In some projects, the client will ask if they need a full-time community manager.
My answer is usually the same, ideally…yes.
This usually cues some nervous shuffling, side-glances, and disgruntled mumbling about budgets and headcounts.
The follow-up question is more telling.
“If we can’t get a full-time community manager, what is the minimum amount of time someone can invest in a community and make it succeed?”
One problem here is success isn’t binary. There isn’t a magic number of hours per week that suddenly flips a community from unsuccessful to successful.
The second problem is it’s not about time, but commitment. Someone doing community around other tasks will often try to do community more efficiently. They give shorter, quicker, responses to questions. They don’t check back in previous discussions to see if the problem was resolved. They don’t reach out and build relationships with top members. They don’t put in the extra mile of effort that makes the community succeed.
The rapid decline in commitment makes calculating the minimum amount of time required problematic. Someone who splits community with another job role is probably only 25% as good as a full-time staffer. They do the basic stuff but are unlikely to go the extra mile.
The real value of community surveys lies in three areas:
1) Identifying trends over time.
Every community scores well in the answer to the following member survey question:
“Overall, how helpful or unhelpful do you find the community?”
You can probably see why. The people who don’t get value from the community stop visiting and don’t respond to the invitation to the survey.
So why bother even asking this question knowing we’re going to get a good response to it?
Because it lets us track success over time. Knowing the community scored 4.1 (out of 5) this year doesn’t tell us much. Knowing it was higher or lower than the year before tells us much more.
2) Identifying demographics of most engaged members.
One survey I issued recently returned demographic data completely at odds with Google Analytics data. Our most active members were significantly older than casual visitors.
The same people who complete surveys are also the most active members of the community. Community member surveys let you build detailed personas that understand exactly what members need in the community.
3) Identifying the 20% of features/content that matters.
The 80/20 principle applies to communities as much as anywhere else. Surveys let you identify which features or needs really matter to members. For example, if you look at this data:
From a strategist perspective, you should probably stop storytelling videos immediately and reconsider the time you spend on member profiles, events and blogs. You then invest that additional time, resources, and attention) into forums, groups and news.
Note: If you ask members to complete surveys, you should pay it forward by completing surveys yourself too. I recommend you complete this survey (now running for more than a decade) by our friends at the Community Roundtable.
Also check out Organising Communities by the team at Bind.nl
…isn’t a smart philosophy when it comes to managing a community.
It’s like asking a politician to lead without upsetting anyone.
Not only is it impractical, but it causes more harm than good.
The most important decisions you need to make will upset some members. If they didn’t then they wouldn’t be decisions at all, they would just be obvious next steps.
Every time you remove a feature, some members will be upset – even if it improves the experience for the many. Every time you remove members who aren’t a good fit, you’re going to infuriate some members. Every time you feature or promote the work of members, you might upset the members you didn’t feature.
Of course, it’s emotionally difficult to accept that members are going to be angry as a result of your actions. But remember that the things which might delight the many will probably upset the few.
If you’re managing a community, you’re likely to make a few enemies. That might not be a bad thing.
It’s hard to build a community if your boss is always questioning your work, overruling your decisions, and keeping you guessing about their vision for the community.
It’s equally hard if you’re keeping your members guessing, overruling (or ignoring) their ideas, and keeping them guessing about your vision for the community.
There seems to be a relationship between the two.
I worked with a community of practice recently which was having trouble reaching a critical mass of activity.
Reading posts and email templates, there was a clear difference between the tone members used when engaging with one another and the tone the community manager used.
The community manager was bright, bubbly, used lots of exclamation points, sent everyone best wishes for holidays and weekends.
Community members were direct, generally serious, and rarely bothered to inquire into each other’s weekends or wish others well for the holidays.
On paper, the community manager was absolutely the kind of person you want to get a community started. But members I interviewed frequently mentioned finding the community manager offputting. One mentioned (“she stuck out like a sore thumb”).
Finding the right person for a community isn’t just about their experience and attributes, but also about their tone. A community manager who is great for one community can be a poor fit for another.
If you can’t match the tone of members, they won’t consider you as one of them. For sure, be positive and optimistic, but somewhere in the continuum, there’s a line that’s acceptable for your members. You need to figure out where that line is pretty quickly.
Imagine you received a letter today which revealed your face had been selected at random to be featured on a billboard everyone in the local community would see every day.
How would that make you feel?
If you’re like most people, the answer is probably a little uneasy.
You might have questions like….Do I want that attention? Will my photo look good compared with others? How long will it be there for? Do I get any say in this?
This is also true online. Random featuring a selection of members on your homepage feels like a good idea…until you stop to think about how members might actually feel about it.
