In 2013, we were hired to try and revive a community in the finance sector which had struggled to reach critical mass since it was launched 6 months prior.
The problem wasn’t the technology or the audience, it was the community manager.
He simply wasn’t able to get the audience to do what he needed them to do.
Diagnosing The Problem
The problem was his interactions with members.
He was polite, sometimes friendly, but never warm. He rarely left a member feeling inspired by the potential of the community and their ability to help the community reach that potential. His newsletters, emails, and webinars had plenty of factual information, but no persuasive power.
This is what makes community skills unique, in a community role you need to persuade, inspire, and motivate members to believe in themselves and the community.
This is especially true when you’re just launching the community. Your persuasive power is the only thing that’s going to motivate people to create something new from nothing.
If you haven’t done this kind of work before, this isn’t easy.
Level 1: Community Management Skills
First, we developed a mentoring program to immediately upgrade the community manager’s skills.
This covered the very core basics of communication.
- The psychology of both why people join and continue participating in the community.
- Creating a powerful shared vision of the future (covering passion, metaphors, speechwriting etc..)
- Helping members identify their unique skills and how they could be useful to the community.
- Engaging members beyond the immediate need, but at the emotive, identity, level.
- Adjusting the time spent asking for ideas/expertise to sharing information from 0 to around 50%.
- Using self-disclosure to build trust and connection.
- Enjoying the experience of connecting with members.
- Bringing passion into the conversation.
At the end of each week, we reviewed his communications for the past week and provided the training, recommendations, and mindset to improve. The results were slower than expected, but it worked. Within 3 months he had a core group of regular, active, members and activity was finally beginning to take off.
(At the end we turned the materials into an online package any future recruit could access and reference before starting work in the community).
Training The Members
Next, we wanted to train members too.
Members who are used to dealing with only factual information often don’t do well within a community.
Aside: too few community managers tell their member how to be great members. They tell members what they shouldn’t do, but not what they should do, especially how to become a top member of the community.
We developed a playbook of tactics for members who wanted to become key contributors to the community with a roadmap they could follow. This included:
- Making a good impact as a newcomer.
- Knowing what separates top members from the rest.
- Examples of contributions of top members.
- Building strong relationships in the community.
- Contributions the community really needs.
- How to engage with deeper empathy.
We also supplied a few resources (video editor, graphic designer, and promotional support) for members who took the time to create a really amazing contribution. We set the bar as high as we dared.
The response to this training was immediate. Over 300 signed up for it within 3 months and this group was soon creating 500+ items of content per month. We also had a 2x increase in the number of members applying for community roles or offering to create their own.
The top contributor group swelled from around 0 to 35 (and then shrank to about 25). Most importantly, the behaviours of the community changed almost overnight. And we gained over 50 really remarkable contributions to support.
Training community members was one of the best investments you can make in your community.
The final step was to train the company beyond the community manager.
If someone with no community experience is running a community, the problem clearly doesn’t start (nor end) with the community manager. Others need to understand what a community requires, to engage the community themselves, and otherwise lend their support.
Getting people in the room was tricky, so we simplified our pitch. Once members begin to experience a community they’re going to expect a community experience across the organization.
If you’re used to getting warm, friendly, responses in the community and then receive a fast, formal, and seemingly terse response from customer support, that’s a problem.
This training included:
- Identifying opportunities in community.
- Identifying required resources and tactics to achieve those community benefits.
- What community members need (and don’t need).
- Engaging members with deep empathy.
- Dealing with difficult members.
- Testing ideas/co-creation with communities.
- Spotting and resolving problems.
Our ulterior motive was to increase the motivation of employees to use the community in all aspects of their work.
We delivered this training through in-person workshops (it’s easy to do internal training via workshops). Not everyone bought into it, but enough did to see a rising level of tangible support in the community. About two-thirds of the room were still visiting and/or participating in the community 2.5 months later.
Better yet, a year later, the company was acquired and our training was adapted into the employee handbook.
Community skills are unique from other skills. Investing in acquiring them is almost always a bargain. In too many communities, six-figure (plus) investments hang upon the skills of a community manager with no training and/or limited experience.
That doesn’t make any sense.
Invest in making sure you (and your community team) are highly trained in what they do. In almost every situation, the results are clear. Communities become more active and more positive places to be. Better yet, train your members and your organization too and completely transform your community.
Once the staff above identified their own benefits from the community, they began providing support to achieve them. It’s a mutual win for everyone.
p.s. If you’ve already been in the field, I’d suggest my workshop at CMXSummit might be valuable.