Community-Driven Impact – A Better Way To Prove The Value of Community

Back in 2018, I stood on stage at the CMX Summit and asked the audience whether they believed it was critical to prove the ROI of their community.

About half the hands in the room shot up.

Excellent!

Next, I asked how many of them could prove the ROI of their community.

The outstretched arms began to wilt. Within seconds, just half a dozen hands remained raised in the air amongst a sea of glum-looking faces.

Now it was time for the kicker.

“If most of you believe it’s critical to measure the ROI of community, but almost no one can do it – how critical can it really be?”

I mean, if it was really critical – life and death critical – wouldn’t anyone who couldn’t prove the ROI be out of work by now?

Either we were all on the slaughterhouse conveyor belt waiting for our turn to get the chop, or we were all very much mistaken about ROI.

Maybe measuring ROI isn’t as critical as we think – at least not in the way we imagine ROI.

Perhaps there’s a better way?

A week ago I hosted the Community-Driven Impact webinar to share a better approach.

It seemed to resonate so I’ll share the highlights here

What Do We Measure If Not ROI?

No one is proclaiming we should be free from the shackles of measurement.

Measurement is ultimately about having the right data to make good decisions.

At the ROI level, these are decisions about whether community programs should have more or less funding.

If we don’t measure anything, we can’t prove anything (i.e. no resources).

We need measurement. We need to be held accountable for results.

Most importantly, we need measurement to show the incredible value of the work we do.

The problem is ROI is a 100+-year-old efficiency ratio from a bygone era.

ROI was developed in a less complex world of tangible products and slower decision-making. It made sense to use ROI when considering major capital investments (‘should we build a new factory?’), it’s less effective in the intangible, service-driven, rapid-decision-making era of today.

It’s certainly possible to measure the ROI of communities, but it’s horribly complex, takes a huge amount of time, and the result is rarely as accurate or as persuasive as you might think.

Most people, when they refer to ROI, don’t mean the percentage return for every dollar spent. What they mean is what is the benefit of this?

Unless you sell membership to the community, your community is several layers removed from profit-level metrics. It doesn’t make sense to use profit-level metrics to evaluate the community.

My argument is twofold.

1) We should be measuring outcomes the community can and does directly influence.

2) We should be measuring these outcomes using a methodology developed precisely for the community.

This is why we’ve recently begun using a new score to measure community.

It’s a score I want to introduce to you today.

We call it Community-Driven Impact.

 

The Problem With Current Measurements

The problem with pretty much every community value metric is it’s not designed for community.

Every method, as you can see below, trades precision for simplicity and must choose between causation and correlation. Neither is close to a great outcome.

methods for measuring community value

Controlled experiments can show great results, but are incredibly difficult and costly to do.

Comparing members to non-members helps set priorities, but doesn’t show causation.

Call deflection is horribly imprecise. Estimates for ‘visitors to deflected tickets’ range from 1 in 20 to 1 in 500. No one really knows if a visitor to an answer received the answer to their question or not. Surveys can help but suffer from a sampling bias.

NPS can show a change in attitudes, but it’s an advocacy score. You might help a member resolve a problem but that doesn’t make them more likely to recommend a brand to friends (honestly, how often do you really recommend any brand to friends?).

What we need is a different measure. A measure which directly shows the unique impact of the community. A measure which colleagues will care about. A measure which is easy to set up and easier to understand.

This is where Community-Driven Impact matters.

 

Introducing Community-Driven Impact

Community-Driven Impact is a metric which combines the two key things people really want to know about your community.

1) How impact does the community have upon visitors? (Average Member Impact)

2) How many people visit the community? (reach)

The method multiplies the reach by Average Member Impact to get a Community-Driven Impact score.

Reach is relatively simple to calculate. It’s simply the number of people who visit the community in any given time frame.

You can set a cut-off for this if you like (i.e. skip visits of less than 30 seconds), but total reach is recommended.

The harder part is calculating the Average Member Impact.

 

Average Member Impact (AMI)

The Average Member Impact is the average impact directly caused by the community on each individual visitor.

 

How To Measure Average Member Impact

The simple method is to adapt the Net Promoter Score question for a community-specific purpose.

We simply ask our members what they felt the impact was.

To put the question in the simplest terms, we ask ‘How has the community impacted [outcome]?’

Behavioral Impact Score Question

You can adapt this question for almost any desired outcome. For example:

How has the [brand] community impacted your ability to achieve [outcome]?

How has the [brand] community influenced your likelihood to utilise [features of product]?

How has the [brand] community influenced your [results of product]?

How did [brand] community influence your decision to [purchase item]

How has the community affected your satisfaction with ?

You can even adapt this question to metrics like call deflection

“Approximately how many times has the community saved you from contacting customer support?”

The magic of this approach is the question is incredibly flexible, it lets members make the causation, and it’s easy to get good data.

You can collect this data by polls or surveys each month/quarter and average the results over time as you see in the chart below:

average member impact graph

How Accurate Is This?

I can hear the howls of criticism already.

“But members don’t give accurate answers to survey questions!”

“Members might have different interpretations of the question!”

“You might suffer from a self-response bias!”

“What if members can’t remember or recall their past behaviour?”

These are valid criticisms. The results won’t be 100% accurate.

But here’s a sneaky secret; neither are most of the other metrics you’re looking at.

Every data point you ever look at is based upon a wide number of assumptions enslaved to a large number of biases. The key is to balance practicality against bias to find the optimal outcome.

The main difference in this approach is we’re not using a black box of complex formulas to show the impact of community. We’re using a completely transparent method to show the impact of community using a measure designed for community.

It’s impossible to criticise this method while still supporting NPS or CSAT as a valid measure of success.

The AMI question gets people to directly connect their community experience to the desired outcome and make an estimate. It takes the burden of causation away from us and lets members highlight what (if any) impact the community has had on their behavior.

The problem is people are generally not great at explaining what drove their behaviour. For example, people claim advertising doesn’t affect them but they keep buying from the biggest advertisers.

This doesn’t invalidate behavior surveys, it instead shows that all behavioral surveys entail a certain level of uncertainty. We should recognise this uncertainty and reference it in our summaries.

The major benefit of calculating Average Member Impact is it doesn’t require us to undertake statistical voodoo to connect the community to the result, it’s a direct question asking for a direct, thoughtful, response. To assume that members can’t understand that is to think extremely poorly of our members.

 

Calculating Community-Driven Impact

Tracking your Average Member Impact is an excellent way to escape the engagement trap (the trap of being measured by the level of engagement).

If you can show more engagement reduces your Average Member Impact score, it doesn’t make sense to continue increasing engagement.

At least in theory it doesn’t.

But there is an obvious problem here.

It doesn’t matter if your Average Member Impact is really high if your reach is really low.

Few brands are going to be impressed if you build a group of 10 really happy members. That’s too many resources devoted to too few people. The level of engagement isn’t the critical number, but it does matter.

Your boss isn’t mistaken for wanting engagement to go up. Where they go wrong is wanting this number to go up without knowing whether increasing engagement impacts impact.

It equally doesn’t make sense to have a community of 100,000 members if the community has no impact on them (i.e. has an Average Member Impact score of zero or below). That’s just a waste of resources.

To balance engagement against impact, we need to calculate Community-Driven Impact.

 

Community-Driven Impact

The Community-Driven Impact score is your Average Member Impact score multiplied by the total number of visitors each month.

In short, it measures how many people the community reaches and the impact the community has upon them.

For example:

  • An AMI score of 2.7 with 10,000 monthly visitors is a Community-Driven Impact score of 27,000.
  • An AMI score of 4.1 with 7,000 monthly visitors is a Community-Driven Impact score of 28,700.

The above example shows the importance of balancing the two metrics against each other. A smaller community with a higher impact is as valuable as a larger community with a smaller impact.

It’s ok if either metric declines as long as the Community-Driven Impact score remains consistent (or increases).

Ultimately, the CDI score is the one which really matters. It combines the value of both reach and impact so people can evaluate community success over time as you can see in the graph below.

community driven impact score graph

Above you can see how both changes in reach and Average Member Impact influence the Community-Driven Impact (CDI) score.

We can see in this example the community is delivering more value over time.

 

This Data Reveals Powerful Insights

These metrics also help you analyse what’s happening in the community.

For example, a client was seeing a long-term decline in monthly visitors but an increase in Average Member Impact.

When we began segmenting the AMI score by member type, we noticed a strong relationship between member tenure and the AMI score.

The AMI score was increasing because people with a lower AMI were leaving the community.

We discovered the community was increasingly catering to the whims of veteran members at the expense of others. They were going to end up with a tiny group of super happy members. Not ideal.

It’s usually a good idea to compare the Average Member Impact score by the following segments

  • Member location/language.
  • Member tenure.
  • Member type.
  • Member participation.
  • Member satisfaction.

You will usually notice segments of members which have lower or higher CDI. This is where you can focus your efforts to achieve the biggest impact. This is how you build a data-driven strategy.

In this example, you can see there are some groups which are doing well and should be grown, others which need to be improved, and some which may not be suitable for the community.

segmented performance graph

If you use a pop-up poll, you can also see if the AMI score changes by where the poll pops up within the community. You might even find the AMI score varies by the category of discussion people are viewing.

This suggests you can focus on specific features or categories to increase the CDI score.

 

What Impacts Your CDI Score?

Once you have a simple score to measure community success, you can start to measure everything you do against that score.

For example, if you’re changing the community platform, adding a new gamification program, hosting more events, introducing a new onboarding program, hiring more staff, or increasing the budget for the community, you can measure the success of all these things by looking at the Community-Driven Impact score.

Statistical buffs amongst you can also look run a multiple regression analysis to see which specific things most influence the community-driven impact score. This might include:

  • No. posts.
  • Average time to first response.
  • No. accepted solutions.
  • No. posts replied to by superuser
  • No. superusers
  • No. events
  • etc…

You can start to see what the statistically significant predictors of the CDI score are and use these as the primary targets to improve in your community strategy. Combine this with qualitative insights from member interviews and you should be able to build a clear picture of what you need to change in the community and why.

You might also discover much of what you’re doing doesn’t have any impact at all and you can halt those activities. You might also notice that other things are closely correlated and develop programs to change these metrics.

For example, if the number of superusers is strongly correlated with the average time to first response and the average time to first response is correlated with the CDI – you might place greater emphasis on recruiting superusers at the expense of other activities which don’t impact CDI.

 

Community-Driven Impact Sits At The Heartbeat Of A Data-Driven Community Strategy

data driven community

This is how you put together a genuinely data-driven community strategy.

There’s no guesswork or erroneous assumptions. You identify the target, examine what impacts that target, and develop the right programs to influence those factors.

There will also be some trial and error. All data is based upon some assumptions which are prone to error and bias. But it’s a process of trial and error which will always eventually land upon the right outcome.

By having a single metric to guide your efforts, you can identify what the results of the community should be and align all your actions to achieve that result.

If you want to learn more or have us set this up for you, drop us a line.

 

Resources

The Beginner’s Guide To Community Management

Today we’re launching The Beginner’s Guide To Community Management.

This is a project which has been some time in the making. Our goal has been to put together a resource which helps newcomers in the industry quickly get up to speed on the basics.

The guide covers:

  • What community management is (and isn’t)
  • What makes the community unique from other company activities
  • Which tools and software to use for a community.
  • What tasks should be undertaken daily, weekly, and monthly.
  • How best to engage members in a community.
  • What metrics matter (and which don’t).

We’ve also thrown in plenty of resources, frameworks, and examples to help us in the journey.

https://www.feverbee.com/guides/the-beginners-guide-to-community-management/

Whether you’re new to the industry or a veteran looking to brush up on the basics, this guide might help.

P.s. please also share it with anyone who might find it useful

This Is How You Identify Your Community’s Biggest Design Issues

The more research we do, the more I’m convinced most community professionals completely misunderstand how members use their sites and what they feel about them.

I say this having sat through hundreds of sessions where members show us how they use the community.

This misunderstanding leads to huge amounts of time being invested in improving aspects of the community experience that members really don’t care much about. Too much time, money, and resources are wasted which could be better invested in higher impact areas.

I want to share our approach to this problem and what we’ve learned from it.

 

Why The Current Approach To User Experience Is Inadequate

The current approach to developing a better community experience is woefully inadequate because of poor research.

Typically, a community person will speak to a few members, ask them what they like and don’t like, and then try to make improvements based on that. Often this leads to really random suggestions floating to the top of the priorities list.

I’ve seen more than a few organisations spending months revamping gamification programs, member profiles, and adding more groups because it came up in member interviews. Later they will wonder why this had no impact.

The problem is members are bad at describing what they want and need.

There is a much, much, better way to improve your community. But it also begins with having the right data to begin with.

 

Watch What Members Do, Not What They Say

Members are terrible at recalling a community experience and how they felt in the moment. Yet this is exactly the kind of information you need.

The secret then is to be there with them in the moment!

The way FeverBee approaches audience research these days is to sit with members and watch how they progress through a community.

I mean this in almost the most literal sense possible. You have to have members sharing their screens as they progress through the community – and ask them questions as they do.

There are several steps to this process.

  • Step 1) Build a list of members to speak to
  • Step 2) Send out the invites and schedule calls.
  • Step 3) Give them tasks to do and see how they do it.
  • Step 4) Identify and prioritise the issues.

Getting each of these steps right is important to understand how to get this process right.

Resource: Rocket Surgery Made Easy (read this – it outlines the process in detail!)

 

Step One – Building A List Of Members To Speak To

The common mistake is to interview the people you know best. These people are usually the most highly engaged members of the community.

The problem is they experience the community in a completely different way from your regular members.

You don’t want to just talk to your superusers, you want to talk to the people who aren’t superusers (yet). You want to build a list of members you can speak to which includes lurkers, newcomers, irregulars, and veterans.

If your community caters to multiple groups, you want that reflected in your research too. This is especially important if you’re dealing with developers, users, administrators etc…or those from diverse geographic locations.

A big word of warning here, don’t recruit people from places like userinterview.com.

While having a group of random people review a site can give you some interesting insights, they won’t behave the way your members do. They won’t begin with the goals and understanding of the topic.

Resource: Build your list of inteviewees

 

Step Two – The Outreach Email (a simple script)

A clumsy outreach email can undermine a good process.

The best outreach messages run along the lines of

“Hi [name],

I’m reaching out because we’re looking to improve our community efforts in the coming year and I’m hoping you might be willing to help.

We’re looking to get your experience on what is and isn’t working for you – and see how you experience the site. 

Would you be willing to spend 30 minutes speaking with [person]? 

No worries if can’t, but it would really help us if you can”

The goal is to keep it personal and low-pressure. We also try not to over-automate the process. We could easily add a calendly link in the first email, but then it would seem less like instruction and not seeking consent.

If we receive a positive response, we can then follow up with….

“That’s great, thank you so much! 

To save time going back and forth, would you mind booking any slot that works for you using this link:

[Calendlylink here]

During the call, we would love to sit and follow how you explore the community in real-time and get your thoughts as you go. You don’t need to prep anything.

