Month: November 2017

A Detailed Breakdown of Apple’s Forum Community

This week I put together a detailed breakdown of Apple’s online community.

Here you can learn how Apple develops and manages its online community.

This includes how Apple:

  • Designs its community platforms.
  • Forces people to ask good questions.
  • Gets people to register and onboards them.
  • Encourages users to submit tips.
  • Uses gamification to attract newcomers to join and participate.
  • Responds to questions about the community.

You can view the slideshare below (and download the PDF)

Or you can read the detailed breakdown below:



Apple has had an online community ecosystem since the earliest days of the internet.

The current incarnation of the official community was launched in 2006, revamped in 2011, and has been gradually tweaked and upgraded since then to the site we see today (hosted on Jive).

The community is designed as a customer support channel. The primary goal is most likely to deflect customer support tickets (and calls) and provide a superior level of customer service customers can get through other channels.

The community also provides a less noticeable area for user tips. Members above a certain level can share their best advice to use products more effectively. This can have an impact upon customer satisfaction and retention.


  • The ‘sign in’ option is hidden and it’s not clear this is the option to register. This could be pushed below the search box next to ‘learn more about’.
  • The search bar is a very clear call to action (find answers) with the search box prominently displayed. This is common in most enterprise platforms today. This is a best practice worth following.
  • The central image takes up a lot of space and doesn’t add anything to the page. It would be better to pull up the categories beneath to help people find what they need. Or, at least, feature the top community experts in this area.

  • The featured categories are optimised by popularity with further categories hidden (but available) in a useful drop-down. This is great for navigation.
  • It’s not clear what ‘featured’ means; Are they trending? Most popular? Most useful? Could replace with ‘trending issues’ or ‘most popular issues’ or ‘top tips’.
  • There is a lot of empty space. Apple could reduce this space and have some tips appear side by side. It’s also good to personalize these tips to each member based upon their previous contributions or self-tagged interests.

  • Still a LOT of empty space here that could be used to reduce the size of the site and need to scroll down.
  • The ‘new to communities’ area is a redundant feature. There was already a ‘learn about support communities’ just below the search box. Could easily remove this and bring the bar below higher up.
  • These three benefits are really interesting but relatively downplayed. Might be worth seeing if they can be moved up or have different versions of the site for return visitors/regulars.


Each product has it’s own support community with navigation, top communities, and latest posts. These are generally well-designed.

  • Using the top banner for major announcements is a good idea.
  • ‘Ask question’ is probably better than ‘start a discussion’ given the nature of the support community.
  • Apple has 60+ communities across several major product lines. The navigation of these is pretty good, clean, and simple. You can get to any community in three clicks using the sub-menu. They are also well prioritised.

  • Using the top banner for major announcements is a good idea.
  • I suspect very few people want to ‘follow’ the discussions of an entire community (top right). Might be better to include an easier to find search bar here.
  • The structure of these sub-communities feels a little odd. It’s unlikely the last 3 questions will answer the visitor’s question, so display these by most popular at the time rather than latest. This stops you showing a lot of unanswered questions to members.


  • The homepage feels designed for mobile, which works extremely well. Product tips vanish from the mobile version of the site.
  • The site is also responsive with product tips disappearing at about 1/3rd of the screen.


  • Autocomplete Search. Jive’s autocomplete search is a little slow but works well to find relevant communities and discussions. This is definitely a best practice today and forces members to check if a similar question exists before asking a repetitive question. However, it’s unclear if these discussions have been resolved or not. Many of the questions may also seem old and out of date.

  • ‘Tell us what is on your mind’ works better on Facebook than someone who wants to get their problem solved right now. This isn’t a place people will casually chat about Apple.
  • How to write a good question is minimised here, but should be expanded by default – especially for first-time posters. Anyone that forgets the basic principles won’t get the answer they need.
  • Relatively simple, clean, interface. Allows HTML and other styling.
  • It’s always REALLY hard to get people to post in the right areas. Apple makes it easier by autofilling from relevant keywords to help you select what community to post to. Very clever.
  • Turning categories (used here more as tags) into buttons that people can easily select is really clever too.
  • Asking people to select their product and operating system really helps people answer the question. The ‘add to Profile’ is also smart. Apple nails this section.

  • This is a really awesome profile information integration here. It highlights what products you already own and helps you answer questions.

  • Not immediately clear to the visitor if the question has a solution or not. This appears below the question, which it could be positioned here.
  • Need to add prompts when people are writing the question, that any question < 200 characters should include the exact product, describe the exact problem or include a screenshot so people can answer it.
  • “I have this question too” is an extremely useful feature (better than like) as it highlights what questions Apple should focus on resolving.


