The wrong way is as a crutch for bad design.
An on-site tutorial is not the solution to a complicated design.
If it’s too complicated to use, improve the design.
Most members simply click through a website tutorial anyway.
A better approach is to trigger a tutorial by an event.
i.e. After a member reaches a certain gamification level, has been a member for a year, or earned a special badge, they gain new powers. Here a pop-up/on-site tutorial can show them what they now have access to and how to use it.
Now you’re creating pop-ups people are excited to see and actually read.
Bonus tip – hold some permissions back from newcomers so you can surprise them with new permissions later.
If you’re managing a community, you should be wired into the topical issues of that sector.
This will mean following the relevant influencers, reading the major books and blogs, subscribing to (and reading) trade publications, attending industry events and participating in other communities related to the topic.
No-one expects you to be an expert, but there’s no excuse for being uninformed.
Last week, I flew from London to Las Vegas for precisely one day.
The purpose was to get various stakeholders in the same room to begin executing the roadmap.
Ideally, the people in the room include the senior leader (whoever controls the budget), the implementation partners, and the community team. It also helps to have scheduled meetings with other key stakeholders (technical, legal, PR, marketing).
The value of these meetings is three-fold.
First, they build the social capital you need for the team to cooperate effectively with one another. Emails and calls can be misinterpreted, but it’s easier to assume good intent when you can hear someone’s tone of voice, body language, and learn how best to communicate with each other.
Second, it allows you to go through everything in detail. Sometimes obscure aspects of a project can trip you up if every single detail isn’t wireframed and confirmed in writing.
Third, it allows for immediate creative problem-solving. When people have flown or travelled to a meeting for a day, you typically get their full attention. People are engaged in figuring out solutions.
It’s not always cheap to do meetings like this, but they always pay off many times over. Even if you can’t get everyone in the room, it helps to bring as many people involved in the community together when you begin the process.
You can have a distributed team if you like but bring them together when the project begins.
A few years ago, we asked members what they were working on that week.
We had a flood of responses.
So we did it again, and again, and again….
Eventually, the novelty wore off, the flood of responses became a trickle, and we stopped asking.
The problem was two-fold.
- Most people were working on similar things each week (each month might’ve been better).
- Members weren’t gaining enough value to keep participating in these discussions.
What do you do once you’ve shared what you’re working on?
We should have built upon the success instead of trying to replicate it.
We should have had means for people setting goals for themselves they would hold each other accountable to.
We should have been proactively making connections between members to collaborate on similar projects.
We should have asked them to share their resources, templates, or lessons they had gained after each week etc…
Two lessons here. First, don’t continue a tactic that is clearly in decline. That’s a waste of everyone’s time. Second, build upon your successes – don’t repeat them.
Consider this story published in The Guardian a few weeks ago.
Screenshots from a private staff community were used to support a national story to attack the company.
A private community isn’t really private at all – it’s just exclusive.
A disgruntled member, cunning hacker, or a curious relative with access to any member’s phone can quickly put messages into the spotlight.
Which is why you never say anything in a private group which would be embarrassing in the public sphere.
Last year, we worked with one community manager who agreed with member statements in an MVP group that their CEO is a clueless idiot.
This might seem like a shortcut to bond with your members, but it does irreparable harm.
Not only can anyone privy to the conversation cause real damage to your career, but it doesn’t help your company or your community efforts if members think your company is being badly led.
The moment you take your members’ side against your employers you have a big problem.
Any private group you join should have a specific purpose and you should enforce that purpose.
Don’t allow discussions privately which you wouldn’t allow publicly (and definitely don’t join in).
If members have complaints, engage with them to resolve them.
If they engage in discussions outside of the groups’ purpose, ask them to take it elsewhere.
Yes, you can call it the ‘[companyname]’ community.
There’s no major harm in that, but there’s not much benefit in it either.
Would your audience genuinely be proud to say they are in the ‘companyname’ community (and would you?) Maybe, but it’s far less likely than if you had given the community a proper name.
A great name can be more powerful than you imagine.
If you’re naming a community, begin with how your members talk to one another. What words do they use that sound unique? What would a collective of your audience look like and feel like? That’s where you can start fishing for interesting names that resonate.
Yet, a name isn’t just for your members, it’s also for your colleagues. You name all your products (and maybe plenty of your internal projects too).
Come up with a list of potential names, whittle them down to 3 good choices and let senior colleagues have input.
Many organisations have made a mistake in not properly naming their community. You don’t need to repeat their mistake.
The community approach to recruitment is often as obsolete as any other type of recruitment.
We create generic job ads and look for people who:
a) have some community experience and
b) we get along with.
This reflects a lack of strategy (or a failure to use the strategy we do have).
If you have a community strategy, you should have a logical plan which outlines the goals, objectives, strategy, and tactics.
Each of these tactics requires skills to be executed well.
This means you a) have these skills, b) learn these skills or c) recruit someone who has them.
