Asking for more resources is a fool’s errand.
You’re asking to increase the costs of the community without a clear benefit.
Why would anyone agree to that? They don’t see a crisis that needs to be fixed.
Instead, ask to raise the bar on the community’s potential.
“At the moment we’re achieving [x], but with another community manager and a better platform we can achieve [y]”
In many of our strategy projects, we present options based upon resources. i.e.
‘Here is what you can achieve at current resource levels … ’
‘Here is what you can achieve with an extra $80k investment …’
‘And here is what you can achieve with an extra $250k investment …’
Asking for more resources without showing the impact of those resources is a clear downside.
p.s. Learning strategic thinking skills is useful here.
Perhaps the biggest strategy question is defining the single outstanding trait that makes your community unique.
What will you pursue at the expense of other areas?
Some common examples:
- Fastest place to get answers.
- Provide trustworthy answers.
- Be the most exclusive community.
- Focus on a specific niche.
- Focus on a single target audience.
- Friendliest place / strongest personality / sense of community.
- Most advanced tips.
Every answer leads you to a different community strategy.
For example, if your community is private and exclusive, you’re probably not going to use a typical forum platform, but a more ephemeral chat platform.
If you want your community to be the fastest place to get answers, you’re probably going to need a large superuser program.
If you want your community to be the place to get the most trustworthy answers, you’re probably going to want a smaller program just comprising of verified top experts.
These decisions change what technology you use, who you hire, what activities you initiate, and a lot more.
You can get everything else wrong and still succeed if you get this answer right.
What is the boundary you’re pushing your community towards?
The unique power of a community is you get to help a member feel a part of something special.
If you’re just replying to questions as quickly as possible, you’re wasting this opportunity.
Your responses should make the member feel better about themselves and more connected to the tribe.
This is a choice. A choice to give a little more time, care, and effort to ensure you’re providing each member with the best possible community experience.
Imagine a member asks a question you don’t know the answer to. You can leave it and hope someone else replies. Or you can take the opportunity to make the member feel as good as possible about asking the question.
This tends to split among three levels.
Level 1: The ‘Bad’ Response
That’s a good question, hopefully, some other members can chime in and respond to your question.”
This is better than no response at all. But it does nothing to help the member solve their problem or feel better about themselves.
This is sadly the standard too many community managers are working at.
Level 2: The ‘OK’ Response
I suspect your question is going to challenge a few of our top members.
You might want to check out this resource: www.linkgoeshere.com.
It will be interesting to see if @name, @name, or @name can share their experiences here.”
You can see a little more personality here. Other members are tagged in to answer the question which might help get a response. It also shares a resource that can help. But it doesn’t add much emotional impact to help the member feel better about themselves.
Level 3: The ‘Good’ Response
Welcome back, I haven’t seen you here in a few weeks. Are your exams coming up soon?
This is a really good question. I don’t think it’s come up before.
Can you share a little more information about [specific elements of the question]. What have you tried already? What prep materials are you using? When are you taking your exams?
Just browsing through some previous posts, I’ve noticed some good responses from @name and @name I’ve shared below:
If we get a good response, do you mind if I add this to the community newsletter? I think it will probably help a lot of people.”
Add the personal touch, provide the information in the body of the response itself, make the member feel good about being the first to ask the question, and provide an opportunity to have influence via the newsletter.
Review the last few responses you gave. Are you engaging members as well as you can?
As we’ve covered in our ‘Designing World-Class Online Community Experiences’ session, the purpose of the homepage is to let regular visitors quickly scan for new content they can either reply to or learn from.
Too many homepages make this surprisingly difficult to do.
There are three common problems.
1) Pushing latest activity ‘below the fold’.
The Apple Community is an example of this. It looks great but pushes activity way too far down the page.
(If you can’t see the image, click here)
Don’t have large graphics or banners which push activity below the fold. Ensure members can hide the banner and remove anything which doesn’t let members immediately see what’s new in the community.
Remember that this is equally true in mobile too. Well-intentioned ideas to make the community look good typically force members to endlessly scroll through static images to find what they want.
Big images look good, but completely limit the amount of content members can see. Even Unbounce can remove the large icon and make it easier for members to scan the community.
2) Showing navigation options instead of activity.
Another common problem is showing navigation options instead of activity.
Navigation options should be clear but condensed. Compare the acres of space the TomTom community uses to display categories. Atlassian displays more categories in about 1/8th of the same space:
(If you can’t see the image, click here)
If you need to add navigation within the homepage as well as the navigation bar (which is often smart), make sure it’s minimal so members can still see the latest fresh activity in the community.
3) Showing static content instead of new activity
Don’t show static content to members who have seen it hundreds of times before.
