Month: August 2017

No-One Is Completely Happy With Their Platform

I don’t think I’ve met anyone that hasn’t got a complaint about their community platform.

You don’t have the data you need, integrations you need, features you need, layout or design you want etc…etc…

Over time, these frustrations tend to rise until they prompt a great migration.

The problem with migrations is you replace one set of issues with another. In the process you upset members, incur huge costs, and you throw out all the time you spent fixing bugs from the last change. When you migrate, you end up with an entirely new set of unforeseen problems.

Worse yet, platform migrations rarely have an impact on the level of participation. Changing the environment only affects those regular users of the platform (who else will see it?). I’ve seen too many organizations migrate platforms to get features members said they wanted…but never used.

The best reasons to migrate platforms are when the costs of the platform rise beyond your capacity or the platform itself is clearly heading in the wrong direction (worse support, security, falling behind trends etc…).

Changing platforms also feels like the silver bullet to solve your problems. It isn’t.

It’s Hard To Build Strong Relationships When You Work From Home

Work from home all you like, but don’t be surprised when your requests for more resources and attention are ignored.

Whether you like it or not, you’re playing the relationship game.

Your success depends entirely on you being able to build powerful internal relationships.

It’s really hard to do that if you’re going to work from home while the rest of your colleagues are having lunch together.

Whose problems do you think engineering will fix first? What do you think marketing will devote more promotional resources to? What do you think management will pay more attention towards?

Yes, there should be independent criteria for all of the above. But I’ve yet to work with any organization where priorities weren’t heavily influenced by relationships.

And the more you work from home, the harder it is to build and maintain strong relationships. If you’re determined not to work in an office, then work on the road, meeting as many of your members as possible.

The $5 Giveaway On The To-Do List

A recent question asked: “What are the best giveaways to promote a customer community? (must be under $5)”

This is a crazy question to ask.

Giveaways neither drive people to a site or keep people participating. At best, they can work as a variable reward for really great contributions, but they’re far more likely to be a silly distraction for everyone.

Think about impact here.

Is what you’re planning going to have the biggest long-term impact on the community as it can?

Is it going to affect a lot of people for a long period of time?

Instead of $5 giveaways, start building a comprehensive knowledge base and make it easier to find community answers from the website, FAQ, or help center.

Instead of $5 giveaways, schedule calls with two-dozen members who are drifting away and find out what’s happening and what you can do to bring them back.

Instead of $5 giveaways become familiar with technical SEO and make sure you’re ranking highly in search. Remove the unpopular stuff and merge discussions into definitive resources.

If a $5 giveaway reaches the top of your to-do list, you need a much, much, better list.

2,600 Destination Experts

August 24, 2017 Comments Off on 2,600 Destination Experts

One of TripAdvisor’s great innovations is building up a network of 26,000 destination experts sourced entirely from the community.

Every single member of the 11-strong team is trained to spot the kind of people making unique, special, contributions and give them a specific role within the community.

Why don’t you have something similar? Who’s out there today writing friendly, smart, and consistently good posts? Can you reach out and see if they might like a proper expert role within the group?

There are thousands of niches within your field that people could be demonstrating expertise on and taking control over. They could be tasked with initiating and responding to discussions, creating content, and removing the bad stuff.

Don’t worry about fleshing out a fully-formed system right now, TripAdvisor still doesn’t have one. Just get into the habit of identifying and elevating people making a series of smart posts and participating well.

SaaS Communities And Newcomers

August 22, 2017 Comments Off on SaaS Communities And Newcomers

If you have a customer database, segment the long-term, loyal, customers from new customers when you invite people to join the community.

The newcomers (especially the people that signed up this month) are going to have a lot of beginner-level questions. In any email campaign or within the product/help center, link to relevant discussions where they can get help from others who have encountered the problem.

Ideally, you want your members to see the relevant question at the exact time they’re about to have that question.

There will usually be a few core areas where people get stuck or seek validation.

The loyal customers need a different approach. You can put a call out for mentors to help answer beginner questions, for experts to share their latest discoveries or for advanced topics to help them master the software.

The motivations of long-term, loyal, customers will be very different from beginners. They need to feel challenged, respected and learn advanced tips (that others don’t have).

(There will also often be a mid-group of customers who need to know they’re on the right track).

Don’t try to segment the group too finely, but have a few core segments you can cater to differently.

Working On A Book

August 21, 2017 Comments Off on Working On A Book

I’m recruiting a few allies to help with my next book.

If you want to be involved, you can let me know here.

I’ll remove this post when we have enough.

The Engagement Trap

Have you found yourself sucked into The Engagement Trap?

The Engagement Trap is the exhausting race to drive higher engagement metrics.

If you’re reporting the number of active members or posts, you’re in the trap. It’s a trap because you’re setting expectations you can’t sustain. It’s also damaging for everybody.

The best way to drive more engagement is to be more entertaining, more controversial, and develop more novel ideas. But fighting for attention is a losers’ game and the novelty wears off quickly. Eventually, you’re going to get stuck.

It’s tough to compete against bottom-feeders for attention, no matter how low you go.

You’re not in the advertising business. Don’t use tools designed to measure advertising to measure communities. Community organizers don’t measure their work by the number of people who chat on the street, they measure impacts like reduction in crime, improved school graduation rates, self-reported levels of satisfaction etc…

Every time you report engagement metrics, you’re harming your members and yourself. People talking isn’t innately helpful, they can do that anywhere. In your community they should be guided to do things that matter. You don’t want members to casually chat. You want members to advocate, lead, learn, innovate, educate, and support one another.