When a strategy doesn’t achieve its goals, it’s often because the tactics were poorly implemented by people who didn’t possess the right skillset.
It’s one thing to say “we need to host in-person meet-ups”. It’s another to find someone who can execute that well. Someone who knows the technology to use, can effectively persuade people to volunteer to run them (and keep them motivated), and provide them with the resources/tools they need etc…
Some more examples:
If you’re looking for someone to run your MVP program, you need someone who is extremely personable, fantastic at building relationships with top-tier customers, and comfortable dealing with big egos.
If you’re planning to move platforms, you need someone with technical expertise who knows how to create a specification, negotiate rates, work with implementing partners, and the process of making a community project succeed.
If you’re launching a community from scratch, you need someone terrific at building and sustaining internal relationships, can guide everyone (and vendors) through the process, and then persuade your audience to engage in a community where nothing exists today.
If you don’t know what your strategy is, you don’t know what tactics to prioritise. If you don’t know which tactics to prioritise, you don’t know what skills you need to recruit for. And if you don’t know the skills, of course, you don’t know who you should be recruiting.
p.s. I recommend our community strategy course.
Your members want to know what people like them are doing.
This comes up in almost every survey and interview we do.
Your members want to know how people like them have set-up and used the software.
Your members want to know what people like them are getting paid and how they spend that money.
Your members want to know how they compare to others just like them.
The easier you can make it for members to compare themselves to others, the more they tend to visit the community.
One approach is to do big reports. Once you can collect a few hundred survey responses you can aggregate this data and produce the definitive reports for the sector. StackOverflow do a good job of this, so do our friends at the Community Roundtable.
Another approach is to use profile questions. When people create their profiles, ask questions which relate to the main areas of comparison. What tools/products do they use? What level are they working at? How did they overcome the main challenge your audience faces?
A final approach is to guide people in emails and communications to cornerstone discussions in the areas where members most want to compare themselves to one another. One client, for example, had members who wanted to know how others collected and used their data.
The easier you make it for members to compare themselves to one another, the more people participate.
I get several emails per week from people asking me to hunt down unique examples of communities or academic studies of communities that support their view.
Even if I had the time, I doubt I’d be inclined to do it.
A better approach (and one I’ve taken often) is to find people who are excellent at research and hire them to do it.
Write to a dozen universities/colleges with phd programs, ask if any of their post-graduate students are looking for work, and task them with hunting down what you need.
For a few hundred bucks (aim for $25 to $35 per hour) you could have all the examples and research you need.
p.s. If you just want to stay informed of the latest research, try this.
Planes don’t magically jump upwards in the air (usually).
They build momentum, raise the nose to a 5-degree pitch, and gradually take flight.
The runway matters as much as the plane.
If the runway is too short or too bumpy, the flight will end in failure.
The same is true for launching a community. It’s tempting to focus on the features of the plane and ignore the runway.
This is your runway of resources, support, and expectations. Is your runway long enough for the community you’re trying to build? The bigger your vision, the longer the runway needs to be.
If your colleagues don’t share the same goals, requirements, and approach to community, with the same understanding and passion as you, you’re going to have a bumpy journey.
If your colleagues don’t have the same expectations of the community’s journey as you do, you’re not going to achieve results fast enough for them to stay supportive.
It’s very common to communicate too little with your senior colleagues when building a community, it’s far more difficult to communicate too frequently.
In almost every project we’ve worked on, the community team needs to double the amount of time they spend lengthening and smoothing the runway.
Email the last five people that joined your community.
Ask how they heard about your community.
If they came via search, what terms did they search for?
If they came via a referral, who referred them and why did they trust this person?
If they came via your website, what information were they looking for?
What drove them to sign up and create their first contribution?
Why didn’t they just read?
Was there anything that nearly stopped them from signing up?
What parts of the community mattered most to them? Was there anything they didn’t care about?
It only takes 30 minutes and you might be amazed by the quality of data it yields.
Your top members aren’t answering questions for free.
They’re being paid in things they value more than money.
They’re being paid in how it feels when they help others and receive gratitude.
They’re being paid in feeling smarter about the topic and more competent at what they do.
They’re being paid in the relationships they form and finding a sense of identity.
They’re being paid in the reputation they nurture and feeling like they matter.
They’re being paid in feeling important by members and by the brand.
They’re being paid in things money can’t buy.
You don’t encourage superusers by finding tangible rewards with ever-greater value, you encourage superusers by doing whatever it takes to best amplify these feelings.
The most powerful rewards include:
- Ensuring members thank those who provided the answer to their problem and highlight how much it helped.
- Providing exclusive training and expertise which makes superusers feel smarter and appreciated.
- Asking the PR team to promote their work, inviting them to speak at company events, or lead areas of the community (AMAs/Live chats etc..)
- Gathering superusers together in the same room so they can form strong relationships with fellow superusers.
- Providing unique access to insider information, attend CEO calls, or have contacts to ask for advice.
Don’t increase the size of a reward, amplify the feelings members want when they help.