The End Of Platform-Centric Strategies
The era of clearly defined communities is rapidly coming to an end and we need to update our approach.
From the mid-00s to the late 2010s, the approach to building online communities was relatively simple.
A brand would select a platform and build its community on it. Members would come to the community to engage with one another.
This is still how many organisations approach community building today.
Countless hours are
spent wasted trying to figure out how to get people to come and engage in the community you control. Many organisations still measure how many people are engaged only in the specific locations they host and control. This is outdated and needs to change.
The problem is audience preferences have changed. This approach is in direct contrast with how most people want to experience community today.
How People Really Engage In Communities In 2023
Let’s go through a few quick examples to demonstrate how people really engage in communities in the modern era.
I love playing chess. Meetup recommended some local street chess events which I attend. A few of us regulars have a small WhatsApp group where we chat with one another. I follow a few streamers and have a couple of YouTube channels where I sometimes leave comments. I read the latest chess news from a variety of sources and chat with other players during games.
Even I’m not sure when I’m engaging in a clearly defined community or not. And, to be honest, I don’t really care.
A friend of mine loves Space NK. She’s bought so many products from Space NK that she’s on their highest tier of loyalty. She reads their newsletter, follows them on social media (and interacts with them there when she has a question), and is part of a Facebook fan page she sometimes comments on. She also leaves occasional reviews when she has time. When she visits someone’s house and sees they own similar products, she talks about Space NK with them.
Which channels are official or unofficial? Which channels are or aren’t a community?
An acquaintance of mine was affected by cancer. She follows a few popular bloggers and YouTubers who share their journeys. She reads a few posts in forums when they appear in search results. Sometimes she hops in and out of chat rooms.
Should we change her behavior because a non-profit wants her to engage on their site only?
I read around a dozen user reviews and checked a few comparison sites before I bought my Bose headset. When it stopped charging, I posted a question on the Bose community. That’s the only post I’ve ever made (or intend to make).
Was I ever a part of this community?
When I want to talk about consultancy, I participate in a Telegram group hosted by an author I admire and sometimes engage in subreddits. I might answer the occasional story on Quora too. Most of the interaction is one-to-one in private channels.
Is there a central community?
The typical gamer will belong to a variety of Discord channels, chat with players in the game, follow several top influencers on Twitch, and frequently share their own content and clips on their social media profiles.
Where’s the line between social media and community?
If you’re reading this, there is a strong probability you’re managing some sort of community. How do you engage with other community professionals? Is it a single central location? Or is it scattered across a combination of different events, public and private groups, a few different blogs etc? You’re not alone – this is simply how most of us engage.
The single thread connecting all these stories is simple; communities don’t really have easily discernible boundaries anymore.
The new era of community building has arrived and we need to adapt to it.
Welcome To The World of Limitless Communities
In the vast majority of topics in which we engage, there isn’t a single, central, destination for the community.
People happily jump from official to unofficial channels – often without even realising which is which. They pass through a variety of online groups and social media accounts without caring which meets our narrow definition of community.
Today it’s all just a fuzzy mesh of engagement.
The only people who care if people are participating in an official, sanctioned, community or not are those of us tasked with creating one we can easily measure. And the only reason we care is that our thinking (especially our means of measurement) is stuck to an era when this made sense.
Thankfully, that era is over.
Is it a community if the vast majority of members never participate? Or only ask one question and leave?
The truth is simple.
It doesn’t matter what you call it if it’s delivering value to the audience.
If the audience doesn’t care if it’s a community, why should we?
Online communities aren’t easily defined destination sites anymore.
You can’t put up a storefront and expect your community to walk in through the front door.
Instead, people will be spilling out the door and all over town. There will be pockets of people in different places and managed by different people at different times. Some will meet in private, others in public. Many will pass you by entirely. There will be leaders and preachers you can’t control.
And the more you try to exert control, the more disappointed you’re going to be.
Worse yet, you’re going to waste precious resources which could be far better spend nurturing the ecosystem.
You Either Adapt Or You Become Increasingly Insignificant
Many of the discussions taking place between community professionals feel a lot like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Is it too soon to move to Khoros’ Aurora if you have lots of customisations?
Umm, yes, maybe? 🤷
But does the question even matter much when a rapidly growing percentage of your audience turns to influencers for advice, goes to ChatGPT instead of search engines, and engages more in third-party platforms than hosted communities?
That’s the iceberg that’s going to sink you!
The value of migrating from a very archaic community experience to a slightly less archaic community experience pales in comparison to the value of migration from an old, closed, community mindset to a modern, open, community mindset.
The First Principle of A Strategy
The first rule of a great strategy is to align community efforts to current trends.
The current trend should not be more clear.
Audiences want to engage across several platforms for different reasons – not a single destination site.
Trying to build a neat destination site while ignoring the upheaval taking space in the community sector right now is to condemn our community efforts to irrelevancy.
Our approach to building communities needs to change. That begins with facing a harsh truth.
Harsh Reality: 90% of Customers Don’t Want To Engage With You (ever!)
The myth of people wanting to belong to brands has been incredibly damaging to common sense.
A handful of outlier brands with a devout following have gained vast publicity while those delivering practical, indispensable, customer experiences are largely ignored.
