Flying Blind With Tech Partners At The Controls

We often come across disgruntled prospects who have flown blindly into building a community.

This happens when a senior executive decides to create a community (and typically drops the task upon someone in marketing).

This person speaks to a few platforms and picks a vendor they like best. The vendor recommends a trusted implementation partner. The implementation partner designs a great-looking website which is live within 3 to 6 months.

A few common problems arise here.

First, you will spend too much. This usually means buying modules you don’t need. Trust us, no platform vendor will refuse to sell you additional modules if you decide you need them later. The goal of the salesperson is to get you to sign a 3-year contract.

Second, the implementation partner will often design a site better suited to a mature, developed, community rather than you just starting. If you’re not providing specific guidance for what you need today, you will end up with something that looks great but functions poorly.

Third, this approach tends to force a big bang launch. Once you’ve spent $100k+ on a website, your company is expecting great results. That means thousands of active members quickly. That means having to report numbers early on. This means you can’t test and adjust concepts under the radar. Your colleagues and execs judge you.

(It also means people are quicker to cut their losses if it’s not working out.)

Platform vendors, implementation partners, and others do terrific work. But don’t put them at the controls of your effort. Become informed first. See what other communities were like when they launched. Ask questions from those who have been through your situation.

Don’t fly blind here…it could become an expensive trip.

They Didn’t Want To Talk To Each Other

Last year, one community manager in the accountancy sector mentioned their target audience didn’t want to talk to each other.

That’s pretty devastating to discover, but is it true?

If you drop a group of accountants in a room together will they sit alone and avoid eye-contact?

I’d bet they will make small talk and then gradually begin sharing more details and information about themselves and their practice.

A random group of people in any field may not want to talk to each other, but, they do want to chat with friends. They do want help to solve their problems. They do want to feel respected and good at what they do.

A bad community concept often masquerades as resistance to talking to others. It’s rarely the case. It just means you need to change your approach.

If they would talk if they were dropped into the same room then drop them into the same room.

If they would talk to solve their biggest problems, let them know what problems people can solve.

If they would talk if they felt respected or admired, make sure they feel respected and admired.

This isn’t the chicken and the egg, from the very first contact with someone you can invite them to an exclusive event for the top [accountants], learn more about their problems, and let them know how respected they would be in the group.

The solution, like many, is about member psychology.

p.s. Final day to sign up for Psychology of Community.

Avoiding The Biggest Community Problem Because It’s ‘Hard’

Speaking to a community manager last week, she mentioned her biggest problem was proving the value.

Her boss wanted to know what impact engagement had upon customer retention but she didn’t have the numbers.

A snippet from the conversation:

“What have you tried so far?”
“Nothing, it’s not possible”

Nothing…it’s your biggest problem and you’ve done nothing to solve it?

You haven’t spoken to anyone in the field about how they linked engagement to retention?

You haven’t tried the formulas in any of the existing ROI resources?

You haven’t spoken to any data analysts about getting statistically significant data?

You haven’t asked other departments how they prove their value and links to retention?

And how do you even know it’s not possible if you haven’t tried anything?

If it’s your biggest problem, make it a priority and solve it.

No-one taught you how to do it, no platform provides the easy connection, so…do the most wonderful thing we get to do each day…and tackle a new challenge with relish. You might learn a new skill and build a new resource…

Ask around, study data, hire a data analyst if you like (we’re currently working with 3).

Mankind has somehow managed to work out the impact of Facebook on reducing government corruption, rain on retail sales, and boardroom diversity on financial performance..believe me, we can (and do) connect engagement data to customer retention

Starters And Finishers

It’s far more fun to make the big announcement and get a lot of attention than it is to sustain interest and overcome hurdles along the way.

This makes big announcements pretty much worthless. It also makes really pushing ahead with the task long after the attention has shifted elsewhere incredibly valuable.

People lose interest even in the very biggest projects.

Most people give up when they hit the dip.

