The biggest reason why most communities aren’t indispensable is most community managers aren’t doing any of the work which makes communities indispensable.
If you were to make a list of all the tasks you’re doing today, it would probably include activities like:
- welcoming newcomers
- initiating new discussions
- replying to current discussions
- removing spam
- replying to individual member queries
- creating content etc…
Do these tasks make your community indispensable to your colleagues (or your members)? Or do they simply keep engagement metrics up?
While researching The Indispensable Community, there was a clear difference in the work of the typical community manager and the work of indispensable community manager.
The indispensable community manager spent far less time on the activities above and far more time doing the following:
- Building internal relationships. They spent far more time attending meetings to build stronger internal relationships and understand exactly what colleagues need. They focus on urgent needs (i.e. not “generate more sales” but “collect powerful case studies”). They worked to proactively identify and overcome concerns.
- Plug the community into broader goals. They pulled together all engagement activities (events, social, customer support, etc…) into a single unified community approach. This is far harder than it sounds.
- Develop long-term roadmaps. They built long-term roadmaps which they used to drive discussions. These roadmaps highlighted which goals they would tackle, in which order, and what financial, people, and technological resources they needed to get there.
- Build useful decision-making systems. They didn’t just collect data, but developed dashboards which highlighted where to focus limited time and resources to have the biggest impact. Activities were properly measured and acted upon. Most of this was automated.
- Design unique user segments and journeys. They built unique user segments based upon a member’s time, talent, or motivation to contribute. These were validated into user journeys and for members through the community based upon their time, talent, or motivation to contribute. They validated these user journeys with data too.
- Spend a lot of time talking directly to members. They tended to spend a lot more time in the field talking to members or scheduling calls and discussions with members.
- Set specific activities for members. They didn’t just ask members to participate but identified specific valuable tasks (advocating, leading, learning, innovating, educating, and supporting) instead of just countable participants.
- Establish clear technology goals. They didn’t randomly use whatever features came with their platform, they identified the specific tools they needed (from their roadmap) and went deep into ensuring they supported exactly what the community needed to do. Many even developed their own platform. They tended to spend a lot more time in really specific areas of the platform (notably gamification, integration, and onboarding journeys).
- Develop a pipeline of future recruits. They didn’t wait for a job opening to start prospecting future recruits, they tended to attend events and build a pipeline of prospects they could reach out to when a job became available.
It’s not a comprehensive list. Once you pass a certain (low) level, engagement metrics become largely irrelevant.
Instead, it becomes far more important to make your community indispensable to your colleagues and your members. That requires a different set of skills, knowledge, and resources. It’s about time we adjusted to this work.
Join our private community for indispensables.
Is your brand community indispensable?
Is it absolutely necessary to the work of at least one of your colleagues?
There is a simple test for this.
Are you going to your colleagues trying to persuade them of its value or are they coming to you seeking value?
Do you send product feedback to product engineers and hope they use it or do engineers come to you looking for feedback?
Do you send case studies to the PR team or do they come to you seeking case studies?
Do you send leads to the sales team or does the sales team come to you seeking leads?
Do you escalate relevant issues to customer support or does customer support come to your community to resolve most issues there first?
Do you highlight possible value to your boss or does your boss come to you asking how the community can save money?
If your colleagues aren’t coming to you, you’re not indispensable…sorry!
I believe everyone building a community today should work to become indispensable to the organizations they work for.
But it’s hard to do this alone. You need help from people who have been there and done it. You need access to data and persuasive arguments to show what works.
Therefore this week I’d like to invite you to join an indispensable-only community.
In this community, we’re going to share things like our data dashboards, our most persuasive arguments, audience research techniques, and break-down the tactical steps we each use to make our communities indispensable.
It’s the kind of discussions that need both honesty and privacy. The contents of this community will never be made public.
To join you need to do three things:
1) You have to be committed enough to buy and read the book ($19.95). This is a relatively small step to filter out the serial joiners of every possible project from those committed to making progress. You can buy it from Amazon in paperback or Kindle.
2) You have to commit to sharing openly and honestly. We’re limiting membership to just 100 members (for now) and we’ll be pruning members based upon their level of participation. There are some great communities for lurking and learning, this isn’t one of them. We expect you to share your struggles and successes with the group.
