You’ve launched your online community. You’ve got hundreds, maybe thousands, of active members.
But there is a problem; you’re not sure what you want them to do.
You’re not alone, this happens to the majority of companies we’ve worked with. Many have invested a lot of time and resources to get members to participate without ever answering the fundamental question; ‘what do we need our members to do?’
This usually leads to asking the wrong members to do the wrong things. Fortunately, it’s a very fixable problem.
In this post, I want to take you through a process we go through with clients. This highlights the most valuable things a member can do, the challenges you will need to overcome, and a framework you can use to move forward.
Only A Small Percentage Of Community Contributions Matter
Only a few contributions to your community are valuable. These are the contributions which drive the results you want. They also tend to bring in other members, set the tone for the community, and carve out a unique identity.
You can have a lot of people talking about a lot of things in a place you control (and pay for), but this doesn’t mean it’s valuable. This is like owning a popular bar where people bring their own drinks. Your members get the social benefits while you pay for the overheads.
Your mission is to get every member making their best possible contribution to the community. These are valuable contributions which help you achieve your goal.
What Should Your Active Members Do?
Let’s focus on active members here (we will cover lurkers another time).
Begin by working backward from the result you want. Use this table below if it helps.
This isn’t a definitive list. You should notice however that only a very narrow number of contributions are valuable from active members.
If you want to avoid building another opinion-sharing community, you need to be clear what you want your contributors (usually up to 10% of your membership) to do first.
Select the contributions that most closely match up your goal. Be very clear and specific in the contributions you want members to make.
e.g. ‘members writing detailed blog posts’ as opposed to ‘members sharing good advice’
By the end of this stage you should have identified the contributions you need to achieve your goal.
Great Examples Of Valuable Contributions
The best communities are defined by the great contributions members make.
If you need some examples, here are a few:
- The Spotify Rock Star program has a few hundred people who contribute thousands of great quality solutions every year. These great contributions (quick, personalized, solutions) bring in hundreds of thousands of members and reduce support costs for 6.4m+ members.
- ProjectManagement.com has the smartest people in Project Management sharing detailed articles and resources. These templates and resources saves thousands of people spending days, even weeks, of their lives creating their own resources to do their work. They also serve as a premium feature of the community.
- The Adobe forums has thousands of members sharing their best tips to use the products better. These tips aren’t just targeted at the elite experts, they’re targeted at the far bigger audience of newcomers. This reduces churn, increases loyalty, and improves search traffic.
- Goodreads has members publishing dozens of independent, quality, reviews every minute. This provides Amazon with a treasure trove of information and increases sales.
Each of the communities above are crystal clear in what they wanted members to do. They orientate their activities around these goals. They didn’t hope they would happen by chance if they got enough activity, they proactively drove those behaviors first.
Why Your Members Aren’t Making Great Contributions
Most people, perhaps you too, are making the same mistake. You’re asking members to make contributions they don’t have the skill, time, and motivation to create.
Once you’ve identified the contributions you want, it’s tempting to start blasting messages out to members asking them to make those contributions.
The problem is different kinds of contributions require different attributes from members. A newcomer to the field can hardly be expected to share expert advice.
…But that’s exactly what happens in many communities(!)
These attributes typically fall within three categories;
1) Skills/experience. Great contributions like those above require a significant experience or an acquired skill. If a member doesn’t feel they have a unique skill or experience to share with the community, they won’t participate.
2) Motivation. Motivating refers to deviance from normal behavior. This means getting members to proactively do something they wouldn’t usually do (and don’t see peers doing).
3) Time. This refers to taking an hour or more to contribute the contribution. If you’re writing a review, this doesn’t matter, but if you’re about to share a detailed resource or host an AMA, the member needs the time to create that post.
You can influence each of these a little. You can train members, reduce the time it makes to make a great contribution (e.g. pre-set resources/templates), and deploy motivational messages. This is good practice too. But you’re still going to be working within these relatively fixed restraints. You can’t get members to do things they aren’t able (or willing) to do.
So, what’s the solution?
Going Beyond An Opinion-Sharing Community
You need to match the kind of contributions you want to the members who have the skill/experience, motivation, and time to do those things.
This means identifying members who have the ability to make these contributions and spending more time on them. You can use different systems for each of these.
1) Skill/Expertise. Tag members who demonstrate expertise in a particular niche. You and your volunteers can use admin notes on profiles, create customer badges, or keep a separate list on excel/google sheets (the latter is easiest). Whenever a member makes a great contribution on a topic, tag the contribution to member’s profile/contribution.
2) Motivation. This is harder to fathom. One simple method is to look either at members who create the most posts, those who create deviant posts (e.g. publishing something different or unique), or use your own subjective observations. Listing members by the number of posts they have made is easiest. Set a mark, usually 5+ contributions in the past month.
3) Time. Create a list of members who have either spent the most time on the site or read the most posts within the previous 60 days. You can do this by either listing members by time spent or the site/posts read. You can list members from native features or, if you’re pulling data from the server logs, you can run a simple query below.
This provides a list of members who have read more than 50+ posts within the past 60 days (you can change these variables to suit you).
You can build increasingly complex and automated systems to add people to the right list. The key principle is you should now be able to divide your regular members into active groups based upon the table below:
(yes, this list is quite subjective)
Now you place many of your active members into the categories above (feel free to add your own) and pursue those on lists which lead to the contributions you need to achieve your goals.
- If someone appears on all three lists, you want to invite them to share a detailed resource/template based upon their expertise. Highlight the kind of resources you need, emphasize the status of those resources, identify similar resources elsewhere for them.
- If someone appears on experience and motivation, you want to see if they can share their best tips or solutions on a semi-regular basis. Highlight the tips required, the impact they have, and make a big deal out of great tips shared.
- If someone appears on time and motivation, guide them to volunteer or leadership roles within the community (hosting interviews, welcoming members, moderating areas of the site etc…).
- If someone appears just on motivation, ask them to highlight or vote on the kind of content or material they would love to see in the community. Then feed this back to members creating tips/resources.
- If someone appears just on one list (e.g. experience), you might want them to share reviews or help connect members where possible. etc…
The more resources you have, the more lists you can pursue.
You can begin with just a single list if you like (perhaps resources/templates), find people who fall into that category, and see if you can start adding some tremendous templates and resources to your community. This is terrific for lead generation.
Your goal by the end of this is to make sure every member is making their best possible contribution to the community.