  • Apple suffers greatly from not being able to get an accepted answer to most of the questions which appear in the community. This is the single biggest flaw the community faces today. Most of the online communities we looked at, the number of solved questions was extremely low. These were questions asked days, if not weeks ago. This discourages future people from responding. Questions with solutions should be featured near the top along with any trending or ever-present questions.

  • Who is this person? Do they work for Apple? Are they an expert supporter? Showing the level is good but would be ideal to make clear distinctions.
  • The ‘solved’ green icon is a little too hidden away.
  • The content of the response could use a little work, but we’ll go into that later.
  • View answer in context is good when there are a lot of responses and the answer builds upon previous answers. Likely to be irrelevant for most answers.

  • It’s a clever static bar at the top. This keeps the question present as you scroll down.
  • What is a community specialist? Why does this person not have a real name or photo? Is this someone that can access my customer record and have real power or not? Is it an employee or a helper? Is it an external contractor (probably).
  • Repeating the question back for clarity is good. Taking the information out of the resource and dropping it into the question is also smart. Don’t make people make that extra click if you don’t have to.
  • Bullet points are ALWAYS a good idea in longer answers. Remember your responses have to be scannable.
  • The ‘sign off’ feels a bit insincere. Let’s have a real person’s name sign this.
  • Generally the responses are personalised and contain good knowledge, but they score badly on friendliness, checking for resolution, and giving the member a sense of influence over the outcome. Could use this as an opportunity to be more friendly, show more personality. Suspect this work is outsourced to a western contractor with a quota of questions to get through. For a contractor, it’s generally ok.


  • Apple unsurprisingly requires you to log in with your Apple ID or create one to be able to participate in the community. The single sign on and security is one of Jive’s strengths and works well here.

  • This email is repetitive and badly written. Would be better to send after someone has participated. Most people who register will have one single-goal in mind; getting an answer to a frustrating question. The welcome email should acknowledge this and guide them to where they can get their answer as quickly as possible. This is the only thing that matters at this time. Would also sign it from a named community manager.

  • This tutorials page is a REALLY good idea and works well here. Easy to navigate and learn more about the community.


  • After registration there is no further on-boarding program via email or series of notifications from Apple to help anyone get more engaged in the community or identify people who could become top participants from those who just want a response to the question. If you want to turn a one-time visitor into a regular, look at the on boarding of newcomers and your autoresponder series. There is usually a great opportunity here to establish a perception of the community and the idea someone can become seen as a top member.


  • As a mature community with hundreds of thousands of members, Apple deploys a seemingly complex reward system which covers points/leaderboards, levels and perks, specialities, and ‘unique awards’. In reality, it’s actually two-related systems. A points-based system and a specialist-based system. Can easily remove ‘unique awards’ from this area.
  • Points and leaderboards target each person’s competitive nature and create a habit.
  • The perks target people’s need to feel a collective sense of identity with Apple. This works by giving members access to exclusive stuff.
  • Specialities are rarely used, but really smart to have. They let each member ‘own’ their own small part of the community and feel an incredible sense of competence.
  • The bottom ‘unique awards’ area feels a bit redundant. Could easily skip these. Also ‘adding colour to a profile’ is the least enticing perk imaginable, what’s the best perk to feature here?

  • The points system is designed to convert newcomers into addicted participants by getting a quick ‘hit’ to their first question and then rapidly raising their score with the next few actions which gets them to socialise with other members or learn more about the community.
  • After the first hit, the focus shifts to asking ‘good’ questions and eventually attending community conference calls or sharing community tips. It’s generally a logical and smart progression.

  • Now we can see how the points translate to unique perks across 10 levels. The structure of these seems odd, reporting posts could easily be something to gain points.
  • These levels are incredibly spaced apart and make it difficult to imagine progression from getting 4 to 10 points to a level where we’re on 1000+ points. The perks seem relatively minor too. Though note this is the first appearance of conference calls and user tips. Would be easier to show the perks for the higher levels here too. No reason to hide this.

  • This is an incredibly clear and specific table about moving up the specialist levels. The levels get exceedingly more difficult at the higher end. Would be interesting to know of any special perks at these levels. What is the benefit of being a specialist compared with a generalist?

  • It’s relatively easy to get a few badges. I’m not sure the value of these early badges for simply browsing the community are useful. Could raise the barrier to getting the first badge to at least some kind of active contribution, even clicking ‘me too’ on a single question.


  • Behind the home page the content section becomes a more typical ‘no thrills’ Jive experience.
  • User tips are presented without much fanfare. This does a huge disservice to many of the excellent tips shared which should be featured at different levels.
  • Apple would benefit from designing a proper tips section or only including tips on each product page (where some tips are already featured). Far too many tips are not getting the audience they should in this format.

  • This is simple and clean. Not sure whether this person is a specialist from the profile page but the layout is clean.
  • Does this need both the user rating and the ‘like’ button? Does the ‘like’ button add anything the user rating doesn’t have? Could merge at least the like button and the follow button similar to Facebook
  • Would be better to show the reputation at the beginning of the question. Move the average rating to the top. It’s one of the first things people need to see.


