Month: December 2017

The Most Advanced Online Community On The Web (A breakdown Of StackOverflow’s Online Community)

In the past two weeks we’ve tackled Apple’s Support Community and Airbnb’s Host Community. This week we’re going to breakdown StackOverflow.

You can even watch the slideshare below (click here if it doesn’t appear), or read the breakdown below.

CONCEPT

StackOverflow was launched in 2008 as a Q&A site for programmers. It has since grown to 50 million monthly visitors and is the crown jewel of the expansive StackExchange network.

StackOverflow enforces extremely strict moderation policies designed to get great answers to great questions. It does not allow casual chatter on the main community platform. This is unique amongst most organizations.

Unlike other branded communities, StackOverflow earns direct revenue from the community via recruitment (talent), advertising (ads), and helping companies create their own private instance of StackOverflow within their organization.

OVERVIEW

The community consists of several core areas:

1) Questions. The community is entirely orientated around ‘questions’ which also appear on the landing page of the community.

2) Developer Jobs. Programmers can search and find jobs published by paying advertisers on the community.

3) Tags. These are keywords or labels that members can browse through to find relevant information.

4) Users. Members can browse through the list of users and search by keywords.

5) Developer Stories. This is where members can create their ‘online resumes’.

6) Business Solutions. For businesses who want to hire, advertise, or use StackOverflow in their work.

HOMEPAGE DESIGN

  • The community has a different homepage for visitors compared with logged in members. This is really smart to do. Visitors have different needs than logged in, returning, members. The focus is more upon registration.

  • The community is entirely focused on the latest activity. Members are expected to scroll through and find questions to answer. This is a fixed list rather than infinite scroll.
  • The search box is slightly hidden, but not too hard to find at the top.
  • There is a good selection of tabs. But it’s not clear what the difference between interesting and featured is. Can probably remove a few of these.
  • Clear gamification features and notifications on previous posts in the top right.
  • The ‘Ask Question’ button is a little hard to see.
  • This is a good use of showing the popularity of questions by votes, answers, and views. People know how popular a question is without having to click the link.
  • Most of the questions here seem very unpopular. This is due to the sheer ferocity of questions StackOverflow receives. Might be worthwhile showing questions which are popular but not answered yet.
  • The display of tags beneath the question is excellent.
  • Look out for the blog integration in the top right to show the latest news about the community here. This doesn’t intrude on the main activity, but lets people know the broader community news
  • The add/edit favorite tags on the right hand side is useful.
  • This advertising works. It’s not too intrusive or hurtful to the user experience.
  • The ‘latest activity’ metrics show a clearly active site. This is good to show before clicking the question.

Mobile Site

  • The mobile version of the visitor homepage removes the registration form and tags. It focuses purely on showing the latest questions.
  • The ‘ask question’ option has also curiously vanished.
  • The slimmed down nature of the site makes it ideal for visitors looking to scroll through questions – possibly without participating.

USER EXPERIENCE AND PARTICIPATION

  • StackOverflow is hosted on a custom-built site. While most main platforms have auto-complete search, StackOverflow does not. The search bar expands, but does not display the relevant questions and discussions in drop down mode.

  • Search works well. It shows not just relevant questions, but also the specific and highest voted answers to those questions.
  • The speed of search is also faster than any other community visited.

  • Next to the search results are also ‘advanced search tips’. This is an incredibly useful and interesting addition to programmers. It helps people find the answer to their question even faster.

  • StackOverflow tackles the ‘repeat question’ problem by forcing you to thoroughly research the answer first. This is the screen you see when you select ‘ask question’.
  • The tips are good and include relevant links. Although many members probably skim right past this.
  • I love this ‘tick box’ along with the ‘open mind’ text to confirm that this has been read.
  • The ‘adapted from Google’ section in the top right is something other communities can easily use.
  • Related links to ask a good question are also a nice touch. It might be a good idea to guide newcomers to read this before asking a question, otherwise I suspect most people will ignore this.

