Here are two statements that seem oxymoronic but actually complement each other:
1) No matter what you do, the majority of your members won’t become more engaged than they are today.
2) It’s possible to double (even triple) the retention rates of your community members.
These are both true because of the huge gap between ‘a majority’ (51%+) and the retention rates most people see in their communities are getting today (5% to 20%).
Last week, I hosted a webinar where we shared the step-by-step process we used to triple a client’s retention rates.
What We Learned From Our Research
The client sold a fairly popular technology product (but wasn’t a SaaS vendor). The company operated in the $750m to $850m revenue per year range and had a community that had been around for a couple of years before we were invited to help.
We spent 5 weeks evaluating the current community and interviewed 26 members of the community, 17 members of staff, and collected 279 survey responses.
- The company had no capacity for major technical changes.
- Members only visited when they had a problem.
- Newcomers didn’t find “any reason” to keep coming back.
- Newcomers weren’t aware of many of the benefits the community offered.
- Superusers felt increasingly ignored.
- Members disliked receiving countless notifications.
As you can see below, member retention rates were poor and had been relatively static for months.
Step One – Reducing The Noise
We began with small optimisations. We know members hated receiving countless automated messages (especially those from the gamification system), so we stopped almost all of them.
Removing automation rules didn’t significantly increase or decrease participation.
Lesson: Automation rules don’t seem to increase participation much at all (probably because most people ignore them)
Step Two – Improving the First Impression
Next we changed the default setting to show the ‘latest posts’ rather than ‘top posts’.
i) Changed default settings to show latest posts
I’ve consistently found when members make a post, they want to see it appear at the top of the page (i.e. not be crowded out by popular posts). We also found in our research most members had already seen the top posts in the community. They wanted fresh questions to answer.
ii) Remove survey pop-up
We removed an irritating survey pop-up asking members to share what they think of the community. Newcomers were being hit with three pop-ups upon visiting, so removing one helped.
Aside, if you want a good non-intrusive example of a pop-up, the UiPath community (a client) is a great example below:
iii) Created a list of suggested questions
Because many newcomers reported not knowing what questions to ask, we created a list of suggested questions, shared examples of good questions, and helped them become as familiar as possible with what a good question looks like.
iv) Send direct messages from the community manager’s name
We replaced the generic messages from [email protected] (which were often ignored or found their way into spam filters) with emails from the community manager’s name.
We wanted members to know the community managers’ name and begin a direct discussion with them. A few months ago, we worked with Shuning at Veracode on this message which is both personal and shares the benefits of community.
v) Repositioned the community (and changed its messaging)
Much of the previous messaging focused on people joining a group of peers like themselves.
Our research showed members wanted quick responses to long-tail questions first (but might join peer groups later).
We changed the messaging from getting personal questions to getting personalised responses to difficult/niche questions. This was reflected in the banner, CTA, etc…
At this point we began to see some noticeable improvement. It’s hard to say which changes had the biggest impact, but the metrics were definitely heading in the right direction.
Step Three: Personalising The Community Experience
i) Created a ‘members to follow’ list
A frequent problem on the Salesforce platform is people were encountering blank feeds as they hadn’t followed any members or topics.
We tackled this in two stages. First, we created a list of members to follow. These were verified experts endorsed by us. The second step was to create a more custom onboarding journey.
You can see an example using the 7Summits onboarding tool in the image shown below.
ii) Created Personalised Responses To Every Poster
Alongside the onboarding tool, we built out a system to get personalised responses to everyone that contributed a post in the community.
This required the use of a Zapier integration to Slack identifying superusers, moderators, and the community team to members who had made a post more than 30 days ago and not participated since.
We created the standardised framework below to ensure each of them received a response to their discussion.
iii) Newcomer meetings and newcomer groups
We knew newcomers wanted to engage with product managers as they were getting started. So we tried to do this in the community.
This turned out to be too much work for too little reward. So we replicated this with a newcomer group supported by superusers who could answer most of the common questions in the community.
iv) Used Asset-Based Community Development Approach
We tried to find everyone a unique role in the community. We know when members feel they can make unique, useful, contributions to the community, they tend to stick around and participate.
This involved a lot of training and we created a few standardised messages to help as you can see below.
This is the point where we began to see huge impact from our work.
We saw major increases in each of the metrics we were tracking.
This wasn’t a spike either, it was a sustained increase.
Step Four: Support Superusers
i) Created Standard Templates
We began working with superusers in this phase to get them engaged in creating standard templates and responses for responding to most members’ queries.
We used a similar flow-chart to the one above to give every superuser an easy process they can follow to respond to almost any post.
This involved sharing a lot of examples of good and bad. The more examples you can share (and highlight what’s good or bad about them), the better the outcome will be.
ii) Curated the best resources
A common problem facing newcomers was quickly getting up to speed so they don’t have to ask the same repetitive questions over and over again.
If you’ve been in the community a while, you’ve already seen the best resources and participated in the best discussions. But newcomers didn’t have that.
So we created a list of curated resources ‘which every newcomer should read’.
Aside, the Digital Ocean community does this extremely well.
Step Five: Banner Relaunch and Follow-up Messages
i) Redesigned the banner
The previous community banner lacked a clear call to action and didn’t explain what made the community unique. We revamped this to focus on three actions visitors could take right now within links.
This focused specifically on ‘solve problems’, ‘top tips’, and ‘find a group’.
One of my favourite examples of banners was the former CodeAcademy community banner below:
ii) Follow-ups to check progress
Using a Zapier/Slack integration to top members again, we created a list of members for superusers to reach out to after they had been members for 3 months.
Around 65% (it wavered a lot) of FTPs (first-time posters) received a follow-up message after 3 months. If they were still highly engaged, they were invited to join a group of veterans.
iii) Automatically assigned members to roles
Finally, we tested something new (similar to the ABCD approach).
We sent emails to members assigning them to a role within the community (usually something like ‘topic reporter’ or ‘topic facilitator’) based upon their past contributions.
They had a choice about whether or not to accept the role. Acceptance rates varied from 10% to 20% (which is high when emails had an open rate of 20% to 30%.
What Worked And What Didn’t?
In an ideal world, we would make one single intervention at a time and measure the impact of each.
In the consultancy world, we don’t have the time for that. Instead we make a number of changes at once and assess which worked.
However, as you can see below, you can draw your own conclusions about what had the biggest impact.
I suspect the biggest wins were:
- Improving the banner design.
- Sending personalised messages.
- Using the ABCD approach to newcomers can make a unique impact.
- Suggested questions
Improving Retention Rates Isn’t Easy
The best thing you can do is deep research of your target audience (like, really go through the community site with them), embrace best practices in the community design, identify and prioritise the highest impact activities and build from there.
These resources might help:
- Some basic member engagement scripts.
- Personalised response framework.
- Template introduction message.
- 7Summits Onboarding Tool (Salesforce only).
- Download the presentation slides.
- Watch the webinar.
If you want more help increasing retention, I strongly recommend my book, Build Your Community which has lots of advice and examples.
You can also reach out to FeverBee about consultancy support.