Month: May 2017
There’s a common mistake to avoid when trying to gain internal support.
The mistake is to go to other departments and tell them how the community can help.
I know, this sounds like exactly what you should be doing.
However, in practice, this kind of unsolicited help is usually taken either as an insult or a threat.
It’s an insult because the person you’re speaking to considers themselves an expert. You’re effectively saying you have an idea for their domain they weren’t haven’t already considered (I know, it sounds petty…we’re only human).
It’s a threat if the community can help them do something they already feel they’re doing well themselves. Get off their toes!
The simplest way around this isn’t to tell them how the community can help, but ask how the community can help. Even if you know the answer, it’s good practice to ask.
Ask them for their advice and input into the community as well. What would they like to see? What advice can they give you? Let them see their ideas flourishing in the community (you didn’t take this job for the credit right?)
Now you’re not a threat and you’re respecting their expertise. Give it a shot.
Of course, you can find the time to interview at least 1 member per week.
Talking to members saves time.
It lets you stop working on things that won’t succeed, it lets you zero in on what members are passionate about, and it lets you phrase messages in the language of your members.
I wish we each had a timer counting the amount of time we wasted on initiatives which weren’t as successful as we thought they would be. This would show the value of community so clearly.
Participating in discussions and replying to questions isn’t enough. You need to proactively set aside time each week to interviewing members in depth.
Find out how they found the community, what were they looking for, what problem did they want to solve (that’s your landing page copyright there).
Find out how they participate in the community, when do they remember to participate, what do they visit the community to do (that’s your site structure and autoresponder campaign).
Find out what their biggest problems and aspirations are. What’s stopping them from achieving those aspirations or keeping them in fear? (this is your activities and content).
Feel free to probe and go deeper in more interesting areas.
It’s easy to be super active in a community and not really know members well at all. Make sure you regularly speak with members. Just one member a week can suffice.
The reason you don’t have the time is because you’re so inefficient with your time today. Interviewing members regularly will help.
Try just 1 interview this week. You will learn something you didn’t expect.
Yes, you found the perfect platform.
But have you found the time?
Most people underestimate the time it takes to bring a platform to life. The need identification, platform demonstrations, negotiations, approvals, design tweaks, more tweaks, yet more tweaks, fixing the broken single sign-on, more tweaks, explaining internally why it’s taking so long, more tweaks etc…
It might not be quite a full-time job, but if you’re doing a big implementation it’s going to be a huge part of your job.
Where will you find the time to do it well?
Working yourself to exhaustion isn’t a solution, so what will you spend less time doing?
Will you spend less time responding to members? Put aside new initiatives? Hold back on researching your members? Write less content? Remove bad stuff slower? Cancel 1 to 1s with your community team?
The cost of a community platform isn’t just financial, it’s what it stops you from doing in the short-term. Don’t casually push things aside. Deliberately decide beforehand what tasks you will cut and hand over.
Your members will want to engage in some topics more than others.
It makes no sense to give all topics equal prominence, nor respond to every topic with equal speed.
Some questions are naturally more urgent. Some problems require clarification and more information before you (or your members) can give a good answer. Some issues are naturally more exciting to talk about and have an entirely different tone of the debate.
Don’t treat every topic equally. Pick the top few and put them in the most prominent place. Square does this well.
Spend the majority of your time on the topics which likely to account for 50%+ engagement or interest within the community. Answer these questions first, create content about these topics, optimize search traffic for these topics.
Most systems are designed to give every question equal importance. That’s a mistake. Some questions have a bigger impact upon satisfaction, retention, and future knowledge sharing than others. Focus on those questions.
Before we published our strategy guide, we solicited feedback from 20 or so people. It made the final result infinitely better than what it otherwise would have been.
I’m constantly amazed at the generosity and willingness of people to sacrifice their time to help out on these projects.
For all the talk of too little time, people still fundamentally want to help. You just need to find interesting projects they can help with.
What upcoming content, marketing promotions, products, or ideas can you get feedback from your community on?
We often come across disgruntled prospects who have flown blindly into building a community.
This happens when a senior executive decides to create a community (and typically drops the task upon someone in marketing).
This person speaks to a few platforms and picks a vendor they like best. The vendor recommends a trusted implementation partner. The implementation partner designs a great-looking website which is live within 3 to 6 months.
A few common problems arise here.
First, you will spend too much. This usually means buying modules you don’t need. Trust us, no platform vendor will refuse to sell you additional modules if you decide you need them later. The goal of the salesperson is to get you to sign a 3-year contract.
