In every client survey we do, the majority of participants rank in-person events, making friends in the community, or building a reputation as least important.
At the top (almost without fail) is getting good, quick, answers to questions and finding the information they need. Sometimes this also involves reading reviews and getting ideas on what products to buy/services to use etc…
How do we reconcile the idea people don’t want to make friends with the idea that we work in a community?
Accept the majority of your members don’t want to feel a sense of belonging with each other. Don’t push them to make friends or other social activities. Simply help them get the best information they can as quickly as they can.
Yet also recognise there will be a tiny group of members who want more.
They want to be recognised, they want to have access to you, they want to get to know other members. These are the people where the sense of community aspects really come into play.
These are also the people who will create most of the answers, resources, and information for everyone else.
These are your true community members, the rest are simply visitors.
There’s nothing wrong with either group, just be aware of which group you’re dealing with and what that group needs.
You probably have too many members in your superuser program (or MVP/Insider/Expert program).
This does more harm than good. A major unspoken benefit of the program is its sense of exclusivity.
If you’re in the program, you are in a small unique tribe that gets access to things others don’t. You are superior to others. You have earned something others haven’t earned.
The value of the program is rarely about the benefits, it’s about what the benefits represent (that only a few people get them).
The more people who are a member of the program, the less powerful these benefits are.
Read our work with a client in 2018. We drastically cut the number of superusers in a program and activity skyrocketed.
Better yet, the smaller it is, the better time, attention, and rewards you can give to each member.
Stop adding people to the program and start removing them.
Don’t leave ideation running in the background of the community, drive people to it during fixed time periods.
Many companies are disappointed by the quantity and quality of ideas they receive from members. This is because they launch an ideation tool and leave it running for any members to suggest any idea at any time.
Instead of getting a good set of ideas, they often get something which better resembles a list of complaints (isn’t every complaint also an idea of what to improve?).
A better approach is to run specific ideation campaigns for a short time period.
Take a specific feature every few months and give members only a week to suggest their best ideas. In week two let members vote on which ideas they like best. In week three you select the top 3 ideas for your panel of judges to determine the winner.
You will find you get a lot more ideas and a lot better ideas if you limit when members can suggest ideas and make it more of a competition.
Don’t just leave your ideation tools running in the background.
In about half of the member surveys we do for clients, there is a consensus the community ‘isn’t as good as it used to be’.
This usually has three causes.
The first is revamping the technology to add more clutter and making it difficult for members to find what they want.
If members now have to close pop-up notifications and scroll down past large banners to see fewer full-length posts (instead of just the subject lines), that’s going to do real harm. Don’t do that.
The second is a failure to support the community at the same level. When you launch you might respond to every question quickly, spend plenty of time getting to know members, and respond to every idea. As the community grows, you can’t do that anymore without more resources. Naturally, members become disappointed.
The third is losing top members (often in the insider program) without attracting others to replace them. This happens often when the benefits of the insider program aren’t frequently increased (or, as is often the case) decrease.
The secret then is:
1) Keep the technology as simple and the website uncluttered.
2) Don’t set a standard you can’t maintain and get colleagues to help you engage with members.
3) Gradually increase the benefits to Insiders and the level of access and attention they receive from you.
Communities can adjust to pandemics a lot easier than recessions.
If the pandemic is the earthquake, the coming recession is the tsunami that threatens to wipe out plenty of communities in its path.
The good times are probably over. It’s time to start planning for the significant cuts in the community budget.
This likely means:
- If your vendor contract is up for renewal, anticipate pressure to move to somewhere cheaper.
- No resources for further technical development or customisations. If you have bugs in your platform, you have to live with them.
- Reduction in staff levels managing the community team.
- No budget for community events and activities.
- Members upset at a decline in support or inability to solve their problems.
- Decline in the level of participation.
For example, I’d prepare for three scenarios that might look like as follows:
(remember not to state how the budget cut will be achieved but the impact of that budget cut).
Scenario 1: A budget cut of 25%.
- Reduction of most junior members in the community team.
- Thus no time available to host live events/activities and closing ideation.
- Reduced ability to moderate the community effectively.
- Inviting members to host their own live events for each other.
- Requires a communication plan to prepare members for a reduction in their community experience.
- Inability to do further custom development.
- No training, consultancy, or event attendance.
- No salary rises for the community team this year.
Scenario 2: A budget cut of 50%.
- Reduction of two members of the community team (1 senior, 1 junior)
- No time for events, ideation, updates to the platform, member giveaways, or support the MVP program with free gifts/rewards.
- Sharp decline in the ability to effectively moderate the community.
- A likely 20% to 30% drop in participation from MVPs and thus questions take longer to respond to.
- No ability to fix any technical bugs or do any custom development of the platform.
- Likely preparing to move to an inexpensive platform when the contract is up.
- No training, consultancy, or event attendance.
- No salary rises for the community team this year (and thus likely to lose members of the community team).
Scenario 3: A budget cut of 75%.
- Community team is reduced to a single person who spends the majority of their time doing moderation, replying to posts, and responding to questions about the MVP program.
- Moving to an inexpensive platform at the earliest opportunity (with no budget to migrate posts across).
- Significant drop in the level of participation from MVPs and increased time to get an answer from the community (which in turn might lead to angry members and more members contacting customer support).
- No training, consultancy, or event attendance.
- Likely the remaining staff member will be overwhelmed and soon leave the team to be replaced by someone junior.
None of these scenarios are enjoyable, but if you’re a community strategist these are exactly the kinds of scenarios you should be forecasting and planning for.
It’s easy to do a community strategy when your budget keeps increasing and participation constantly rises. It’s far more difficult (and more valuable) to do it when you expect a budget cut and a sharp drop in activity.
Start planning now.
