Month: October 2016
If you follow your data to maximize engagement, you will fill a community with listicles, frivolous discussions, and kittens (probably).
You can spend your days dumbing ideas down, trying to shout louder, and optimizing the packaging instead of the contents. If you succeed, you will attract the most transient, disinterested, and fickle audience in history. You might prop up the metrics for a few winters, but it’s a terrible contribution to make to the world.
The majority of people will always want the simplest ideas, in the most digestible form, with a surprising twist.
But you’re not trying to attract the majority of people.
This is such a critical concept to understand (and a harder one to embrace because you’ve set expectations that more is better).
The best way to stand out today and attract the audience that matters is to build an island and raise a flag to appeal to the right sort of people.
The Economist proves that being good still matters. There is an audience out there for creating valuable assets that empower a community in their lives – or simply engages communities on a deeper level. We might watch a gazillion YouTube clips, but we also binge-watch on Netflix.
There is an audience for people who want to read that asset you spent 3 months creating or that free course you’re working on. There’s a market for people who don’t want an expert to just fill a slot in your calendar, but a real expert with new insights delivered in an engaging way.
The people you really want to attract are the people whose trust you need to earn by doing things that are good and valuable, not those attracted who will give you a fleeting glance if you show them something shiny enough.
You don’t need to play the metrics game if you don’t want to. Create real meaning and the community will reward you for it. Let go of the misleading idea you can create and sustain the interest of millions. Focus on the few thousand (or even hundreds) who really matter to you.
This is the perfect time for it. The best time to zag is when everyone else is zigging.
Most communities have far too many pages.
This is bad for the user experience (and bad for SEO).
Take a few minutes during lunch to pick a random page and analyze who is using it and why.
You can do this through your own metrics and augment that data with a survey (either as a pop-up request) or a simple link.
In your data look at:
- Where did people arrive from?
- Where did people go next?
- How long did they spend on the page?
- Where do they click on the page?
- What is the value of the page?
In your survey ask what people want on the page and how it can be improved.
You will often discover:
1) You have a niche group of people who want something specific. This might be a unique group of people you can target through unique content, SEO, events, expert webinars etc…
2) You can either improve this page or deliver the information in a better format. Once you know exactly what people want, you can improve the page. It might work better as information in the onboarding of members, as a specific downloadable resource, or simply to prioritize the information better on the page itself.
3) You can close the page down. Often the page might not deliver enough value and you can remove it entirely.
Try this for one obscure page and test your results. The information might create unique opportunities.
StackOverflow introduces one of the most impressive new community ideas in a while; technical resumés.
Members can now create a story based upon their score and contributions to the community. This lets the top members stand out and gives employers more information.
Not everyone will use it. Most people don’t have a good enough reputation. I suspect though as employers see it more and more often they might start requesting it.
This is such an incredibly useful (and transferable) idea.
The genius is using a reputation score as an asset which offers members something of even greater value (which is the way reputation is supposed to work). Good scores (and extra participation/helping people) can lead to better career prospects.
Perhaps having an entire developer story is beyond your site’s coding ability, but having a single grading, rating, or score that can be easily linked to for employers is definitely an idea that can be used elsewhere.
Hiring an employee is usually a $50k+ decision. If you have two equal candidates but one has solved 134 questions, is a top-10 rated member, and has a solid track record over several years, it’s not really a close contest.
For most of us, this is going to mean figuring out how to include two simple questions.
How many problems have members solved and how difficult were those problems? How can you let members show this off?
We spend a lot of time training non-community people to become community people.
This is usually people with multiple roles and have less than an hour or so to spend on the community. This group might include teachers, topic experts, or employees throughout the organization.
Our goal is not to deliver a suffocating number of ideas and theory to engage members, but to identify what will have the biggest impact and help people to do a few things really well.
If you only have 1 hour a day (or week?) to spend on the community, where should you invest your time for the biggest impact? For example:
This goes deep into the most core, basic, skills. For example:
- How to initiate and respond to a discussion. Phrasing the discussion as a question, keeping it short, understanding the trigger words to use and not use etc…
- How to elicit additional participation. Learn how to elicit increased discussion in every discussion. Strike an ego, call for more responses, tap specific people to respond etc…
- How to communify existing content. Turn reports and white papers into interactive discussions, webinars, and polls.