  • StackOverflow continues its maniacal focus on good questions by providing prompts at each stage of asking a question. Here there is a prompt in default, the title itself to be specific along with advice on the right hand side to provide details, share research, and ask unrelated questions about the community in the meta area.
  • StackOverflow also provides a relevant link to the help center. This ensures people begin questions with the right mindset and a good, specific, title.

  • When you click on the box to enter your question, formatting help appears on the right-hand side. These small prompts are incredibly useful. Each of the main tabs (links, images etc…) also drops down to reveal further advice as part of advanced help.
  • As you begin typing the question, it appears in preview mode below so you can see exactly how the question will appear. Similar questions will also appear on the right-hand side.

  • This appears complicated as you begin typing the question. However, if StackOverflow detects something which is incorrect, you receive a bright red notification. You cannot post the question until you’ve resolved this problem. This is another very neat touch.
  • You can also see the advanced help above the question, the preview below, and the similar questions on the right hand side.

 

  • The community shows suggested tags from those mentioned in the question or using AI from previous questions.
  • If you begin to type your own tag, a drop-down box of relevant tags appears below along with a description. This makes tagging really easy (and enforced).

RESPONDING TO QUESTIONS

  • Questions are clearly displayed with regard to the audience’s expectations. Here the coding is properly formatted and shown within the questions with simple tags.
  • Members can do one of a few things. They can either vote, favourite, comment, or answer the question. However, newcomers are not allowed to vote on questions until they have a 15-point reputation score.

  • Commenting on a question is a novel feature of StackOverflow. It’s designed to improve the quality of the question and provide feedback to the original poster as well as providing more information for people to create good answers.
  • This would be distracting in most online communities, but works well when good quality answers is the overriding part of the community concept.

  • As we can begin to expect now, answering questions contains further prompts about what to do to provide a really good answer.
  • The link to further tips on writing great answers is also a great practice to observe and easy to replicate.

  • One of the truly unique aspects of StackOverflow’s community is the ability of members to edit the questions and answers of other members. Everyone has the ability to do this, although the process is peer-reviewed.
  • Edits are used to fix grammatical errors, clarify meaning, correct minor mistakes, and add related resources. Aside from Wikipedia, I haven’t seen any other community successfully implement this feature.

  • Unlike most organisations where empathy in responses is a critical part of the response, StackOverflow is designed for an audience that only wants good, quick, answers to questions.
  • Almost all questions receive a quick response. The responses are usually detailed and specific to help the person. In this case, it’s code that the programmer might like to use to resolve the problem they are facing.

REGISTRATION AND ONBOARDING

  • StackOverflow doesn’t have a separate registration page, visitors are encouraged to register with the fields shown within the header at the top of the page. This also allows Google and Facebook sign on.
  • Allowing people to register without having a separate registration page is a really clever feature.

  • StackOverflow has the easiest email confirmation page you will ever see. They have reduced the amount of copy to just 9 words. You can consider doing something similar with your email confirmations.

  • This is really simple copy at the top to get people started. Not sure on the logo mind.
  • I like the phrasing of ‘what should we call you?’
  • Profile photo is easy to drag and drop into place.
  • Picking a few topics of interest should be a standard feature of all players. It enables members to receive updates on topics which are relevant to them. It encourages a good use of tagging.
  • Not sure why this section is relevant, possibly the only area here I’d remove.
  • Most importantly here you don’t have to write detailed ‘about me’ paragraphs. You can select the key things that matter.
  • Great way to merge in advertising opportunities.
  • Notice the ‘all fields are optional’ – I’d move this to the top of the page.

  • This welcome email is triggered by participation in the community. The quick summary, learning how to write great answers, and custom views are pretty effective ways to help newcomers get started.
  • I suspect there might be an opportunity for improvement here based upon tags people have selected and what the latest activity of the community is.