Second, the implementation partner will often design a site better suited to a mature, developed, community rather than you just starting. If you’re not providing specific guidance for what you need today, you will end up with something that looks great but functions poorly.
Third, this approach tends to force a big bang launch. Once you’ve spent $100k+ on a website, your company is expecting great results. That means thousands of active members quickly. That means having to report numbers early on. This means you can’t test and adjust concepts under the radar. Your colleagues and execs judge you.
(It also means people are quicker to cut their losses if it’s not working out.)
Platform vendors, implementation partners, and others do terrific work. But don’t put them at the controls of your effort. Become informed first. See what other communities were like when they launched. Ask questions from those who have been through your situation.
Don’t fly blind here…it could become an expensive trip.
Last year, one community manager in the accountancy sector mentioned their target audience didn’t want to talk to each other.
That’s pretty devastating to discover, but is it true?
If you drop a group of accountants in a room together will they sit alone and avoid eye-contact?
I’d bet they will make small talk and then gradually begin sharing more details and information about themselves and their practice.
A random group of people in any field may not want to talk to each other, but, they do want to chat with friends. They do want help to solve their problems. They do want to feel respected and good at what they do.
A bad community concept often masquerades as resistance to talking to others. It’s rarely the case. It just means you need to change your approach.
If they would talk if they were dropped into the same room then drop them into the same room.
If they would talk to solve their biggest problems, let them know what problems people can solve.
If they would talk if they felt respected or admired, make sure they feel respected and admired.
This isn’t the chicken and the egg, from the very first contact with someone you can invite them to an exclusive event for the top [accountants], learn more about their problems, and let them know how respected they would be in the group.
The solution, like many, is about member psychology.
p.s. Final day to sign up for Psychology of Community.
Speaking to a community manager last week, she mentioned her biggest problem was proving the value.
Her boss wanted to know what impact engagement had upon customer retention but she didn’t have the numbers.
A snippet from the conversation:
“What have you tried so far?”
“Nothing, it’s not possible”
Nothing…it’s your biggest problem and you’ve done nothing to solve it?
You haven’t spoken to anyone in the field about how they linked engagement to retention?
You haven’t tried the formulas in any of the existing ROI resources?
You haven’t spoken to any data analysts about getting statistically significant data?
You haven’t asked other departments how they prove their value and links to retention?
And how do you even know it’s not possible if you haven’t tried anything?
If it’s your biggest problem, make it a priority and solve it.
No-one taught you how to do it, no platform provides the easy connection, so…do the most wonderful thing we get to do each day…and tackle a new challenge with relish. You might learn a new skill and build a new resource…
Ask around, study data, hire a data analyst if you like (we’re currently working with 3).
Mankind has somehow managed to work out the impact of Facebook on reducing government corruption, rain on retail sales, and boardroom diversity on financial performance..believe me, we can (and do) connect engagement data to customer retention
It’s far more fun to make the big announcement and get a lot of attention than it is to sustain interest and overcome hurdles along the way.
This makes big announcements pretty much worthless. It also makes really pushing ahead with the task long after the attention has shifted elsewhere incredibly valuable.
People lose interest even in the very biggest projects.
Most people give up when they hit the dip.
Just in the past year, I’ve seen people give up on wikis, events, slack channels, video series, weekly AMAs and potentially game-changing projects because attention shifted elsewhere.
Don’t give up. The hype cycle is real for community initiatives too.
Just because attention shifts doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. The majority are always seeking the next quick thrill. It’s going to take time for people to change their habits, accept you as part of the field’s landscape, and want to contribute to your creation.
You’re going to be persuading people one by one to buy into your vision.
I worry today there are far more people willing to start a community project than complete one. Some people just want the applause. No applause? They move on to something else.
True believers don’t give up so easily. They know how important it is to be working on projects which will shape the community for years to come. Trust yourself and keep working at it.
A reminder from Phoebe this week; always be evangelizing.
Gaining internal support doesn’t mean you’ll keep internal support.
Getting the new staff hire or platform you wanted isn’t an indefinite pass to everlasting support from your organization.
Resources are limited and you’re not the only department lobbying for more.
If you slow down while you’re ahead, others will soon catch up.
You’ve got to work hard at this every single day. This means you need to bring a ferocious, infectious, passion for community to every meeting.
It means you need to bring fresh, engaging, and valuable stories from community members at every opportunity.
It means you need to work your ass off to build stronger relationships, educate people on the benefits, and deliver the value they need to see from the community each month.