- How to read and understand what members want. Learn how to recognize member ‘tells’, what they are not saying, and what they really want (increase their reputation, blow off steam, get your attention etc…)
The goal by the end of the sessions is to help each person in the workshop/course etc to do each of these once. Once you can see one successful discussion you have created, see the positive feedback on content you have created, and feel you can read your members, you are more likely to create two, then four etc…
If you’re working in communities, the best thing you can do is host a session for colleagues for an hour or two and teach these basic skills. Some will go back to what they’re doing, but a few will start to get involved. This helps scale participation, increase your influence, and realize other benefits.
Better yet, by narrowing in on doing a few things really well you ease the mental burden on their side. The temptation is always to impress colleagues with everything you know. Don’t do this. Zero in on only what they need to know (and nothing else).
Going tribal is always fun.
Tell a group what they want to hear. Tell them they are special and unique. Tell them they are the future. Tell them they are better or superior to another group.
You can identify that other group too. Blame that group for your problems. Complain about what they are or aren’t doing to help. Almost any group will do.
This is an effective way to increase participation, build a stronger sense of community, and get things done.
But understand this approach isn’t relying on logic or reason. The very reason you indulge tribal instincts is because logical, reasoned, arguments failed you.
And once you go careering off the path of reason it becomes very difficult to get back on it. People aren’t looking to think or to be challenged, they’re looking for their next emotional hit. They’re looking for their next battle and to feel that sense of tribal unity again. And if you don’t give them that battle, that battle might well be with you (the sellout).
Going tribal can lead to great, positive, outcomes. But it should be the route of second resort. When facts aren’t finding their mark and members aren’t helping themselves.
You can’t knock out a tidal wave. You might land with a few good jabs, but the tide of water will eventually crush you (and you will look silly).
A common question in our community is can forums survive?
A better question might be should forums survive?
When social media platforms make it easier and more fun to have a discussion, what is the point of forum-based communities? Many forums (and similar types of communities) are up against tidal waves from both sides.
From one side discussions around shared passions which might have taken place in a forum now take place on Facebook (or Reddit or other large platforms). These keep us in-flow with our existing habits. We don’t have to remember to go elsewhere each day. The platforms are often better too.
From the other side, it’s simply easier to Google an answer to a question rather than ask other people. If you need facts, Google is your answer. Worse yet, perhaps, Google is only going to get better.
You could try to build higher walls around your community and make it better, but you’re in the same boat as the independent video store when Blockbuster came to town (and blockbuster when Netflix appeared).
Don’t fight against the tidal wave, figure out how to swim with it. That means two relatively clear options:
1) Move to popular platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Reddit etc..). Many online comment sections have already done this. You can keep most of your members but lose a lot of control (and existing content/advertising revenue).
2) Play to a forum’s strengths. Focus on deeper discussions around answers you can’t find on Google. You will have far fewer people (more lurkers) but far better quality discussions. You get to focus on creating an asset. A lot of customer service channels fall into this bucket.
3) Get exclusive. Focus on an exclusive feeling of being a part of something different and less mainstream. Hide your content from search and tell those who don’t meet your criteria to go to social media to chat. You will have fewer people, but a strong sense of community and a decent level of discussions.
This isn’t a new dilemma. Independent book stores, groceries, record labels, and many, many, more faced this same dilemma. The biggest mistake is to fight against a tidal wave. Make a decisive decision and push it all the way.
Some observations from our research.
The first is around 75% of external communities today are based around customer support. These are the ones hosted on large platforms. These have the easiest links to a clear return on investment. Many now refer to these as customer portals. If you include health-related communities this number rises.
The second is that passion (or retention) based communities have moved almost entirely to Facebook pages, groups, or have closed. The communities which encourage people to talk about their passion for the project have largely closed or been shifted to the cheapest platforms supported by a social media manager. These are the furthest removed from ROI.
The third is internal communities based around knowledge sharing and collaboration are thriving and growing. Most organizations are creating internal communities on various platforms to improve how people collaborate.
Consider this in your next career move.
The 1970 Danish Planning Act required all architecture projects to consult the inhabitants and users of the area at the earliest available opportunity.
It’s a lot easier to change things before you’ve written anything down, sold the idea to your boss, or (god forbid) began building the structure.