  • Apple’s online community is strong on everything to do with technology. It’s level of integration with existing systems is terrific, navigation is extremely good, posting is simple enough and tackles the common challenges of repeat posts. The community makes the best use of Jive’s functionality.
  • Use of the gamification modules are also among the more complex we’ve seen. Generally it is logical and is well designed to hook members who would most likely become regular, active, members.
  • Apple is a little less strong on the social side. The answers are ok, but far too many discussions aren’t getting a response. This is a huge problem that can’t be tackled solely by technology.

Visit for yourself:

Let me know if you found this audit useful, [email protected]

Run A Cohort Analysis, Not A Split Test

November 27, 2017 Comments Off on Run A Cohort Analysis, Not A Split Test

There are plenty of ways to make people jump through a hoop, but that doesn’t make a difference if they’ve stopped dancing a few minutes later.

This is the problem with using split tests within a community.

You can increase your conversion rates by amplifying the web copy or offering bonuses to people that register or participate.

But it’s only what happens over the long-term that really matters.

Consider this graph from a client below:

Cohort 1 (in blue), for example, begins with almost double the conversion rate of cohort 3 (in yellow).

But by week 18 this has fallen to a THIRD of cohort 3.

The big win here isn’t stopping the big drop-off at the beginning. You can do that with an array of one-off novelty ideas. Big drop-offs happen in every online community.

The big win is stopping the drop-off after around week 16 (from the beginning of the 12-week cohort). You can’t make a single tweak. Instead, you need to look holistically at the experience and make sure it’s a very fun or very relevant place to visit.

  • When people visit, are there always featured discussions taking place?
  • Were members @mentioned and included in discussions in a positive way?
  • Were there questions which relative newcomers felt informed enough to answer?
  • Were relatively newcomers encouraged and felt safe asking their own questions within the community?

Looking at the first registration or first participation metrics might seem like a smart move, but I’d focus on the post-participation experience. Turning a 0.7% to a 2.3% here (like we see above) has a HUGE payoff over the long-term.

Successful Community Projects

Two ways to launch a new project.

  1. You can set a group of people a hard goal and ask them to work towards it.
  2. You reveal a project you’ve been working on for a long time and ask for people to help.

The problem is only 1% of people tend to help create a project compared with 10% that tend to edit. Almost every successful collective effort requires an individual (or a few individuals) to make a huge number of contributions to get started.

If you want a wiki, a huge database, a successful fundraising effort, a big collaboration on an eBook or whatever, you need to have something huge to show to begin with. Then let people add and edit as they like.

Anyone can set a big goal and tell people what you want. The harder part is showing what you already have and asking people to help.

Is Your Time Aligned Properly?

November 23, 2017 Comments Off on Is Your Time Aligned Properly?

If your objective is growth, 60%+ of your time should be spent on growth.

This means improving SEO, high-profile guest blog posts, traditional PR, direct invitations, partnerships, paid social, getting the community positioned more prominently and featured on the homepage.

If your objective is retention, 60%+ of your time should be spent on retention.

This means building validated audience segments, satisfying each segment, developing a sense of community, converting newcomers into regulars, giving each member a scalable sense of ownership.

If your objective is internal support, 60% of your time should be spent winning over colleagues, building up stories, having coffees/meetings with others etc..

Make sure the bulk of your time is genuinely spent pursuing the main objective. I’m often amazed how few people are even spending a handful of hours a week pursuing their key aims.

The Infinite Market for Traditions

November 22, 2017 Comments Off on The Infinite Market for Traditions

The attention span for traditions is infinite, new traditions are being created right now.

When is yours? What date and time resonate with you? What would you do to commemorate or celebrate the event?

Who was born or died on that day? What industry-defining event happened on that day? When was the community created? There must be a birthday coming up soon…

The activities may be frivolous, but the meaning is incredibly important. Traditions remind us of the groups we belong to and what we get from those groups.

You might argue that creating a new tradition feels too artificial, but aren’t all traditions artificial to begin with? I’d much prefer a community professional setting an annual day of commemoration than another Amazon Prime day.

No-one wants business as usual every day of the year. Pick 1 day in the calendar and give some meaning to it.

The Big @Mention List

November 21, 2017 Comments Off on The Big @Mention List

There is a difference between ‘someone mentioned me, I better respond’ and ‘this improved how I think about the community’.

A lot of people @mention a list of newcomers when they join. It seems to work well. The person gets a notification and is prompted to respond. You get a lot of responses.

But having tried this with several organizations, the long-term impact is pretty minimal. You can install Community-analytics and test this for yourself.

@mentioning (tagging someone into a discussion) works best when someone is tagged in to make a meaningful contribution to the group or receive a useful contribution from the group.