Let me know if you have any questions.”

This lets people select a time slot that works for them. Make sure this is connected to a Zoom link too so people can easily participate.

This process has to be friendly, personalised, and solicit their consent before making requests of members to do something.

If you don’t get a response to initial messages, you can add a $20 gift voucher and see if that works. But we’ve usually found we don’t need to do that. Most people are interested in sharing their thoughts and feeling appreciated.

Resource: Calendly (for easy scheduling of interviews)

 

Step Three – Tasks For Members To Participate In

The next critical set is to give the right instructions for members. These calls are typically 30 minutes long (any longer and we find the acceptance rate drops sharply!).

During this process, it’s important to give members specific tasks to do which reflect what you know most members come to the community to do.

Sure, having members casually browse the site and highlight what they like or don’t like is interesting. You might pick up a few pointers. But this isn’t how most people behave. Most people visit the site to do something specific. There’s a certain mindset which is associated with that.

Here are some of the best examples:

  • “You’re looking to solve [common problem], how would you go about doing it? Why did you go there? Why not the community?
  • “You want advice on the best equipment to use to [achieve goal], how would you do it?”
  • “You landed on a discussion page and didn’t find the answer, where would you go next?”
  • “You want to ask a question, how would you do it?”
  • “You want to find information about [common issue], where would you go?”
  • “You’ve noticed an issue you want us to fix, how would you let us know about it?”
  • “There’s something you want changed about our products, how would you tell us about it”

Now watch what members do as they go about solving these problems.

You will quickly get a sense of the issues and how people go about their choices.

 

Task How frequent is this need? What did they do? Why did they do it? Any issues / notes?
Solve a product problem Monthly I search on Google It’s easiest place to get the best information Perceived community as too much effort to find the answer.
Find peers in my position Weekly LinkedIn It’s easier to search by job title. Haven’t seen this as an option
Find latest expertise Monthly Went to the company page and then latest product. Didn’t see any obvious place to get the information in the community. Release notes is hidden and the language is unclear.

 

You might also notice many of these problems might not begin in the community itself, they might begin elsewhere. People might search the documentation or browse the web for answers before visiting the community. These are also good insights to have and to understand their entire journey.

Resource: Interview Script

 

 

Don’t Reveal The Answer In The Question

Notice in the tasks above, we don’t use the common terminology of a community site. We don’t tell people to join groups, connect with others, ask questions, make feature suggestions etc.

If you do this, members simply scan the text and select the words you just gave them. This isn’t how people use the site. The goal isn’t to find out if members can find the community features you’ve named. The goal is to see if members can intuitively achieve their goals using the features the community presents to them.

You want to know if the terminology is right and if the features are positioned where members can see them, and which features members choose to use for which goals.

This is why we don’t tell people to log in to ask a question, we want to see if they figure it out.

This is also why we don’t use ‘feature suggestion’ and instead use “tell us about it”. They have to figure out which sections of the community best guide us to the answer.

 

Don’t Give People ‘Community-Focused’ Tasks

With some exceptions, most people don’t come to the community to do tasks like updating their profile, viewing the gamification score, or joining newcomer groups.

Asking people to do these tasks gives you pretty useless data. The tasks you give people to do should reflect what members want to do before they arrive at the community.

People often want answers to questions, to find people who can help them, and to find the information they need. You want to keep this relatively broad and see how people solve the issue.

 

Prompt People To Share Their Thinking

As you go through the process, you want to prompt members to share what they’re thinking at any given time.

You don’t need to do this every five seconds, but as you watch people try to solve a task they’re given, it’s a good time just to ask them to share what they’re thinking as they do it.

You might get answers like:

“Well I think I need to register, but I can only see a login button and not a register button.” 

This kind of information was useful because the company assumed everyone would realise that to register you simply click the login button. A simple change of text resolved this.

“I can’t be bothered to browse through so many navigation options, so I’m just going to search and see what comes up”

This suggests that the site is overwhelming and people will increasingly rely upon search to resolve their issues.

Another answer might be:

“This is the 4th page of the registration process, it’s really starting to get annoying. I just want to get going”

This was interesting for a client where the registration process was long and they were trying to overly prepare the member for the experience instead of just letting a member dive in and do what they wanted to do.

You don’t need to overdo this. I.e. asking people to do this every 10 seconds just gets annoying (and starts to seem a little insecure). But it’s a good idea to do this when you notice a pause or a moment of uncertainty.

It’s a good idea to use Otter AI or another transcription tool to automatically convert the discussions to text so you can others can analyse it with the recording later.

Resource: Otter AI

 

Step Four – Identify and Prioritise The Issues

As you begin seeing how members really use your site to solve issues, you start to notice the issues.

For example, you might notice no one is reading your onboarding messages and some areas of the community receive almost no clicks.

You might notice people struggle with the search function and often don’t find the answer they want.

In one client, we noticed that rather than browse the community, they would return to Google and search again for a related term with the community brand name and see the results.

You don’t need to do this alone. If you’ve recorded the sessions as you should be able to watch this with colleagues and get a real feel for how people use and experience your community.

List all of these by how critical the issue is.

Here’s a simple scale you can use.

  • 5 – Showstopper – immediately stops the user from progressing any further.
  • 4 – Critical – has a major negative impact on the member experience.
  • 3 – Annoyance – causes a strong negative reaction.
  • 2 – Frustration – causes mild frustration.
  • 1 – Drag – slows the user from achieving their goals.
Issue Cause Severity
The forgot password feature isn’t working. Uncertain why these emails aren’t going through 5
Community is overwhelming – people don’t know where to ask their questions. Too much information on the homepage. Unclear where members should go next. 4
Doesn’t realise the login option is also the registration option. The term ‘register’ isn’t used anywhere 4
Members can’t find the latest information about products. ‘Release notes’ isn’t a term members are familiar with. 3
Registration process takes too much time to progress through. Too many pages have slowed this process down. 3
Members can’t find the posts they’ve recently made. There’s no natural path outside of member profiles to find posts a member has made. 2
Members are unable to connect with people like themselves. There’s no easy way for members to search a member directory by attributes 1

This is just an example, but you get the idea. The majority of issues here are now ranked and can be resolved.

 

Step Five – Prioritise By Effort and Impact

Now we have a prioritised list of issues, we can start thinking about the solutions to each of these issues.

At this stage, you may need to ask around, spend time talking to developers or your platform vendor, and see how other communities have addressed the issue (or get consultancy support).

For each of the issues you identify, you want to know the solution and how much effort the solution will require. You can develop any scale you like, but we prefer a scale such as:

Time Money Misc
1 – Maximum effort 6+ months $50k+ Procurement required or info sec review needed.
2 – High Effort 3 to 6 months $10k to $50k Vendor support required.
3 – Significant Effort 1 to 3 months $1k to $10k Developer needed.
4 – Low Effort 1 to 30 days $100 to $1k Admin support needed
5 – Minimal Effort Less than a day $0 Can personally implement

 

Notice we have inversed the scale here (5 was highest for severity but lowest for effort). This is because we want to prioritise the tasks which give the biggest impact for the least effort.

Now we can put the solutions and prioritised list together.

 

Issue Solution Severity Effort Priority score
Doesn’t realise the login option is also the registration option. Easy tweak to login/register. 4 5 9
The forgot password feature isn’t working. Needs a developer to review the process and resolve it. 5 3 8
Community is overwhelming – people don’t know where to ask their questions. Need a revamp of the community homepage with separate instances for members depending upon profile data. 4 2 6
Members can’t find the posts they’ve recently made. Need to show members the recent posts they’ve made on the homepage when they visit and in the member profile. 2 4 6
Members can’t find the latest information about products. Need a separate signposted area on the homepage and on discussion pages. 3 3 6
The registration process takes too much time to progress through. Need to reduce redundant pages and reduce the information we ask from members. 3 2 5
Members are unable to connect with people like themselves. Need to create a member directory and solicit metadata from members. 1 2 3

 

Now we have a prioritised list of issues identified, potential solutions, and the level of effort required to resolve them. This is something you can use when you build your community roadmap.

You can add and change this over time, but it’s always a good idea to do it.

 

Counter-Intuitive Discoveries You Should Know

In the time we’ve been doing this for clients, we’ve made some discoveries which seem to apply to most communities. So here’s a cheat sheet of things you might want to think about when developing your own community experiences.

  1. The majority of visitors read almost nothing. The overwhelming majority of visitors won’t read more than 2 to 3 words on your homepage. They scan to find the ‘thing’ of interest and then jump to that. You should reduce static homepage text to a minimum.
  2. Members really struggle to follow conversations. Members really want to find the discussions they’ve participated in previously (to check for updates), but they often struggle to do so. They forget what category they posted in and can’t find it from the homepage. This is a huge frustration. It needs to be dead simple for members to find a list of discussions they’ve participated in.
  3. Members switch to a different site quickly. Rather than spending just 5 to 10 seconds trying to get your SSO or two-factor authentication to work, they’re more likely to switch to a different site to find what they need. It’s just too much effort. Sites which have a tendency to log people out often for security reasons cough Salesforce cough struggle with this most.
  4. Most people make a couple of searches for the answer. Asking a question is usually a last resort. Most people with a question will make a few searches and then publish a question.
  5. Members post questions in multiple places. People care more about getting an answer than where they get an answer. Around 50% of people seem to post questions in the community and support at the same time.
  6. Average visitors browse the homepage for 5 to 10 seconds. The average person wants to feel a sense of progress. They browse a homepage for 5 to 10 seconds and then click on something (anything), to feel a sense of momentum. People hate feeling stuck.
  7. Only a tiny percentage of regulars scan the latest discussions. This really surprised us. Despite the common practice of putting the latest questions at the top of the homepage, very few people scan them. Most consider them irrelevant to their problems right now.
  8. Members browse top-level navigation before searching. Most members view what’s in the top-level navigation and click the word that most closely resembles what they’re looking for. What appears in the navigation and how the navigation is structured is critical. Members must be easily able to browse for what they need.
  9. Almost nobody seems to look at the leaderboards. Even the people on the leaderboards don’t seem to look at them often. This is especially the case for static leaderboards based upon cumulative activity since launch as opposed to monthly leaderboards or the past 30 days.
  10. No one reads the welcome message. It really doesn’t matter what appears in the welcome message unless people are confused about the nature of the site. If they don’t understand the community itself, they might glance at the welcome message to comprehend what it’s about. But these are very rare situations.
  11. No one reads the code of conduct. Theoretically, you could put terms and conditions you like in there and people would still agree to it. Although, interestingly, they will read articles titled “The Five Rules Of [community]”. So, maybe give it more of a Fight Club vibe?
  12. Popular discussions. Members generally like seeing the list of popular discussions in a community. This list works best on individual discussion pages as much as on the homepage. However, once a member has seen the list once, they dislike seeing the same discussions again.
  13. Related discussions matter a lot – but only in high-volume communities. At low volume, the related discussions usually aren’t relatable enough. They simply appear because something has to appear.
  14. Recent activity really, really, matters. If the community seems dead, few people ask questions. Recent activity labels are far more important than any static copy/text on the page. No one can recall the liveliness statistics, but they might build up into a more subconscious understanding of how busy the community is.

Even these findings – most of which surprised us – are really only the tip of the iceberg.

The more research you do (with an open mind) the more interesting discoveries you will make.

As long as you’re willing to sacrifice some sacred cows, you can rapidly improve your community experience by following the member journey.

 

Get FeverBee To Undertake Your UX Research

If you don’t have the time or experience doing UX research, we can certainly help. It’s a service we’ve done for many clients and we’ve been able to show rapid improvements.

In this capacity, we can do deep benchmarking of your community experience, undertake interviews with a range of members, and build a detailed list of improvements.

If you like, we can also take this a step further and undertake the design and development work ourselves to bring the community up to the highest possible standard.

If you want help, you can click here to contact us.

 

Resources

Brand Communities Change Customer Attitudes – Here’s How You Prove It

It’s possible to prove the value of community by showing how behaviour is changed.

For example, you can show the impact of a community upon retention, call reduction, or some other behavioural metric.

The problem is it’s really damned hard and you’re never going to have a satisfactory result.

The simplest way to show the value of a community isn’t to prove people behave differently – but people think differently.

It’s a lot easier to measure meaningful changes in member attitudes than meaningful changes in member behaviour.

 

Where Does The Real Value Of Community Show Up?

Another way of thinking about this is to consider where the real value of community shows up.

Take the incredible volume of customers you support. Most people measure this using ‘call deflection’. But a growing body of data shows that people are asking questions in several channels at once and they often ask questions in a community they wouldn’t bother calling support for.

It’s not right to measure this in deflection dollars. But where it will show up is in how people feel about using the products. If they get better results, feel more satisfied, or get unstuck quicker – that shows up in their attitudes.

And this is the most direct benefit of a community – it changes member attitudes.

It’s often quite tragic changes in attitudes aren’t measured. Attitudes drive behaviour.

If you can change the attitude, you can change the behaviour.

 

What Attitudes Can We Measure?

Let’s imagine you went to your boss tomorrow and presented real, live, data that showed, that since joining your community, members have significantly improved satisfaction with products and the likelihood to recommend you to others.

Imagine you could show your community really moved the needle in how people feel about you and your brand and future purchase intent? That’s a powerful metric. Imagine the associations they have with your brand have changed in a more positive way?

Or, for the golden ticket, imagine you could show that brand preference has markedly increased vs. any competitors. Now members consider your brand superior on a range of different attributes.

Or, if you’re working for a non-profit, imagine you could definitively prove that a member’s quality of life scores have increased. Perhaps you could also show they now feel they are better prepared to handle whatever circumstance they find themselves in since joining your community?

In more specific terminology, we often use terms like:

  • Member Satisfaction. (CSAT)
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS)
  • Quality of life (non-profits)
  • Brand attitude
  • Brand perception
  • Brand preference

But it all rolls up into the same key measure – attitudes have changed.

This is the kind of data that is a lot easier to get and far harder to ignore.

 

How Do We Measure A Change In Attitudes?

You probably know the common problem with any metric you want to change by now.

You can easily show any community members score higher in almost any metric than non-members. It’s a lot harder to show it’s the community that caused the metric to be higher.

For example, how do you not know it was simply your best and most loyal customers who joined the community in the first place? Establishing any kind of causal relationship which removes the possible presence of confounding variables is difficult.

But these are some relatively simple solutions. They’re not expensive, but they do take time and you need to be careful with setting up the process correctly.

 

Option 1 – The Controlled Trial

The best solution is to do a controlled test. This is hard to do but it’s not impossible. In this approach, you would segment non-participants at random into two groups. You can send an email to one group with an invitation to join the community and track the results against the other group.

Or, better, only enable one group to see/join the community and not the other group.

In practice, however, this is problematic. For starters, it’s damned hard to stop people from seeing the community. You would have to remove it from search results and configure the technology for the community not to appear for a large group of members. Few organizations are keen on that. And even then you might only be measuring the differences in the characteristics of membership of each group.

