Month: January 2017

Is He One Of Us?

January 31, 2017 Comments Off on Is He One Of Us?

Spend 30% of your time working internally.

That’s one or two meetings a day. Don’t waste your lunches sitting alone. Reach out to a couple of people a day and meet up with them. You can meet with more than one person at a time if you like.

Don’t ask for help, simply ask questions. What are their goals? What are their challenges? What kind of help do they need? What is their current worldview? What do they hate about their work? What do they love about their work? (tip: end meetings on a positive note by discussing the best parts of their work last).

You don’t need the answers, but you need the questions. You need to take the time to understand each of them. Most importantly, they need to know you took the time to understand them. Ask if you can sit in on their meetings sometimes.

You might be amazed what you will learn.

Building a network of allies throughout the organization isn’t technically difficult, but it takes a lot of time. But the value it provides is immense. The very best people I know in this field spend much of their time doing just this.

If others feel you have taken the time to understand them, they will be more likely to help and support you later. They can give you advice and access to their resources. They will speak positively about you to others. This does far more to get you internal support than ROI metrics.

Most people don’t do this until it’s too late. Or they begin with a request for help. Sorry, no dice.

From your very first day you have to be curious about learning more about the organization you’re in. Reach out to and ask to have a meeting to learn more about what they do. Keep it short and be respectful of their time. The results will come.

We often hear people complain that community managers work in a silo…but whose fault is that?

How Long To Wait To Allow Members To Respond?

If you answer the question, others are less likely to answer it.

If you don’t answer the question, the poster has to wait longer for the answer.

In communities with up to 150 questions or less per day, a single community manager can probably answer every question personally.

If you’re seeing trend lines suggesting you will go beyond that, you need a different solution. But you probably don’t have the giffgaff mass to allow members to answer every question within 10 minutes.

There are plenty of solutions to this problem.

1) Answer the most difficult questions and leave the easier ones for community members to show their expertise.

2) Reply quicky but tag in others members to share their experience and answers. This is the most common. The poster isn’t left feeling ignored, yet others are encouraged to participate. This requires @mentions.

3) List unanswered questions with [important]. [urgent], [v,urgent] tags the longer it remains unanswered. Or try [beginner], [advanced], [expert] tags…people gravitate to answering expert questions first.

4) Introduce a points system where the points granted by answering questions decreases the longer it doesn’t get a response (e.g. incentivize answering questions quickly).

5) Introduce a points system where the points granted by answering questions increases the longer it goes unanswered (e.g. incentivize answering difficult questions).

6) Have new questions sent to an ambassador group who compete to answer first. If the question isn’t answered within {x} hours it gets sent to the community manager to answer urgently.

Your mileage with each will vary, so feel free to explore.

Use The Fog To Add Personality

Your replies and direct messages in the community exist in that foggy space between your company’s voice and your personality.

You have vague rules about how the company should speak, but no-one is paying too much attention. This presents an opportunity. Use that fog as a cover to push the boundary a little.

Add a little more humour and personality. Say the things you can’t say via the help center or FAQ. Mirror the tone of voice of your members.

And take a lot of screenshots of the positive response.

Prove how much adding a little personality improves the tone of discussion and sense of community. Get external validation for the approach before you try to push it internally. Post the screenshots on Reddit and pitch the story to press.

Without external validation, people will only see a legal/reputational risk. So work in the shadows to get that validation.

The Legal Quagmire of Online Community Volunteer Programs

In 2010, AOL settled a lawsuit brought by their volunteer community leaders for $15m.

The details are worth reading.

The Department of Labor, via the Far Labour Standards Act, doesn’t allow private-sector companies to accept the services of volunteers (non-profits and public sector organizations are generally ok). This is a problem for ambassador programs that closely resemble volunteer (or paid employment) programs.

Speaking with lawyers and community experts, any of the following could be problematic:

  • Calling a program a volunteer program.
  • Providing members with rewards linked to value tangible rewards (discounts or free products/services).
  • If the work undertaken by volunteers resembles (or displaces) work which could be (or is) performed by paid staff e.g. a community manager works alongside several volunteer members).
  • Setting tasks for members.
  • Monitoring and track member contributions.
  • Training members.

This isn’t a definitive list and the specific line in what constitutes ’employment’ is very open to interpretation.