We’ll be inviting people in batches. This is strictly on a first come, first serve basis with the earliest members being those who get to join first.
See you on the inside!
I’m incredibly excited to announce the launch today of my second book; The Indispensable Community – Why Some Brand Communities Thrive When Others Perish.
If you’ve ever struggled to explain the value of your community, if you’re not sure how to get the best results from your community, or your members aren’t doing what you need, you need to buy this book.
There are hundreds of thousands of brand communities around today, but how many are truly indispensable to either the brand or their members? How many brands or members would truly suffer if the community disappeared tomorrow?
Far too many of us today are stuck driving engagement. We spend our days responding to what happens in our community, trying to get the metrics up, and creating content we hope will be popular. It’s a big mistake. Even if we succeed, we lose. Engagement doesn’t drive results.
This book will share a new approach towards building community, an approach which will help you stop driving engagement and instead work your members to get their best possible contributions to the community.
If you’re feeling stuck, struggling to prove the value of your work, get the support you need, or simply want to accelerate your career to a higher level, this book will help.
You can buy the book on Amazon.com.
A huge thank you to everyone that made this book possible.
You can constantly tweak the titles of member posts to attract better SEO traffic.
Members are prone to posting a question as quickly as possible rather than trying to craft a title which is distinctive, clearly describes the question, and is unique compared with previous questions.
Over time, search engines tend to punish communities with 50+ discussions titled “iPhone problem” or “flight“.
So the obvious solution is to tweak the titles (or nudge members to do so). You can make any title distinctive, unique, and merge related discussions into one. It’s a lot of work, but if search drives most of your traffic it usually makes sense.
But you can go beyond this too. You can add related images and videos to the solution to search up in media search results too. You can add more detailed information from elsewhere and ensure the most popular discussions are frequently updated with new information. You can add step by step bullet point information too.
Trying to attract greater search traffic is a perfectly valid goal, but if you’re going to do it…take it to the best possible level.
(p.s. a draft version of this post went out by email, sorry!).
Clients often ask us questions about new tactics. For example:
“Let’s create a video channel in our community for members to record and share videos”
It makes sense. Videos are rising in popularity, more platforms are pushing it, and it sounds fun. If you pull it off, your community can become the YouTube for its topic.
If you don’t have a framework for making decisions on tactics like these, you can easily go off-strategy and exhaust yourself chasing new ideas. Many communities become a graveyard for forgotten ideas.
Here’s how we tend to think about any new tactic.
1) Does it directly link to a community goal? How would sharing videos help a community achieve its goal? Certain kinds of videos might help members overcome common problems in better detail or help customers get more from a product.
You can also see what the tactic might look like at this stage. If videos are about problems, we might create a channel to tackle specific problems no-one else can solve. If they’re about success, we might use them for beginner or advanced level tips etc…
2) Is it the best way to achieve the goal? Having customer sales reps write answers to previously unanswerable questions or share best tips might be easier and more effective. What makes videos unique? They make it simple to follow what’s happening as it’s happening. This probably suggests targeting newcomers.
3) Have members expressed an interest in recording/viewing videos from each other? Most of the time the answer is no. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it (members often struggle to express an interest in something they haven’t seen). But it does mean you need to do a trial of the idea first to see if it’s popular before investing much time and resources in it.
4) How do we trial this idea? You might run a simple competition, have a video week (or month), allow just the very top members to create and share videos, pull in existing videos from other sources and see if they’re a hit etc…Most of the time, a tactic is a complete dud and needs to be refined or tossed out. Never do something big without a small trial first.
5) What will we stop doing to make time and energy to do this well? Running a successful video channel well takes a lot of time and resources. What tactics will we stop doing to make sure we can do this well? Who will be responsible for it?
What you might notice is now the idea of “Let’s launch a video channel for members to create and share videos” becomes “Let’s host a newcomer video week for top members to share how they tackled their earliest challenges. If it works out, we’ll stop our weekly MVP calls and focus on collecting best videos instead on a new channel of the community”
Don’t get sucked into investing huge amounts of time and resources into ideas which aren’t clearly powerful, proven to work, and you don’t have time to do them well. Go through the process and reject or adjust the idea until you know it’s worth doing.
As a rule, give members the benefit of the doubt.
