In the next few weeks leading up to the launch of our Strategic Community Management and Psychology of Community courses (enrollment now open), we’re going to breakdown some of the key principles behind our most successful community strategies.
Our goal is to distill the key lessons from our work with hundreds of communities (Facebook, Google, SAP, Novartis, Oracle, The World Bank, Wikipedia, Greenpeace etc..) into key principles that might help you rethink your strategy and approach.
These aren’t going to be short articles. If you’re looking for quick tips, sure-fire ways, or listicles, you’re going to be disappointed.
The first principle of our six principles is how we overcome The Objectives Problem.
The Objectives Problem
Your objectives are what you need members to do to achieve your goal.
Your objectives should read quite simply as “get [target audience] to do [x]”.
Don’t confuse these with goals.
Your goal is the result of the community (e.g. keep our best customers for life), objectives are behaviors you need members to perform to achieve those goals (e.g. get our top experts to share their best tips).
The above is an example of what we would call a strategy statement.
In two sentences it describes a clear goal and a clear logical means of achieving the goal.
The Perennial Problem
If you’ve ever tried to set behavioral objectives, you will have come across the perennial problem.
Do you let members do what they want to do or do you try to get them to do what you need them to do?
If you let members do whatever they want, you will get a lot of engagement that doesn’t help you much.
A bunch of people talking isn’t very valuable (as many organizations are discovering today). Only specific kinds of discussions are useful.
However, if you force members to do what you want, you risk driving members away to places where they can do whatever they want.
Most people decide that some engagement is better than risking no engagement and build a community solely around what members want to do.
This is a mistake. It sucks you into the engagement trap, where generating as much activity as possible becomes your sole goal.
It’s hard to escape from the engagement trap, but you can avoid it easily enough.
Revisiting Your Strategy Statement
Imagine your community goal is to increase search traffic to your company’s web properties.
A common strategy statement might be:
Goal: Increase search traffic to our community.
Objective: Get members to create content which attracts search visitors.
You might then send out messages asking members to create content via email, automation rules, direct messages, or your web copy.
If you’ve tried this before you will know not many will take action.
Can you guess why?
Imagine this from your members’ side. To write a great article that helps you they would need:
- Relevant experience they feel they could write about.
- Plenty of time to create this content.
- To be open to criticism and to believe their content would make an impact.
What percentage of your audience meets that criteria? Probably not many. Perhaps 5%?
This is why we have rampant participation inequality.
In most communities, 95% of the target audience can’t perform the behaviors you want. But you can change that.
Divide Into Groups And Stretch Behaviors
You overcome this problem by dividing your community into sub-groups (usually by the level of activity) and setting stretch behaviors.
This means setting objectives which help you achieve your goals without asking for something they aren’t likely to do in the first place.
If you break your community down into segments (for example, top members, regulars, newcomers, and lurkers), you can study each and see what behaviors they are most likely to perform.
For example, some members can help promote content to increase search rankings, others can update and suggest improvements to content, others can highlight what they want to see etc…
All of this still helps you achieve your goal.
A revised strategy statement might be:
Goal: Increase search traffic to the company’s web properties.
Objective 1: Get the top 50 content creators to write better quality articles.
Objective 2: Get the middle 50% of participants by activity to update and suggest improvements to existing articles.
Objective 3: Get lurkers to vote and share their favourite articles.
Now we’re only asking people to do things that they’re likely to have the expertise, confidence, and time to be able to do based upon what they’ve done already.
Using these specific objectives we can develop our strategies.
For example, we might use exclusivity and set up a VIP class that only the top 50 content creators can attend.
We might embrace excitement and organize an ‘edit-a-thon’ for regular members to update as many articles as possible with new information (or at least point out where they might be out of date).
We might use curiosity and share a list of the most popular articles each week and ask lurkers to like or share their favourite.
This isn’t a comprehensive list, but you get the idea. Once you know what your objectives are you can take a focused approach to achieving them.
This is how you develop a community that drives clear results without driving your members away.
Gathering and Using Insights From Members
Let’s take another common example.
An organization develops a community to solicit feedback and drive innovation.
This current strategy statement might be:
Goal: Use community feedback to improve our service.
Objective: Get members to give us feedback on our services.
Eugh!! Can you see the problem again? How many members will have the expertise, confidence, and time to give detailed feedback? Not many.
So let’s divide our audience into three categories again and set behaviors each of them is likely to undertake, but still supports our goal.
A new strategy statement might be:
Goal: Use community feedback to improve our service.
Objective 1: Get our 200 top customers to send direct reports to engineers about what they would change.
Objective 2: Get the middle 30% of members to share their biggest frustration with the product.
Objective 3: Get lurkers to vote on changes they would prioritize.
Now again we have three separate objectives each catered to something the audience is more likely to be able to do.
You can now develop unique, emotive, strategies to get each of them to perform that behavior.
Giving top customers a direct line to engineer might be one option.
Creating an ‘emergency response’ zone for regular members to share their biggest frustration might be another option.
Letting lurkers rank their priorities in a survey or on the site might give them a sense of influence.
You get the idea. Once you have the objectives, you start to uncover the kind of strategies to match.
You Should Have A Clear, Specific, Strategy Statement
Far too many organizations we’ve worked with were pursuing engagement as a sole goal and hoping engagement would prove valuable.
We try to steer them away from that by focusing on a clear goal and specific, valuable, objectives targeted at key audiences.
One of the tasks we ask our course participants to do is to complete and get help with their own strategy statement. Try it yourself.
Goal: The goal of this community is [valuable result]
Objective 1: Get [target audience] to do [x]
Objective 2: Get [target audience] to do [x]
Objective 3: Get [target audience] to do [x]
If you can get the objectives right, you will find everything else you try to do becomes a lot easier.
Even better, you will find you can get more results from the existing members you already have.
To learn more about our two courses, click the links below: