the community. What would make your boss’ boss job easier or make her look good? Stay close and communicate with stakeholders every week. Mapping out stakeholder objectives is critical (and will never be on your job description). This process builds stronger, useful, relationships too.
Second, influence the community behavior towards those objectives. Lots of activity and lots of members isn’t enough to justify value anymore. You need to influence the community towards specific behaviors that matter. Directly connect what stakeholders want (innovative ideas, greater retention, self-identifying leads) to behavior members need to perform.
So begin today mapping out stakeholder objectives and directly connect them to member behavior. Make sure stakeholders also make this connection.
Getting internal buy-in isn’t your boss saying the community is doing well. It’s you getting more resources and surviving budget cuts. Harsh, but true.
Most collaboration problems are workflow problems.
An organisation tries to force employees to use tools outside of their regular workflow. The employees rebel. This ends up with some caving using the new system and others resisting clinging to the old system. The organisation gets the worst of both worlds.
A workflow is a routine of working. For most people, that workflow is still based around email. Email lets you communicate, prioritise tasks, share files, collaborate, and schedule activity etc. It’s not the best tool for any of these, but it’s simple, accessible, and highly adaptable.
You can get most of your work done without leaving a single window.
Don’t underestimate just how important that is.
Too often organisations find a better tool than email and decide to upgrade. Trello becomes the to-do list. GDrive is where you store files now. Slack is where you chat. Google Docs is where you collaborate on documents etc…
Now people who could have done everything in one window are jumping between several. That feels incredibly disruptive to getting work done.
The best collaboration practitioners out there know there are better platforms but realise that minimizing workflow disruption is usually key. You can make big changes with small groups or small changes with big groups but it’s hard to do big on big.
This is where you exercise creativity. Sometimes the solutions are dead simple. Nancy and I discovered one client’s employees were never going to visit a community to store knowledge. Instead we used a simple ‘cc’ address that filtered, tagged, and stored the knowledge for curation later. At FeverBee we would never get round to updating Salesforce, so we introduced an automatic BCC plugin for gmail. Other times we use tools like Zapier to stitch together specific sentences in Slack or instructions via email to update systems elsewhere (Salesforce, Trello, Mailchimp etc…). Again, keeping things in the workflow.
Understand that most collaboration problems are workflow problems. Either gradually help individual teams within the organisation make a big change or simplify the change for the entire organisation. Minimise the disruption to workflow by being creative and embracing integrative tools. It’s a lot easier to make improvements this way.
p.s. If you have the time, we would really appreciate learning how your team collaborates here.
Would you rate yourself as a good collaborator?
- Do you understand the unique value you bring to a project? Do others agree?
- Do you resist documenting that unique value to stay unique?
- Do you share expertise when asked without trying to take over or reinvent the entire project?
- Do you get yourself up to speed before you contribute and try to understand why things are done that way?
- Do you get the job done or go the extra mile to ensure it’s as good as it can be?
- Do you work to build good relationships with other team members?
- Do you adapt to other collaborators’ way of working or do you demand they adapt to you?
- Do you clearly communicate when the project will be done and keep people updated?
- Do you clearly identify everything you need in advance or drop challenges on others at the last minute?
- Do you claim your time is more valuable than anyone else’s?
- Do you notice and uncover when other collaborators are uncomfortable?
- Do you listen and embrace feedback or do you resist and deny it?
- Do you give unsolicited opinions before checking if they’re wanted?
- Do you leave projects when you’re no longer needed?
- Do you compromise your point of view when necessary for a team to complete a project?
- Do you make other collaborators feel better about their work or do you bring them down to demonstrate your superiority?
Now ask the rest of your team how they would rate your collaboration abilities.
You might be surprised.
My colleague Hawk lives in New Zealand.
She’s usually participating in our community when most members are asleep. At the beginning of each day she sees a list of discussions like this:
And she gets to decide which discussions to reply to and in which order.
The easiest methods are FIFO (first in, first out) or LIFO (last in, first out). FIFO means beginning at the bottom and working your way to the top. LIFO means beginning at the top of new discussions and working your way down. If you use FIFO, the discussions are flipped. What was top is now bottom for the next member. If you use LIFO everything remains the same.
These might be the two default options, but they’re not the only options here.
Why not take this opportunity to leverage influence in the direction of discussions?
Review discussions before you begin and decide which discussions are most popular and which would be most interesting to most members? Now structure your order of response accordingly leaving the ‘best’ discussions to last.
One of the easiest ways to kill a popular discussion is to bury it beneath a dozen others. Let’s not do that.