Fake news isn’t a behavior problem, it’s a taxonomy problem.
The Onion has been serving up fake news for two decades without (much) complaint.
The problem is when fake news that pretends to be real news.
You can’t build relationships with a proven army of fact-checkers to distinguish what isn’t true. But that’s not the problem for you. Your problem isn’t disproving the negative, but highlighting the positive.
Build a set of categories that help members find the best stuff. Have 5 to 10 respected community members help. Build a set of categories. Begin simply with the following:
- [NEW] – for genuinely new ideas in the community.
- [UNPROVEN] – when there isn’t much evidence it succeeds yet.
- [TESTED] – for when the idea has been tested by members and generally accepted.
Now members can quickly find the latest cutting edge ideas, see what’s tested and has worked, and what’s not proven yet – but might work. You can use more than one tag at a time.
Looking for the good is far more fun and useful than trying to remove the bad.
For everyone managing a community team…
To improve a community you can either improve the technology, processes, or the people. The first two get far more attention than the latter.
But if you improve the people…the technology and processes naturally improve too. It’s the best bang for your buck by far.
Set the expectation that each member of your team will acquire new skills. Detail what skills they will need. The Roundtable’s framework is a good place to start. Provide the time (and resources) to acquire new skills. Build a mutual understanding they will make mistakes along the way.
This last part is critical. Skills involve practice. Practice means mistakes.
Then put your framework together.
- Engagement. Engagement skills begin with the ability to stimulate activity and effectively reply to questions. At the highest end, you want a recognized industry expert able to persuade a large following to take action which benefits both the brand and themselves. This requires more sector expertise, better relationship building skills, learning tools of persuasion, and developing systems for moderation/responding to questions with empathy.
- Content. Content skills begin at creating content members may find useful or entertaining. Most community professionals can do this. At the higher end, you want a community manager who can increase conversation rates, search traffic, automation campaigns, write effective newsletters, and attract top industry experts to submit content on a regular basis. The ultimate goal is a self-sustaining system filled with high-quality content that achieves specific goals.
- Technical. Technical skills begin with understanding how the platform works and diagnosing basic problems. At the higher end, you want a community manager to use data to optimize every part of the site, improve speed and functionality, and manage the entire vendor technology process. This means being able to select vendors, negotiate rates, improve design, manage implementation/maintenance etc…
- Strategy. Strategy skills begin with pulling basic engagement data to decide what to work on. At the highest end, you want clear data-driven systems to allocate limited resources to achieve the highest possible ROI for the organization. This means the ability to set logical benchmarks, provide decision frameworks for the team, run multiple experiments simultaneously, building customized dashboards, and doing deep research into the audience’s unique needs.
- Business. Community professionals probably struggle more with business skills than any other category. This begins with understanding how the community fits into the organization’s competing strategic objectives and communicating effectively (e.g. knowing who needs what information and when). At the higher end, you should be able to build a network of allies throughout the organization, attract and keep world-class talent on your team, and become a senior leader within the organization.
Don’t assume more experience leads to more skills. Performing the same, repetitive, role doesn’t do that. Instead, set clear quarterly targets for skills you want your team to acquire and check in each month to see how they’re getting on.
Once you create the right conditions, you might be amazed at how quickly your team improves.
You see it on many corporate facebook pages today.
The social media manager discovered lighthearted, off-topic, discussions boosted engagement metrics. Now most Facebook pages are almost entirely disconnected from any real strategy in the pursuit of engagement.
This happens in communities too. You discover off-topic discussions boost activity and pursue more of it – regardless of strategy.
But once most discussions are off-topic, it becomes almost impossible to attract newcomers. Newcomers are attracted to valuable expertise shared by topical discussions.
So you end up with a shrinking group of familiar regulars (and a steady churn to zero).
Off-topic discussions are a strategic tool to build a stronger sense of community among members. This sense of community should facilitate more shared expertise. If it doesn’t, why do it?
Or to put it simpler; if you can’t engage people in the topic, off-topic discussions won’t save you.
p.s. Final week to sign up for our Strategic Community Management course.
A cautionary tale for all community professionals.
A group of World of Warcraft (WoW) gamers created a private server running an older version of the game because they didn’t like recent changes. They felt the changes made the game more competitive and less social.
Forgive the (6,000 word) spoiler…the group discovered it was they who had become more competitive and less social.
An interesting trend is most veterans in large online communities believe the group’s glory days were in the past. This was usually at a time when the group was smaller, there was greater familiarity and the quality of discussions was higher.
Most believe changes in the community platform since then have ruined that sense of familiarity and quality of discussions.
And they are usually wrong.
The problem is simple. Any successful small community (high familiarity, a strong sense of community, and high quality of discussions) attracts more people. More people reduces familiarity. Worse yet, newcomers ask more beginner-level (or repetitive) questions which reduce discussion quality.
At the same time, the community professional (you) has to keep upgrading and updating the platform as it grows to deal with a variety of issues. But members confuse cause with correlation.
Simple example. As the community grows you notice the discussion area is overwhelmed by too many discussions. No-one can keep track. You create multiple groups and categories. Yet, members now believe this has destroyed the sense of community and high-quality discussions they used to have. It’s not true of course, it’s just a natural evolution of community growth that requires some adjustment.
Now your members will ask you to go back to the way things used to be. This won’t bring back the glory days but it will bring back the original problem.
Unless you’ve made a rare catastrophic mistake, going back is never an option.
Instead, reach out to 20 or so members to outline your vision going forward. Explain the problems you’re facing and where you need to go. Be bold and forward-looking. You might just get their understanding…or even their support.
Simple tip, ask members to share their own learning goals.
This works on two levels.
- It forces members to think carefully about what they want to learn.