  • Once you join the community you receive a notification with a link to the tutorials page.
  • This tutorial page is detailed and explains each of the steps required to become a great participant of the community. The visual element is especially useful.

DEVELOPER JOBS AND STORIES

  • The jobs section revolves around developer stories which members are prompted to complete in the community if they want to be open to new job offers. The forms are relatively simple to complete and all fields are required.

  • The developer stories are presented really well, with tags at the top (not shown), and then a detailed timeline of previous jobs and experiences below.
  • Most communities could adapt this idea to immediately upgrade their member profiles.

  • This is a relatively standard and simple list of job adverts. With a search function and location at the top and list of ads displayed below.
  • Showing the salary, tags, and ‘be one of the first applicants’ is incredibly smart.
  • Letting applicants create job alerts is also extremely clever.
  • Showing the previous searches and job preferences is a nice touch. Easy to edit from the front page.

  • This section is a relatively simple and clean way of showing the job adverts. This might be the least innovative page of the community.

  • A major innovation of the community is to enable members to apply for the job directly within the platform. This includes using their current reputation score to apply for the positions.

MEMBER PROFILES

  • The member profiles is one of the most advanced areas of the community.
  • Showing users where they rank comparatively is a smart way to drive more participation and reward the top members.
  • Number of badges and reputation points are clearly displayed.
  • Other communities where the member participates in. Not relevant for most communities (or here, really)
  • The ‘impact score’ in the top right is genius. A great way of showing a member’s total contribution.
  • The breakdown on the right hand side of a member’s vital statistics is also useful. Not sure what ‘4 hats’ are though.
  • In the bottom right is a further good breakdown of where their expertise lies. You can clearly see where this member’s real expertise is.

  • Mid-way down the profile is a list of a member’s top posts. This is a great way of letting the member ‘show off their best work’ without looking like an ass.

  • Each member’s badges gained are displayed at the bottom, listed by date and the reason they earned the badge. This is a simple way of displaying the badges. There might be better ways of doing this.

GAMIFICATION AND REWARD SYSTEMS

  • StackOverflow also has one of the most advanced gamification systems on the web. This begins at earning privileges for taking simple actions ‘such as creating a post’ all the way up to getting access to analytics with 25,000 points.
  • The ticks next to the scores is an especially nice touch.

  • This the ‘Tom Sawyer’ effect in action. The more privileges you earn, the more likely you are to take on doing work for the community for free. Full privileges board encourages members to take on more work for free.
  • A good menu in the top right explains what’s required to progress to the next level.
  • Showing the next privilege and what’s needed to get there is also a smart idea.
  • There are multiple types of privileges members can earn, as broken down here.

  • There are a near-infinite number of badges members can earn in the StackOverflow community. These range from question, answer, participation, moderation, documentation, and ‘other’ badges.
  • The diversity of badges means everyone can and almost certainly will begin collecting badges from the very early days of the community.

  • All of the systems are fully documented and explained in detailed guides. This limits confusion and potential anger from members when they don’t get the rewards or privileges they expected. It’s usually a smart move to fully document your reward systems.

  • Interestingly, StackOverflow also operates chat rooms which members with a reputation score of at least 20 are allowed to participate in. This type of interaction allows for more general discussion which would be an ill-fit for the quality-information focus of the community.
  • This is a good balance between ephemeral and serious discussions which many organisations struggle with. However, they are hard to find on the community.

CONCLUSION – THE MOST ADVANCED ONLINE COMMUNITY ON THE WEB

StackOverflow, with the possible exception of Facebook, has the most advanced and sophisticated community platform on the planet. There are hundreds of tiny details which are all designed to support its core concept of getting great answers to great questions.

To support this mission, StackOverflow deliberately limits engagement in favour of quality contributions. This has the desired impact of attracting the highest quality programmers to share their best advice on the community, but it’s a tough path for others to follow.