This changes how they feel about the community. Now they’re not 1 name among 30, they are 1 among a tiny group who has been called upon to make/receive a useful contribution.

Now their opinion of the group’s ability to help them has increased. Their understanding of their value to the group has changed.

Let’s have less indistinguishable welcome lists and more specific contributions.

The Engagement Myth

November 20, 2017 Comments Off on The Engagement Myth

More engagement increases loyalty (or retention), at least that’s the myth.

Community has less influence over retention than almost any other benefit.

Price, product, promotion, people, processes and a dozen other factors have a bigger impact.

There are plenty of companies with thriving communities shrinking away when better or cheaper products emerged (Dell, BestBuy, Barnes and Noble etc…)

Part of the problem is the people most likely to join a community are already your most loyal customers. You might move that by a percentage point or two, but it’s extremely hard. Even if you succeed, it’s difficult to prove causation.

I’d look around for another benefit. Advocacy, customer support, ideas implemented, tickets reduced, SEO traffic, generating leads, reduced costs, and almost any other benefit here works better.

Your work becomes far more enjoyable when you’re working towards something you can directly influence and easily prove.

AI and Communities

You’ve probably read the same case studies as me about the ‘industry that didn’t adapt (or change)’. Trains, the ice trade, tour operators, postmen, music etc…you can take your pick, the pattern was the same.

First, they ignored the trend, then they fought the trend, then they were destroyed by the trend.

Did you ever think reading these stories “that won’t happen to me, I’m too smart!”.

This morning is the time to test that assumption.

Are you proactively exploring how you could use AI to reduce your workload by 90%?

What happens to your superuser program when people can just ask Siri or Alexa on their phones and get the best possible answer?

What happens to the community manager when a chatbot can greet members, introduce them to each other, remove bad actors/content better and guide them to participating quicker than they can?

What happens when reports are automatically generated and acted upon?

But people want the empathy of another person doing this work right. No-one wants a machine to do these tasks. People want to feel listened and responded to by a real person.

That’s almost the exact same response our operators, stock market brokers, milkmen, postmen, and checkout assistants used to give (and soon Uber drivers too).

A better expression here is denial.

Artificial Intelligence in its myriad of forms is happening right now on the fringes. It might stay on the fringe for 1 year, even 5 years. But when it moves it will move fast and I’d recommend you take action now.

Who is doing AI and community well? How can you make it work for you? Who can best figure out the shift in work from person to machines?

I’d bet the person who can answer these questions won’t be out of work when the inevitable happens.

Instagram, Experts, And More

November 16, 2017 Comments Off on Instagram, Experts, And More

I’ve been looking for a format to share thoughts while on the road, I like Instagram for now.

You’re welcome to follow me there.

FeverBee Experts has both a new (collapsible) homepage and plenty of discussions covering some of today’s most important topics.

If you’re looking for a more substantial debate than the fleeting nature of Facebook/Twitter, I hope you will join us.

I’ll be speaking at Influitive’s Advocamp in San Francisco (Dec 6 to 8). If you’re interested in advocacy and community, I recommend you join us.

3 Stages of Promoting A Community

November 15, 2017 Comments Off on 3 Stages of Promoting A Community

In the inception stage of the community lifecycle, you promote the community to the fringe radicals, the true believers, and the people who know you best and are closest to you. These are the people with the passion to create something that doesn’t exist yet.

In the establishment stage, you promote the community to the topic enthusiasts.

These are the people who most love the unique niche you’re targeting within the broader space. They are the ultramarathon runners among the marathon runners and the bitcoin miners among the bitcoin investors.

You find them via referrals, on social media, and build close relationships with them.

In the early-maturity stage, you target the people struggling with problems, want to improve themselves, and need a better solution than what’s out there today. It’s only now that you should begin promoting the community en-masse.

There are exceptions, I’m sure, but they are the exceptions. If you’re getting lots of people joining but not sticking around, you’re probably confused about either a) where you are in the lifecycle or b) who you should be promoting the community to.

Sense of Community

Sense of community is to community professionals what Maslow is to motivation (albeit with more scientific evidence).

If you’re working in this field, please read it (or at least read the summary).

Then learn how to apply it. This video below might help.


(this too)

There isn’t a good excuse today for not being an expert in the psychological underpinnings of your day to day work.

Shifting Metrics

A friend mentioned she had to change her metrics three times as new bosses came and left.

The one time she tried to stick to her guns, she lost half her team.

When a new boss arrives, you often have two options. You can repeatedly try to reinforce the existing value of the community and persuade the new boss to your point of view.

This is great, when it works.

It’s often far easier to shift your new metrics to what the boss needs rather than what you have.

If you don’t, you could easily find yourself unimportant to the broader strategy of the organization. That’s not a good place to be. It’s far better to be flexible and adapt fast when you need to.

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