If you can do a controlled test, great. But if you can’t, I’d suggest a simpler method…

 

Option 2: Gather Data When Members Join

The reason why few can measure the results of the community is they only collect data based on their timeline instead of the members’ timeline.

It’s a little like – ‘hey it’s October! Time to run our survey!

But there’s nothing particularly special about October (or any month of the year) which is especially good to run a survey. In fact, you’re very likely to bias the outcome by limiting your survey to once a month.

This is why it’s far better to measure member behaviour by their tenure. Specifically, a member hits a certain milestone, it’s a good idea to hit them up with a quick survey to measure their attitudes.

The most important of these milestones is when members join! If you get a baseline attitude survey when members join, you can compare it with later surveys and estimate the results. If you ask the same questions again a year later, you get to see the impact of the community.

 

Why It’s Critical To Capture Member Data When They Join

Let me share an example of why capturing member attitudes when they join is so important.

Last year, I worked with a client whose community reported the lowest NPS of any customer support channel. We’re talking deep in the toilet low!

The community team was getting a lot of criticism for the poor performance of the community.

But was it the community’s fault? 

We began doing some exploring. It soon became clear the community was simply attracting the most frustrated members. These were members who had had negative experiences in other channels and were turning to the community as a last resort.

They had the lowest attitude scores before they even joined the community!

The community was still helping these customers. But they often had problems for which there wasn’t a solution. The community helped them realize that. They weren’t happy about it – but at least they could keep looking.

The problem was no one had taken the time to capture members’ attitudes upon joining. They had no idea if the community had improved the results or not.

(aside – and remember here people who have a negative experience tell several times as many as people. Preventing negative word of mouth is a huge benefit).

Now imagine if they had captured the NPS, CSAT, or other scores when members had joined and could compare progress 6 to 12 months later. You can start to get a sense of the impact of the community.

 

Communities Naturally Attract Members Who Like You More

For example, in the graph below, you can see how much the NPS scores vary by each category of members. For example, avg. non-members today, avg. non-members last year, average new members a year ago, avg. new members today. As you can see here.

graph showing how Communities Naturally Attract Members Who Like You More

This is interesting data, but it doesn’t really show the impact of the community. It more likely shows that people with higher NPS scores might be more likely to join a community and those who like the brand most stay in the community for longer.

What we need to know is the difference between non-members and first-year members over the same time frame. This is where the data starts to get interesting, as you can see below.

graph showing difference between non-members and first year members

The NPS varies (remarkably wildly) from one month to the next. But over the course of the year it appears that community members appear to have a higher difference over that same time frame. You can see this here:

graph showing impacts of Community driven change

Sure there is plenty of variability, but there’s a clear trendline here. Community drives a higher NPS score.

It’s worth noting this isn’t 100% conclusive.

You might simply be measuring the people within each cohort who bothered to complete a survey a year later – people who might naturally be more predisposed to completing a survey. However, by using random survey sampling and offering a small incentive, you should be able to overcome much of that.

This is often known as the ‘difference in differences’ approach. You compare groups and track the impact over time as you see below.

Quick caveat here, if you’re working with a tiny community, this might not work for you. You probably can’t get enough responses without offering some substantial incentives. But for any community which has more than a few thousand members, you should be able to undertake a rotating study and show the results.

 

How Do We Measure Results?

Before we measure the results, let’s understand what we’re measuring here. Metrics like Net Promoter Score (NPS) and Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) have been extensively covered before.

Let’s focus on the three lesser-known attitudinal metrics we want to cover. Ones which are real game-changers for organizations.

Brand Perception

I think of Apple as stylish, easy to use, and expensive.

I think of Logitech as basic, functional, and simple.

I think of Google as useful, friendly, and accessible.

You probably have (very) different perceptions of all three.

But we aggregate the results from a large enough group of people and you will soon start to build a great understanding of how people perceive of each brand.

These perceptions matter a lot. They are a leading indicator of future purchase intent, retention, and likelihood to promote the community.

So imagine your community could profoundly change how people perceive your brand.

Imagine if when members joined the community they used terms like confusing, overwhelming, and fiddly. Then a year later they used terms like automated, supportive, and comprehensive.

In less than a year, you can show you have completely changed members’ attitudes about your brand.

This is incredibly valuable data which too few people ever measure.

 

Brand Preference

Perhaps the only thing more valuable than changing perceptions is changing preferences.

Brand preference is where you compare your brand against those of a selected group of direct and indirect competitors and get feedback from your members on how they rate each of you. It’s one of the most common and powerful impacts of community – but few people ever try to measure it!

Imagine you can go to your boss tomorrow and say because of your community, members have now increased preference of your brand against competitors by xx% points. Or perhaps they simply associate your brand with more positive terms than any competitor.

If you can show that 10,000 people have improved their preference for your brand since being in the community, it becomes a no-brainer to try and get as many people engaged in the community as possible.

Aside, the other major benefit of this kind of research is you get a unique insight into how people think and feel about your brand. I’m often amazed that organizations don’t constantly do these kinds of surveys given just how remarkable the results tend to be. You can provide your marketing and PR teams with precisely the terms they need to use and messaging to deploy to achieve the results they want.

Second aside, you can also take this a step further and measure the relationship between brand preference and purchases in the future to see exactly how strong this connection is.

 

The Danger of Measuring Brand Attitudes

Let’s quickly highlight an obvious danger of measuring member attitudes.

The obvious danger is the results might show you member attitudes declined since joining the community. On the surface, this suggests the community is having a negative impact.

This is a risk, but even if it is true, you 100% want to know this!

Once you have this data, you can begin interviewing members and drilling a bit deeper into your data to determine the precise cause.

For example, you might find it’s a specific segment of members having a negative experience.

In one client, when we drilled deeper into the data, we found it was people having issues with one particular product line. They were never likely to the solution they wanted because there wasn’t a feasible solution to the major problems they were raising. They felt they were wasting their time on the community and we were seeing hundreds of questions go unanswered.

We came up with a simple solution. If the community couldn’t help with these kinds of issues, it shouldn’t support these kinds of issues. We directed these questions directly to other support channels and closed down this section. Any time you notice the community is doing more harm than good, you can figure out why and take action.

 

What About Non-Profit Communities?

This might all sound good if you work for a typical business, but what if you’re working for a non-profit? Does any of this apply to you?

I’d argue it applies more to non-profits than any other organization. The only difference is you’re measuring different attitudes. Instead of looking at brand attitudes, you’re looking at more representative metrics such as quality of life, increased capacity, or overall confidence in managing their circumstances.

A Quality of Life Survey, for example, can show the impact of community across a range of well-being factors such as health, relationships, finances, and overall life satisfaction. Sometimes the impact of a community might appear in places you don’t expect.

 

Setting Up The Survey (Or Poll)

You can set up a survey to capture data both before and after someone has joined a community.

Ideally, you want to have the same people participating in surveys each year. A 1-year frame can work.

One way of doing this is offering a small incentive if they participate in the survey when they join and then offering them a larger one if they complete the survey a year later. Another option is simply to compare the average of newcomers vs. veterans and assume nothing else changed during this time period.

 

Questions For All Surveys

You can adapt these to your situation and environment. You may want to ask additional identifier questions about the type of customer or individual so you can drill deeper into the data later. You might ask questions about the type of products purchased, gender, age, location etc…

Typically the key questions should include:

Q. For approximately how long have you been visiting the community?

(This helps you to separate members who have just joined from those who have been around for a while. If you’re triggering the survey by member tenure in the community you can skip this question)

Q. How would you rate your overall satisfaction with [the product/community]?

  • Very unsatisfied // Unsatisfied // Neutral // Satisfied // Very satisfied

(This is a question which can help establish overall satisfaction with the community environment. You can skip it if you’ve got too many questions, but it can help establish if the community is driving an improvement in results)

Q. If you would like to receive [discount/benefit], please enter your email address below

(This is simply a tracking question to be included at the end. It helps you identify who is participating in the survey and match it up to your customer database. Sometimes you don’t need this, but it’s usually useful to be able to follow up with people who took the survey the previous year)

 

Example Questions For Brand-Attitude Surveys

If you’re running a survey on brand attitudes, you might ask a combination of the following questions.

(NPS qs.) Q. On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend [brand] to a friend/colleague?

This is the standard NPS question. 

(brand perception qs) Q. On a scale of 1 to 10, Please rate how well each of the following traits describes our brand.

List of traits here. This might include a mix of attitude and behavioural traits. For example:

  • Value for money.
  • Broadest feature set.
  • Better quality than other brands.
  • Innovative.
  • Caters to my unique needs.
  • Easy to set up and use.
  • Great customer support.
  • Great documentation.
  • The staff seems friendly and supportive.

You can add any set of attributes you like here which people can use to evaluate your brand. Try to be as specific as possible. 

Aside – An alternative approach begins with the attributes you want to learn more about and asks members to select which brand most relates to which attribute. This is useful if you know specific attributes are most important.

Resource: Brand Perception Questions

(brand preference qs) Q. Before purchasing from [brand], which other organizations did you consider?

This is good for knowing who you should be comparing against and you can then program each of these options to appear in the evaluative set to ensure you’re not asking people to compare brands they never considered. 

(brand preference qs) Q. How important or unimportant were the following factors in your decision to purchase from [brand] rather than any other brand?

  • Extremely important
  • Very important
  • Moderately important
  • Slightly important
  • Not at all important
  • No opinion

This question will help you identify the key factors which drove the purchase decision. List the most likely factors here and include a rating scale along the lines of

(brand preference) Q. What (if anything) might make you switch to a competitor? 

You can also suggest possible answers and add an open text box. But it’s generally better to let members complete the answers themselves. 

(brand preference) Q. Which brands would you most associate with the following attributes

  • Value for money.
  • Strong customer support.
  • Comprehensive feature set.
  • Easy to use
  • Etc…

This is the critical question. It’s a direct comparison question where you use the relevant brands provided in the previous answer to populate answers for people to complete. Zero in here on the attributes which you feel best drive purchasing behaviour – you can use the answers from above. 

Resource: Brand Preference Questions

 

Example Questions For Non-Profits

Developing questions for non-profits is a little trickier. Every non-profit supports a different circumstance and ideally, questions should best address that circumstance. This may include:

[non-profits] Q. How would you rate your ‘confidence to handle [circumstance]?

  • Not confident at all
  • Slightly confident
  • Moderately confident
  • Somewhat confident
  • Very confident

This is the simplest question to use. It provides a simple snapshot answer where people can rate their level of confidence on a single scale and you can track results over time. You should be able to see precisely the impact of the community. 

[non-profits] Q. How would you rate [quality of life, mental health, physical health, social life etc..] over the past 4 weeks?

  • Poor
  • Fair
  • Good
  • Very good
  • Excellent

You can repeat this question with several variations above to capture the full impact of the community across a range of factors. This lets you identify where the community has shown results in areas where you might otherwise not expect. You can go further to deploy a full quality of life survey using the resource below. 

Resource: Quality of Life Questions

Resource: Writing Survey Questions

 

Next Steps

Behaviour is primarily driven by attitudes. Your community shapes and influences those attitudes in a major way. You’ve probably had countless interactions which you know have had a major impact on your audience – and you probably haven’t tracked the outcome of those interactions.

Notice we use the word ‘track’ rather than ‘measure’ here. Measuring gives you a snapshot of today. That’s interesting, but not very helpful. Tracking attitudes over time will help you understand and prove the impact of your community.

Imagine how powerful it is to have results like this to share with colleagues:

However, if you want this to work you have to set up the data properly. You have to prepare the dataset today for the results you want to show tomorrow (or 6 to 12 months from now).

When execs are against the community, they often dismiss the ROI data which can be complicated and prone to all sorts of attribution issues. However, it’s harder to dismiss attitude data – especially when it’s been properly collected and analysed

Here are some simple next steps

  1. Decide which attitudes you’re going to track.
  2. Setup the survey questions and test the survey on a small audience.
  3. Setup the survey to trigger members based upon tenure (time in or no. visits to the community).
  4. Automatically pull the data into a visualisation tool (Tableau, Looker, PowerBI etc..)
  5. Drill into the results to determine which segments/factors most impact the results.

 

Let FeverBee Calculate Your Attitude Change Score

All of the above takes a lot of effort to set up and ensure the data is collected properly. This is where FeverBee can take care of the process for you. We’ve worked with plenty of clients to measure and analyse the impact of their communities.

We can take on the entire process and simply provide you with the data you need to prove the value of your community.

If you want help, drop us a line.

 

Key Takeaways

  1. It’s easier to measure meaningful changes in attitudes than behavior.
  2. Track attitudes over time – especially when people join.
  3. Brand perception, brand preference, and quality of life are valuable data points to have.

 

Resources

 

What Is A Login, Post, Or Download Worth In A Community? (An Analysis by FeverBee)

It’s incredibly hard to prove the value of a community.

Unless you have the time, expertise, willpower, and capabilities to do a controlled trial; most data analyses establish a relationship. The direction of that relationship (and whether there are confounding variables) is often left unexplored.

However, this doesn’t mean you can’t gather some really interesting insights. You may not be able to definitively prove the value of the community, but you can estimate the possible value of the community using statistically valid methods.

 

Pragmatic Institute Needed Help To Measure Their Community

In March 2022, The Pragmatic Institute hired us to help them determine the ROI of their community.

The Pragmatic Institute is a provider of expert training for Data, Design, and Product Teams. The Pragmatic Institute primarily sells to organizations – that often subscribe multiple staff members to courses at any given time.

To support their work, they created an online community hosted by Higher Logic. The community was popular and active. Members were clearly getting value from participating in the community. However, it had proven difficult to show whether engaging in the community led to more sales or better outcomes for The Pragmatic Institute.

FeverBee was tasked with answering three key questions:

1) What is the connection between community participation and the number of courses taken?

2) How might community activity impact training revenue?

3) What kind of community behavior should be encouraged to improve the metrics above?

 

Methodology

feverbee community methodology

Step One: Preparing the dataset

The first step of the process was to build a proper database.

We began by preparing the three datasets:

1) The dataset of Pragmatic users from Salesforce.
2) The community activity dataset from Higher Logic
3) The sales data from Salesforce.

Like many organizations, member and customer data was scattered across multiple channels.

The community was hosted on Higher Logic which contained all the engagement-level data. Purchase data lived in one set of Salesforce reports while course completion data lived in another.

To make things even more challenging, the individuals who took the courses weren’t usually the people who paid for them. Finally, the data often contained inconsistencies in how the names of organizations were recorded. Sometimes acronyms were used, other times the entire name was used.

Over several weeks, we cleaned the data, identified and resolved missing variables, and analyzed the outcomes.

 

Step Two: Running comparisons

Next, we began running comparisons between different segments of members. This included comparing active members with inactive members. We also compared members who have engaged in the community with those that didn’t.

When variables had a sufficient distribution, we performed linear regressions to look for a linear relationship between behavior and revenue generated per organization. We also grouped members by the number of posts they had made to determine if a specific number of engagements was associated with an increased probability of future sales (this is known as ordinal regression)

 

Step Three: Presenting Results

Once we had undertaken this analysis, we examined and visualized the results to estimate the potential value of the community. This is what we found…

 

What Is The Pragmatic Community Worth?