No, it’s not in your job description. But if you want to keep your job, no wait..if you want to thrive in your job, this is what it takes.
It’s really hard work. Better get started.
Let’s talk briefly about training and courses.
I spent two days last week at a public speaking workshop.
It was incredible. I learned techniques (and a mental framework) used by some of the best speakers in the world.
This has improved every talk I ever do for the rest of my life.
A few months ago, I signed up for an online course in data analytics. We’re now able to do a deeper analysis of communities than almost anyone else in our field.
I can tell you what variables you can manipulate in your community to drive significant results. This delivers exponential value to us and our clients.
In the past few years, I’ve taken courses on building habits, social psychology, and, yes, building communities.
Every single course has improved the consultancy we deliver and helped us build a very successful business.
Philosophy on Training
My philosophy towards training is pretty simple; take as much of it as possible.
There are two reasons here:
- Training lets you make big leaps ahead. Experience helps me become incrementally better, but it’s always training that has led to the great leaps ahead. You can’t incrementally learn data analytics or psychology, you need training.
- Training is usually a bargain. A few hundred dollars (or even a few thousand) is a tiny price to pay if it equips you with a new skill set for life.
I know people who haven’t taken a single educational course since college.
I truly don’t get this. My mindset, and perhaps your mindset too, is if this is the work I’ve chosen to spend this portion of my life doing, I’m going to make sure I’m as good at it as I can be.
I genuinely believe you should pester your boss at every opportunity for more training. They might say no, but you shouldn’t be making their decision for them.
Don’t Refuse Training For Yourself
You have plenty of convenient excuses to deny yourself training.
Just tell yourself you don’t have time. You’re too busy right now.
You probably know this already, but you will always be too busy.
Do you ever find yourself sitting at your desk waiting for something to do? Me neither.
Believe me, it wasn’t easy to take two entire days last week to do a public speaking workshop. But once I made that commitment, everything slotted into place. Nothing blew up in my absence.
Don’t reject yourself for training to keep yourself busy.
Make A Commitment To Yourself
Whether you take our courses or not, please make a commitment to becoming the best community manager you can be. Find training that works for you.
You’re going to be working with your organization’s best and most passionate customers. These people deserve you at your very best.
You’re going to be managing a platform that your organization has invested thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of dollars into. Your organization needs that investment to pay off.
You’re going to be in this field for a while, you will get more out of it if you’re highly trained within the field.
The (short) Pitch
I believe psychology is the core skill everyone working with a community should feel comfortable with.
If you’re in the trenches working with a range of people every day, it’s critical to understand how to engage them, respond to them, and keep them happy and motivated.
Almost every problem you need to overcome (attracting and engaging members, changing behavior, nurturing to contributors etc…) requires a deeper understanding of psychology.
Join us next week and learn it.
Psychology of Community – $675 USD
Strategic Community Management – $675 USD
COMBINED – Psychology of Community and Strategic Community Management – $1100 USD
We often meet with organizations who want to have 1000 active members within 3 months and 10,000 within a year.
Very, very, few communities have 1000+ active members. The majority we’ve studied tend to have a few hundred active members (and this is after several years).
It is possible to grow fast, however, but only if you fall into one of three categories.
- Have a Huge, Existing, Audience. If you have 100m customers, you should be able to get a 100,000 strong community through well-written announcements. Most customer support communities fall into this category. You don’t have to be especially good, just be big and let the law of big numbers do the rest.
- Remarkable, viral, growth. You’re creating a community with such a remarkable, viral, concept that it naturally takes off. People are eager to share it and help it grow. This almost always means developing a customer, bespoke, platform. Figure 1 and ProductHunt are both great, recent, examples.
- Pay for promotion. If you have a big budget, you can buy members with targeted ads, promotions, events, competitions, and more. Engaging them won’t be easy, but assuming you have a strong concept you might be able to hook them into a powerful community.
If you have none of the above, fast growth isn’t going to happen. Instead, you need to focus on making sure the concept is as sticky as possible. The problem with most communities today is churn. 95% of newly registered members won’t be actively participating in three months’ time.
If you can cut churn by just 5%, you will see an exponential impact in the level of activity and value (more people bring in more people over time). This leads to the most common way to grow a community.
- Capture the members who do visit. This means you need to ensure someone coming to resolve a problem is surprised by something that encourages them to participate again. A member getting an answer to their question isn’t enough, you have to find a reason to get them to make a second contribution in another topic.
If you can solve this problem, you will hit steady, reliable, growth.
It won’t be 10,000 members within a year, but it should be enough to keep most executives happy.