A large part of community consultancy is spending more time than most diagnosing community problems.
Far too many people rush into solutions without clearly defining the problem. Here are two (fairly common) examples.
Example 1 – The Bad Community Website
One client right now has a community platform that’s hindering people from participating. An obvious solution would be to suggest fixes to improve the website. But this doesn’t solve the problem. The problem is how did they wind up with a subpar community website in the first place?
Did they not know what they were doing? Did they pick the wrong partners to work with? Or did they not have the budget to do it well.
Once we probed deeper we discovered the person responsible for developing and managing the platform had never done the work before. They were influenced by what marketers wanted (who also had never managed a community before).
They didn’t know the principles of a great community website, didn’t have a great list of examples to work from, and didn’t have a peer group of support.
The solution is to build relationships and educate this group. We can provide them with the right resources, connect them with others, and share the best examples. We might make suggestions to the website as well, but we’re solving the causes of the bad community at the same time.
Example 2 – Declining Engagement
Another client last year had declining levels of engagement.
The obvious solution is to suggest ideas to increase activity. This might produce a few spikes of activity, but it doesn’t solve the question of why engagement was declining in the first place. To answer this, we need to answer a few key questions:
Are fewer members participating or are existing members making fewer contributions?
If, for example, it’s the former then why are fewer members participating? Are fewer people visiting the community in the first place? Are fewer converting into regular members etc?
And if fewer people are visiting in the first place is that a decline of interest in the topic, less money spent on promotion, or declining search traffic?
If it’s the latter (regular members are participating less), then why is that the case? Is their new competition from other communities, a shift to mobile we’re not catering to, or problems with the community itself. We might interview a few members who have stopped participating to find out the answer.
Having trained, consulted, and spoken with hundreds of community professionals – I’d argue most are rushing into solutions which fail because they didn’t clearly define the problem. You always spend more time diagnosing the problem than coming up with a solution.
If you’ve properly diagnosed the problem, the solution will present itself.