Late September last year, we were invited to help a struggling superuser program for a SaaS support community.
The community team had spent the past year searching for a ‘motivation button’ they could push to increase participation. They had tried gamification and various rewards. This resulted in some spikes of activity, but it rarely lasted. The total volume of responses was low.
Recently they had been testing adding more people to the private group. As you can see, it didn’t work well. Each superuser was making an average of 1.5 contributions per week (barely more than an average member).
Our preliminary analysis showed just 8 of the 75 registered members were making 5+ contributions per week.
So (with their support) we overhauled the program.
First, we set up calls with all 8 of these members to tell them we were downsizing the program only to those who had really earned their place. They were told they were one of the few who made the cut.
Second, we also spent an hour or so with each of them to get a sense of what drove them, what they wanted to see in the program and what kind of rewards they wanted.
We discovered a few important things.
1) Their motivations (some they stated and some we ascertained) varied significantly. There wasn’t a single ‘magic motivation button’ we could push to increase participation from a large group of members.
2) From the eight, two loved seeing the impact of their work (helping others/contributing to the field), two loved getting to know the employees and feeling part of the group, one wanted to be better than another member, two were doing it to promote their own business, and one we struggled to get any read on.
We then worked with the community team to design a system to engage each of this group with these individual motivations in mind. This means treating each participant a little differently.
The two members who loved seeing the impact of their work were informed how many people their contributions had reached in the past week. We also put together a simple summary of any gratitude expressed by members and sent them a thank you card.
The two members who loved getting to know the employees were invited to participate in the community team’s secret santa and given direct lines to contact any member of the team at any time. If they didn’t reach out every few days, one of the community team would casually contact them to check in.
The two members who were doing it to promote their own business were invited to write long-form blog posts, speak (in a lightning round) at the company’s annual conference and give a monthly webinar to members tackling a common problem.
We didn’t link any of these benefits to a specific number of contributions (certainly if their contributions plummet we’ll probably stop doing them), but they are linked directly to our best sense of what motivates each member.
We also provided all 8 members of this group with best answers to the most common questions, direct contacts for any problems, and a few minor additional powers (being able to edit/correct problems in the initial questions).
The participation of 7 of the top 8 members rose by about 80% within the first month.
We also began gradually adding around one new member per week. Each member gets a call (or two) and we try to determine the specific motivation button we can push individually for each of them.
The community isn’t huge, so every single superuser has a huge impact. Previously employees answered 60% of member questions with superusers taking a small minority. Today superusers answer the majority of questions. You can see the impact below:
There’s still work to do. The no. of replies is a lot higher but still more volatile than we would like. We also need to ensure the quality of responses remains high and check member satisfaction has remained as high (and hopefully increased). But, small caveats aside, the results have been positive.
Understanding the Psychology Behind Successful Communities
When we talk about understanding psychology of community, we’re not talking about big broad theories.
We’re talking understanding members well enough to make direct, immediate, tactical steps you can take to increase participation and drive better results in your community.
It doesn’t matter how good your strategy is if you don’t understand psychology well enough to execute it. None of the actions we took above are hard to execute, but you have to understand members well enough to do them.
This week we opened enrollment for our Psychology of Community Course to help you understand things like member motivation and use it to help your members do what they want to do. I hope you will join us.
p.s. The fee for the course rises at the end of this week.
p.p.s Here’s an older talk I gave on Sense of Community in 2014. I believe it’s as relevant today as it’s ever been.
Next Tuesday, I’m hosting a free webinar to break down the community strategy process.
You’re going to learn what a strategic plan looks like, the key components of the plan, how to undertake good research, and why some plans are used while others are ignored.
You can sign up using the link below.
If you’re looking to evaluate your own strategy or be inspired to rebuild your strategy, this webinar will probably help (and if it doesn’t, I promise a full refund!)
I hope to see you there.
p.s. Here are some bonus community strategy resources:
Can you imagine anyone walking around your local community wearing a badge saying “hey, I started a conversation”?
Hopefully not, but that’s what we seem to expect members to do.
Not a single member cares about getting a ‘conversation starter’ badge when they post their first question (tip: they care a lot more about getting an answer to their question).
Forcing people to receive (and display) an embarrassing badge undermines the entire purpose of badges.
Badges work in three ways:
1) They’re connected to dedicated efforts. Scouts know this well. You decide what badges you want and work towards obtaining them for dedicated effort (i.e. not something members would do anyway). This works for medals too.
2) They’re an acknowledgment of expertise/status/contributions. They recognise great people for their contributions. The more unique the contribution the better. It’s hard to automate these. Knighthoods, purple hearts, and lifetime achievement awards all fall into this category. They can be applied for or awarded.