How Much Is A Community Worth?

Overall, almost every behavior was associated with greater revenue.

  • Active members (>1 post) generated 21% more revenue than inactive members.
  • Members who make at least one post contribute 44% more revenue.
  • Members who make at least one thread contribute 35% more revenue.
  • Members who log in to the community at least once contribute 21% more revenue.
  • Members who have replied to at least 1 direct message contribute 38% more revenue.
  • Members who contribute a document contribute 38% more revenue.
  • Members who download a document contribute 20% more revenue.
  • The more frequently members log in, the greater the revenue they generate.

By our calculations, community participation was associated with over $1.5m in additional revenue.

 

Which Behaviors Were Most Valuable?

It’s one thing to know the value of the community, it’s another to dive a little deeper to determine which behaviors are more important in driving that behavior.

In our case, we wanted to know which community behaviors increased the probability of members taking an additional course.

Here the data showed three important metrics.

Community - which behaviors were most valuable?

  • Replying to a DM increased the probability of taking an additional course by 16%.
  • Creating a document increased the probability of taking an additional course by 23%
  • Creating a thread increased the probability of taking an additional course by 201%

 

Setting Priorities

The probability of taking a future course was directly related to downloading documents, creating threads, and replying to direct messages.

This helped set some clear and specific strategic priorities within the community.

These priorities included:

  • Encouraging members to create threads
  • Creating more documents to download.
  • Getting more responses from members.

 

The Value Of Community Intelligence

There are far too many community teams who know their community is incredibly valuable but are unable to prove it.

As we’ve seen with the Pragmatic Institute, even if your data is scattered across several channels, we’re still able to combine this data and evaluate the impact of the community upon revenue, attitudes, and almost any other desired outcome.

If you can clearly define the variables, you can usually measure them. Better yet, we are able to specifically show which behaviors are most important and should be encouraged in the community at the expense of others.

As we’ve seen before, this helps you build a solid community strategy.

Once you can prove the value of the community through statistically valid methods, it becomes a lot easier to gain both internal validation and additional support.

If you know your community has value but you’re not able to definitively prove it yet, I’d suggest getting help from our community intelligence services.

Have You Prepared Your Community For These Powerful Trends?

History is littered with organizations (and entire industries) that failed to adapt until it was too late.

The community industry isn’t immune from this fate. Many of us are using community technology and offering experiences that really haven’t changed much over the past decade (or two).

But now major forces are emerging which will permanently change the experience we need to offer our members. If we don’t adapt fast enough, we risk consigning ourselves to irrelevance. It’s time to update our technology roadmap, and do it fast.

 

The Major Forces Shaping The Future of Community Technology

To figure out what should be on your community technology roadmap, we first need to know what the big trends are and why they’re relevant.

Everyone will have their own opinions, but I think these are the ones that really stand out to us.

macros trends in communities

Some of the above are critical trends already impacting our work on a day-to-day level, others are slow-boiling micro-trends that might affect us in the future (and we need to prepare for them now).

 

What Are The Short, Medium, And Long-Term Community Tech Implications?

Every trend above will impact your community technology needs in a different way.

It’s hard to predict the exact impact of each trend, but based upon our best guess, we would advise clients to consider the following updates to their community experience:

community technology roadmapWe’ll explore each of these in detail below:

 

Short-term Implications (within the year)

This section includes the improvements which should be on your roadmap to complete within the year. These are generally inexpensive and don’t require a huge amount of time and resources to implement.

 

Build A Better Community Dataset

Community professionals have been grumbling about the analytics of community vendors for decades. The complaints tend to fall in two areas. Either the vendor doesn’t show the data the client wants to see or the client can’t pull the data from the vendor into another platform. The reality is vendors will never provide the analytical insights many clients want. It’s simply not what they’re set up to do.

But two things are changing now. The first is the rise of community intelligence tools like CommonRoom and Orbit. These have some useful features like creating cohorts based upon member behaviors, being able to instantly get a picture of how the community is doing, and easily export the data into a CSV.

Another major benefit is they help create better datasets which combine social media data with community data. We might argue whether social media ‘is community’, but in countless surveys and member interviews over the years, we often hear responses like:

“Yes, I participate in the community on Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, and sometimes the forums”

Members have already defined it for us. It makes sense to offer a united, connected, experience. A top member in the community shouldn’t be treated like a newcomer on social media channels (and vice-versa). Better yet, having this data lets you build a more comprehensive picture of who your audience are and what they want.

The first step then is to select and utilize one of the two community intelligence tools above. Now you can integrate the accounts. Orbit premium even has a partnership with Clearbit which will let you enrich your dataset from LinkedIn and other channels.

You should be able to have a detailed dataset which includes:

  • Member name
  • Email
  • Location
  • Company
  • Job title
  • Twitter
  • Twitter followers
  • Discord
  • Community vendor username
  • Slack username
  • Language
  • Activities
  • First activity
  • Last activity
  • Date created

This will be the first step to creating a ‘dream’ community dataset we’ll discuss later. For now, you should have this data to hand.

 

Better Engage Newcomers

Community platforms generally don’t do a good job of helping you engage newcomers. You can either send out an automated message to the many (or series of messages) or use the first post notifier present in some platforms to welcome members when they make the first post.

The problem is neither is especially effective. That’s partly because of the nature of the issue. In support communities, most people don’t want to do anything other than get an answer. Bombarding them with poor interruptive messages won’t help. Instead split your audience into two groups.

1) People who joined more than a week ago and didn’t participate.

2) People who made their first post in the community.

This is easy to do in either of the two community intelligence tools.

For the newcomer non-participants, send them a message along the lines of:

“Hi [name],

I noticed you joined our community last week but haven’t been involved much yet.

Is there anything you’re looking to learn? People you want to connect with? Or anything else that would help? Just let me know.

We also have a group for newcomers who want to quickly get up to speed. It might be useful!”

Aside – we’ve noticed when people have a direct interaction with the community manager, they’re far more likely to engage in the community.

For the people who made their first post in the community, send them a message along the lines of:

“Hi [name],

Did you get the answer you wanted from [question]?

If you have a second, it would really be nice if you can let the person who offered a solution know if they solved your problem or not.

This also helps others who read your question know if the solution worked or not (and helps our product developers too know what to fix!)

You can also mark the question as an ‘accepted solution’ by using the tag at the top of the page.

Thanks!

P.s. If you’re just getting started, you’re also now welcome to join our group just for newcomers who want to quickly get up to speed.”

See: Tripling Member Retention

If you’re worried that this isn’t sustainable, engage your volunteers to help you.

 

Identify Current And Future Top Members

There’s a lot of academic literature which predicts who the top members of the future will be. As a general rule, it’s people who make multiple contributions on multiple posts quickly after signing up to the community.

You can set up a filter in CommonRoom for example for members who joined within the previous 28 days and are in the top 1% of active members (or you can set an exact number of topics/replies they need to give).

community filters

Each month you can reach out to members in this segment and see if they want to be more involved in the community and check their level of expertise. You don’t have to boost them straight up to an MVP level, but you can give them smaller tasks to see if they might be a good fit.

This can be a very gentle message to let them know they’ve been seen and recognised. For example:

“Hi [name],

I really loved your post about [topic] last week.

Did you find [clarification question]?

I think our members might really benefit from learning more from your experiences. Would you be interested in being more involved in the community?

I’m thinking it might be great to have you [run a group, write a regular blog, host a meetup, be responsible for a topic]?

Let me know if you’re interested. I’m happy to speak further”.

The goal is to build up a pool of potential MVPs you can bring into the program once they’ve shown they have the expertise and the right personality to engage in the community.

 

Reactivate Members Who Are Drifting Away

This is one of the best uses of community intelligence tools right now.

You can identify which members were previously highly engaged and drop them a personal note. Don’t try to automate this. Top members are too important. Instead, you can use a message like that below to find out a) why they departed and b) to gather their input on a topic

“Hi [name],

Haven’t seen you in the community in a while, I hope you’re doing ok?

If you have time, I’d love to get your expertise on a question/event/issue we have in the community.

@username is trying to [question]. Given your experience in [topic], I thought you might be able to help. No worries if you’re swamped, but any thoughts would be appreciated”

The key points from the message above is it’s personal, it’s undemanding, and tries to make the member feel like an expert for the experience they have within the community.

Both CommonRoom and Orbit will let you find members who were previously in the top 25% of active members and are now drifting away. You can even setup alerts to make this a weekly practice for the community team.

 

Eliminate Most Automated Emails

A quick aside on automated messages here.

Of all the new things you can do with community intelligence tools, automated emails are the most overrated. It’s certainly possible to design complex automation processes to appeal to every segment of your audience and reflect their past contributions.

In practice, automated emails rarely have any significant impact. At best, people ignore the emails. At worse, they begin to ignore the source of the emails altogether. Automated emails are not the silver bullet you might imagine.

You can safely remove nearly all of them and not see any negative impact.

 

Kill Your Customisations

Customisations are a lot like buying a boat.

The two best days are when you get them and when you ditch them.

The dates in between are largely filled with a lot of stress. They’re difficult to maintain and you never quite seem to get it to work the way you want it to. Even if they do, they’re rarely as widely used as you think they will be. Whenever possible, kill the customisations. They’re not worth the bother.

As no-code/low-code options increase, drag and drop options will replace coding and more complex technical developments. You may want to hold back on a big relaunch for a while. If you really need a specific feature (and believe me, you probably don’t), you can find a tool that does the feature really well and send people there. Don’t try and make two things fit together which really weren’t designed for one another.

If you have painful customisations, consider phasing them out in favor of dedicated technologies.

 

Intermediate-Term (within 1 to 3 years)

This section covers some of the improvements which will require additional time, resources, and some difficult decisions. This involves setting the community up for a more challenging internal and external environment – one where security, data, and integrations are increasingly important.

 

Search And Destroy (or Remove)

The user experience of hosted community platforms is going to fall further and further behind that of mainstream social media. Given the choice of where to participate, people will choose the big social media platforms. They’re simply slicker, less concerned with strict security rules, and easier to use.

This means hosted community platforms are increasingly like Wikipedia. They’re clunkier and not as aesthetically pleasing as most web pages – but it’s the king of search traffic. Optimizing for search is going to be critical.

This means improving technical search and ensuring the community itself offers the best possible experience for people searching for information. A major part of this is archiving content no one visits anymore.

I’d suggest beginning with content/discussions which:

1) Attracted less than 10 visits in the past month.
2) Have received less than 2 posts in the past year.
3) Have been published more than 2 years ago.

Aside – the wild thing is most people don’t even consider search when deciding what platform to use. Yet, our experience suggests the platform has a big impact upon the level of search traffic you can expect. Budget $10k to $20k for search optimization.

 

Secure ISO27001 and SOC 2 Compliance

Infosec teams are gaining veto-rights on new and existing community platforms. Ensuring your platform is compliant is becoming an increasingly important issue. As fines for infosec breaches grow, compliance is going to become an increasingly big issue. This makes selecting a platform with high security requirements evermore important.

ISO27001 and SOC 2 are similar but not the same. The former is a set of standards which define an information security management system (ISMS), the latter is evidence that security management systems have been implemented and are functioning well.

Most of the major platforms are working on them. Generally speaking, the bigger the platform, the more likely it is to have the compliance certificates you need.

 

Create and Optimize Your Workflow (for high-volume communities)

You really shouldn’t be managing a high-volume community by the front-end (i.e. using the same interface every other member uses). It’s simply darned inefficient to manually click, reply, and/or delete posts. It also leads to important posts slipping through the cracks (i.e. new activity pushes posts to the top of the page as you scroll down).

It’s also terrible for escalating questions and issues to colleagues. I know too many community professionals who manually email discussion links to colleagues (usually product folks) and wait for an answer. That’s far too much effort.

Beyond a relatively low level, it makes sense to focus on choosing a platform (or developing a system) which enables an easy back-end process for engaging members and responding to discussions. This means having posts shown in a stream which can be filtered by a variety of criteria and allow for easy tagging, assignment, escalation, and approval of various discussions and content.

You can get an extremely hefty performance bump simply by choosing a platform with the right workflow or developing one manually.

 

Integrate with the CRM

Everyone wants to ‘integrate’ their community with other platforms, but it’s not often clear what that makes in practice. So it’s a good idea to get really specific about what that ‘integration’ means. Typically it means something on one platform doing something on the other (and vice-versa).

You might want some combination of the following functionality:

  • The community platform being able to create new contacts on the CRM.
  • The community platform to automatically update the CRM when a member updates their profile data (i.e. photo, name, email, company, location etc…)
  • To have a button that appears to admins alongside community posts that enables the post to be escalated as a support case in the CRM.
  • To have a button that appears to admins alongside member icons to create a ‘lead’ in the CRM for others to follow up on.
  • Add member activity feed data to records on the CRM.
  • Use CRM data to suggest tags in the community platform when members ask a question based upon the products/services they use.
  • Show community data on member records (date joined, date participated, last date participated, total number of posts, member rank etc…).
  • Show CRM data (i.e. courses completed) on member profiles.

This isn’t a comprehensive list, but it gives you an idea of what you might be looking for.

 

Added Language Accessibility

It’s almost nonsensical not to add language translation options to your community.

Members in one country should automatically see posts published in another language automatically translated for them (with the option to disable this if they like). Sure the translation might not be 100% perfect, but it would make the community accessible to people from around the world.

Given the advanced translation capabilities recently, this is a great option. We recently added this to a Discourse community. When combined with members’ locale data, it automatically translates posts into the language based upon where the people are participating from. This massively increases the accessibility of the community to people from around the world.

This alone could significantly increase engagement within the community.

 

Advanced Data Analytics And Automated Reporting

As we discussed here, we’re not even close to getting the level of insights and engagement we should be from our community platforms. Analytics will never be a great feature of platforms (but being able to easily pull the data into another platform should be).

You need to invest a significant percentage of your time and budget into getting good community intelligence. This usually means things like:

  • Automatically pulling community (and CRM) data into a data warehouse like Snowflake to clean and seamlessly use data across a variety of services.
  • Using tools like PowerBI and Tableau to automatically update and showcase your analytics.
  • Publish monthly ROI reports which shows current community value and predicts future metrics based upon previous trends.

You should be able to constantly show the impact of community upon retention, churn, sales, deflection, and in a variety of other areas. You should also be able to model the impact of, say, spending $50k on social ads to drive more people to the community or increasing the number of MVPs by 20 etc…

Even better, have a validated model (like the one below) which highlights how the benefits of a community are achieved and what the moderating variables are.

how do communities build ROI

You can use our community intelligence services to set this all up for you.

 

Long-Term Roadmap (3+ years)

This section covers where the long-term trends are heading and how best to harness them to deliver the best community experience for both members and the organization.

I’m far less certain about these areas than the former two – but that’s the nature of predicting long into the future.

