A good way to test your core community skills is by starting a WhatsApp group.
Invite your closest friends, colleagues, or family to join and see how it goes.
Can you identify and build relationships with founding members?
Can you get a name that sticks?
Can you keep people active?
Can you keep the discussions useful and interesting enough?
Can you resolve disagreements?
Can you make newcomers feel comfortable participating?
Can you make it real and have in-person meetups?
Can you build a strong sense of community.
Can you get people to like you and like each other?
You will learn how to be positive without patronizing, how to be caring without overbearing, and how to give members a sense of ownership without losing control.
Sure, you can’t learn more about superusers, platform optimizations and the rest, but you can practice and learn an awful lot.
There are a bunch of basic platform optimization tips.
- Have a dynamic banner at the top of the page adapted to members by level of activity/tenure in community.
- Feature the latest activity above the fold on the community homepage.
- Reduce the size of the banner/top image to 1/3rd of above-the-fold area.
- Provide an area for people new to the topic (not to the community) to quickly get the best resources and reduce the sense of overwhelm.
- Search box at the top of the page (esp. for customer support).
- Clear contrasts between text and background images/colors.
- Static copy is kept to a minimum and dynamic copy fills most of the page to always provide regulars something new to see.
- Members can quickly scan the latest content for activity they want to participate in and respond to.
- Separate most popular from most recent and show members both simultaneously (in 2 or more separate areas on the homepage).
- Pinned discussions featuring most exciting content at the top.
- Avoid stock photos where possible, use photos of your members.
- Clear calls to action based upon desired contributions from community members.
- Community is linked to from a tab on company homepage (and ideally contributions are featured on the homepage).
- Navigation bar at the top or left-hand side.
- All content is a maximum ‘three clicks deep’.
- Long-scroll showing multiple types of engagement.
- Banner shrinks to fit mobile – with swipe option to remove.
- Static copy removed in favour of a one-screen view of community activity.
- Calls to action significantly enlarged.
- Member can easily tap/swipe to like/share community activity.
p.s. Full list of optimization is part of our benchmarks.
Follow up to yesterday’s post.
If your members are angry, you’re not going to build a strong sense of community.
An acquaintance at Ning spent a year trying to build a sense of community between members. Ultimately, she failed not because she used the wrong tactics, but because her members were furious with her company.
You can’t sprinkle a sense of community approach atop a dysfunctional customer experience. If members are angry with you, they’re not going to be interested in feeling a part of something special together.
You either need to fix and resolve the underlying problem, and then build a sense of community, or instead forget building a sense of community and simply answer as many questions as effectively as possible.
p.s. This is typically why customer support communities have low sense of community scores.
They join to get useful information.
This broadly applies to all communities. Very few people join a community to experience a strong sense of community. They join for immediate gratification.
A sense of community is something that sneaks up on you when you weren’t expecting it.
You might join to ask a question, get advice, not miss out on useful tips. But over time, through these interactions and what you read, you begin to feel a commonality with others. You participate in rituals and traditions. You get to know other members and feel you’re a part of something together.
This can happen purely by chance, but it’s also something you can directly facilitate.
The sense of community isn’t something you promote to visitors and newcomers, it’s something you promote to (and facilitate between) existing members.
How members respond to short-term punishments (posts being removed, suspensions etc…) is a strong indicator of whether they have a long-term future in your community.
As one study notes, members who apologise, are less likely to break the rules again (at least in the short term).
Of course, how you deliver a punishment plays a significant role in whether they’re likely to respond. If you assume bad intent, say they made a mistake, and use formal, direct, language…you’re more likely to get a negative response.
For example, this is a common post used in the Facebook help community.
Can you think of a more antagonistic way to remove someone’s post for an unintentional infraction?
I’d rewrite this to something closer to this:
If you want members to apologise (and reform), you need to deliver punishment with empathy, understanding, and assume good intent.
p.s. Hosting a platform optimization workshop with CMX this week, please join us!
Can’t the community manage itself?
No, not really.
It won’t usually welcome newcomers by itself.
It won’t update the technology by itself.
It won’t check for quality of content by itself.
It won’t remove the bad stuff and promote the good stuff by itself (not usually).
It can’t resolve disputes by itself.
It won’t stimulate new discussions by itself when things get quiet.
It won’t make sure most members get a good, quick, response by itself.
Last year, a former client decided not to replace a departing community manager and rely on volunteers. The rules of this are pretty clear:
If you want to throw hundreds of thousands of dollars down the drain, destroy your community, and lose the trust of your best customers, then don’t replace a departing community manager.
Conversely, if you want to grow your community, gain more support from your best customers, and get the best results from your community, replace the departing community manager with the best person you can get.
There’s a dangerous myth that a community either catches on or it doesn’t.
Almost every prospect we’ve spoken with has treated their community as a ‘one-shot’ deal.
They will develop the platform, launch it, and hope people get engaged. If they don’t, they close up shop and leave. Some prospects even ask for an exit plan.