Too many communities violate this rule. 70%+ of the content on your homepage should show fresh activity members can easily scan through.
For example, the Kronos community homepage features almost 100% static content.
(If you can’t see the image, click here)
Returning members see the same material every single day and have to click through to find anything interesting. Not many are going to bother to do that.
The Alteryx community is similar, most of the ‘above the fold’ content is static.
(If you can’t see the image, click here)
Make sure that the majority of the space on your community is filled with dynamic content/new activity which is regularly updated.
Redesign Your Community Homepage
Improving the community homepage is the beginning of a positive community cycle. The easier it is to scan, the more people will view and participate.
The more participation, the more people want to contribute good content to get noticed.
…and the cycle goes on.
This is just a few of the best practices in developing a community homepage. We’ve consistently increased participation in client’s communities by 25-50% by redesigning their homepage.
You can get a lot more from your homepage if you know how (or let us do it for you).
Almost every community health metric is bogus.
Increasing the number of registered members is easy to measure. Every platform shows this figure. However, it’s a metric which only rises as members don’t delete their accounts. This better shows the age of the community than its success.
Increasing the number of questions or active members sounds reasonable except this is more controlled by how many customers your brand attracts in the first place. It also relies heavily on a) how many problems members have with products and b) how many new customers the company is attracting.
Increasing the number of questions with an accepted solution sounds smart. However, once you’ve answered all of the easy questions, it becomes progressively harder to answer the rest. Your rate naturally stalls. Sneakier community professionals have realised it’s easier to delete questions they can’t answer.
Increasing the % of newcomers who become active members makes sense until you consider the quality of newcomers declines over time. Your best customers/audience are likely to join in the inception/establishment phase of the community lifecycle.
Increasing the number of visitors is great but suffers from the same input problems. You can’t control how many customers you attract, how much the organisation spends on marketing and promotion etc…
Increasing member satisfaction is great until you realise members rarely distinguish between satisfaction with the products and satisfaction with the community. If the company released a bad product, member satisfaction naturally declines too. It doesn’t measure your performance.
Increasing call/ticket deflection is great until you realise no-one really knows if someone visiting a question with a solution actually received the answer they needed or just gave up (or even called customer support). This often doesn’t track any reduction in support costs, but theoretical reductions.
The list goes on, but the lesson is simple. There is not a single metric to fully measure community value. Every metric is flawed and can be (easily) gamed.
So what should you do?
1) Don’t let yourself be measured by anything you can’t reasonably control and influence. Most metrics fail because they rely upon inputs outside of the community manager’s control. If you can’t directly influence it, you shouldn’t be measured by it. This is by far the biggest problem in measurement today.
2) Measure changes in customer behavior, not activity. Do members who join the community buy more after joining the community? Has the community improved customer satisfaction since it launched? Do people buy more or make more referrals? Track time-series data showing how customer behavior has changed. This should focus on the ultimate impact of the community. Who in the organisation is the community supposed to help? How will you know if it’s doing that?
3) Tell persuasive stories. A story needs a verifiable fact, an emotional hook, and a narrative from one state to another. Use the inputs you have to tell persuasive stories about changes in behavior. What are the tangible outputs of the community that make it indispensable to the organization?
Get the measurement wrong, and none of the good work you do will matter.
In one client gamification project, we’re looking at permissions members can achieve as they level up.
This raises some interesting questions.
- How valuable is each permission to the user?
- How will they use it?
- What is the risk?
For example, letting members that reach ‘level 25’ mark answers as accepted solutions sounds handy…until they begin marking every answer they give as an accepted solution.
Or, just as likely, mark the answers of their friends as accepted solutions. Of course, if only 20 members have that permission, you can look out for these problems and manage it. If 200 have that permission, it quickly descends into chaos with accusations of cheating flying around.
If you’re giving members internal permissions, you need to balance the value of the permission with how members could abuse it (and multiply this by how many people will likely have that permission).
This lets you reasonably decide if you can award members with that access. A typical example might show below:
You will notice the absolute number of members with each permission drops sharply with each access level.
It’s also relatively within the control of most community teams to handle members abusing each level.
Better yet, each level gives members an advancing level of control and prestige they are likely to use and appreciate.
The key is to be relaxed with benefits members can’t abuse (access to a quarterly webinar), while tight on those which could cause challenges (deleting inappropriate posts).
A flaw of communities is the more emotional the post, the more persuasive it seems.
Angrier posts are more likely to be accepted as true by new members and attract more likes/comments (thus appearing at the top of the community for all members).
It doesn’t take long for members to realise that the angrier they post, the more attention they get.
If you let angry posts stand, your community soon becomes filled with them.
Two approaches can help here. The first is to have a rule or create a norm, against posting angry (frame it as posting unprofessionally).