- It allows you and others a drop-dead simple way to please a member.
I think you can take this one level higher.
Update member profiles to let them identify current shared learning goals and include an area where they can display what they have learned in the past. This might be books read, events attended, courses completed, or experience acquired.
Each progression acts as its own trigger to update the profile. This, in turn, encourages them to share the profile elsewhere. This, in turn, triggers more people to update their profile.
Try it. Add a field to member profiles with a current learning goal. Notify the community. Add another field for previous goals/experience gained. See what happens.
A rare(ish) book recommendation, Free Speech – Ten Principles For A Connected World.
Should you allow members to write posts which might offend others? What if that offense leads to physical or psychological harm?
Do you adapt your response to what’s offensive to different cultures or do you force your culture upon others?
How do you build a harmonious community which avoids groupthink? Should you encourage minority views which the majority might find offensive? Should you follow what most people in your community want?
You have your own moral code, but it probably needs augmenting.
Every time you remove a comment (or person), you’re making a trade-off between free speech and public safety. Remove too many comments and you’ve ‘become Hitler’. Remove too few and you’re ‘enabling/profiting from terrorism’ (or worse).
No-one is going to give you the benefit of the doubt and you can’t please everybody. You have to make decisions and those decisions are going to upset people.
So, what should you do?
Read this book and decide where you want your community to be on the free speech vs. public safety continuum. Then communicate your position aggressively. Be consistent in applying that position.
You can’t predict every problem, but you can predict the types of problem and develop simple frameworks.
Did this person intend to cause offense? Is this offense the result of something an individual did (lied, cheated) or something the individual is (gender, race etc…). Is it offensive to a group identity or solely to an individual? Is this a minority opinion which deserves protecting? Or does it have the potential to cause real harm?
You can develop your own rules enough and teach them to others.
The past few years have taught us that free speech problems are going to become an increasingly bigger problem for the mega-communities. Best to become an expert.
Our strategic community management course begins in two weeks. If you want something meatier than the average blog post (and to learn the ins and outs of community management at an advanced level), I hope you will consider joining my team and 86+ community professionals at http://www.feverbee.com/scm.
On January 25th, myself and Lithium’s Joe Cothrel are hosting an exclusive event in San Francisco for 20 people working at the Director of Community (and above) level in large customer-support style communities. If you meet the criteria and want to join our exclusive session, send me an email (the event is free, but private).
I’ll be in Pamplona, Spain, from Feb 23 – 24 talking about the real value of online communities at the VIII International Congress of Rural Tourism.
Two weeks later I’ll be back in Palo Alto at the 2017 Summit of Customer Engagement sharing the results of our recent research outlining modern techniques B2B brands use to nurture customer advocates in communities.
And feel free to check out our new consultancy page too for more detail on how we work, what we’ve done, and how we might help you increase participation, solve your technology headaches, and train your team. You can still join our community too.
We’ve done a lot of community training in groups.
What clients want can differ from what they need.
Many pay for the transfer of skills when they need a transfer of passion.
It’s pretty futile to sequester a group of people into a room and force-feed them community building skills.
Until you’ve felt the bug, the skills don’t matter.
And that bug comes from experiencing the community.
That experience includes asking questions, getting responses, building a reputation, seeing first-hand how the community can help them solve their problems and make valuable connections.
Once you have experienced the community, you can see the value in getting more responses to questions, building valuable relationships, and creating useful content etc…You’re eager to overcome your problems.
But you have to want to be in the room to learn those skills first.
A quick tip for anyone about to teach anyone community skills; set a simple task first. Have participants identify a problem they want to solve or a useful connection they want to make and pose this as a question in the community.
(If you don’t have a community, find the closest possible community and ask there instead.)
They have to experience community before you can teach it.
If gratitude, recognition, and power are the engine, then rules, restrictions, and instructions are the brakes.
People want to feel creative, they want to have autonomy, they want to feel good about what they’re doing. They want to build relationships with people like them.
Anything that you do to satisfy these needs will increase their motivation, anything that stops this will damage their motivation.
Sure, you might not be able to get every single person eager to help do exactly what they want. But be aware every restriction loses people and reduces their motivation to help you.
As you grow, the challenge is to find and manage the balance between the two.
The secret is, to begin with very few restrictions and add them as needed until you find the balance – not the other way round.
Almost every community has people who want to help, but how far will they go?
You can (and should) test this.
Don’t overthink it. You don’t need complex MVP programs with big asks and detailed reward systems to get started. These programs should handle complexity, not create it. You can develop these when you need to.
Focus instead on getting really good at the daily practice of sending out simple messages of appreciation and asking for something more – something valuable.
If you’re not getting much of a response, try different messages. Vary the tone and the ask.
If you send a single message today and get a volunteer for years, that’s a lot of bang for your buck, so feel free to send out plenty.
Find the things members want to do and help them feel terrific about doing it. Get really good at the simple stuff, then move on to the complicated systems.
This morning you have the unique and incredible privilege to make connections that can change lives.
You can make connections that overcome debilitating problems and achieve lifelong goals.
You can make connections that provide people with invaluable support at critical moments in their lives.
You can make connections that create new jobs or even new companies.
You can make connections that transfer and document skills for thousands, perhaps millions, of others.
You can make connections that become close friendships (or more).
If you ever find yourself feeling overwhelmed, beaten up, and the world is against you, I have a simple solution. Make more connections.
Building connections that change lives is the best part about working with communities. And it’s a tragedy we don’t spend anywhere near enough time doing it.
Not every connection will work. Most will fizzle and die. But it’s the few that do which will keep you energized and believing in the work you’re doing.
The best part? You don’t need your boss’ permission. In fact, you don’t even need to leave your computer right now. You just need to open a new window on your browser and start doing it.