You’re facing unrelenting pressure today to follow the herd into the engagement trap. Even your boss wants higher engagement metrics. Please don’t do it. You can’t win playing that game.

Aim higher and work harder. Work with your boss to identify what behaviors really matter and work tirelessly every day to motivate members to perform those behaviors. Stop reporting the number of members and activity.

You will find this work is far more fun (and important) than the exhausting race to boost engagement.

This is a career decision.

Do you want to keep trying new ideas to get the engagement metrics up?

Or do you want to profoundly and strategically shape how your organization should maximize the support and value it gives and gets from your audience?

Fighting The Slow Decline (3 options)

August 16, 2017 Comments Off on Fighting The Slow Decline (3 options)

Many older communities are hosted on fading forum platforms and suffering a slow, downward, decline.

What should you do?

Option 1 – Optimize Everything
This is the low risk, low reward option. Here you optimize as much as possible (search, automation, management processes, create some good content). You try to get engagement up in the short term to sell it to someone else.

This kicks the can down to the next person. You might get metrics heading up, but you’re still on the inevitable downward decline.

Option 2 – Revamp The Concept
This is the medium-risk level. Here you spend as much time as possible engaging with your audience, discovering what’s most relevant in their day to day lives and identifying the insertion points where your community can have the biggest impact.

This usually involves a significant shift in who the community is for and what it’s about. You will still be within the same topic, but the focus will shift to an audience that’s growing or has been left largely unsatisfied until now.

Option 3 – Align Yourself With The Latest Trends
This is the high-risk, high-reward option. Here you rebuild the community or the platform in-line with what’s likely to be most popular tomorrow.

Forums aren’t dead, but they are fading in relevance (especially the older variety). There are underlying trends to tackle here. Those trends are increased competition (Facebook, Reddit, other social media platforms) and new technology (more mobile, simpler interfaces, shorter messages).

As communities like Figure1 and Kaggle show, there are other ways of doing community. The risk is high, it’s costly, yet is the only chance of explosive growth.

Choose wisely.

Find One Thing To Open Up

August 15, 2017 Comments Off on Find One Thing To Open Up

Following on from yesterday, try innovation with just one thing in the community.

Share one problem your company faces, open up one project to the community, share one process, set a small bounty (ideally $200 to $500) and challenge members to come up with a better solution.

Let members vote, comment, and refine suggestions. Let them submit ideas in teams if you want.

Provide encouragement, nudge people towards better ideas, have a rulebook of what constitutes an acceptable solution and see what happens.

The risk is so low and the rewards are so potentially high.

Crowdsource Innovation And Community Wastage

August 15, 2017 Comments Off on Crowdsource Innovation And Community Wastage

In 2008, Local Motors enabled anyone to submit designs for The Rally Fighter via their community (which was also their homepage).

The winner, Sangho Kim, pocked $10k for winning the competition. Further community competitions to design interiors, light bars, side vents, and more followed. The winners picked up between $500 and $2k. Hundreds more designs were submitted. The vehicle was launched within 12 months – likely a peacetime record.

Today, Local Motors has largely stopped manufacturing cars and derives most of its revenue by offering innovation as a service. Pay a fee and you get a community of 60k+ engineers suggesting ideas and helping solve your problems.

The problem is wastage. A quick browse of the site shows most projects have minimal levels of activity, most of the winners’ designs never get developed, and many of the designs overall are terrible.

You might suspect this shows the futility of platforms. Perhaps people simply aren’t good enough (or committed enough) to develop ideas that can succeed?

A better argument is all innovation, especially at the idea stage, contains a huge amount of wastage.

Ever held a brainstorm session and come up with 30 ideas? Were 29 of them a waste of time? Even bad ideas are useful to highlight which ideas are good. Wastage has its own value.

No, as with anything that relates to crowd activities, most projects will fail. Most ideas will be futile. What matters, however, is whether the good ideas make it all worthwhile.

Build this into everyone’s understanding of what a community feedback or crowdsource ideation effort means. It doesn’t mean every call for feedback hits the mark. It simply means that the really good ideas you get make all the failures worthwhile. It’s all part of the same process.

Invest In Members That Invest In You

August 9, 2017 Comments Off on Invest In Members That Invest In You

Don’t treat every newcomer the same.

This is a list provided by Discourse of newcomers to our community (names cropped):

Which do you think most deserve personal attention and a great welcome to tip them into being a regular contributor?

You can waste a lot of time on members who join to satisfy curiosity.

Far better to spend that time on members who have already invested time in you. They’re the ones most passionate about the topic and most likely to become regular members.

Big Goals vs. Daily Relevance

August 8, 2017 Comments Off on Big Goals vs. Daily Relevance

Big noble goals may win verbal approval, but it’s day-to-day relevance that makes professional communities thrive.

Your members might want to improve how they use photoshop (big, noble, goal), but this morning they need to figure out how to remove layers.

Improving how people collaborate is a big, noble, goal, helping someone figure out where to find Susan’s handover document is relevant this morning.

Breaking down silos is a big, noble, goal. Finding someone that has a template of a work from home agreement can save someone a few hours this morning.

Designing a great website is a goal, getting recommendations on great designers is relevant today.

Getting internal buy-in is a goal. Finding 10 examples of similar organizations whom have been through your challenge is relevant this morning.

Everyone will agree and support you when you propose a big, noble, goal. Then they will never find the time to participate because they’re so busy with their daily priorities. But what if you made most of the community about those daily priorities?

Daily relevance matters now more than ever.

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