The odds of success are low if you plan on hitting a home-run on your first swing compared with taking multiple swings.
Like most things, it’s a process. We use audience research (often overlooked entirely), experience, and data to come up with the community program that’s most likely to work and begin testing it with the audience.
If it doesn’t catch on, we see what is and isn’t working and adapt accordingly. For example, if we can get a lot of people to visit but not stick around, that’s a relevancy problem. However, if we can’t get many people to visit in the first place, that’s an outreach and promotion problem. Both are fixable.
The more swings you take, the more you learn about what members want and what works. If you’re going to invest $500k (or even $50k) in a community, you want more than one swing at this. Don’t hype up launch day and treat the community as a one-shot deal. Treat it as the beginning of a process in researching what your members want and need.
Prepare for the game, not the home-run.
Too many organizations have case studies that are little better than a short testimonial confirming the organization did indeed do some work with the brand.
They don’t reveal the before and after, don’t show the core metrics, and don’t even explain in any detail what they did.
The very things visitors would learn the most from are missing.
We’ve recently revamped our consultancy pages better describing what we do and, more importantly, what we’ve done.
As part of this, we’ve pulled together 10 case studies which describe in clear detail who we’ve worked for, what we specifically did, and what were the specific results. We’ve tried to be as transparent as we’re allowed to be (a huge thank you to clients for giving us permission to share this information).
If you want to learn more about what we do, reading our case studies is a good place to start.
There are plenty of gimmicks to get a visitor to register to join a community.
You can make them register to see answers to questions, get access to content, attend events, or make bigger promises if members register.
As a client discovered recently, you can double, even quadruple, your registration rate doing this.
But you can hopefully see the problem above. While the first conversion rate goes up, the next conversion rate plummets. These members joined to get immediate benefit. This hasn’t made them more likely to participate or do any of the things that add value to a community. You’re just getting less interested people to sign up for the community.
There’s no prize for this.
If your conversion rates aren’t great (i.e. you’re getting a lot of visitors but few ever become regular members), you need to work on the core fundamentals.
This means taking the time to deeper align the community concept with their immediate hopes, fears, and problems.
It might mean targeting a smaller target audience, ensuring discussions, content, and activities are targeted towards more immediate challenges. Rewriting your community copy to communicate this better.
Let the model be your guide and avoid conversion gimmicks.
We had trouble once with a client’s community manager who refused to accept her behavior was hurting the community (or members had an issue with her).
So we issued a survey to members gathering feedback. The results were illuminating (for us and her).
In your next community survey, ask members for feedback about yourself and your community team.
Make sure its anonymous (and members know it’s anonymous).
What do they like about how you engage with members?
What do they not like?
How do they perceive you?
Do they believe you care about them and put them first? Or are you just protecting the brand and trying to get them to go away?
If the answers cause you to reflect upon how you behave in your community, you’ve done the survey well.
Last year, we worked with a client whose migration had caused a host of niggling issues (missing images, bad text formatting in historic posts, a few broken links etc…)
When you have 100 pages, it’s easy to trawl through them and resolve them. When you have 10 million, it becomes rather tricky.
So we offered $10 to any member who found a mistake.
For a cost of $2800, almost every visible mistake was quickly identified and resolved.
Most interestingly, members loved the challenge. So we kept it open and raised the bounty to $20 for all future mistakes. We also expanded the definition of ‘mistake’ to include missing optimizations, SEO titles, use of copyright images, typos from staff members etc..
For around $40 – $60 per week we had a small army of vigilant members eagerly checking and identifying a wide host of issues before they became a major problem.
We don’t usually recommend giving members tangible rewards, but there are exceptions.
If you’re launching a new community, spend a lot of time validating the underlying desire for people to visit and join.
You need to address the underlying desire early in the community process.
Are you alleviating fear and frustration?
Are you providing respect and belonging?
Are you creating a feeling of accomplishment, hope, and success?
Yes, obviously you want all of them. But imagine you can only pick one.
Choose carefully. Each desire takes you down a totally different path.
For example, it’s easier to start a community around alleviating a strong fear or frustration.
People have a pain they want to alleviate (product questions, personal challenges) and are naturally drawn to places which provide answers.
But your work then becomes about getting people the best answer in the shortest amount of time. Most people only want 1 response to a question (the right response – all the others add to confusion). Most members visit once, ask a question, and leave. You need to make it easier to find or get the right answers in the shortest amount of time.
Communities about positive desires are far harder to get started. Members don’t have the urgency to visit and participate. You need to work far harder to attract and keep members. You need to cultivate the right founding members to get started. You need to start slower and accept you won’t have the same level of participation. You need to build a stronger sense of community and cultivate the best expertise etc…
If you’re finding you’re not reaching a critical mass of activity, or you’re struggling to keep members, it’s probably because you’re either unclear about the underlying desire of your members or you’re not organizing your work around satiating that desire.