But any legal team worth it’s salt will push to reduce this liability to the bare minimum by telling you to do none of the above. If they can reduce legal risk from 0.0002% to 0.0001%, they are doing their job. The overall 1 in a million likelihood of something bad happening isn’t relevant. It’s not their job to make your ambassador program succeed, it’s their job to minimize legal risk.

Understand that legal opinions are opinions. They can educate you and guide you. They are one factor of many factors that influence your decisions. Be informed of the risks and pursue accordingly (and confidently). Certainly don’t do all of the above, but don’t be afraid of doing any of the above. Don’t treat legal opinions as a hindrance but as an educational tool.

The People Closest Know Best

The same is true with MVP programs. Any metric you establish as criteria for star participants will cause unintended side effects.

Members might answer the easiest questions, create fake accounts to vote their own ratings up, or get others to create questions they can definitively answer.

Then when you adapt the standards to prevent this problem, you’ll cause an uproar.

You can avoid this pretty easily.

1) Set up multiple journeys (or quests). Not everyone is meant to be the most active member. Some (most) have a specific topic expertise, experience, or their own good intentions to share. Let members pursue different pathways based upon what they want to do. Or…

2) Give community managers full discretion. Let those closest to the community decide who gets a badge and why. Let them create new badges for new situations. They know your members better than you will ever do.

A badge should reflect the contributions each member makes to the community. Since every member makes different types of contributions, you should have plenty of different badges.

Every Interaction Is An Opportunity

Every single post is an opportunity to deepen engagement.

This isn’t the same as activity.

Activity is physical, engagement is mental.

Activity is easy to see and measure, engagement is in our minds and hard to prove.

These replies you’re going to write to members today, are you going to bring your A-game to deepen engagement with each member?

Will your response create better mutual understanding, build a bridge for stronger relationships in the future, and leave the member in an emotionally better state than before your response?

(That last one sounds obvious, but you might be surprised how many interactions leave a member feeling more peeved)?

Are you trying to understand and clarify their position before explaining your own? Are you showing empathy for their frustration? Are you using positive language and highlighting opportunities for the future?

Treat each interaction like the incredible opportunity it is. You can’t turn a furious member into a delighted supporter overnight, but perhaps you can make them a little less furious today?

An extra minute or two in each post can make a big difference.

The Problem With Measuring Satisfaction

If you use a satisfaction feedback score, community managers will only reply to questions when they are sure the answer will be happy.

That’s not in the best interests of the member (or your business).

If you measure engagement metrics, you’ll get more competitions, events, games, and off-topic discussions.

If you measure registrations, you’ll get pop-up boxes, clickbait, and rewards for people when they sign up.

If you measure activity per active member, you’ll get community managers removing the less active members.

If you measure the % of discussions you reply to, community managers will give shorter, repetitive, answers to each question.

And if you use all five, you might just get all five. None of which bodes well for the community.

Always supplement any data metrics with common sense and qualitative data. Use surveys, interviews, and your own observations.

If you use data-driven metrics alone to set targets, assess performance, and give bonuses, you’re setting yourself up for problems.

Who Really Deserves Appreciation?

Human moderators are the web’s worst kept secret. The web would be a cesspit without them.

Machine algorithms help, but it’s a person who takes the flagged content and decides if you should see it.

Moderators endure the worst of society to give us a shot at building communities.

Moderators can’t unsee the images we’ll never see. They make a thousand correct decisions every day and lose their job for one mistake. They have the lowest pay, worst working conditions, and worst career prospects of anyone in the space.

Moderators must read, categorize, merge, and resolve thousands of repetitive questions. It’s a tough way to earn a living.

If you feel compelled to show appreciation today, show it to moderators.

Better yet, take action. In any moderation contract you create add policies to ensure good working conditions, access to psychiatric care, a living wage, and reasonable job security of all moderators.

Believe me, it’s hard to build a sense of community when every 3rd post is a penis. Moderators don’t get enough respect or support. Let’s change that and make this day meaningful.

Announcing The Community

Grace asks for ideas for announcing a community.

You don’t need to announce a community because no-one is looking for a community. They’re looking to solve their problems.

So announce the problems you’re solving instead. Announce the big names who have joined. Announce the amazing events you’ve got coming up. Announce the innovative solution your community has just discovered.

And if you don’t have these yet, make sure you do before you announce anything.

You get one chance to make a first impression.

Prioritize Space By What You Want Members To Do

January 18, 2017 Comments Off on Prioritize Space By What You Want Members To Do

See Tableau’s community below.