Just in the past year, I’ve seen people give up on wikis, events, slack channels, video series, weekly AMAs and potentially game-changing projects because attention shifted elsewhere.

Don’t give up. The hype cycle is real for community initiatives too.

Just because attention shifts doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. The majority are always seeking the next quick thrill. It’s going to take time for people to change their habits, accept you as part of the field’s landscape, and want to contribute to your creation.

You’re going to be persuading people one by one to buy into your vision.

I worry today there are far more people willing to start a community project than complete one. Some people just want the applause. No applause? They move on to something else.

True believers don’t give up so easily. They know how important it is to be working on projects which will shape the community for years to come. Trust yourself and keep working at it.


Always Be Evangelizing

A reminder from Phoebe this week; always be evangelizing.

Gaining internal support doesn’t mean you’ll keep internal support.

Getting the new staff hire or platform you wanted isn’t an indefinite pass to everlasting support from your organization.

Resources are limited and you’re not the only department lobbying for more.

If you slow down while you’re ahead, others will soon catch up.

You’ve got to work hard at this every single day. This means you need to bring a ferocious, infectious, passion for community to every meeting.

It means you need to bring fresh, engaging, and valuable stories from community members at every opportunity.

It means you need to work your ass off to build stronger relationships, educate people on the benefits, and deliver the value they need to see from the community each month.

No, it’s not in your job description. But if you want to keep your job, no wait..if you want to thrive in your job, this is what it takes.

It’s really hard work. Better get started.

Philosophy on Training

This is the final week you can sign up for Psychology of Community, Strategic Community Management, or both.

Let’s talk briefly about training and courses.

I spent two days last week at a public speaking workshop.

It was incredible. I learned techniques (and a mental framework) used by some of the best speakers in the world.

This has improved every talk I ever do for the rest of my life.

A few months ago, I signed up for an online course in data analytics. We’re now able to do a deeper analysis of communities than almost anyone else in our field.

I can tell you what variables you can manipulate in your community to drive significant results. This delivers exponential value to us and our clients.

In the past few years, I’ve taken courses on building habits, social psychology, and, yes, building communities.

Every single course has improved the consultancy we deliver and helped us build a very successful business.

Philosophy on Training

My philosophy towards training is pretty simple; take as much of it as possible.

There are two reasons here:

  1. Training lets you make big leaps ahead. Experience helps me become incrementally better, but it’s always training that has led to the great leaps ahead. You can’t incrementally learn data analytics or psychology, you need training.
  2. Training is usually a bargain. A few hundred dollars (or even a few thousand) is a tiny price to pay if it equips you with a new skill set for life.

I know people who haven’t taken a single educational course since college.

I truly don’t get this. My mindset, and perhaps your mindset too, is if this is the work I’ve chosen to spend this portion of my life doing, I’m going to make sure I’m as good at it as I can be.

I genuinely believe you should pester your boss at every opportunity for more training. They might say no, but you shouldn’t be making their decision for them.

Don’t Refuse Training For Yourself

You have plenty of convenient excuses to deny yourself training.

Just tell yourself you don’t have time. You’re too busy right now.

You probably know this already, but you will always be too busy.

Do you ever find yourself sitting at your desk waiting for something to do? Me neither.

Believe me, it wasn’t easy to take two entire days last week to do a public speaking workshop. But once I made that commitment, everything slotted into place. Nothing blew up in my absence.

Don’t reject yourself for training to keep yourself busy.

Make A Commitment To Yourself

Whether you take our courses or not, please make a commitment to becoming the best community manager you can be. Find training that works for you.

You’re going to be working with your organization’s best and most passionate customers. These people deserve you at your very best.

You’re going to be managing a platform that your organization has invested thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of dollars into. Your organization needs that investment to pay off.

You’re going to be in this field for a while, you will get more out of it if you’re highly trained within the field.

The (short) Pitch

I believe psychology is the core skill everyone working with a community should feel comfortable with.

If you’re in the trenches working with a range of people every day, it’s critical to understand how to engage them, respond to them, and keep them happy and motivated.