They’re not bad people, they’re just having bad days. They didn’t sleep well last night, they just came out of a major relationship, they’re stressed about work, and broken their ankle yesterday.
Anyone of these could explain why they lashed out at another member in that message.
In the broad realm of possibilities which may explain an awful post, an external cause is rather likely. If you assume the best and drop the member a personal note to check they’re ok, you’re far more likely to bring them back into the fold (compared with punishing them with an instant ban).
The odds on any member being so bad a person they need to be instantly removed and punished is slim. External causes are far more likely than internal attributes.
The flip side of this is you don’t get the benefit of the doubt. You’re judged by your last contribution. If you’re having a bad day and lash out, even just once, that’s the ball game. A single provocative, aggressive, or cynical post is how you’re judged as a person and you’ll struggle to recover from it.
If you didn’t sleep well last night, are feeling angry and aggressive, it’s probably best to summon the strength to step away from the keyboard (while assuming your members don’t).
The idea was simple; get the engineers actively engaged in our community.
If we could connect engineers directly with members, the engineers could get useful feedback on their plans, learn what members needed, and build better products.
But the engineers (like most engineers, frankly) were far too busy to spend time in the community.
In situations like these, we’ve typically found an escalating series of asks makes this successful. Usually, this looks like:
1) Open hours/AMAs. Have a product engineer spend an hour each month answering as many questions as they can from members. Members usually like this format and engineers find it convenient (and fun).
2) Unsolicited feedback. If the product feedback goes well for a few months, ask engineers what kind of feedback would be useful and collect/send it on at the right times (at the beginning of an engineering sprint works well).
3) Solicited feedback. If unsolicited feedback goes well, have engineers suggest questions they would love to know the answer to and post these to the community. This is pretty simple.
4) Proactively monitoring and engagement. Finally invite and guide product engineers to proactively monitor the community, respond to questions, ask questions, and gather feedback – especially after a big change.
Your mileage with each step will vary. But start small and expand the asks over time.
A quick reminder this is the final week to sign up for our Strategic Community Management course. We won’t be running this course again this year.
If you’re not sure whether you should sign up, consider how many tactics you’re engaging in today.
If your community strategy is any good, you should be working on just 3 to 7 tactics each week.
Your goal is to commit all your time, resources, and energy to executing a tiny number of tactics extremely well instead of lots of tactics badly.
This is how you delight your members and make your community completely unique.
The problem is most people aren’t even close to this.
Most people are engaging in a dozen or more tactics each week. One community manager last week gave me a list which included:
- Initiating new discussions.
- Replying to current discussions.
- Creating the newsletter.
- Writing new blog posts.
- Organizing AMAs.
- Organizing webinars.
- Removing spam.
- Updating the gamification system.
- Running the MVP program.
- Welcoming newcomers.
- Chasing up lost members.
- Collecting and analyzing community data.
- Presenting the community to bosses.
- Escalating problems to the product team.
- Writing a new onboarding series.
- Updating the FAQ with new questions.
That’s 16+ different tactics.
You’re never going to make any real progress if you’re dividing your time into tiny chunks while hoping for big results.
When you’re constantly jumping from one tactic to the next, spending a few minutes on each every day, you’re undermining your own community efforts.
Real progress comes from doubling down on the tactics which really matter.
Much of our work with clients is explaining what tactics they can stop doing to double down on the ones that move the needle.
This is the trick to making immediate, remarkable, progress towards any goal. All things being equal, when you commit more resources to something you can achieve much more.
For example, do you think your members prefer to join a community where they can get answers to questions or a community which is systematically building the biggest database of expertise in that field.
Do you think your members prefer to join an MVP program which sends them swag or which gets them on a call with the CEO to discuss their concerns once a quarter?
Do you think your members prefer to join a community which shares useful tips, or one which publishes a book containing the best advice from your members each year?
Do you think your members want another hour-long expert webinar to go to or a professionally filmed and edited list of the top 5 tips shared by your community’s top experts from that webinar?
Do you think your newcomers want to be included in an @mention list or get a personal mentor, a private call, and someone who takes the time to find out what they need.
The list goes on and on. Once you start spending 10 hours per week on a tactic instead of 1 to 2, you can build a completely unique community.
The problem is most people aren’t even close to this.
There tend to be three reasons why most people don’t do this today.