3) They’re a (good) hidden surprise. No-one knew the badge existed until someone did something completely unique and gained a new badge.
You can create and award an infinite number of badges to members. Automating badges for minor behaviors isn’t just lazy, it’s counter-productive. Badges should be the community equivalents of setting and achieving our goals, winning trophies, being knighted, or a surprise reward.
If you want badges to motivate members to do something extraordinary, you have to give them to members when they do something extraordinary. If a member wouldn’t boast about the badge and proudly display the badge next to their name, don’t create the badge.
Last year, I spoke at CMX.
It was my favourite talk to date.
If you’re looking for a primer to understand how to build a community that’s indispensable to your colleagues and get the most from your members, this might help.
If you couldn’t attend the event and still want to see all the speaker videos, I strongly recommend you purchase the video package here.
Trust me, it’s a bargain.
Joel identified the coherence problem.
Unless you’re selling memberships or advertising, maximizing engagement is useless.
Each additional engagement doesn’t yield an additional dollar (or cent).
Worse, it can decrease valuable activity as key contributions and members are lost in the clutter and overwhelm.
Forget commitment curves, engagement ladders, and the like. Only a tiny fraction of members will ever progress through them anyway. Instead, focus on a simple strategic plan.
The Mayo Clinic’s strategic plan, for example, is:
A plan directly connects your goal to the tactics. To clarify:
- The goal is something the organization cares about (the impact you want to make)
- The objectives are what you need (segments) of the audience to do.
- The strategies are why they will do it.
- The tactics are what you do to get them to do it.
We waste far too much of our community’s potential chasing engagement.
This would be a great year to stop chasing engagement.
The Economist used to boast about its limited circulation.
Major newspapers touted their mass readership and did everything to attract more. The Economist bragged it was “not read by millions of people”.
While print media circulations have collapsed this century, The Economist has grown their audience considerably. They did this without clickbait, SEO hacks, advertorials, and any tactic which would irritate their audience.
You don’t need to be bigger than any other community. Being small is a weapon. Being able to slice off a segment of the audience and cater exclusively to their needs is a weapon. Focusing on being better instead of bigger is a weapon.
Being patient is also a weapon. It’s always tempting to replicate engagement hacks you see elsewhere – especially when they seem successful. But it’s a fool’s game. You attract the audiences you don’t want at the expense of the audience you already have.
Far better to be a lighthouse of quality in a sea of mediocrity. Light a beacon to attract exactly the audience you want and no more. A beacon that shows your values, your focus, and your commitment to supporting your members in the best way possible.
The irony, of course, is The Economist today has grown their audience to the millions.
In The Indispensable Community, we saw how brands like DocuSign, Quickbase, HP and many others have generated millions of dollars from their communities by asking for reviews and testimonials.
Almost every marketer knows reviews and testimonials are among the biggest influences on buying habits. But few of us are even asking for them.
You have access to your organization’s best and most passionate customers. Why not invite them to share their story? Would they not want to highlight how successful they have been to others?
Getting a dozen or more happy members to share their success stories is one of the highest impact activities you can undertake. Getting 20+ positive reviews on a site like TrustRadius can turn your company into a market leader and drive millions of dollars in sales each year.
Why are you not doing it?
Note: Okta & HP are FeverBee clients.
The people with the most seniority, expertise, and influence rarely participate in public communities.
This isn’t a tactical problem, this is a strategic problem.
These same people love to talk to each other in exclusive groups, share advice on stage at major events, and give up hours of time to be featured in trade publications.
If you want them to be involved in your community, you need to craft a setting that makes the community an emotive priority.
Academic journals thrive on prestige. Industry events thrive on status. Private gatherings thrive on exclusivity.
You can’t fake this setting. You might only invite the top 30 people to a private group, only feature the very highest status people in media interviews/events, only allow verified experts to submit long-form content. But it has to be real.
Thankfully, a setting is self-reinforcing. Once you have 1 ‘top’ person interviewed, in a private group, or submitting a detailed post it’s easy to get 2, 4, 8 etc…
This is what a great strategy does. It defines the approach you will take to get members to do the things you need them to do.
Too often we either pester the top people or ignore them. A better approach is to engage them strategically. See what they already do and create a better setting for it within your community.
David (below) notes Facebook has begun changing what notifications members see from your Facebook groups.