 

AI-Assistance For Handling Problematic Content

For high-volume communities, you should have automated rules for handling problematic content. Some community platforms (e.g Discourse/Khoros etc…) have basic functions included which ban posts from members which are typed too quickly or published too soon after joining.

What we should be planning for is a system that learns how you handle flagged content and makes recommendations for you. The system should increasingly be able to make its own predictions about what content to remove and people to ban with an estimated degree of certainty. Now you might set upper and lower thresholds (say above 80% and below 20%) above which the suggested rule is automatically executed and below which it is not executed while you review those in the middle with a simple option to accept or reject the AI suggestion.

You can then skim through executed processes and correct any obvious errors.

 

Better Personalisation Based Upon Member Behaviors

The current personalisation options offered by major enterprise platforms are poor. Most people (from regions that share the same primary language) see the same view of the community as everyone else. This is because most major enterprise communities rely upon a forum format which really hasn’t changed much in 20+ years.

However, this also means members see a lot of content they have no interest in. However, social media platforms have shifted the trend towards more ‘feed-based’ formats which are personalized to the member-based upon a combination of:

a) What’s broadly popular on the platform today.
b) What’s popular amongst friends/connections of the visitor.
c) What’s likely to be popular based upon past member behaviors/interests/what we know about the member.

For example, if you know what products members own or have declared their interest in previously, only relevant categories, content, and discussions should appear for them on the homepage. They can still find other content if they want, but members should have a most customized experience.

Likewise, if you know the kinds of discussions newcomers visit when they join a community, they should be shown to future newcomers etc…This level of personalisation should be something to be planned for in the intermediate horizon.

 

Develop A Custom Community Experience

It’s pretty common for a group of community professionals to agree that community platforms are terrible and getting worse. This isn’t really true (although they have fallen far behind social platforms in user experience).

The problem is the needs of clients are diverging from one another. Large companies increasingly have diverging needs. One recent client would only consider vendors which met stringently high standards in the core web vitals. Another wanted the ability to run competitions with lucky draws from within the platform itself.

Satisfying emerging needs is nothing new. It’s what we expect vendors to do to stay relevant. The problem is the needs of enterprise seem to be diverging. The point of SaaS companies is they (ideally) make one version of their product which they can sell repeatedly at a high margin. They generally don’t want to work hard to customize a platform to solve one vendor’s unique problem. That’s not scalable nor sustainable.

Some organizations tackle this by taking a platform and spending a fortune on customisations. But they become a pain in themselves. There are three key approaches to resolving this.

The first is to build an entire community experience from scratch. Apple replaced this Jive experience with a (strikingly similar) custom build. DigitalOcean also developed their entire custom community experience.

Another option is to utilize an array of platforms under a broader umbrella. SAP is one example of this. Snowflake, shown here, is another example.

snowflake community example

Another growing trend, as shown by Notion, is simply encouraging people to create, join, and participate in groups that already exist.

notion community example

There isn’t a single answer, but I’d be surprised if we don’t see more organizations taking a different approach to their community experience – one where the hosted platform (if there is one) is just one part of a broader experience.

 

Tokens and Metaverse (Web3)

Thus far most web3 activities have been more hype than substance.

As the web3 hits the trough of disillusionment, we’re hopefully going to see the hype fade and some practical applications emerge. What they are remains to be seen. I don’t imagine any community will move to the Metaverse for now. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see greater use of digital currencies within some specific kinds of communities.

I can also imagine some communities utilizing tokens they can accumulate through positive contributions to a community which affords them voting rights on the direction and key decisions of the community. I can’t see them being widespread, but in certain technical communities they could be powerful.

 

Next Steps

Predicting how macro-trends will affect community technology is similar to making predictions about how outside forces will shape any industry. We can never be quite sure.

It’s clear that some trends are already in motion (data security on platform selection, losing members to habitual platforms, declining differentiation etc…), others are going to be felt in the more distant future (AI, automations, and tokens).

What’s important is you’re building a community experience prepared to navigate these trends internally and externally. We might be wrong about the timeline, but we’re unlikely to be wrong about the broad direction community technology is going.

The danger is offering a community experience that falls increasingly behind standards to the point where its continuing existence is in peril. If you build a roadmap and make changes now, you’re likely to avoid that fate.

The key steps I’d recommend at the moment are:

1) Check and validate which trends apply to your situation. Use our template as a start, but be sure to adapt and customize it to your situation.

2) Estimate short, medium, and long-term impact of trends. Begin with changes that you’ve already noticed and grow from there. Use our template from above if you like.

3) Build your community roadmap in three phases. Begin with the quick and inexpensive changes. Begin gaining support for the more challenging changes.

4) Work with a group of peers to support each other. Collaborate with your peers when building roadmaps. Benefit from the expertise of others.

Good luck!

 

Resources

Why You Should Build The Definitive Community For Your Industry

There’s something special about communities built by a brand, but not about the brand.

It’s one thing to build a community for your customers.

It’s another thing entirely to build a community for your industry (or topic).

While the former can be great for customer support, gathering ideas, and spreading best practices, the latter can position you as the host of an entire industry.

Whereas the customer communities are great for supporting and retaining customers, industry communities directly attract new customers, position a brand where it needs to be seen, and creates a host of new opportunities.

But doing this well requires you to make some extremely difficult decisions.

 

Why Create An Industry Community?

As anyone who’s hosted a party knows, being the host offers a lot of rewards. On an industry-scale, those rewards are multiplied.

You’re connected to everyone that matters. You have industry leaders competing for your attention. You are the gatekeeper and tastemaker of an industry. You get to exert subtle influence, learn from others, and have everyone in the industry reply to your emails.

But the most direct benefit is simple. You get to attract new customers.

When you create a community for an industry rather than about your brand – you’re attracting new audiences rather than serving existing customers.

Yet even attracting new customers reveals only a fraction of the community’s value.

Here’s a breakdown below:

Unlike a branded community, there is no maximum cap on the community’s potential value.

The only limit is the number of people interested in the industry – and if your community does its job really well, you can grow this number too!

 

How Do We Estimate The Value Of This?

This is a little like asking the ROI of a promotional campaign.

The result depends upon the quality of the implementation and a range of factors.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some interesting ways to estimate it.

 

Multiple By Value of Leads

You can also work with your sales team to find the typical value of a lead. This usually means dividing the revenue by leads generated to get a broad estimate.

You can also be more precise by working with sales teams to go through the sales funnel and match members up to similar behaviors.

You might also create separate values for inactive (subscribers), moderately active, highly active to create a total value.

 

Multiply By Costs Of Leads

Another way to estimate value is to look at the advertising equivalent cost. How much does it cost you to acquire a customer (or subscriber) through other channels?

If you know getting someone to subscribe to your mailing list (top of the funnel) usually costs you $100, you might estimate the present value of your 20k strong community at $2m.

Once you begin estimating value using these proxy metrics, you begin to see why it often makes sense for organizations to simply acquire communities. If a community in the SaaS field has 20k members and the average SaaS brand spends $344 to generate a lead, any acquisition value under $7m begins to look like a bargain.

Essentially acquiring a community acts as a short-cut to the lengthy and costly process of acquiring the audience through other channels.

 

Numbers Don’t Capture The Full Value

I’m struck by this quote from Max Altschuler, founder of the SalesHacker community (acquired by Outreach).

“We also use it [SalesHacker] as a value drive in deal cycles. We sell to Sales, so offering a CRO/VP Sales a spot on a podcast for a brand they know that gets 20,000 downloads is a great value driver no other sales vendor can provide and it opens up that relationship at the exec level now.”

There is huge value in being able to feature a prospective client in a community in front of tens of thousands of others. It won’t work for every community but it shows the raw numbers don’t even capture a slither of the full value of the community.

This also highlights something interesting – there is simply natural, innate, immeasurable value from being the provider of the biggest community in your space?

So, why isn’t every brand jumping to do this?

Because creating an industry community requires you to do something really painful – hide your brand name.

 

Don’t Name The Community After Yourself

With a few exceptions (HubSpot), in an industry community you can’t have your name prominently splashed anywhere.

The moment you call this ‘The [brand] community’ – two things happen:

1) People will ask questions about the brand. You will accidentally create a customer support community.

2) Customers of rival products will stay away. Why would they join? They use a competitor brand. This typically reduces your potential audience by 80%+.

It’s very, very, hard to defy these two outcomes if you name this community after organization. This usually causes some consternation amongst marketing and PR professionals who want to see their brand prominently displayed (and avoiding the effort of promoting two brands).

But this doesn’t mean your name can’t appear anywhere…

 

Won’t Members Get Upset If They Find Out It’s Owned By A Brand?

Sure they will…if you’ve kept it a secret.

If you’ve been visiting and supporting an independent bookstore for a few years and then suddenly discovered it was secretly owned by Amazon – you’re not going to be happy.

So don’t keep it a secret!

Be honest and upfront about your involvement and intentions from day one.

I’d suggest having your logo on the website such as (provided by [brand]) while giving the community its own unique name and identity.

This name should be something which reflects a commonly used unique symbol by the people you’re trying to reach.

I’d also suggest in your welcome message and about page that you’re clear about why you’re hosting the community. If you’re hoping to attract new customers then say so. But create rules about how and why this will happen. It might also help to create rules about how the brand engages with the community.

For example:

“While we hope to benefit from identifying potential customers or getting insights from members, we won’t send out promotional emails to community members. Discussions about competitor products will be encouraged – never removed.”

You can build trust and associate your brand name with the community by being honest and upfront from the very beginning.

 

What Do We Need To Get Started?

To keep it simple. There are three obvious things you need to get started.

1) A potentially large audience with a unique set of needs you can serve.
2) A dedicated platform to host your community.
3) A community manager to run the community.

As you can see above, if you don’t have someone in charge, you’re risking anarchy.

If you’re lacking a platform, you have a decentralized social media experience.

If you’re lacking an audience, you have a ghost town.

 

How Do We Get Started? What Should Be In The Community?

How you get started often depends on the size of your audience.

If you’re beginning with zero, it’s best to go through the CHIP process with blog posts, organizing events, engaging with existing groups, and building up your audience until you get up to 100 subscribers/followers.

Once you get near 100 active followers, then you might want to consider having a platform where members can engage directly with one another (hashtags can also work).

As you reach around 200+ members, you probably want to directly promote the community internally to any existing audiences, consider investing in paid promotion, and, eventually, working with influencers and other partners.

Once you have more than 2k members, usually word of mouth and search traffic drives most of your audience (you should optimize for both).

You can see this here:

What Platform Should We Use?

The platform you use primarily depends on your budget and the audience you’re starting with.

When you have no people (and no budget), you usually need to use email.

When you have 10 to 250 you can usually use a WhatsApp group.

At 250 to 1000, you’re looking at Telegram, Email, Circle, and other lists.

Once you get to the upper end of that, it starts to become a chaotic mess. So you need to look at an enterprise (often forum-based) platform which allows for more structured discussions. There is always a slight tension between structure and ease of use.

It’s notable however that many of the most successful industry communities over the years have been built on custom platforms. This provides more flexibility and (often) proprietary technology which may increase a future acquisition price.

 

How Much Will It Cost?

Like most things, it depends.

Many of the big communities acquired by others over the years were launched on a shoestring budget – often by an amateur doing it in their spare time. Others were launched by big brands to much fanfare.

However, we can add a very broad cost estimate to some traditional approaches.

While it’s obvious there are some benefits of the amateur approach (testing things at small-scale first and adapting quickly), you’re less likely to be able to use that approach if you’re working on behalf of an organization.

Organizations have legal, moral, and reputational responsibilities which make them less likely to ‘throw something up and see how it goes’. You can’t launch something which doesn’t look or function well and hope you improve it later (the way a passionate amateur can).

 

Examples of Successful Industry Communities

You can find plenty of successful communities. Each has grown and evolved in different ways. Here are a few common ones.

  • Kaggle. Kaggle launched with a single competition in 2010 for data scientists and gradually added blogs, events, content, and more. Acquired by Google.
  • Element14. Launched by Premier Farnell in June 2009, Element14 is a community for engineers and electronic enthusiasts to chat with one another.
  • Grow, Gain, Retain. Began as a mailing list created by Customer Imperative for customer success professionals before being acquired by HigherLogic.
  • ProjectManagement.com. Began as a place for members to share resources and templates with one another. Over time expanded to enable peer discussions between members. Acquired by Project Management Institute.
  • SalesHacker. Began as a blog before expanding to events, courses, and discussion forums and more. Acquired by Outreach.io in 2018.
  • MindTheProduct. Primarily began as a series of events before expanding to content, courses, and, much later, dedicated community channels in Slack and elsewhere. Acquired by Pendo.
  • RevOps Co-Op. Slack community created by FunneIQ. Began with some content and a Slack channel. Later expanded to resources, videos, interviews, and more.
  • The Instructables. Community for members to share their DIY projects. Acquired by Autodesk in 2011.
  • Honeybook – Rising Tide. Community for small business owners working in the creative economy. Created by HoneyBook, a provider of client management software for small businesses.
  • MakerPad. A definition-stretching community for no-code professionals. Acquired by Zapier.
  • IndieHackers. A thriving Reddit-esque style community for independent professionals to earn money directly. Acquired by Stripe in 2017.
  • CFO Connect. Launched by Spendesk in 2018 is a community for CFOs. The community began by offering events and a few resources later expanded to include a Slack channel, one to one member matching, and more.

Each community took a different approach, but there’s some important commonalities here:

1) They all began relatively simply. They grew the permission asset of their audience over time. They usually focused on doing single things well before expanding beyond that. Over time they expanded to include content, resources, courses, podcasts, discussions, job boards, events, shops etc…

2) They focused on providing the most value to members. At each stage of the journey, the host of the community focused on providing the content, products, and services most in demand by members.

 

The Risk: What If A Competitor Does It First?

Perhaps the biggest reason to do it though isn’t the raw numbers but the fear of competition.

What if a competitor launches a community which becomes the definitive community in the industry before you do?

What if they own that mailing list and the right to contact any of them at any time?

What if they host events for that community where they can bring as many of their staff as they like and sell free sponsorships to themselves etc…

What if they can attract leads for free while you’re still paying hundreds of dollars for each lead?

What if they put together a collaborative steering group which creates defacto industry standards?

Is it worth the risk of not doing it?

 

Conclusion

Being the host of an industry creates plenty of useful benefits. When done well, industry communities can generate leads, convert prospects into customers, gather useful industry insights, and reduce customer acquisition costs.

The catch is you can’t make the community about yourself. If you position your organization’s name too prominently in the community, not only will customers begin to use it to ask product questions, you will also deter customers of competitor brands from joining. You need to give the community a unique name, possibly a unique URL, and let it naturally develop its own identity.

You don’t need to spend a fortune to get started. Many of the most successful industry communities were launched by amateurs in their spare time on a shoestring budget. The secret is to begin by doing the smallest possible things extremely well and expanding gradually. There are plenty of examples you can follow.

And if you’re having trouble using the above to convince others about the value of the community then consider this – what would happen if your competitors moved first to be the hub of the industry?