Almost every problem you need to overcome (attracting and engaging members, changing behavior, nurturing to contributors etc…) requires a deeper understanding of psychology.

Join us next week and learn it.

Psychology of Community – $675 USD
Strategic Community Management – $675 USD
COMBINED – Psychology of Community and Strategic Community Management – $1100 USD

3 Ways To Grow A Community Quickly, 1 Way To Grow A Community Slowly

We often meet with organizations who want to have 1000 active members within 3 months and 10,000 within a year.

Very, very, few communities have 1000+ active members. The majority we’ve studied tend to have a few hundred active members (and this is after several years).

It is possible to grow fast, however, but only if you fall into one of three categories.

  1. Have a Huge, Existing, Audience. If you have 100m customers, you should be able to get a 100,000 strong community through well-written announcements. Most customer support communities fall into this category. You don’t have to be especially good, just be big and let the law of big numbers do the rest.
  2. Remarkable, viral, growth. You’re creating a community with such a remarkable, viral, concept that it naturally takes off. People are eager to share it and help it grow. This almost always means developing a customer, bespoke, platform. Figure 1 and ProductHunt are both great, recent, examples.
  3. Pay for promotion. If you have a big budget, you can buy members with targeted ads, promotions, events, competitions, and more. Engaging them won’t be easy, but assuming you have a strong concept you might be able to hook them into a powerful community.

If you have none of the above, fast growth isn’t going to happen. Instead, you need to focus on making sure the concept is as sticky as possible. The problem with most communities today is churn. 95% of newly registered members won’t be actively participating in three months’ time.

If you can cut churn by just 5%, you will see an exponential impact in the level of activity and value (more people bring in more people over time). This leads to the most common way to grow a community.

  1. Capture the members who do visit. This means you need to ensure someone coming to resolve a problem is surprised by something that encourages them to participate again. A member getting an answer to their question isn’t enough, you have to find a reason to get them to make a second contribution in another topic.

If you can solve this problem, you will hit steady, reliable, growth.

It won’t be 10,000 members within a year, but it should be enough to keep most executives happy.

The Psychology Behind Superiority

If you treat your top contributors better than others, they will act better than others.

I’ve seen perfectly functional communities turned into dystopian firestorms by well-intentioned efforts to reward and encourage top contributors.

Top contributors believe their own praise and act condescendingly towards other members. They verbally shut down discussions they disagree with and assume their arguments are beyond reproach of regular members.

This in turn causes anger from regular members towards the community (and the company). It lowers their tendency to participate. Since it’s the regular members most likely to ask questions for top contributors to answer, the overall level of activity starts to creep down.

It’s tempting to overlook bad behavior as long as top contributors keep participating, but this only leads to bigger problems later.

Remember too, how it feels for a regular member to see a small group treated like kings. It’s not good.

Always align rewards with noble appeals to serve and support the community (not vice-versa). Praise members for sharing expertise, not for being experts. Help them increase the skill and knowledge level of regular members. Shut down bad behavior early.

If your top members refuse to do that, they’re probably not members worth rewarding.

In our Psychology of Community course, we’re going to dive deep into the psychology behind top participants and increasing activity from regular members. I think you should join us.

Capturing Community Visitors

You can’t do too much about the number of lurkers in a community. You might be able to shift the metric (participants / registered visitors) by a percentage point or two, but this comes at a crippling opportunity cost.

And that opportunity cost is to capture your current visitors.

You should worry far less about lurkers and far more about visitors who never come back to your community at all.

When you build up a detailed profile of your visitors (the people that visit but don’t register), you will notice that the majority of these visitors were entirely satisfied with their community experience.

They visited, received an answer to their question, maybe browsed a few other pages, and left.
If they have another question, they will visit again. But that’s not very likely.

You will also notice that they are open to being surprised. If you can give them useful tips they can use, highlight some people to follow on Twitter about the topic, or prompt them to sign up for a relevant webinar, they would be interested. But it has to be really relevant to their situation.