This idea that everyone wants more attention, regardless of the type of attention, is plain wrong. The nuances of attention matter. Featuring members at random doesn’t make anyone feel better (and can cause plenty of problems).
Featuring members because of their achievements, those with a long track record of participating in the community, and those who have opted in – that’s a different matter.
It won’t happen…at least not at the beginning.
When was the last time you reached out to friends and invited them to join any of the communities of which you’re a member?
I’m betting it wasn’t recently (if ever).
People don’t invite friends to join communities because they don’t want to put their credibility on the line. If you think you can invite the first few members and then your community will organically grow, you’re going to be extremely disappointed.
There are two things to understand here.
First, people don’t invite friends to join communities, they share content within those communities with their friends.
If you want viral growth your community has to be filled with content which is so interesting, valuable, and unique that members will be eager to share it. And the bar for this is very high indeed.
Second, relying on viral growth for success is a terrible strategy. A better approach is to identify how many people you can reach (existing names in your database), how many you can divert from existing traffic flows (your website etc..) and estimate the conversion rate. Then see how you can increase the conversion rates of both while getting people to stick around.
To rely on viral growth is to rely on chance. Don’t do it.
A community manager was recently hired to help start a new community.
She told me she was too busy right now to begin engaging with members. She had calls with the vendor to be involved in, welcome emails to create, SWAG to organize, and more.
In three weeks, she hadn’t spoken to a single prospective member of the community.
If you’re starting a new community, you need to invert this thought process. Spend the first two hours of your day reaching out to and engaging with prospective members of the community. Simply tell them you’re launching a community soon and are keen to learn from their expertise.
Then squeeze in all the other activities around this.
Questions like “was this answer helpful?” or “did this answer solve your problem?” are a powerful means of evaluating the success of many community programs.
Most platforms enable you to have at least some form of this –
It’s one of the easiest measures of tracking the success of many community programs. For example, if you invest more in your superuser program, you should expect a greater percentage of answers to questions being marked helpful. If you decide to pay people to answer questions, you can see whether this is having the desired impact.
But this metric can also cause problems.
Some organisations use the same question to compare phone support, online tickets, knowledge-based articles, and the community. This isn’t a bad idea – as long as the numbers are taken in context.
Most of the easiest questions can be solved through documentation and knowledge-based articles. So we expect these to score well. Phone and ticket support is one to one contact from a paid professional, these would score well too.
A community, however, often gets the questions other channels can’t answer. Visitors are often frustrated by the time they visit. Thus a community will naturally score below other channels.
But this comparison overlooks three important things.
1) Volume. What % of questions is the community solving and thus ensuring people don’t need to visit any other channel?
2) Cost. If a community solve has a 15% lower satisfaction rate at 50% of the cost, that’s a huge win.
3) Other benefits. The community offers benefits in retention, loyalty, advocacy, feedback, research, and more which won’t show up in these metrics.
By itself, this question and the result can lead to a misunderstanding about the value and benefits of a community. Don’t use the number in isolation. Attach a cost, volume, and measure that allows a better appreciation of the community.
p.s. Be aware that changing the question from ‘was this answer helpful?’ to ‘did it solve your problem?’ will have a big impact upon the number.
A community organizer knows the people she serves are unlikely to stand before a group of strangers and share their problems. That kind of courage (or vulnerability), will take a lot more time and a lot more trust.
So she goes from person to person, building one relationship at a time.
She earns the trust of one person and then the next.
Pretty soon, she can spot the patterns. She connects people with similar problems to discuss potential solutions. Better yet, she connects people with similar problems to people who have the skills, experience, or resources to help.
Each of these common problems forges new relationships between members. Each solution builds momentum and a sense of possibility for what the community can become. And it’s relationships and momentum which drive the community forward.
If you find yourself stuck when building a new community, whether for a few hundred or a few thousand members, go back to community organizing.
Reach out to a dozen people a week, have calls with them, connect them privately to one another, and find safe places within a community where they can work towards solutions.
Your community might need less community management and more community organizing.
In late November, you will probably realise Christmas is coming up and try to come up with some ‘Christmassy’ ideas for your community.
But by late November it’s too late to do anything important.
So you might wind up sending a generic season’s greeting and slightly change the theme of your site.
Doing something is probably better than nothing, but not by much.
How many of the Christmas greeting messages from various organisations you belong to do you even bother to read?
What if you began planning some game-changing ideas right now?
What is the most amazing gift you could give to the community? Or the community could give to each other? What if you worked backwards from that gift and determined the actions and resources required?
It could be anything. Maybe it’s community-personalised swag, a community yearbook, sponsored training or resources, or a major non-profit campaign to give back to others. But if you want next Christmas to have more impact than last Christmas, plan early.