Month: September 2019
I received this email a while back.
It’s not great, to put it mildly.
First, sending a mass email to your current audience to attract a new audience is clearly dumb. The audience you’re trying to reach won’t see it and the audience which receives it will find it irrelevant.
Second, I doubt ‘young Londoners’ refer to themselves as ‘young Londoners’. Instead they are a collection of dozens, even hundreds, of smaller sub-groups within the city, each with unique identities and unique needs.
You attract them by spending time with each audience and learning exactly what they need and how they communicate with each other (ideally, you would want members of the target group to write the email which gets sent only to other members).
Third, privacy policies, reporting functions, and preview features are far less exciting than whatever the audience can do on YouTube, Facebook, and whatever is on TV right now. You’re not competing with how the community used to be, you’re competing against whatever is the most exciting and interesting things the audience can do this minute.
If you want any audiences, and perhaps especially young audiences, to share ideas about the future of London, I’d suggest making it deeply personal to them. What do they want their futures to look like? What does the city need to provide for them to make that happen? That’s how you get better ideas and feedback.
Only send emails to the specific target audience with the most exciting updates which help them achieve their goals. Anything else is a waste.
The majority of questions require more context than provided to answer well (indeed, true experts will always ask for more context before trying to provide an answer).
Let’s take a typical question, “Which drill bit should I use?”
You can’t really answer this question without much context.
What sized hole do you need? What are you trying to build? What is your budget, risk tolerance, and current level of skill with drilling holes?
The more context a member provides, the better answers they will receive.
Problems begin when well-intentioned members try to provide answers without much context.
Since few repondees hedge the answers (i.e. “if you’re trying to do [x], use this, but if you’re trying to do [y], use this…”), the majority of these answers will be only applicable in specific contexts.
This means you need to focus on getting the context in the question rather than hoping for it in the answers.
You can learn from StackOverflow’s system below:
Summarize the problem?
What are you trying to achieve?
What have you tried already?
What tools and technology do you use?
These are all really useful nudges to ensure members are providing the context they need to get the answers they want.
You might not be able to use the same approach as they do, but you can provide the right nudges at the moment members are writing the question or, failing that, when they join the community.
You’re probably not going to get much context in the answers, so work hard to get the context in the question.
A recent client wanted dozens of people to run small groups of 50 to 75 people in different territories around the world.
They had identified 50 possible leaders and invited each of them to form a Slack group.
It’s a neat solution, the main channel kept all the leaders connected and members could then find the right sub-channel for them.
Alas, the neatest solution is rarely the best solution. A handful of people gave it a shot but they soon lost interest.
It’s very hard to attract and retain active leaders if you’re trying to exert control over what technology they use, how they manage the community, and how they can engage the audience. Neatness and autonomy don’t play well together.
More importantly, the people you want to run groups (especially local groups) know far better than you what’s likely to work, what technology their audience will respond to, and how to run the groups. You can equip them with knowledge, but you can’t exert control.
We took a different approach. First, we encouraged leaders to use whichever tools they felt would work best. Next, we began asking how we can support them instead of asking them to support us. A handful said they didn’t need any support, a few asked for promotion, and a couple wanted some advice to keep members engaged.
It’s still early days, but there are now 20+ active groups (instead of just 3 before) and the relationship with each leader is far less strained. It’s not a neat solution, but each leader has far more autonomy and receives exactly the support they need.
P.S. Speaking at Khoros Engage in Austin this week. Tickets available here.
What is your community?
- Is it just your forum?
- Is it your forum + social media?
- Is it your forum + social media + in-person events?
- Is it your forum + social media + in-person events + your help center? etc..
- Is it all your customers?
How you and your organization define community changes the work you do.
Just keeping a forum busy is very different from building a powerful sense of community among all your customers.
It also changes the value of your work to your colleagues.
If you want to expand your worth, you might first need to expand the definition of community you and your colleagues share.
If a community isn’t reaching critical mass, you might be tempted to expand its scope, drive more people into it, and hope it takes off.
Alas, it never works.
If you can’t engage the members you have, you’re unlikely to engage the members you don’t have.
A better approach is to go narrower. Reduce the scope of the community. Focus on a more niche target audience or topic. Better understand the unique needs of a smaller, more connected, group of members better. Figure out exactly what they need, desire, and what identity they share.
Then start building out a community from there.
If it’s not working, it doesn’t make sense to go broader. Try going narrower instead.
The most common projects we turn down are those from people who want to create an online community but don’t yet have an existing audience.
It’s very hard to build a community if you haven’t yet earned the attention of an existing audience.
You don’t need a huge audience, but you do need a group of a few hundred people who will happily listen to what you have to say.
If you don’t have an existing audience, the alternatives are to buy an audience’s attention with social ads (expect to spend around $10 per each active member) or create a community concept so risky and so daring people will naturally spread the word.
Generally speaking, it’s best to earn the audience’s attention first. Follow the CHIP process. Create content, host events, interview people, and participate in existing groups.
You will always find it’s easier to start a new community if you’ve participated and supported related communities in the past.
The best workshops are transformative.
They leave people feeling smarter and more confident than before.
They equip participants with new information.
They challenge participants to use this information to solve engaging problems.
They leave participants with a peer group they can call upon for support afterwards.
You can have workshops for your top members, newcomers, or attendees of your conference. When done well they are powerful, and woefully underused, tools.
p.s. 5 tickets remaining for my 80-person workshop at CMX Summit this week.