This is equally true in communities. When conceptualization errors occur, the error originates from an early, untested, assumption. That assumption seeps through into the research process. It infects the questions you ask prospective members, the unconscious way you respond to their answers to get the outcome you want, and what answers you give priority too.
It’s a lot easier to change your idea for the community before you have one. Often we work with organizations who have a fixed idea of who the community is for, what it should be about, and what should happen within it. Occasionally they’re hoping our research validates these assumptions. When it doesn’t, things can get tricky.
People get emotionally invested in the success of the idea, don’t want to admit their idea was not based on research, or have already told others of the idea.
Before you begin thinking about what platform to use, what kind of audience you’re targeting, what you think people will do in the community, spend some time with the audience. Ask them questions, get to know them, figure out what they do within that topic and where the interesting gaps might be.
Big companies like Unilever and P&G have been known to send employees to stay with families in targeted markets for days and weeks at a time to understand how best to serve that audience. A (less intrusive) community equivalent of this is a good idea.
It’s not just written plans that are difficult to change. It’s your personal mindset. Changing our minds is so fundamentally hard that it’s usually best to get there before our minds are made up.
What do you think the BestBuy community wants you to do?
They want you to search for an answer.
What is the primary thing you want most visitors (or members) to do when they visit your community?
- Search for an answer?
- Ask a question?
- Share a tip?
- Share what they are working on?
- Connect with people like them?
- Message someone new?
- Share a problem?
- Submit a column?
Put this call to action at the very top of your page.
Wistia moved their community to Slack.
Slack (or any chat-room) is terrific for encouraging participation.
It offers frictionless participation, real-time feedback, less mental energy, stronger familiarity between members etc…You can make some interesting integrations too with Zapier and other tools.
The best Slack channels have a large group of people with the channel open who are happy to dive into discussions at any moment. That’s a powerful real-time feedback group to help you with any problem. Slack prioritizes the level of activity and sense of community above all else.
When a sense of community is king, Slack is your castle.
But it’s less good for building up a useful knowledge base. The same questions might be repeated endlessly. Knowledge is lost once it rolls off the edge of the top of the page. You lose your search traffic (which accounts for 70%+ traffic in many communities). It’s harder to shine attention on your stars or build content on top of it.
People can’t easily learn from what others have done before. It’s terrible for lurkers (who comprise the bulk of membership). And if you’re based in an awkward time-zone, you’re largely excluded from discussions.
This ultimately comes down to a single decision. Is your priority on the smaller group of people that do participate in communities or on the larger group of people that don’t?
It’s not causation, but it might suggest a possible relationship (or non-relationship).
Take whatever key metric you’re tracking (ideally leads generated, retention, CSAT etc..) and drop it into Google Sheets.
Now pull as many data points from Google Analytics/your platform data package as you can and see what correlates with what you’re tracking.
This is easy enough to do using the =CORREL feature. Highlight the first array, then the second array and see what happens. What has the strongest relationship?
For example, we recently found the level of activity has no correlation to the likelihood of a newcomer participating for the first time. However, the quantity of off-topic or ‘small talk’ discussions is strongly correlated.
This might suggest we should guide newcomers towards off-topic discussions to get them started. We could then adapt our onboarding emails to guide newcomers towards these discussions, interview newcomers to uncover their unique motivations, and pursue this approach (over personal welcomes or @mentions) to engage them for the first time.
You might be surprised by what you find and how you might use it.
The output of a community is the asset.
That asset might be.
- A database of people and their unique skill sets.
- A group of top experts to give feedback and support on projects.
- A powerful sense of community that provides everyone with a sense of belonging.
- A knowledge base of documented best practice.
- An event (or series of events) you can expect everyone to attend.
- A destination to make connections.
- An updated list of opportunities.
But telling any group of people to create a powerful asset from scratch is a big ask. It might work for Wikipedia, but it probably won’t work for you. Nobody wants to create the first 100 entries…or even the first 1000.
So create half the asset at your own cost and expense first. This shows both your commitment and provides examples for people to work from.
That might mean manually searching for half the entries, creating a wiki and adding the community’s collective wisdom from the past five years. It might mean manually making those connections for years. Whatever that asset is, if you want it to take off you should create half of it first. Better yet, you’re creating unique value to attract more people.
It’s a lot easier to have a party if you provide the drinks.