 

Resources

How To Set The Right Targets And Build A Great Community Dashboard

Here’s a relatively common story.

A community team is given a goal to achieve. This goal is usually something fairly simple like: “increase engagement by 50% by the end of this year!”.

However, a few months into the year, the engagement metrics haven’t budged.

In fact, the numbers are even beginning to drop slightly. No matter how hard the community team works to improve response rates, time to first response, and improve the platform, the overall engagement metrics simply don’t move.

At the end of the year, the engagement metrics are slightly below what they were the year before. The community team receives a negative performance review. Budgets are cut, team members leave, and the community suffers.

This raises the question, who failed here? It’s a more complicated answer than you might think.

(p.s. if you want the video version of how to set realistic community goals, click here.)

Setting The Right Goals For A Community

Perhaps the best way to begin is by looking at the goals themselves.

They were simply the wrong goals to begin with.

I wrote a whole book about this; engagement is a bad goal. It’s never the best metric to track, it’s simply the easiest. Worse yet, the number of posts, likes, shares, simply feels like a good metric for success.

To realize how wrong this is. I once came across a community manager who skyrocketed engagement overnight by removing the spam filter.

There’s plenty of information about finding the ROI of your community. I won’t rehash the entire topic here. The key thing is your goals should come from discussions with stakeholders and feasibility of behaviors.

1) Stakeholder interviews and analysis. You need to speak to as many stakeholders as possible, understand their unique needs and motivations (you can use this script), and undertake stakeholder mapping (see template) to determine whose needs to prioritize.

2) Needs, desires, and behaviors of members. You need to interview, survey, and study members to determine what they need, what they want, and what they desire. You can learn more about this kind of data here.

During this process we often host a workshop with the data to try to identify the right kind of goals for the community. We tend to set the members’ needs and let stakeholders establish their priorities.

You can see an example of this here:

Using our research and this simple framework, we should be able to identify and prioritize possible goals.

p.s. It’s worth noting this is an idealized approach. The reality is often a lot messier (it’s not unknown for a senior stakeholder to ignore all of this and simply set the goal).

 

Communities Need Really Specific Targets

In client calls, I often ask what the goal of the community is.

The person I’m speaking with can often give a clear and specific answer.

For example:

“The goal of the community is to improve product adoption”.

When I ask what metrics would show success, the answer usually becomes a lot more vague.

Often the answer is “plenty” or “lots”. Or, in the worst-case scenario “we’ll know it when we see it!”.

This leaves the community team in an unfair position. They might achieve a great result only for someone more senior to state “they expected more!”.

We need specific targets we can aim for here. For example:

We want to see 25% of active community members utilizing 2+ services.

Reach 3-month avg. 25% call deflection within two years while maintaining 4.2+ satisfaction score.

Generate leads with a value of $323,440 per quarter for 3 successive quarters.

Increase 3-month member satisfaction by 16% by the end of the year.

The challenge is where do these numbers come from?

 

Don’t Pluck Targets From Thin Air

Far too often numbers are plucked from thin air i.e. a 50% increase!

Why 50%? No-one knows! It’s just a nice round number that sounds good.

This often leads to a community team having goals which are impossible to achieve.

Is a 50% increase in call deflection a good target?

It might be if there was a 40% increase in the past year.

If activity rose by 40% in the past year, it might be. If it fell by 40% in the past year, it probably isn’t.

To begin finding the right target, we need to know our trends.

 

Use Trends To Set Good Community Targets

Targets should be based upon current trends with a range which indicates what great, good, ok, and bad look like.

Sometimes you can do a great job in reversing a downward trend but fail to hit your goals because whomever set the goal didn’t realize the community was in a downward trend.

Let’s use client data for a community which has a goal of answering as many questions as possible and in July 2021 answered 3971 questions.

The company wanted to increase this monthly average by 50% within a year.

But is this realistic?

Well, let’s look at the trendline below rather than pluck numbers from the sky.

forcasted community questions answered

The trendline suggests at current rates that 5150 answered questions is the current expected result (a 30% increase). 50% would be an extremely high result.

But if you look closer, you might notice something important.

Since April 2020, the number of answered questions has plateaued!

Expecting a big increase when the community has plateaued is a big mistake. Using data that stretches back to Jan 2018 doesn’t make sense to set community targets for July 2022.

Instead we can do something clever; we can forecast the number of answered posts just using the past year of data.

If you’re using google sheets, you can use ”=ARRAYFORMULA(FORECAST(39:A56,C27:C38,A27:A38))” to make predictions about the future.

Now the result (as you can see here) is different:

forecasted community questions per month using 1 year of data

Notice now the prediction is of 4500 answered questions per month for July (or about a 13% increase over the year).

 

The Difference Between An Increase And An Improvement

You can improve a metric but still be performing worse than last year.

For example, if you had a 40% increase last year and this year you only get a 10% increase, the numbers will still go up but you’ll be doing worse.

An improvement isn’t about improving the absolute number, it’s about improving beyond the performance achieved the year before.

An easy way to do this is to set a performance improvement (I’d suggest somewhere between 10% and 30% – which should be matched by an increased budget) above and below the trend line.

This is what adding this will look like:

community forecastged questiouns per month

Now we can start setting some rudimentary targets with a 10% performance improvement based upon the previous year of data. This might look like:

  • Anything above 5000 is good
  • Anything between 4000 and 5000 answered questions per month by July 2022 is ‘ok’
  • Anything below 4000 is bad

You can change the upper and lower limits from 10% to any percentage increase (or decrease) you like.

Now you can set targets based upon current trends from the past year of data and can see what a performance increase might look like.

 

Set Targets Where You Have The Most Influence

What If You Can’t Control The Outcome?

The biggest problem with using the ‘number of. answered questions’ as a goal (and pretty much any engagement target), is that it’s primarily driven by how many people have a question in the first place.

You can’t exercise much control over that.

If your company acquires more customers (or loses customers), that number will rise and fall through no fault or achievement of your own.

Worse yet, many activity-based metrics have a natural curve over time. As you begin answering most questions, people no longer need to ask as many and engagement drops. This is a good result masquerading as a bad outcome on your stats.

So we need to find out what impact you have.

 

Track These Three Metrics To Identify Your Impact

We want to know how the community compares against other channels.

If, for example, the number of support tickets (or customer support calls) falls by 10% and the number of questions in the community drops by 10%, that’s probably not the community’s fault.

In most cases, we usually want to get the following data:

  • No. questions asked in other support channels vs. in the community.
  • No. visits to the company website vs. the community website.
  • No. new customers each month vs. new community registrations.

Then we look to how closely correlated these are with whichever metrics we’re tracking.

For example, look at the graph below.

commujnity web traffic data

We see historically there is a close relationship between an increase in web traffic and answered questions.

If the web traffic suddenly rises or falls, we would expect community participation to rise and fall regardless of how good a job the community team is doing.

The increase in web traffic above should mean a lot more people are now visiting the community. We therefore need to have a model which dynamically updates the forecasts based upon this relationship.

We now use the same FORECAST function to predict this and show what a 10% above or below the predicted line looks like.

community web traffic trends

You can see now how a big increase in web traffic naturally raises the number of answered questions we should anticipate within the community.

This also raises the expected answer rate. Anything above 6198 by July 2022 is now good and anything below 5071 is a poor result.

This is a very simple explanation of how to set targets. In practice, it can become far more complex. What matters however is now the community team has clear targets based upon actual data which is within their control!

 

How Do You Use Data To Achieve Your Targets

Goals Should Change Behavior

There isn’t much point in setting a new goal if you’re going to keep doing what you’ve always done.

The point in establishing community goals is to change your activities to align with that goal.

If your goal relates to growth, then you should be doing more activities which drive growth.

If your goal relates to call deflection, then you should be doing more activities which drive call deflection.

Goals ultimately change priorities. That means you do more of some activities and less of others.

But how do we know which activities drive the outcome?

We first need to calculate which activities have historically been strongly correlated with the outcome.

 

What To Prioritize To Achieve Your Goals

You need two things; a dataset and an informed opinion.

When you have these two things, you can run a multiple regression analysis to determine which variables influence the goal and by how much.

If you don’t know how to do this, find a data person who can help (or reach out to us – we do it for clients).

Let’s use a client example trying to increase member satisfaction.

We ran a multiple regression analysis on a dataset covering 15 variables and discovered the following:

community data analysis

Don’t worry, you don’t need to know what all of that means.

This essentially says there are three statistically significant (and independent) predictors of member satisfaction within the community. Combined they account for 86% of the variability in satisfaction each month.

We use these three predictors as the basis of our strategy.

  • Objective 1: Increase the number of event attendees.
  • Objective 2: Increase the no. MVPs who make at least 1 post per month.
  • Objective 3: Reduce the average time to first response.

Now we repeat the process above to find the right targets for each of these objectives and show what a 10% or 20% performance increase or decrease would look like.

 

Build Your Community Dashboard

It’s obviously important not to keep targets to yourself but to be able to share them widely and let yourself and your entire team stay on track.

We want to know at a glance if the community is on track to achieve its goals or not. If not, we can make rapid changes in our strategy to ensure it is.

Building a dashboard once you have the data isn’t that difficult. You can use Tableau or PowerBI if you want more powerful functionality.

But we’ve kept it simple and built this one below on Google Sheets.

FeverBee community dashboard template

You might want to click to open up the full image.

We can now track progress over time (we’ve added some dummy data to illustrate). This shows where the community is doing well, where it’s not and, most importantly, it’s tracking the metrics which actually matter!

As you get more data, you can see issues early and address them. You can especially see when a number begins to fall behind its predicted target and try to identify what happened each month.

(p.s. It helps to get familiar with ‘conditional’ cell formatting in Google Sheets (or Excel) to create custom rules for what happens when numbers fall above or below a certain range).

 

Let’s Build Out Your Strategy

Once you have the right targets in place it becomes a lot easier to build out the overview of the community strategy.

community strategy example

Now you have all the key elements in place:

1) A clear goal
2) Two clear objectives to achieve the goal above.
3) Specific targets to track progress towards those objectives.
4) A set of strategies each aligned to achieving those results
5) A set of tactics (or initiatives) to execute the strategy.
6) Clearly identified ‘must win’ battles which identify the hard part of each strategy.

Believe me, it’s a lot better to be working on a strategy you know is aligned to achieving specific results you can feel comfortable about being held accountable to. It all begins with setting realistic community goals and the right targets.

 

Summary

Yes, targets should be SMART. But they need to be so much more than that.

Good goals should possess the following attributes:

1) They reflect the unique value of the community to the organization and audience.

2) You should have the majority influence over them.

3) They should be based upon current trends.

4) They should show what a % improvement looks like, not just the increase.

5) They should translate into specific actions you can execute on.

It’s okay to have multiple goals (I wouldn’t recommend more than three). What matters is you have some goals which are translated into specific targets to guide your work.

Try not to rush the process of setting good community goals. It’s worth investing a little more time (or getting outside help!) to get it right.

 

Resources

FeverBee’s Community Intelligence Services

Too many people are trying to develop a good strategy without access to good data.

This typically results in common problems like:

  • Unrealistic metrics being plucked from thin air and set as goals.
  • Tactics and community roadmaps which don’t reflect the priorities of members (nor the organization).
  • Too much time wasted on low-priority activities.
  • No ability to clearly prove the success of the community.
  • Selecting the wrong platform and configuring it poorly.

All these problems tend to have a single root cause:

The people making critical decisions about communities don’t have the data they need

The difference between developing a strategy without and without good data is about as stark as the difference between night and day.

Take these results we achieved for a client:

Feverbee community consultanct results

(click here for image)

Every single step of the process was simply a case of looking at the data and then taking the next logical action.

We don’t always know precisely which tactic will have the biggest impact, but we’re beginning with a clear set of issues we want to solve.

 

Strategy is easy when you have good data

This is why we’re pretty obsessed about getting good data. It gives us a clean, systematic, approach to developing the community.

We’ve shown time and time again that we can use data to achieve tremendous results for clients.

In the example below, we’ve shown how we used data to drastically improve member satisfaction in the community. Again, it’s a step-by-step process which all begins with the same thing; great data.

 

Let FeverBee Get The Data For You

We’ve noticed some clients want to build strategies themselves – but they don’t have the data they need (nor the time and knowledge to collect it).

So we’re going to take the process we use to gather data for client strategies and offer it as a standalone option.

Instead of trying to do it all yourself, you can rely upon our team of data/UX/research specialists to equip you with the data you need.

 

FeverBee’s Community Intelligence Services

Our new community intelligence services include:

Measurement and health

Proving Value and ROI

We can setup dashboards and explain which metrics matter (and why!). Let us set it up properly once so you can use it indefinitely.

We can range multiple datasets to show the impact the community upon whichever metric matters to you (i.e. community behavior on sales, retention or NPS etc…).

Benchmarking

Member Needs Analysis (& UX testing)

You can learn more about this here. We can tell you where you should focus your efforts and how you’re comparing today.

We can gather member research and undertake UX testing to identify the key pain points and needs of members.

This isn’t a comprehensive list. We’ve helped clients undertake everything from a full evaluation of their communities, audience, and environment to analysing the specific needs of a unique geographic audience.

 

It’s all about the data…

Our goal is to make community work far more data-driven than it is today because we’ve seen the results of being data-driven.

We want to equip you with the data you need to make the right decisions for your communities.

We know not everyone has the time or knowledge to do it themselves, so we’re eager to do it for you.

If you think we can help, drop us a line.

How To Get Experts To Contribute To Your Community

In the good old days of community building, it was pretty common for top industry experts to share their best knowledge in hosted brand communities.

They published blog posts, detailed guides, videos, and photos.

But that doesn’t happen as much anymore. There are too many other platforms where people can share knowledge and build their audience.

This has resulted in a lot of struggling ‘success’ communities and empty knowledge bases. The problem is times have changed and the strategies for too many communities haven’t.

If we want experts to engage and contribute to communities (and prevent the evaporative cooling effect), we need to change our strategies and rethink our notion of community.

 

Who Shares Expertise In Communities?

To be honest, ‘experts’ is about as useful a term as ‘millenials’ to describe a group of people. It’s too broad to identify any meaningful shared traits or approaches.

This often results in ‘experts’ being invited to share in the wrong manner, for the wrong benefits, or contribute the wrong kind of information to any community.

So let’s break ‘experts’ down to the three specific groups of people who you’re most likely to target.

Like us, you should build out different approaches for each of these in your strategies.

 

1) Partners / consultants / freelancers.

The simple truth is the people most likely to share expertise (beyond just answering questions) in professional communities are the people who can best convert attention into dollars. This means audiences who sell to your customers. In most cases, this means partners, consultants, and freelancers.

For example, most of the knowledge shared in the Zapier community is created by a single automation consultant.

expert contributions to communityzapier expert

This audience is usually looking to build their reputation. Their motivation is high and they have plenty of knowledge to share. It’s no surprise that in most successful ‘success’ communities, it’s partners/consultants who are doing the most work.