Downside of building your community in someone else’s yard. Facebook might automatically change your members settings so that they only see highlights from your group, hurting your engagement. pic.twitter.com/TgLaUXuH8M
— David Spinks (@DavidSpinks) December 18, 2018
They didn’t ask you or your members if they could do this. They didn’t present it as two options and let members decide for themselves. They just did it.
It’s going to hurt your group and make it harder to engage people.
If you’re using Facebook groups for any 500+ member community, I suggest you leave now. There are plenty of better options.
We’re usually invited to work on one of three types of community projects:
1) “We have a success and want to make it better”. This is usually when someone wants to overcome a specific challenge, develop a longer-term roadmap, or improve a particular area.
2) “We’re about to launch a community and want to get it right”. This is self-explanatory. Someone needs help to launch the community.
3) “We’ve screwed it up and need help”. Engagement is plummeting, people aren’t participating, and the community is heading towards life support.
I suspect most of you (even if it’s not explicit) are working on one of these three types of communities too.
Each requires an entirely different approach.
1) Successes that can be more successful. These are the most exciting to work on. This is where systematic improvements, training staff, benchmarking (and appropriating good ideas), 1 to 5 year roadmaps, creating better operations structure, building stronger internal relationships, testing ideas and measurement is critical to success. You have some good roadmaps to follow here. The big challenge is narrowing all the options to focus on the ones that matter.
2) Getting started projects. These require a tremendous force of will to take off. You have to define a powerful community concept, get support for it, build close relationships with founding members, start and test early interactions, grow steadily and then decide the requirements for a bigger community platform. Within this, there’s a huge difference between say, launching a support community for a huge existing community and starting an interest community for a brand which can’t drive thousands of people to the community tomorrow. Managing expectations is critical in these projects.
3) Turning around failures. This is by far the hardest work. You can see how we helped Colleen at Mayo Clinic here. This requires diagnosing the problem(s) using the right metrics, undertaking a lot of research of members and deciding if it’s a series of small tweaks or a profound overhaul (usually the latter). A profound overhaul usually means a) a change in staff b) a change in platform or c) a change in concept. The hard part is gaining support for this overhaul and doing it right.
Be clear about what kind of work you’re doing.
One way to reward people who create great videos, provide great advice, and offer referrals is to give them swag, freebies, and special treatment.
A better way is to help them be better at it.
This year, we had a client whose members frequently created videos involving the product.
Instead of rewarding them with badges, points, swag, or even status, we tried something different. We tried rewarding them with an increased sense of competence.
We paid for a video expert to coach the top 20 (combination of online courses and mentoring) to create even better videos.
The quantity and quality of videos they created increased significantly. They worked harder to outdo each other with their contributions.
If we want members to make their full contributions to a community, we need to move away from social exchange theory and towards a deeper understanding of what members want. Those wants are usually to feel a stronger part of a group, to feel in control and respected, and, in this case, to be better at what they do.
Impact can take many forms, but there are generally three key rules:
- Impact is very specific (vague ideas about increasing loyalty don’t cut it).
- Impact is something someone is responsible for.
- Impact is something someone(s) cares a lot about.
Impact isn’t what you think the value of the community is (or what you want it to be), it’s how the community directly helps colleagues achieve their goals.
Some examples of impact might include:
- Bring 50 qualified sales leads sourced from the community to the sales team and you’re having an impact (Eventbrite)
- Get your members to publish 100+ reviews on TrustRadius or G2Crowd for your product and you’re having an impact (Quickbase)
- Provide your PR team or web team with 30+ case studies they can share and feature, and you’re having an impact.
- Help engineers prioritize exactly what needs to be fixed and you’re having an impact.
- Reducing the number of support tickets customer service reps answer or equipping them with the best knowledge from members to answer questions is a big impact.
- Identifying some great recruits for future job roles is a big impact.
- Having members co-create a comprehensive set of documentation and user guides is a big impact.
- Helping newcomers create their first success in using your products and keeping them around is an impact.
This doesn’t mean impact excludes ROI metrics. It means that ROI is just one of many possible (and desirable) impacts of the community. Someone might care about it, but it’s comparatively rare. Worse yet, ROI metrics aren’t persuasive to colleagues.
The secret to having a big impact is two-fold.
1) Deeply understand what your colleagues want. What do they need this week? What about next week? More sales leads, feedback, expertise? Focus on the immediate pain point. What are they struggling with this week?
2) Align your community to that impact. If you want people to create reviews, provide feedback, or anything else you need to persuade them to do it. That works at the emotional level. Creating an identity or incentives around doing it and rewarding them when they do.
The communities which thrive today aren’t the ones which focus on engagement or exclusively on ROI, they’re the ones which drive the most impact for their colleagues.