Month: July 2018
Most established communities have gone through a kill zone.
The kill zone is the time between when the community is so young, cheap, and full of potential it’s not worth killing and when it’s proven itself indispensable. It’s typically when the community grows from a cost of less than $500 per day to more than $1k per day.
Once the community gets serious investment, it needs to show clear impact. The time it takes to show impact is the kill zone.
The more time a community spends in the kill zone, the more likely the business will suffer a downturn, a new CFO will arrive, or priorities shift. This makes the community a logical target to cut costs.
You can’t avoid the kill zone, but you can reduce the time you spend inside it. You reduce the time when you make the results of the community as tangible as possible.
This means sharing case studies from the community, clearly showing the products features improved because of the community, bringing big lists of community-generated sales leads to the next meeting, showing the number of calls deflected etc..
The kill zone isn’t the time to talk about the community’s potential or it’s connection to the organization’s mission. It’s the time to show tangible, indisputable, results.
The irony is your community’s most dangerous time is immediately after you’ve got the resources you’ve wanted for so long.
…when there is an overwhelming demand for one.
Most organizations launch their community far too early. They stagger along for years without ever reaching a critical mass of people. You don’t need a big bang launch, but you do need a decent pop. You need to launch and quickly get to a few hundred people within a few weeks. These people should be passionate about the community concept already.
If you don’t have relationships with the top influencers in your sector, an audience of hundreds (or, ideally, thousands of people), or a solid group of 50+ members committed to participating in the community, keep going until you do.
This is what the CHIP process is for. It’s to build huge demand for the community before it exists. You should be constantly out there scheduling coffee meetings, attending meetup groups, and reaching out to potential attendees to get the community going.
You should design a community that breaks new ground, brings together a different group of people, and solves new problems. People should be incredibly excited by the idea of it before it exists.
Few people will casually drift by and join the community. It’s all on you to make it happen. To find people, talk to them, and gradually build your tribe. The time to launch a community (i.e. with a platform for people to chat to one another) is when your audience practically demands it…when you can’t keep up….when there are just too many great ideas to share.
My wife and I spent the past few weeks at the World Cup in Russia.
Players might take home a trophy, but the real winners are fans. Not all the fans mind, but those who go home feeling a stronger sense of pride, who made new friends, who feel an integral part of the group.
This isn’t just true for football (or, sigh, soccer), but for any kind of in-person community events.
Much of this happens naturally. When you drop a group from home into a foreign environment they naturally feel closer to each other (a good reason to host events in a different environment). When you have the presence of other tribes around, they feel closer still. When they go through joys and hardship together, it bonds the group ever tighter.
But most community events do none of this. They force people to sit through 6+ hours of talks to spend an hour or two talking to each other at lunch or at the afterparty.
Or, worse yet, they force everyone to say their name and an interesting fact about themselves (please don’t ever do this).
If there is one great lesson from the world cup (and there are many) it’s to make feeling a powerful community spirit the priority. People can learn anywhere, but they can meet face to face with other people in their tribe only at your event. That’s what the event is about. Don’t waste this rare and precious opportunity.
Give attendees interesting problems to solve in different groups. Have experts on hand not to give lectures, but guide their contributions. Celebrate the successes, commiserate the failures after each project. It can be related to the topic, but it doesn’t have to be.
Teach members about the history of the community and where it’s going. Ensure first-timers know what the community is about. Help nurture stars.
Make it easy to wear group symbols (or, better yet, let them choose from several depending upon what sub-group they best identify with). T-shirts work best, but they’re not the only option.
Have tangible results. What is the tangible outcome of the event people can share and hold? What can they feel they have had a hand in creating? Put something in the hands of attendees they can walk away with. Create artifacts which re-appear at every event.
Have awards for best contributor, best newcomer, top group, and personality of the year etc…
Experts are just the excuse people use to justify going to an event, they really come to the event to feel a part of the community (or not feel left out).
The goal of an event is to send people home feeling the strongest possible sense of pride in the group.
Once a brand community starts to really grow, the number of high-quality interactions shrinks.
Newcomers with less experience, passion, or commitment sign up in droves. They skew the questions towards newcomer issues. This results in top members leaving, followed by the next bunch and so forth.
This is sometimes known as the evaporative-cooling effect.
Over the long term, most organizations find themselves with large communities filled with members asking average-level questions and getting average-level responses.
You might have a few experts, perhaps those incentivized by some unique access or rewards, but most people have moved on.
This is the natural result of trying to grow as big as possible. It’s also the best argument against it.
To attract the most people, you need to cater to the average member. But to attract and keep the smartest members, you need to cater to the smartest members. Top members in almost every field usually want the same things:
1) A private area. They want a private place where they can interact and engage with others at their level. Today this largely happens in WhatsApp groups no-one else can see or find. Newcomers can join only by the invitation of an existing member.
2) Impress their peers. Top members want to impress other top members. This means raising the standards for content so getting an accepted submission is a badge of honour (many journals do this today).
3) Identify new opportunities. They want access to unique opportunities (especially work opportunities) which others don’t have access to. This can also include invites to events hosted by the brand etc…
This doesn’t have to be a completely binary choice. Big doesn’t have to be bad. However, if you want top experts to stick around, you need to cater to their needs more than the average member.
You need to enforce tougher moderation standards, make having an article or post accepted as a badge of honour, and provide support for them to have private meetings and discussions.
It’s harsh to tell average members their contributions weren’t good enough, but it’s what keeps the signal to noise ratio high enough for top experts to stay.