These folks can share guides, ideas, and perspectives from working with multiple organizations within the same industry. Success communities should commit 60 to 70% of their time to nurturing these groups to engage (in a manner that isn’t irritatingly promotional).

 

2) Industry veterans.

Industry veterans are people who work at mid to senior levels of an organization and have several years of direct experience with the product/service/topic.

It’s harder to engage this group because their motivation to share expertise is lower. They don’t immediately benefit. And because they’re often restricted in what they’re allowed to say. Sometimes they simply don’t want to share their lessons with competitors.

In addition, they often have a narrow lane of expertise from a single organization and can’t easily identify which lessons can be generalized to other organizations. However, this audience can excel in one particular area which is popular with other members; case studies.

They can share exactly what they did, what worked, what didn’t work and help you build up a database of great use cases and examples.

 

3) Senior Execs / VIPs.

This audience consists of C-level folks at large companies and (some top VIPs / influencers) in the sector). We’re talking about the elite of the elite here. The very people who would never lower themselves to write a guest blog post because the benefit is too small to consider.

It’s critically important when you engage this group to remember they are often several layers removed from doing anything tactical/practical. I often see these folks at conferences presenting ideas to an audience that, frankly, knows a heck of a lot more than them.

However, this audience is incredibly useful at contributing broader strategic ideas, industry-related thoughts, recommended partners, and things like big trends in the industry.

It’s important to know when you begin this process which kind of expert you’re targeting and what they can best contribute to your community.

 

What Motivates Experts To Share Their Knowledge?

If you want experts to participate, you need to understand what experts want when they share knowledge.

Sure, some might do it because they feel like it (and want to help). But that’s relying upon luck – and luck isn’t a great strategy.

In my experience, you’re far more successful if you identify what each group wants and offer them opportunities to gain exactly this.

The benefits vary by the type of expert, but they’re usually a combination of reach, scarcity, trust, and frequency as you can see below:

Engaging community experts

 

Generally speaking, experts want to become better known amongst a large audience or to build deeper relationships amongst a small audience. This typically benefits people personally and professionally.

For example, if you’re a partner/consultant, you can use social media, publish blogs *ahem*, or create as many podcasts as you like to build trust amongst your audience. But at some point, if you want to grow you need to reach an audience you don’t already reach. This is where you might participate in webinars, guest posts, and giving conference talks that can be shared in a community.

Likewise, if you’re an industry veteran, you can build reach for your work by engaging in high-frequency activities or, if you’re lucky, participating in high-scarcity but widely seen activities like major conference talks, news appearances etc…

And if you’re a VIP, being invited to invite-only gatherings/events is your preferred channel.

You’re most likely to respond to requests which let you impress peers, improve your organization’s standing, or directly earn money (e.g. speaking fees). The most common example of this are high-prestige events facilitated by individuals or organizations with a powerful brand name.

 

community experts economist events

The Economist, for example, can leverage a highly respected brand name to attract VIPs from around the world to their events.

You can see more specific examples of what each group of experts wants in the table below.

engaging community experts

A critical part of your strategy is to make sure you’re offering audiences what they actually want. If you don’t get this right, nothing else really matters.

 

Where Do Experts Share Their Best Expertise Today?

If you’ve got some great expertise to share, would you share it as a poorly formatted forum thread that would appear alongside every other thread published that day (and quickly disappear off the page?).

Or will you publish it on your own blog or social media account where you can build an audience? Or as a guest article on a popular site where it will be seen by thousands of people?

This is the problem for most customer success communities, there are simply far more (and far better) channels for people to share expertise than in a traditional community experience.

If you want to build a community with experts sharing great advice, the first lesson is you have to incorporate the channels they want to use, not waste your time trying to persuade them to use the channels you want them to use.

This means recognising that some channels are naturally better for sharing particular kinds of expertise.

You can see the most common below.

Engaging community experts

However, each type of expert also prefers different channels to share different kinds of expertise.

Outside of the tech world, for example, most CEOs don’t waste their time writing long twitter threads to share their expertise. They prefer private peer groups instead. Likewise, industry veterans don’t tend to have their own blog, they share their knowledge when invited in webinars and other channels.

You can see a table of the different channels different groups use to share expertise today below.

engaging community experts

This isn’t definitive. Partners and consultants, for example, almost certainly want to do keynote talks/attend invite-only groups (and often do both!). Likewise, senior execs and VIPs can occasionally be tempted to participate in webinars and podcasts if the size of the audience or the prestige of the audience is big enough.

However, it does highlight the primary channels each group either prefers to use or has the ability to use to share knowledge. And we should use these primary channels to build our strategy.

Now we know who the experts are, what they want, what they can offer, and the best channels to engage them, we can bring this into a simple overview below.

 

engaging community experts

If you want to engage experts and build a truly vibrant success (or thought leadership) community, you need to be clear about the best value an expert can offer, understand what they want, and select the best channels to engage them within the community.

This gives us the contours of our strategies, but it doesn’t fully identify the right tactics to engage each of them.

 

Examples Of Successful Tactics To Engage Experts

It’s one thing to see all the elements pieced together in the table above, it’s another thing entirely to develop the right tactics and approaches to make this work.

If your current tactics aren’t successful, it’s usually either:

1) What you’re asking experts to do requires too much effort. This is common when you create a knowledge base/wiki and expect experts to spend hours of their time creating content for it. It’s probably just not going to happen. The effort is too high. So you need to help them with the heavy lifting (more on that shortly).

2) The perceived rewards are too low to justify the effort. This is common when you want experts to share a testimonial video or spend hours participating in events with tiny audiences. The reach or prestige simply isn’t high enough to make it worthwhile.

 

The ‘Is it Worth It?’ Line

You can think of an ‘is it worth it?’ line going through the effort vs. reward chart as shown below:

engaging community experts

Some common tactics clearly fall on the right side of that line and some fall on the wrong side of that line.

But the real art of what we do here is to make a few simple adjustments to some common tactics and see how reducing the effort or increasing the reward can change everyone.

 

High-Reward Tactics To Engage Experts To Contribute Knowledge

As we’ve seen, increasing the reward is all about increasing the reach or prestige (scarcity) of the benefit.

Imagine you want your best customers to share a case study of how they use your product. You could try asking them to write an article or record a testimonial, but it’s not clear how it helps them. But what if you increase the prestige by:

  • Building a showcase of your top 5 customers. Tell your best customers they’ve been selected. Can they share an article explaining what they did and how well it worked and you will promote it widely.
  • Letting all customers nominate themselves for ‘customer of the year’ award. They have to share a case study with results (or even find industry awards they may want to nominate themselves for).
  • Featuring experts. Invite a consultant to become a ‘featured expert’ in the community with a monthly column sharing examples and best practices.
  • Hosting a monthly showcase. Invite the expert to share their example and take questions in a monthly ‘best of’ showcase.
  • Inviting experts to an exclusive gathering. Each person will share their case study with a small group of peers and learn from one another.
  • Paying the expert a fee for sharing their case study. You can pay a flat rate or, sometimes better, pay based upon the level of traffic it receives each month (this incentivises the expert to share it widely).

You get the idea. The same tactics can be turned from a failure into a success simply by improving the reward you offer.

It’s a contrary idea but limiting who can share expertise often increases the prestige of it and attracts more knowledge. If you have an article featured in ProjectManagement.com for example, that’s a big deal – but it has to be good!.

It’s also important to be mindful that as people grow their audience or prestige, their cost-benefit equation is likely to change for them.

In the early days of building FeverBee, it made sense to say yes to every opportunity possible. We needed to get our name out there. These days, we need to be more discerning and balance the reward against the effort.

It’s still worth investing dozens of hours in a keynote talk seen by hundreds of key people in the industry. It might be less worthwhile to spend hours on activities that have low reach (or reach the types of audience which we’re not trying to support).

 

Engaging Experts Through Low-Effort Tactics

The other approach is to make it easier for experts to participate in the community. If you want consultants and partners sharing advice for example, there are plenty of interesting ways you can make it easier for them to do that. For example:

  • Asking to repurpose their existing content. Reach out to people who have created popular content in the past and ask if you can republish (or at least include parts of it) with a link back to them. Often experts have a huge back catalogue of great content which isn’t getting any attention (but hasn’t been seen by newcomers in the industry). The Community Leadership Institute is one example of this.
  • Aggregating ‘tagged’ content by experts. You might ask experts to tag social media content or blog posts that you can include in your community. Platforms like BazaarVoice, Mavrck, Fohr, Aspire, Olapic, and many others can provide a range of different services for this. FentyBeauty is one example of this in action. Sephora, a past client, even includes this kind of user-generated content on product pages. You will need to filter and approve contributions like this.
  • Invite experts to webinars/interviews and turn it into articles. This is where you record a session with an expert (to an audience) and then you take on the hard work of turning this into a great article. It’s more work, but it’s a win-win (they’re more likely to promote it too). Since this is demand-driven, you can also build up a list of key topics from your audience and build articles on each one.
  • Creating an advice/opinion round-up. Less common these days, but you can find a topic your audience wants to know more about – ask a group of experts for their best advice on the topic, and publish the results.

This isn’t a comprehensive list by any means, but you get the idea. If you want more participation, you can reduce the effort required.

 

Creating A Plan To Engage Experts In Your Community

Once you understand all the elements that make a success community tick, you can begin building out the strategic plan.

engaging communities strategic plan

You will notice that this is goal-driven with clear objectives, targets, channels, and benefits.

Once you have all this in place you can determine the best technology to use. This is the ultimate goal of the process; to create a plan which is aligned with current trends and members needs to deliver the most value to your community.

 

What Should A Great ‘Success’ Community Look Like?

As you might have noticed, a big requirement of this approach is often being more flexible about how knowledge is integrated within a community. Right now, the typical approach is perhaps best personified within knowledge bases like the one from Anaplan below:

anaplan community knowledge base

 

This is probably one of the more successful knowledge bases. But even this only attracts a handful of contributions per year because the reward/benefit ratio isn’t high enough.

A better approach is seen in the DigitalOcean community (shown below).

 

digital ocean community

 

You will need to visit the site or open the full image to really understand what’s happening here. But it’s very clearly a community-driven content site (and maybe the best ‘success’ community out there today). The difference is the presentation and permeance of the content.

Long-term, I think a ‘success’ community needs to move beyond a single hosted platform and include a combination of:

  • Links to featured experts in the industry (in exchange for their contributions).
  • Aggregated content from across the web in newsletters and on the site (The Overflow does this well)
  • Aggregated social media content which is getting a lot of attention.
  • Regularly hosted events and activities with top experts (which are recorded and converted into knowledge articles).
  • Case studies created by industry veterans in exchange for awards (and rewards).
  • Invite-only peer group with senior execs.
  • Recommended resources and courses by top experts.

Not all of this can be integrated into a standard knowledge-base section of a community. Instead a ‘success’ community will thrive when it resembles a content-driven site created by a community like UXMastery (below) rather than a traditional forum.

 

ux mastery community

This includes a forum but the focus is on member-driven content and providing a definitive set of resources for anyone interested in the topic.

If you want to build a community that features member-driven content, you might have to completely rethink what your community should look like and how it serves the audience and creators.

 

Examples and Resources

p.s. If you want help to build your community strategy, let us know.

These Community Benchmarks Will Help You Build A Better Strategy

We seem to be doing a lot of community benchmarking at the moment.

Benchmarking is essentially comparing one community to similar communities or best practices.

When it’s done well, benchmarking shines a bright light on how you’re doing today, where you need to improve, and shows the path for your community strategy. It’s great ammunition too for showing the value of your work to others.

Without benchmarks, you don’t have much visibility about the big picture. It’s like running a race with a blindfold on. You have no idea if you’re running in the right direction let alone beating the competition.

Benchmarking helps establish reasonable goals, identify opportunities, and priorities.

Sadly most organizations don’t have anything close to the data they need to build out a decent community strategy.

 

Three Types of Community Benchmarking

We split benchmarking into three categories. These are:

1) Benchmarking against competitors. This is where we compare a community against an organization’s competitors.

2) Benchmarking against alternatives. This is where we compare the benefit a community offers an audience against anywhere else a member can get that benefit.

3) Benchmarking against ‘best in class’ standards. This is where we begin with the best standards in each category and benchmark a community against them.

For the majority of communities, I’d recommend doing the first two. However, if you’re managing a mature, established, community trying to figure out what to do next, then a ‘best in class’ analysis can be helpful (but we’re not going to cover it here).

 

What Is Competitor Benchmarking?

Competitor benchmarking is where we draw up a list of an organization’s competitors (or community’s competitors) and compare a community against them.

Competitor benchmarking is critical when you want your community to be seen as a competitive advantage. For example, if your community is better than their community, that’s another reason to use your brand vs. theirs.

This is especially important for companies where a supportive community is a critical added value to the product (e.g. a thriving developer community).

In our experience, we’ve also found ‘beating competitors’ to be the single most persuasive argument for attracting more resources for a community. If you don’t have competitor benchmarks, you can’t say where you are today or where you need to go next.

 

Use Competitor Benchmarks To Set Realistic Expectations

We also use competitor benchmarking to set realistic expectations.

For example, if it took a competitor 3 years to get 100k registered members, you’re not likely to match that within 1 year. A more realistic target might be:

  • Year 1: Attract 10k registrations.
  • Year 2: Attract 30k registrations.
  • Year 3: Attract 50k registrations.

There are a lot of variables here (are they of similar size etc…?), but you get the idea. You can learn from how other communities developed and set realistic targets.

 

Competitor benchmarks show where you can improve

Finally, we use competitor benchmarks to identify where a client is and isn’t doing well. You should be able to look at the table and easily see the features where your community is beating the competition vs. where it’s struggling.

This lets you either double down on what makes you stand out or try to compensate for your weaknesses.

 

Criteria For Competitive Benchmarking

You can come up with any criteria you like. But be mindful that benchmarking a community takes a lot of time and it’s not always easy to compare one type of community to another.

We’ve done some deeper investigative work in the past trying to build up a more detailed community picture than is visible on the surface. This includes interviewing members of the community team, snooping on LinkedIn, browsing their job descriptions etc…to build a picture of their budget, team structure, ROI etc….but it’s time-consuming.

In most cases, we want to evaluate a community without needing to have any unique/special access to it. This means we typically look at things we can find in the public sphere.