Screenshot 2017-01-16 10.35.40

Featuring the weekly digest above recent content, top discussions, unanswered questions, and exploring the forum is a mistake.

It’s the least exciting (and engaging) thing on the page.

You prioritize your community homepage by what you want members to do. For most customer communities this priority should be:

  1. Search for an answer to your question.
  2. Ask a question.
  3. Explore the latest tips.
  4. Unanswered questions.
  5. Recent content.

‘Search and ask’ quickly helps people resolve their problem.

‘Explore the best tips’ helps people get more value from their products (so they keep buying them).

‘Unanswered questions’ is for the star contributors to share their knowledge.

‘Recent content’ is for those genuinely interested in the everyday community discussions (this is higher in passion-based communities).

P.S. Two more thoughts.

1) Number of questions answered, tips shared, or average speed of response is far more impressive than mentioning the number of users.

2) Newcomers don’t come to learn the tech side of community, they need the social side of community. How to avoid looking dumb and get faster answers to their questions.


January 17, 2017 Comments Off on [NEW] [UNPROVEN] [TESTED]

Fake news isn’t a behavior problem, it’s a taxonomy problem.

The Onion has been serving up fake news for two decades without (much) complaint.

The problem is when fake news that pretends to be real news.

You can’t build relationships with a proven army of fact-checkers to distinguish what isn’t true. But that’s not the problem for you. Your problem isn’t disproving the negative, but highlighting the positive.

Build a set of categories that help members find the best stuff. Have 5 to 10 respected community members help. Build a set of categories. Begin simply with the following:

  • [NEW] – for genuinely new ideas in the community.
  • [UNPROVEN] – when there isn’t much evidence it succeeds yet.
  • [TESTED] – for when the idea has been tested by members and generally accepted.

Now members can quickly find the latest cutting edge ideas, see what’s tested and has worked, and what’s not proven yet – but might work. You can use more than one tag at a time.

Looking for the good is far more fun and useful than trying to remove the bad.

Building Skills Of An Online Community Team

January 16, 2017 Comments Off on Building Skills Of An Online Community Team

For everyone managing a community team…

To improve a community you can either improve the technology, processes, or the people. The first two get far more attention than the latter.

But if you improve the people…the technology and processes naturally improve too. It’s the best bang for your buck by far.

Set the expectation that each member of your team will acquire new skills. Detail what skills they will need. The Roundtable’s framework is a good place to start. Provide the time (and resources) to acquire new skills. Build a mutual understanding they will make mistakes along the way.

This last part is critical. Skills involve practice. Practice means mistakes.

Then put your framework together.

  • Engagement. Engagement skills begin with the ability to stimulate activity and effectively reply to questions. At the highest end, you want a recognized industry expert able to persuade a large following to take action which benefits both the brand and themselves. This requires more sector expertise, better relationship building skills, learning tools of persuasion, and developing systems for moderation/responding to questions with empathy.
  • Content. Content skills begin at creating content members may find useful or entertaining. Most community professionals can do this. At the higher end, you want a community manager who can increase conversation rates, search traffic, automation campaigns, write effective newsletters, and attract top industry experts to submit content on a regular basis. The ultimate goal is a self-sustaining system filled with high-quality content that achieves specific goals.
  • Technical. Technical skills begin with understanding how the platform works and diagnosing basic problems. At the higher end, you want a community manager to use data to optimize every part of the site, improve speed and functionality, and manage the entire vendor technology process. This means being able to select vendors, negotiate rates, improve design, manage implementation/maintenance etc…
  • Strategy. Strategy skills begin with pulling basic engagement data to decide what to work on. At the highest end, you want clear data-driven systems to allocate limited resources to achieve the highest possible ROI for the organization. This means the ability to set logical benchmarks, provide decision frameworks for the team, run multiple experiments simultaneously, building customized dashboards, and doing deep research into the audience’s unique needs.
  • Business. Community professionals probably struggle more with business skills than any other category. This begins with understanding how the community fits into the organization’s competing strategic objectives and communicating effectively (e.g. knowing who needs what information and when). At the higher end, you should be able to build a network of allies throughout the organization, attract and keep world-class talent on your team, and become a senior leader within the organization.

Don’t assume more experience leads to more skills. Performing the same, repetitive, role doesn’t do that. Instead, set clear quarterly targets for skills you want your team to acquire and check in each month to see how they’re getting on.

Once you create the right conditions, you might be amazed at how quickly your team improves.

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