If the post is clearly provocative or incites further anger, you need to address the issue directly with the member and remove the post. Members can be critical as much as they like, but they can’t use flagrantly angry words to incite anger from others.
The second is to copy Denise’s approach and have a group of members who step in with a friendly tone and prevent issues from escalating.
If you’re about to launch something new to your community (new platform, feature, product, etc..), you could try telling members how great it is.
This sets high expectations and you’re going to blend in with everyone else also declaring their new project is amazing.
A better approach is to ask your community to help make it amazing.
This lets members point out flaws without dumping on the project. It gives members a sense of influence and ownership. It increases the number of members who will promote the project at the end.
A tiny difference in words creates a big difference in mindset.
One member in a client research interview said “I just want someone to take all the scary stuff away”.
This is the reality which drives most people to your community.
They’re new to the topic and overwhelmed, scared, and frustrated.
They’re not going to ask questions because they don’t know how to formulate the question.
They’re not going to respond to questions because they don’t feel they have the expertise.
They’re not going to spend hours browsing content because there’s just too much there.
Too many communities do a terrible job of emphasizing with this mindset and making things less scary.
A few things here.
1) Provide a list of resources members should read when they join (keep it relatively short). Even better, have a 101 guide created by your veteran members.
2) Highlight the top member’s people should follow – or have mentors who newcomers can ask any questions.
3) Make it clear it’s ok to ask a “stupid” question, but it’s stupid not to ask the question – even provide a place for them to do it.
4) Cover some unwritten rules of the sector members can see (yes, write the unwritten rules).
5) Create a thread where members can share the biggest mistakes they made and what they learned from them (trust me, this thread is addictive).
Don’t just make the community less scary, make the entire topic less scary.
We’re working with a client to launch a new community in a competitive space.
A review of competitor communities noted a growing trend in people sharing the lessons learned from achieving their specific goal.
This trend could be the basis of a powerful community concept. Instead of creating another generic forum about the topic, similar to competitors, we could laser focus on the part people really love. It would be a completely unique community concept.
Instead of posting a question, we can let members publish their achievements and lessons learned using a pre-designed template to showcase them properly.
We can ensure the profiles reflect the date they achieved their success and the key lessons learned below. We can let them set their next target to achieve. We can have a field to highlight their top successes.
We can create eBooks of successes in different varieties etc..etc..
There is scope to use our research to create a really unique, powerful, community we know members will love.
But this all depends upon the strategy guiding the technology. Not the technology guiding the strategy.
Far too often, however, the community platform is decided before the strategy has been decided. I’d guess in 50% or more of our projects, clients have already agreed terms with the platform vendor before the strategy process has even begun.
Now the strategy isn’t enhanced by technology, it’s constrained by it. The community is less powerful and less effective. Everything and everyone suffers as a result.
Word of advice, always be really clear about your community strategy before you decide the technology.
Joining a community dedicated to quitting smoking will make you slightly more likely to quit smoking than not.
But connecting with a small group of peers within that community will make you much more likely to quit smoking.
This shows up in many studies. People who join the community are already more likely to join the behavior.
The real power of an online community is to help members establish a peer group who they want to impress and emulate.
Most online communities are meant to change some sort of behavior, but few are properly designed to do it. A dozen or more sub-groups and buddy lists don’t cut it. You need to design the social structure, supported by technology, to make that happen.
When people join, they need to be guided into a small, close, group of peers (not have 30 possible groups they could join).
They need to have a private place (on your community or off it) to engage with their peers, share advice and have a mentor who can support them.
They need to make real, strong, relationships by being encouraged to speak openly about their thoughts and feelings.
They need to have a high level of optimism driven by the group leader.
Whether you’re managing a community for personal or professional goals, if you want members to make a major change in behavior you need to help them build small groups of peers.
What do you do when someone in your community stumbles (professionally or personally)?
Do a number of members respond with encouraging words to cheer them up?
“You’ll do better next time!”
“Don’t worry, things will be ok!”
“You deserve better than that anyway!”
While well intentioned, the authors would probably admit they really have no idea if these are true.
Blind empathy between strangers isn’t very useful in the long-term. Any random group of friends can give the member the same blind empathy. The power of an online community is to provide practical support. It’s to have members who can step in and say:
“This happened to me too, here are 3 things you can do to do better next time…”
“You can get help from these sources….”
“A few things to consider if this is the right path for you..”
Don’t just commiserate with members, help them put together a practical plan of action to do better next time.
Not as heartwarming perhaps, but in the long-term, it’s far more valuable to members.
Your challenge when you see members who are sharing a struggle is to have you, your team or volunteers step in and challenge members to provide their best advice to help members…not just encouraging words.