This is really hard to do in most communities as it involves either manually going through your most popular discussions and adding/updating links or tweaking the technology to enable pop-ups or other notifications of something surprising.

But the opportunity is there. It’s a big opportunity. Most visitors leave your community entirely satisfied. What if you can keep them there and engage them in something exciting?

p.s. Podcast interview on all things entrepreneurship.

To Thread Or Not To Thread

Spend 20 minutes reading this paper.

“Using interrupted time series analysis and regression discontinuity design, we observe an abrupt and significant increase in social reciprocity after the adoption of a threaded interface.”

In short, adding threaded discussions (expanded all the way, i.e. you could have comments indented significantly as people respond to middle comments in the discussion), yielded an increase in responses.

Almost all community platforms today offer threaded discussions. Your mileage will vary, but testing flat, threaded, one-deep, and full branch structures of discussions is a low-cost and potentially high-reward endeavour.

The Roadmap

During a brief spell in PR, I would collect the forward features lists. These highlight what topics media publications would be working on in the coming year (here’s an example). If a featured covered a client’s turf, I’d write in with relevant suggestions.

We never knew why some topics were chosen and others ignored. The readers had no input into what topics should or shouldn’t be featured. There wasn’t (and still isn’t) an open discussion around editorial choices.

If you work for an organization which produces considerable content, share the calendar with your audience. Ask them what topics they want to see and what should be prioritized above other topics. Better still, ask them for their suggestions and contributions. Ask the audience to share their stories.

This doesn’t just save huge research time, it leads to better research too.

Now go one further, share the entire community roadmap. This isn’t just about content. What features can members expect in the future? What can they look forward to and volunteer to help out with?

The Divide And Satisfy Method of Community Engagement

Here’s a simple method to become more effective in your community engagement work (and a snippet from the Psychology of Community course).

Segment your audience into unique activity clusters as we see below:

*Don’t worry, you can tweak the level of activity to your community.

Now do a live interview 3 to 5 people from each category (you will need to send 20 to 30 invites for each cluster).

Ask the interviewees how they arrived at the community, what they want from the community, what they like and don’t like about the community, and what they would love to see in the community.

If they’re new, ask them how it felt to arrive. If they’re regulars, ask them what keeps bringing them back.

Ask also about the toughest problems they face in their work (or in the topic).

From this, you should be able to build up a detailed picture of their wants and needs.

Here’s a simplified version of one we made for a former client:

(There’s a lot of text here, click here for the full image above).

Now systematically go through each of the touch points these members have with the community and update the messaging and structure of the site to satisfy these needs.

For example, if lurkers don’t participate because they don’t feel they have authority, why not highlight how much you need good questions for your experts to answer. Put the value in the questions, not the answers.

If regulars want more opportunities to connect with others and be more involved, create those opportunities.

If newcomers need some good reminders to come back and help others out who had that same problem, create those reminders.

Also, make sure the content you create, emails you send out, discussions you prioritize reflect the needs and wants of each segment.

If you spend a few hours now doing these interviews, you will save weeks of wasted time pursuing the wrong activities later.

You will also see the level of engagement steadily increase among all groups.

Deeply Understand The Needs of Members

Segmenting members into useful clusters and building up detailed profiles is a skill everyone building communities today should be adept in.

But, at the moment, so few people do this.

Our Psychology of Community course is going to change this. We’re going to help you stop guessing what might work and use processes rooted in psychology to drive more engaged and gain the outcomes you need.

Strategy Combined with Psychology

We’re also offering a combined package of Strategic Community Management and Psychology of Community for $1100 USD.

I strongly recommend this.

You will have a strategy your entire organization can get behind and know the psychology to accomplish that strategy.

Course fees rise this Friday. Hope to see you on the inside.


Sign up options below.

Psychology of Community – $675 USD
Strategic Community Management – $675 USD
COMBINED – Strategic Community Management and Psychology of
Community – $1100 USD



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