The flip side of Friday’s post is the change of environment might open up opportunities to explore new ideas and means for members to engage with one another.
I love Seth’s post as a starting point:
“A standard zoom room permits you to have 250 people in it. You, the organizer, can speak for two minutes or ten minutes to establish the agenda and the mutual understanding, and then press a button. That button in Zoom will automatically send people to up to 50 different breakout rooms.
If there are 120 people in the room and you set the breakout number to be 40, the group will instantly be distributed into 40 groups of 3.
They can have a conversation with one another about the topic at hand. Not wasted small talk, but detailed, guided, focused interaction based on the prompt you just gave them.
8 minutes later, the organizer can press a button and summon everyone back together.
Get feedback via chat (again, something that’s impossible in a real-life meeting). Talk for six more minutes. Press another button and send them out for another conversation.
This is thrilling. It puts people on the spot, but in a way that they’re comfortable with.”
Be sure to read the entire post.
I’ve seen a few communities turn themselves into pandemic action centres. Every discussion, event, and blog post is about the pandemic.
This makes sense, it’s the biggest issue of our time.
But it’s perfectly okay not to go down this route. People still have largely the same needs as before. They still want to solve their problems, learn more about topics they’re interested in, and connect meaningfully with one another.
While they’re aware of the pandemic, do they want their every waking second to be about it? I doubt it.
Perhaps the greatest value your community can provide your members with right now is a place to escape from the chaos around them. Don’t underestimate the value of normality and continuity in times of chaos.
I’ve seen dozens of clients spend countless time roping in marketing, PR, and legal teams to collaborate on a post (or response) few people will ever see.
This doesn’t mean the person didn’t deserve a response (or you shouldn’t make the post). It simply means it’s not a good use of everyone’s time.
If your average discussion is viewed by 30 people and you’re spending hours collaborating on it, that doesn’t make sense.
It’s perfectly ok to reply with ‘this is too complex an issue to respond here, we’ll contact you privately to help’.
The exception is when a lot of people will see it. This means the issue is rapidly gaining traction or you’re planning on sending (or highlighting the response) to your entire mailing list. Then it’s worth spending a lot of time on it indeed.
A few years ago, I noticed nearly every community with a calendar of regularly scheduled content published a lot of content very few members engaged with.
It’s hard to create high-quality, valuable, content for a community each day. The novelty of any idea (e.g. member interviews) soon wears thin.
A far better approach is to aim for ‘big win’ content on a less regular schedule. Five types of content are especially useful to members.
1) Case studies. Instead of interviews, post case studies with members instead. Case studies force members to share something interesting they have done which could be valuable for other members. Any videos or long-form advice articles which highlight specifically how members resolved a common challenge or improved their results are great resources within a customer community (and good testimonial material too).
2) Analyses and breakdowns. Do a breakdown of a customer’s situation along with improvements. This is similar to case studies but highlights areas of improvement as well as what’s not going well. Almost every topic lends itself to breakdowns of member situations.
3) Templates and resources. Members find templates useful. Create templates that let members structure their work, plan out a project, and evaluate their success. This saves members time. You can also create templates to tackle topical events.
4) Surveys and data. Your members want to see how they compare to other members. Create a survey on a topical issue and get quantitative data you can reveal to them. This might include time spent on a project, budgets, salary level or anything that might be interesting. This works well when members can compare themselves to the average or use the data to support their own work.
5) Interviews with a VIP. Better than interviews with members is an interview with a genuine VIP in that field. These work best when the person is well known and respected by most of the audience. If you wouldn’t invite this person on stage at a major conference, they’re probably not a good match. Aim as high as possible.
Throw away your calendar of regularly scheduled content and go for the big wins instead.
I’ve been interested and impressed by Toky Woky’s community platform recently.
Visit Superdrug or Monki and you will see a community pop-up inviting you to ask the community for help or answer questions. This pop-up appears not only on the homepage but in two other important places.
1) Catalogue pages. If you’re not sure which item to buy, you can ask the community and get help from people just like you. This reduces the stress and fear members might have about making the wrong purchase.
2) Product pages. Members can ask specific product-related questions and get answers solely related to that product. When members ask a question from this page, the product in question is automatically tagged to make it easier for others to provide answers.
You can also directly visit the community for a chat-room experience with other customers.
This kind of integration demonstrates the indispensable value of a community in the retail sector. Visitors with questions about which product to buy or the specifics of a particular product will be far more receptive to the expertise of customers like themselves.
When you integrate your community’s incredible expertise into the shopping path, I suspect the improvement in sales conversions and customer satisfaction are easy to demonstrate.
Challenging times present opportunities to unite members in a community.
As more people are forced to work from home, you might initiate discussions like:
- Working from home? Share your routine here.
- What does your home office look like?
- What are your best home-office hacks?
- What are your tips to work from home and not be distracted?
- Healthy home-work habits – any advice?
- Do you do housework while working from home?
The information will naturally be useful, but even more useful will be members feeling better connected to one another.
If you don’t know why members came to the site and whether they got the outcome they wanted, it’s very hard to improve the community experience.
The first survey question is good for this:
Only a small percentage of members will complete the survey, but the data will be tremendously useful.
The second question asks if they satisfied their goals by visiting the community.
The third question asks what they would have done if they hadn’t achieved their goals in the community. This is tremendously useful if trying to calculate call deflection.
The fourth question asks how satisfied members are with the community.
And the final question calls for any other feedback and recommendations from members.
Once you have data like this you can create simple archetypes and determine which groups you’re satisfying at the moment. You might be surprised just how valuable it is to know why people are visiting your community and whether they are achieving their goals.
Even if you can’t do a pop-up survey, there’s no excuse for not dropping similar questions into SurveyMonkey, Typeform, and Google forms and sending an email to your members.