However, platform vendors and organisations can learn plenty from StackOverflow’s homepage setup, gamification systems, onboarding systems, and job pages.

There is also plenty to learn here about creating tutorials and nudges throughout the platform to ensure that members make great contributions to the community.

Many organisations would benefit from focusing less on driving as much activity as possible and instead focusing on driving the right kind of activity within their community. This is the real frontier of our work today.

You can visit for yourself at: www.stackoverflow.com.

What Motivates Community Members To Stay Engaged In Online Communities?

At some point, almost everyone looks at their community and wishes they could increase engagement. This usually leads to clever ideas that members might find interesting, but soon the novelty wears off and engagement returns to the same level.

The problem is a failure to properly diagnose why engagement decreased. Much like medicine and engineering, it’s far harder to diagnose the problem than to identify the solution. If you properly diagnose the problem, the solutions usually present themselves.

Diagnosing Your Community Engagement Problem

The diagnosis begins from a motivation perspective. You can use our membership motivation model below. This identifies why people don’t visit the community, why people initially participate in a community, and what leads to healthy long-term participation in a community. You should be able to use this to diagnose the problems you need to overcome:

If Your Audience Doesn’t Visit Your Community

The most common problem is people simply aren’t visiting the community. This usually breaks down into four buckets (by descending order of priority):

1) Lack of awareness. No-one can visit your community if they either aren’t aware or have forgotten it exists. You can diagnose this by asking or surveying a random sample of your total audience. Ask them to name any communities they have heard about and see what percentage mentions your community. If it’s less than 5%, you have a big awareness problem.

2) Low value perception. This is when the audience is aware the community exists, but they are not especially motivated to visit. This means your community concept isn’t right.

Ask your audience what challenges they are tackling today and check if this matches the discussions and activities taking place in the community today. You might also want to check Google Trends and other tools to see what terms and topics people are searching for today. Is your community aligned to match?

3) Trust. Here your target audience understands what the value of the community is supposed to be but doesn’t trust you to deliver it. This happens most often when people have visited the community once but didn’t see enough value to visit or participate again. You can diagnose this by asking members if they did visit the community to highlight what advice/value they got from the community.

4) Competitor groups. You’re probably not the only community in town. Members might participate in other groups as well. Their ties to those groups might be hard to break and other groups might be better at delivering on this value than you are. This usually requires focusing on a unique, growing, niche you can dominate (if you’re smaller), or fear of missing out (if you’re the bigger community). This can also be diagnosed by asking your audience what other communities members participate in today.

These are all fundamental problems. You need to have a constant source of new visitors, a relevant community concept, to deliver value, and compete effectively against other groups.

Why People Join And Initially Participate In An Online Community

Once you’ve tackled the fundamentals, you also need to ensure it’s easy for members to make their first contributions to the community. People make their first contributions to an online community for five key reasons. These are to ask a question (or solve a problem), improve their expertise, increase their status, be part of a group, or explore a topic with a group of likeminded friends.

You can reverse engineer this to diagnose why people don’t participate in a community they visit (e.g. why do people only lurk?).

This boils down to:

1) They don’t feel they can ask a question. They either don’t have a question to ask or don’t feel comfortable asking it. The latter usually because of fear about their personal reputation or fear of getting a negative (or no) response.

2) They don’t have expertise to share. People don’t respond to questions or write blog posts because they don’t have the expertise to share or comfort to share their expertise. This happens in many fields where there are a lot of newcomers and the experts are hard to persuade to participate.

3) They don’t feel participating will increase their status. This occurs when the cost/benefit of participating isn’t worthwhile from a status perspective. This means they don’t feel their contributions will get alot of good responses and help increase their status.

4) They don’t feel they will be left behind. In many communities there is no danger of being excluded from a group by not participating. There is no urgency to participate now or fear of missing out.

5) They are not passionate about the topic. Another reason is they aren’t interested enough in the topic to explore it with others. This comes up again when we talk about healthy, long-term, participation.