I.e. everyone can name two to three brands with a cult following, but you have to think a lot harder to name two to three brands that deliver excellent customer experiences.
The vast majority of us don’t want to spend our spare time engaging with brands – even the brands we really like. Yes, there are exceptions, but they are outliers.
Just think about how many brands you choose to engage with in your spare time. I’m guessing the answer is fairly close to zero.
A Modern Community Engagement Strategy Has A Broader Scope
We shouldn’t be trying to drive all engagement to a single website, we should be trying to nurture and support the entire ecosystem regardless of where it takes place.
We’re managers of engagement ecosystems, not single platform channels.
The modern strategy MUST be a strategy which encompasses, encourages, and supports customers across all engagement channels which make sense to them.
The modern strategy is as much as an engagement strategy as a community strategy.
It touches different people at different times throughout the entire journey. This table is a good template to begin thinking about the new scope of community.
The modern engagement strategy should:
- Nurture and support superfans, MVPs, and influencers across the web. It will take a modern approach to engaging this audience. It will help them leave reviews, testimonials, support other members, create great content, grow their audiences, mentor others and answer customer questions. There is so much untapped value in this group.
- Help learners rapidly acquire knowledge. It will help newcomers find experts they can learn from, share the best content from any source, support a high-quality knowledge base, and, sometimes, provide an accessible learning management system for modular. It will provide the things learners really need (instead of forcing them to engage more).
- Keep existing customers satisfied. It will provide a regular check-in point for existing customers/members to ensure they are satisfied and happy. It should regularly check their usage levels and provide support as needed.
- Convert sales opportunities. It will ensure great testimonials, case studies, and member reviews are sent to those in the latter stages of the sales cycle. The sheer size of a thriving engagement ecosystem should be a natural win. A modern approach will directly generate revenue at all stages of engagement.
- Qualify prospects. It will use information from engagement channels to qualify prospects. If people ask questions which might be relevant to the sales team, this is useful information. Likewise, engagement activity might be used for lead scoring or used to validate prospects who match a certain profile. The strategy will generate revenue at all stages of the sales funnel.
- Generate leads. It will help bring more people into the ecosystem and generate leads for the business. It will build a following (and the following of experts) across a variety of channels which attracts more people into the organisation’s sphere of influence.
- Limit detractors. It will have a process for deciding whether or not to engage with detractors and how best to engage them across any engagement channel. Some will be proactively engaged, others best ignored.
- Satisfy support-seekers. It will have an optimised process to satisfy people seeking support on the topic. This will prioritise % of issues resolved, speed of resolution, and effort required to obtain the resolution.
- Avoid disbelievers. It will be clear about the people who don’t fall within its target audience and not pester them to engage.
You will notice that this approach achieves the two key goals.
First, this is a people-focused approach, not a platform-focused, approach. It respects the preferences of the audience instead of trying to change them. It aims to ensure that the audience has the best possible interaction at every stage of the journey.
Second, it direct drives business outcomes at almost every stage of the journey.
You can see a more detailed breakdown of this here:
The modern community strategy is about building and facilitating the entire ecosystem of engagement.
We’re not trying to monopolise engagement anymore. We’re trying to encourage it on every possible channel.
To deliver a community experience in the modern era, we need to do five things:
- Find out who wants to engage.
- Find out when they want to engage.
- Find out how they want to engage.
- Find out why they want to engage.
- Find out what they need when they engage.
Once we answer those questions, we can design the experiences which our audiences are already craving.
The Community Everywhere Era Is A Great Opportunity
How we engage in communities has changed and so must the work of community professionals.
The platform-centric era of communities, with its clearly defined boundaries and neat lines of responsibilities, is rapidly coming to an end.
In the new era, people engage in and pass through dozens of official and unofficial engagement experiences on almost any topic. Most of these experiences wouldn’t meet the definition of community we’ve been using. We can dismiss them and condemn ourselves to a shrinking community island in an endless sea of engagement. Or we can embrace them and the opportunities it opens up.
Community strategies focused on persuading people to register with a central platform, and counting how many do, are going to deliver only a fraction of the value they should.
In the new era, we have to:
- Respect the preferences of our audiences. They don’t want a single central location, they want to engage in the topic across a variety of official and unofficial channels. We’re never going to persuade customers to change their habits, so we need to change our practices.
- Develop strategies to support their experience across all channels. We can’t control the experience, but we can engage and support the experience they have. We have to encourage members to engage in third-party platforms, follow external experts, read the reviews of members, and explore. It’s better they’re engaging in third-party experiences than no experiences at all.
- Change our measurement of success. Counting clicks was never the best method to measure results. The new era will require us to measure changes in attitudes. That’s going to be painfully complex at times – but also will demonstrate the real power of our work beyond anything we’ve ever had before.
Ultimately, clinging to outdated ideas of community, control, and boundaries is going to condemn us to irrelevancy.
The new era of communities has begun. It’s an era of communities without limits. It’s an era that makes us more relevant and more valuable than we’ve ever been…if we make the changes we need to make.
It’s also important to update your strategies to reflect this broader scope of communities.
If you want help to ensure your community is set up to thrive in this era, FeverBee will be happy to help you.
Let’s get going!