1) You don’t know what your members want. This happens when your audience research is bad, you haven’t properly segmented your members, and you don’t know what tactics to focus on.
2) You don’t know what’s working. This happens when you haven’t built dashboards to check what’s working/not working. Most people keep adding new tactics without removing those that don’t work. You have less time to spend on each tactic.
3) You’re scared. Perhaps the most common. You’re worried about killing a tactic because a small group of vocal members like it. You don’t want to make anyone upset.
Getting Strategic About Tactics
If you sign up for the course, we will help you escape this tactics quagmire by building proper audience segments to know what your members need, developing dashboards to know what’s working, and equipping you with the mindset to face down the vocal minority.
If you want to join us, click here.
This is your final week to join us.
A simple rule of thumb is 1% of members will create 90% of your content.
If you believe this, it makes sense to spend a lot of your time keeping top members happy and highly active. Superuser programs thrive in these environments. They do everything possible to anticipate and satisfy the needs of your best members.
But the data is often a lot more nuanced than this. This is a recent breakdown from a client’s community:
(you can show this in a bar chart, I prefer line graphs).
The top 1% are contributing only 20% to 25% of contributions. Once we dove deeper, it became clear an overwhelming number of these contributions were in a private forum and in off-topic areas (in short, the least valuable areas).
The 1% to 10% group are making over 40% of the contributions to the community. A further dive shows this group both asks and answers most questions outside of the off-topic and social categories.
The 10% to 50% group are creating around 30% of the content. This was primarily the newcomer group and they posted a significant percentage of the new questions which appeared in the community.
Finally, the bottom 50% contributed just 5% of contributions.
We can also see how many posts they make on average per month:
The top 1% post 300+ contributions per month (and rising), the 1% to 10% group post around 60 times per month, the 10% to 50% group post around 10 and the bottom 50% approximately 1.5.
Once we ran a multivariate analysis on this group, we found the no. of contributions from the top member group was negatively correlated with the outcome we were trying to achieve while the number of new members and number of posts from the 1% to 10% groups were most highly correlated with the desired outcome.
Don’t Fall Into The Superuser Fallacy
This is the danger of superuser programs. You can spend a huge amount of time trying to treat your top members like royalty without realising it’s hurting your community’s value.
In the above example, the overwhelming contributions from this group were driving others away and were hurting us. If we want to achieve the best results, we clearly need to focus on the 1% to 10% group (people making an average of 2 posts per day) and attract more newcomers to the site. This is where we want to be spending the bulk of our time.
This is important too because it laser-focuses our strategy on a specific group of members and getting them to make an extra quality post per day. It’s also a lot easier and more effective to get members making 2 posts per day to publish 3 than to get the top 1% posting an additional 30 posts per day.
There are plenty of nuances here. If the top 1% of members are providing all the best content (which often happens in customer support communities), then, by all means, pursue your superuser program with gusto. But be aware that outside of customer support the members who contribute the most to the community’s value are probably not the most active group.
Early on in most consultancy projects, we run a survey.
You can find an example from one client here.
In a survey, we’re looking to validate/refute our ideas and identify clear member segments.
The member segments are the most valuable part.
A common mistake here is to look only at the aggregated data (i.e. the 1266 answers below).
What we need to do is dive deeper here and see if there are any clear segments.
SurveyMonkey makes this easy. You can create custom filters for each answer and compare them side by side.
For example, when we looked at how relevant one client’s customers found the community and filtered by the amount of time they’ve been using these products, we got the answers below:
It’s not a precise science, but we can clearly see some clusters starting to form here based upon how long they’ve been using the client’s products and how relevant they find the content in the community.
We can see a relative newcomer group, an intermediate group, and a veterans group respectively (note, we might want to dive a little more into the newcomer group and see if there is a difference between <1 year and the rest).
Once we know what attributes divide our audience, we can use this as the basis for establishing community objectives which aim to best harness their potential within the community.
For example, we might create different spaces for newcomers, intermediates, and veterans (in this case, we focused on newcomers and veterans).
The next step is to combine the filters above (i.e. select all the intermediates together) and use the quantitative data from each to determine the unique needs of each group.
One of the very useful things about SurveyMonkey is it shows you where there are statistically significant differences between groups.
This lets you zero in exactly on what each distinct group likes and dislikes about the community, what parts of the topic are of most interest to them and what they most want to see in the community.