You can interview or survey people who visit to see what’s preventing them. Alternatively, you can test different ideas from those listed above until you come up with an effective solution. Tip: it’s usually best to work from the top down.

Why Most People Don’t Become Regular, Active, Members

Usually the level of participation declines rapidly after the first contribution to a community. You can see this in our data below:

There are three big reasons for this.

1) They aren’t curious about the topic. They might participate when they have to (for work or to resolve a frustration), but they aren’t motivated to learn more about the topic beyond this level.

2) They don’t enjoy participating in the community. They don’t feel a part of something special when they do participate in the community. They don’t feel they have much control or ownership. They don’t feel it’s a part of their peer group where people like and respect them.

3) They don’t enjoy helping others. They don’t get much joy from helping others. This occurs most often when they don’t receive gratitude for contributions or don’t feel much of a connection to other members. It also arises when they are answering the same questions repeatedly within the community.

All of these tie back to the three root causes that you can work on. These are:

1) Limited sense of competence. If members don’t feel their abilities are growing, have opportunities to demonstrate their abilities, nor have any control over the site, their motivation is sharply reduced.

2) Limited sense of autonomy. If members don’t feel they can participate the way they like, in a way that aligns with their values, and give input into the direction of the community, they are less likely to enjoy participating there.

3) Limited sense of relatedness. In short, they don’t feel liked and respected by other members. There is no larger sense of community forming around the topic that gives people their social identity.

The key here is to gradually increase this sense of competence, autonomy, and relatedness by designing specific journeys you take members through. There are no shortage of tactics here.

Ultimately, to sustain long-term, regular, participation the community ultimately has to offer more than just solutions to problems. It has to offer members the chance to feel really smart, to feel they can finally behave as best aligns with their values, and the opportunity to build strong relationships.

Always Diagnose The Problem First

Before you move on to testing any tactics, properly diagnose the problem. Once you diagnose the problem the solutions usually present themselves.

Good luck.

A Detailed Breakdown of Airbnb’s Online Community

Last week we began the first in-depth breakdown of a large, established, online community. You can read our breakdown of Apple’s online community from last week.

This week we’re going to do a detailed overview of Airbnb’s online community.

You can view the slideshare here (or read the breakdown below)

Concept and Background

Airbnb’s online community is a community for hosts (not guests) which has existed for over five years and been through several iterations and strategies during this time.

The community is based on the Lithium platform and uses most of Lithium’s available modules. This means the community allows hosts to ask questions, share tips and tricks, connect with other hosts, suggest ideas, create and host meetup groups, and collaborate with each other in home sharing clubs.

The community also uses translation (rather than separate sites) to cater to different languages.

The main challenges for a mature, highly active, community like Airbnb usually include handling high levels of activity, being highly responsive to member questions, and ensuring members are engaging in actions which drive real value to the brand.

There may also be questions about the value of an online community. The larger the community becomes, the bigger the team required. As the size of the team grows, so does the temptation to cut the budget if the value of the community cannot be proven.

THE STRUCTURE OF THE COMMUNITY

The community umbrella includes (by order of website prominence):

1) Tips and tricks to become better hosts. The primary goal of the community is to facilitate members sharing ideas with one another.

2) Connect with local hosts. A second goal is to build sub-groups for hosts to connect locally with one another.

3) Customer Support. Much of the community activity revolves around hosts asking questions and getting support from one another.

4) Home Sharing Clubs. This is where hosts can share stories with one another and support local initiatives.

5) Host Voice. Members can suggest ideas they would like Airbnb to implement.

6) Meetups. Members can create and sign up to attend local meetups.

This list doesn’t include the host newsletter, toolkit, host stories, webinars, and toolkits which have lesser levels of activity. Nor does it include social or groups started on 3rd-party platforms (e.g. Facebook).

COMMUNITY HOMEPAGE AND NAVIGATION

  • The language and copy on the community is telling. This should highlight the main goal of the community. A community where ‘anyone can belong’ suggests Airbnb is pursuing a movement rather than a function. This is a high-risk, high-reward approach. I’m not sure it’s the best way to motivate contributions.
  • There are two very clear calls to action. This suggests this isn’t just about resolving problems but genuinely facilitating ongoing conversations.
  • Would love to see photos of some top members here instead of just hosts. The diversity within the photos selected is a smart balance of sexualities, age, and race.
  • Three clear categories here. 1) Get inspired by new ideas, 2) connect with others (validation), and 3) get support. However these don’t clearly connect to the mission-statement opposite.
  • I like the translation method of handling the multiple-language challenge.

  • Showing top posts instead of latest posts by default is a good idea for idea/tip-driven communities.
  • ‘Your latest posts’ is great for catching up on recent discussions or seeing if any answers have been received. Would be good to show date or recency of last response.
  • The mid-form display is an interesting way of displaying content. It works well when the goal of the community is to provide new ideas and get people to click on ‘blog style’ posts for inspiration. But it’s not great when it includes customer support posts that won’t be relevant to as many people.
  • Featured discussions on the right are fantastic when they support a clear goal. I’d be interested in displaying them clearly.

  • This looks like a good an interesting mix of content here, but it’s buried too far down for almost anyone to see it. I’d look to display this much higher up. Showing lengthy posts instead of just titles has reduced what can be shown on the page.

MOBILIZE OPTIMIZATION

  • The site works well on mobile with the images dropping out to reveal a simple layout above the fold. Could possibly remove the copy below the headline here.

  • The full posts take up lots of space and lead to a lot of scrolling on a mobile space. I’d reduce this to just the titles of the post to allow for easier scrolling

USER EXPERIENCE AND PARTICIPATION

Now we can begin to explore what it’s like to ask a question within the community.

  • First, you will probably enter the question in the search. Lithium’s autocomplete search works well with the related discussions appearing as the question is being typed. The tick next to the questions with resolutions is a useful touch.

  • This prompt when you first click on the search box is also a nice touch. Small nudges like these can be really effective in online communities.

  • Once you select ‘start a discussion’ you’re taken to the ‘all discussion rooms’ page which then asks you to select from relevant ‘rooms’. This feels clunky and the categories are confused. This would work better within a ‘drop down’ menu to select while writing the post itself. Also, many questions could easily be in hosting and help simultaneously.

  • Not sure this large image at the top of the page has to be here. This pushes all the other content way down the page.
  • Is the copy at the top right necessary? It duplicates the copy opposite and most people would naturally ‘start a discussion’ if they wanted help.
  • The ‘welcome to help’ area also feels like it could be shortened to something much simpler, it’s a good idea though.
  • Now you have to click ‘start a discussion’ AGAIN to start a discussion. This shouldn’t be happening.
  • Showing the community guides at the top of the page works well, I think showing the guides themselves in box/pinterest style would be better here.
  • Showing related tags works well, but would be best to organise these by priority or trending topics.

  • This is a clean interface. The autosave feature is also appreciated. The drop-down list appears again to avoid duplicated questions. Smart.
  • The box offers images, links, and bullet points but no other HTML. this is probably a good idea for Airbnb.
  • This area would benefit from some Apple-style advice sharing simple tips to help people ask good questions (e.g. give context and details).
  • Tags don’t automatically appear (nor are there any suggested tags based upon the post) – this would make it easier to select the right tags in the community.
  • Do you really need a ‘cancel’ button? People will either post or not. Feels an odd place to encourage a cancellation.

  • There are FAR too many things to do here. This is before we look at the two ‘options’ drop-down menus which show the same options. Would benefit from a like / me-too / reply and nothing else.
  • Could move the # comments and views to the top of the page to show popularity of each post.
  • ‘Join the conversation’ feels a bit weak, why not ‘reply’ or ‘help’? Can be more specific with the kind of participation required here.