The hard part is finding the segments in the first place. Length of time using the products or in the community is just one example. Usually, we create a lot of unique filters based upon survey answers and play around with the data until we find the ones which really show clear differences.
It could just as easily be level of participation (lurkers, top members etc..), specific interests within the sector, location, or any other variable. Once we have these, you can dive deeper into member interviews with 3 to 5 members of each group to get an extremely detailed understanding of what each wants.
Developing the right member segments becomes the very foundation upon which you should be building your entire community strategy. If you don’t have them, you can sign up for our Strategic Community Management course beginning on Mon 17th and we’ll help you build them.
Tomorrow, we’re raising the cost of our Strategic Community Management course from $675 to $750 USD.
However, I want to briefly explain why most of you won’t take this course.
My Biggest Obstacle
Early in my career, I was too scared to ask for help, admit there were things I didn’t know, or even get a second opinion from people much smarter than I to see what I could be doing better.
I felt forced to pretend I was an expert, even in fields in which I had no experience.
For example, until three years’ ago our entire website was hosted on an outdated Typepad blog. I told myself if the blog content was good enough, people would hire us. They wouldn’t need pesky things like case studies proving we could do what we claimed.
Not asking for help was pure pride…and a big mistake.
Today I try to spend at least a couple of hours each week having research calls with our audience, talking to other people running a business, getting expert opinion (especially in statistics/analytics) to see what we could be doing better, or taking training courses in specific areas (public speaking, analytics, psychology etc…).
If you’ve noticed any change in how we work in the past few years, now you know why. This is what it took us to really take our work to a higher level.
I suspect this problem crops up a lot in the community space too.
Wasting $1k+ Per Day
A while back, my colleague Todd and I braved a New York snowstorm to meet with a potential client.
The meeting went well, but they decided to go it alone instead.
In the past 18 months, they’ve made a bunch of easily avoidable mistakes, from the site design to daily management of the community, and failed to gain any meaningful level of activity.
They’re still signed to a 3-year contract (for $150k per annum), hired a full-time community manager and sunk at least an additional $50k into the design of the community.
Which means they’re losing at least $1k per day on their community and will do so until their contract runs out. By that point they would have wasted over half a million dollars on a failed community project.
Around the same time, another prospect decided to go it alone too. Again, they made a bunch of almost identical mistakes (from the community concept to daily engagement tactics).
Today the only activity comes from community managers posting huge weekly @mention lists which elicit no further discussions. They’re on the same platform, signed to a 3-year contract, and will never turn the community around. That’s another half a million dollars wasted.
Pride gets expensive pretty fast.
These aren’t isolated stories. Scrolling through our list of community examples, there are hundreds of organizations repeating the same mistakes and wasting six-figure sums in the process. At any time they could have reached out to others for help, but have continued to go it alone and their communities have suffered.
At the other end of the scale are communities which are doing ok, but not achieving their potential.
Their community managers respond to activity, optimize what they can, and work with the resources they have.
But they’re barely scratching the surface of their community’s potential.
They usually don’t have a clear roadmap, are focused on a single objective (an objective which isn’t fully supported internally), haven’t developed unique member segments to target, haven’t validated member journeys, and often find themselves measuring the level of engagement instead of the end result.
Worse yet, they are often trying to execute on a dozen or more tactics per week because they can’t pinpoint the few which really move the needle on the metrics which really matter.
They’re working within their comfort zones instead of stretching both themselves and the potential of their communities.
As a result, nothing changes. They will have the same level of activity, support, and deliver the same kind of results next year as they do today. They’re completely at the mercy of external forces and trends they can’t control.
What Stops Us Taking A Community To The Next Level?
Every big leap we’ve taken has been the direct result of acknowledging we can (and should) do a lot better.
It’s this acknowledgement that lead us to seek advice or learn from the experiences of others. It’s why today we still (and hopefully always will) invest huge amounts of time learning from others in our field (and other fields).
If Usain Bolt was still getting training and advice after running faster than anyone in history, we each probably have a lot to learn too.
And whether you sign up for our course or not, I hope at the very least you invest the time and resources to be as good as you can be in this field. Your career aspirations and your community deserves nothing less.
If you want to learn more about the course, click here.
(price rises to $750 USD by the end of tomorrow)