RESPONSES AND EMPATHY

Now we can look at what kind of responses we get…

  • Airbnb does a very good job of ensuring almost all questions and tips shared receive a quick response. In some areas, these become sprawling discussions. In others, they are simple customer support questions which receive a good response.

  • It lists the respondee as a ‘level 10’ here but there is no other information on the community about gamification, rewards, or what these levels mean. It seems level 10 is the highest a member can reach in the community. There is great potential to further develop and improve this.
  • ‘Mark as helpful’ is a useful button. This might benefit from an additional prod to select this.

  • Most responses come from community members at a level 10 or above.
  • The responses are generally factual, but not rich in empathy and there isn’t much attempt at a follow up to check if the problem was resolved or make a solution as a featured answer. This is a missed opportunity. The low-level of responses from staff members suggests a relatively small team manages this online community

REGISTRATION AND ONBOARDING

How easy and motivational is it to join and register for this online community?

  • Accessing the Airbnb community requires using an Airbnb account. There isn’t a distinct community registration pathway. You go through the same process as you would to register for the site itself. There aren’t separate user journeys here.
  • This means there is no onboarding pathway to engage or educate members. The anti-discrimination policy acceptance is a welcome touch.

  • Because there isn’t a distinct community participation track, there is no welcome email that guides people into their ongoing contributions to the community. This feels like a missed opportunity to convert people into active participants and also hints at a limited level of integration with other areas of the organisation. This email even guides people away from the community they just tried to join.

  • A curated list of tips and help guides is a great addition, but it’s buried within the community and would benefit from being listed in an automated onboarding journey. The list is strong and potentially very useful however. It is also kept regularly updated.
  • I’d list by popularity rather than alphabetically but it’s a minor tweak

  • The community also has a list of centrally created tutorials to do basic actions on the site. I prefer these as one-time pop-up notifications, but they can work well here if they are easy to find. They appear above the fold, yet tend to push down after discussions. It’s best to showcase a tutorial next to the action where it is needed.

TIPS AND TRICKS

Now we can start reviewing the subsections of the community in a little more depth. This begins with tips and tricks which is relatively active and has good content.

  • The tips and tricks area of the community is structured similarly to other areas. This needs a good display of the top tips shared by hosts, ideally in visual form.
  • This area would benefit from best tips ever shared, top tips for new Airbnb hosts, tips to get higher ratings, and trending tips relevant right now.

  • Despite the best efforts of the community manager, many topics are filled with complaints about Airbnb or customer support questions. This brings the tone of discussions down from what it could and should be.
  • It’s impossible to upvote or rate a tip without clicking into it. Reddit-style upvoting works best when sharing new ideas. Make it easier for people to upvote ideas they like.

LOCAL CONNECTIONS

The local connections area could easily be removed.

  • Airbnb encourages members to ‘connect locally’ and join groups for their city. Very few of these groups are active and many share the same kinds of discussions as appear elsewhere. Ironically it’s not possible to send a direct message or ‘connect/befriend’ with other members.
  • This section could easily be abolished or control handed over to regional community members who could lead these groups either on Airbnb or, much better, on Facebook groups where they may already exist. At the moment too many of these groups have very low levels of activity and need to be pruned.

HOME SHARING CLUBS

Home sharing clubs have high levels of activity and great potential.

  • The goal of home sharing clubs is to educate local hosts about local laws and benefits of hosting.
  • Home sharing clubs overlap significantly with local connection groups and should be merged. These are led by community members and generally have higher levels of activity which suggests great potential in letting community members lead areas of the community.

IDEATION

This is where members can suggest ideas and improvements. It’s not working well, mainly due to Airbnb’s limited ability to implement and respond to ideas.

  • The ideation area is hidden and not very active (or clear under the name of ‘host voice’)
  • Translation of ideas is very smart.
  • The ‘how it works’ explanation would benefit from explaining the process of how an idea goes from ideation to participation.
  • It’s best to display ideas by title with their current status. The design of this area is not well suited for ideation.
  • Anger is boiling up from a lack of participation from Airbnb. This does not bode well.
  • The idea statistics in the bottom right should be at the top. However, 6 ideas under consideration isn’t a great statistic. Showing the list of ideas previously implemented would be useful.

INTERNAL SUPPORT

There are several indicators the community doesn’t have high levels of internal support. Two of the biggest are:

  • The online community is hard to find. It appears at the very bottom right below several rows of invisible scroll posts. This indicates the community has low levels of internal support.. The easiest way to boost traffic would be to increase the community’s visibility.

  • The community is interestingly not hosted on airbnb.com but has been moved to a ‘withairbnb.com‘ domain. It’s not clear why this has changed in the past year.

CONCLUSION

Overall, a confused strategy, some design issues, and far too much sprawl.

Airbnb’s online community has huge potential but feels like a smorgasbord of different initiatives which have grown under the banner of community. This leads to a confused strategy which has led to a sprawling use of Lithium’s modules and overlapping areas of participation.
The community would benefit from focusing on solving host’s problems, sharing the best ideas between hosts, and removing all other features from the website.

Local connections and meetups can be best facilitated by people submitted groups hosted on third parties (e.g. facebook.com or meetup.com) for approval to be listed. These can then be led by a committed advocate in collaboration with Airbnb.

Airbnb would benefit from customising the design for each purpose (customer support, best ideas) and making it easier to find and scroll through the trending questions or ideas and the best ideas ever shared.

The community mission of building a planet where everyone can belong is noble, but would be far less effective than focusing on the immediate needs of the hosts (e.g. booking their properties solid and solving host’s problems).

Ideation would be useful when Airbnb can communicate what ideas it needs and when it needs these ideas. There is also potential in better nurturing superusers and building a more advanced gamification system.

I hope you found this breakdown useful, drop me a line with any questions.

Emotions That Matter In An Online Community

The big three tend to be excitement, fear, and frustration.

They manifest themselves as inspiration, validation, and resolution.

Excitement and Inspiration

Excitement comes through inspiration. It’s when you see new ideas in the community you didn’t expect. You might visit for one reason, but during that visit you see several great ideas you can apply to improve your efforts. You start to visit more frequently.

This makes it worthwhile to encourage discussions and create content around:

  • Sharing relevant photos and videos of great ideas.
  • Best advice from the web.
  • Best personal tips from members.
  • Recommended books.
  • ‘Best of’ lists.

Newsletters work best when they focus on inspiration. Inspiration is what gets people returning to the community every day.

Fear and Validation

Validation is about removing uncertainty. It’s about overcoming problems you don’t know exist yet. You might be the only accountant in your company doing that job, how do you know if you’re doing it right? You want to check and compare your progress against others. Validation is about removing unforeseen mistakes.

This usually means content and discussions around:

  • Comparison of tools.
  • Equipment and product lists.
  • Reviews.
  • Working out loud / what are you working on topics.
  • Templates and resources.
  • Case studies and examples.
  • Fees and prices.

Think about different methods to get people to check and compare their efforts against each other. Newcomers are especially responsive to content that relates to validation.

Frustration and Resolution

Frustration is having a specific problem you can articulate that you want resolved. If your iPhone breaks, you visit a community to explain the problem and you want a resolution to that problem. You want the frustration removed.

  • FAQ and lists of most common problems.
  • Video and photographic guides to resolving problems.
  • Answers to questions.
  • Featured solutions.
  • Trending problems.

The problem with frustration is people only visit when they are frustrated and the tone of discussions tends to be negative by nature.

If you’re stuck with your community engagement efforts, you’re probably not embracing one or more of the big three emotions.

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