This typically includes a combination of:

  • Date founded. This helps you set realistic targets (find the oldest post or use archive.org).
  • Platform(s). This is the community’s technology stack (use builtwith.com or look at the source code).
  • Lifecycle stage. Where are they in the community lifecycle?
  • Access. Is the community public or private? Do you need special permissions/approval to participate? This has a big impact on the quantity and quality of participation. Try registering and see what happens.
  • No. Registered members. Look at listed registered members or member profile URL numbers to find the highest-end number.
  • Search. Do they use the platform search tool or a federated/cognitive search tool? Use builtwith.com or look at the source code. Coveo and SearchUnify are common options.
  • Level of activity. No. questions per day is a common metric. Either manually count posts for a day or count for a few hours and average over a day (note: some platforms let you use numbers in discussion post URLs so you can work this out).
  • Quality of response. Are the responses good and informative or uninformative, unhelpful, responses? Use this benchmarking template.
  • Time to first response, response rate, accepted solution rate. If you can’t scrape this data, you can take a random sample of 50 to 100 posts and calculate this for yourself.
  • No. groups. Sub-groups are a good indicator of the maturity of a community (but only if they’re active). Manually count these where possible.
  • Gamification. Does the community use gamification tools? Are they basic or advanced? I.e. Is the community using the default gamification settings or have they developed advanced, custom, missions/point systems for their audience?
  • MVP/Superuser program. How many superusers does the community have? How well documented and detailed is the program?
  • CMS. Does the community integrate with a blog/CMS? Is it widely used/kept up to date?
  • Knowledge base. Does the community host/use a knowledge base? How widely used it is? Is knowledge kept up to date?
  • Social Media. Usually pull metrics Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. This gives you a signal if the community is overperforming or underperforming against other platforms which target similar audiences.
  • Events. Does the community host events? How many? What kind etc? How well attended do they seem to be?

This is a typical list, you can often add or remove those which are and aren’t relevant to you. However, it’s a good place to begin.

 

Example Of Competitor Benchmarks

Let’s use a typical example of competitor benchmarks here:

Example of competitive community benchmarking

Now you have the data, it’s important to use it the right way.

Be mindful of the following:

1) Every community lives within its own unique set of circumstances. Some advantageous, others disadvantageous. It’s a lot easier to have 500k members if you have 100 million customers. It’s a lot harder if you have 1 million. It’s often interesting to use a ratio of comparing community engagement (and registrations) to social media followings to see if the ratio is similar to others.

2) Every community has different objectives. Salesforce clearly has a strong community effort – but that doesn’t mean every community should be like Salesforce. You might not want to integrate your community deeply with am LMS. The level of activity for example, often depends upon things you can’t control. So use your judgment and knowledge of your strategy.

The purpose of this process is to give you more insights you can use to build a better community strategy – not provide a set of definitive answers.

If you’re Tableau for example, you might wonder why forum activity is low when so many things are so strong. If you’re ServiceNow, you might start thinking about improving the MVP program and facilitating more events in the community.

If you’re Atlassian, you might start looking at what Tableau does in their superuser program and see what you can improve.

When done well, competitive benchmarking gives you a rich dataset you can use to develop a better community strategy

 

Data Scraping – Hard To Do, But Tremendously Insightful

Another thing we do for clients (where possible) is scrape data from communities to compare them by size, speed of response, response rate, and accepted solution rate.

This isn’t always possible (Salesforce communities are notoriously painful in this regard). But when it works, the data (as you can see below) is illuminating. It becomes clear, as you can see below, which are the top performers for their size and which need to be improved:

Once you can see data like this, you can find communities of a similar size, on a similar platform, or in a similar sector, and nudge yourself more towards them.

Looking at the above, you can see some obvious areas of improvement:

  • UiPath and Dell: Improve the average time to first response.
  • eBay, TomTom, and Square: Improve the accepted solution rate
  • AWS & ARM: Improve the response rate etc…

Using your competitive benchmarks, you should be able to set yourself realistic targets and get inspiration for what to do next. Knowing industry averages is really useful here.

 

What Is Alternative Benchmarking?

Alternative benchmarking compares the potential benefits of a community with other places members can go to get those benefits. It’s critical in establishing the unique positioning of your community.

It essentially acknowledges your community isn’t the only game in town.

Sure, people can go to your community to ask questions and get help. But they can also go to Google, browse documentation/knowledge articles, call the customer support line and ask friends. If the goal of your community is to resolve problems, alternative benchmarking recognises that there are plenty of other places people can go to resolve problems.

The same is true with any benefit your community offers your audience. Whether it’s belonging, a chance to explore a topic with like-minded others, or influence – there are plenty of other places members can go to get those things. Why would they visit your community? What is the tremendous unique value your community offers?

For example, if you’re building a community for exports to proactively share advice and expertise (a ‘success’ community), why would your target audience when they can share advice on social media and build their own following? What can your community offer that they don’t?

This is where alternative benchmarking matters.

 

Criteria For Alternatives Benchmarking

There are plenty of ways to benchmark alternatives. We usually begin by identifying the value a community is trying to offer a community. This usually falls into four categories: support, exploration, influence, and belonging.

Which of these four (you can pick more than one) are the primary benefits of the community to an audience?

Next use the table below to go deeper and find out specifically which of these members care more about:

How To Discover What Matters Most

It’s easy to build a list like this above. But you want to know which of these your audience cares about the most.

Surveys tend to be the best way of gathering this data (but if that’s not possible, you can simply ask members). Here’s a client example below:

It’s worth noting that member research isn’t perfect. In my experience reducing effort to get a response is usually what members like the most. But that rarely ranks highly on surveys. Over time you get the hang of these nuances.

As we can see from the above, there are three broad groups of things members want here. Detailed responses, followed by access and speed. Personalisation and responses from experts don’t rank highly.

 

Example Of Competitor Benchmarks

You can find a (slightly) altered client version of these benchmarks below:

community benchmark comparisons

Looking at this it becomes clear the community has a problem in the eyes of members. It doesn’t do anything particularly well. However, by seeing how other platforms are doing we can identify two clear opportunities here. These are:

  • The community could aim to improve the speed of response. It won’t compete with the WhatsApp group, but WhatsApp is a tiny group. This is probably the biggest opportunity today.
  • The community could improve convenience. No other widely used channel does this extremely well. LinkedIn is hardly a threat and WhatsApp is too small to matter. By making the community more convenient (improving the login/registration process) etc…the community becomes the most convenient place to get support.

 

Using Benchmarking Data To Shape Strategy

The real magic however is combining the benchmarking data with the data about what members want to figure out exactly what you should be doing next.

You’re looking to answer four questions here.

1) Where should you double-down on what’s going well? (i.e. where is your community relatively strong vs. the competition and where is the level of audience interest high?)

2) Where should you level up? (i.e. Where is your community relatively weak vs. the competition and where is the level of audience interest high?)

3) What should you stop doing? (i.e. Where is your community relatively strong in areas with a low level of audience interest?)

4) What should you avoid doing? (i.e. Where is your community weak in areas where audience interest is weak?)

This might make more sense in a simple chart shown below:

community benchmarking strength and interest comparison chart

Let’s use (a different client example) to see how this might look in practice.

community benchmarking comparison chart
Notice now we have data like this we can start to build a clearer sense of tactical priorities.

p.s. It’s also good to have a ‘costly mistakes’ box when a colleague asks you to ‘just create a wiki’.

 

What Should You Work On Next?

Now we have this rich data, we can help clients create data-driven community strategies with short-term action plans.

This might look something like this.

Objective 1: Improve staff accessibility within the community.

  • Activity 1: Create a weekly session for PMs and rotating senior executives to take questions from the community.
  • Activity 2: Set a target for % of questions touched by staff. Set a target for staff to engage in an increasing number of questions within the community.
  • Activity 3: Create a framework and provide training for staff to engage in any question.

Objective 2: Reduce the effort involved to engage with the community

  • Activity 4: Pre-popular question text with common questions and show related search results. This helps answers to show up without members having to ask the question.
  • Activity 5: Integrate the community with the product. This means enabling questions to appear alongside the product as members go about using it.

Objective 3: Bring speed of response up to the industry average.
(this is usually around 48 to 72 hours).

  • Activity 6: Automatically escalate unanswered questions to a community MVP channel via Zapier after 24 hours. This ensures more members will get a response to the question.
  • Activity 7: Automatically escalate unanswered questions to product experts after 48 hours.

Objective 4: Bring the accuracy of responses up to industry average.

  • Activity 8: Evaluate accuracy and train. Pull a sample of posts provided by community MVPs each month and check for accuracy. Those with the lowest accuracy are invited to an exclusive training session. If they don’t attend, address the issue directly.

 

How Frequently Should You Do Benchmarking?

Once a year feels about the right time frame for me.

We have some clients we do benchmarking for on an annual basis.

The great thing about independent benchmarking is you get to see all the improvements you’ve made in the year beyond those which can only be captured in a graph showing engagement or the number of active members.

If you do your benchmarking this year, I’d set a calendar invitation to do it around the same time next year too.

 

Why It’s Important To Get Your Benchmarking Done

Benchmarking gives you a comprehensive picture of how your community is doing within its environment. It gives you an incredibly rich dataset filled with information you can use to build your strategy and action plans.

We’ve only really scratched the surface in the insights benchmarking can provide you.

Once you’ve got the full dataset, you can do awesome things like:

  • Track progress against competitors over several years.
  • Run user experience testing against competitor sites and make quick adaptations.
  • Set realistic target ranges and achieve them by incorporating the features which have worked elsewhere.
  • Spot new competitors and adapt quickly to prevent losing members.
  • Invest your time in the areas which have the biggest impact.
  • Check and compare ratios of engagement to social media followers to see if your community is performing at the right level.

You can use the framework above and do the benchmarking yourself, or you can get benchmarking done professionally (by firms like FeverBee). But whichever road you go, make sure you get your community benchmarks. You will find them tremendously useful when deciding what you should do next.

Resources

Growing Your Community: The Best Channels And Tactics

If you’ve ever wondered why your community isn’t growing, it’s probably because you’re leaving growth to chance.

It’s common to focus on doing fun, engaging, activities in a community and hope growth takes care of itself. This is a mistake.

The problem is if you don’t get more people to visit the community, no-one new is going to see all the engaging things you’re doing.

This is why the majority of things you do don’t have a big impact on community membership – they don’t get more visitors in the first place.

If you want to radically grow a community, you need to match your engagement efforts with a targeted promotional push.

This post is about the best techniques and channels to do just that.

 

The Best Channels To Grow Your Community Community

If you want to grow a community, you need to be deliberate about how you do. Simply ‘doing a good job’ doesn’t grow a community.

In our community strategies, we develop a clear plan of growth by identifying the main channels to use and then the specific actions we will take on each of them.

This isn’t a comprehensive list, but the main tools of community growth are usually:

  • Search visitors. This is traffic from search engines (Google, Bing, Brave etc..).
  • Customer support flow. This is when people are trying to find an answer to their question through support channels and get redirected to your community.
  • Homepage placement. This is when the community appears somewhere prominently on the homepage for people browsing around.
  • Product integration. This is when the community is a clickable link within the product (or members can simply participate in the community from the product i.e. in-app communities).
  • Related articles. This is when the community shows up alongside related articles people are looking at on a company website.
  • Newsletter promotion. This is when the organization promotes the community to an audience subscribed to a mailing list.
  • Paid social ads. This is when the organization pays to promote the community through ads or promoted posts on social media.
  • Social media. This is when you promote the community through the popular channels members use every day.
  • Member referrals. This is when members invite others to join the community or share community content on social channels.
  • Partnerships and influencers. This is when the community is partnered with another organization (or influencers) and traffic is sent in both directions.
  • Direct invitations. This is when the community team sends individual outreach messages inviting people to join.

You can take very deliberate and specific actions to use each of these tools to grow a community.

 

Which Channel Of Growth Is Best For Your Community?

Not every tool is suitable for growing every type of community. It doesn’t make sense to individually invite people to a support community.

One additional member isn’t worth the effort. Nor does it make sense to promote small peer groups on the community homepage. A flood of traffic will do more harm than good.

You can see a breakdown of the right tool for each type of community here.

Some of this is subjective, but you get a general idea.

For support communities that are usually high-traffic volume, you need tools that can also deliver a high volume of traffic. For smaller communities, you’re working at the micro-level and need the right tools to match.

If you want to grow a community, the first step is to identify which are the right tools for your community.

 

The Smaller The Community, The More Influence You Have Over Growth

Generally speaking, the smaller the group the more direct influence you have over the level of growth.

If you’re building a support community, your influence is usually somewhat limited. This is because the number of visitors depends upon how many people have the kind of questions support communities are best placed to solve. There are some things you can do to optimize traffic flows, but you’re fundamentally playing within a given set of constraints.

However, if you’re building a small community of peers, your influence is much greater. You often individually invite people to join and you’re responsible for keeping them active.

The bigger the audience you’re dealing with, the more growth depends upon sources of traffic you have less direct influence over. Be mindful of this when you’re given engagement targets.

p.s. The level of influence over direct growth is also the level of influence you have over member retention.

 

How To Get More Visitors To Your Community

Once you know which tools are best suited to your community, you can start to figure out how to optimize each of them.

This isn’t going to be a comprehensive list, but will cover some of the steps which have given us the most mileage in the past.

 

1. Community Search Traffic

Search is a black box of conflicting advice, but some general principles seem to work well.

There are several ways to improve your search results. The most common are:

  • Removing/archiving old content. Use tools like ScreamingFrog to pull a list of articles/discussions and combine this with criteria to highlight discussions that haven’t received any traffic in the past year. Then remove them from the search index (or the discussion entirely with redirects to category-level topics).
  • Match categories/tags to terms that are searched for. Use tools like Ahrefs and customer research to identify what people are searching for and ensure categories/tags are named accordingly (i.e. so they appear in every URL/page for that topic). Also ensure the site configuration is set up to properly complete the title tags, meta descriptions, alt-images text, and h1/h2 tags etc…
  • Target specific keywords with resources. Communities are fantastic tools for compiling the best expertise from members into a definitive resource for a particular topic. Once published, you can also help members to share and promote the resources (aside – a definitive guide to tools/settings often seem popular).
  • Improve the navigation/content architecture. This helps limit orphan pages that aren’t linked to within the site but exist on the site. These should be removed or included within a rebuilt navigation structure. Too many community sites have awful navigation/content architecture.
  • Hosting the community on the domain rather than a subdomain. If you can, host the community in a folder (or seemingly in a folder) rather than a subdomain, i.e. it’s better to have brand.com/brand/community than community.brandname.com. This is hard to do without hosting the community yourself.
  • Improving the site load speed. Be aware some platforms are remarkably slow to load compared to others. In my experiments, Flarum seems to have the best load speeds (and Salesforce the slowest). If you can’t switch platforms, at least remove every non-essential script/video/image you don’t need on the site (remove annoying pop-ups if you can too).
  • Rewrite posts and merge duplicate posts. Make a habit of rewriting post discussion titles for things people actually search for. Also be mindful to merge discussions with duplicate titles (or very similar titles) to create single-comprehensive discussions.

If you need more help with search, contact us and we can undertake an audit with follow-up recommendations.

 

2. Customer Onboarding And Support Flow

The onboarding flow is how and if a customer learns about the community. Our surveys often reveal many customers don’t know a community exists (aside, I’ve also been in senior exec meetings where participants made the same startling discovery). The support flow is how members go about resolving questions. A change in the positioning or prominence of the community in the support flow can have a big impact upon participation.

The best ways to optimize this include:

  • Introduce newcomers into the community (and setting up a place for them). For success and support communities, making newcomers aware of the community in the early documentation and training, and having customer support/success reps telling audiences about the community is key.
  • Place the community above the support center (Okta example). Make ‘ask the community’ the default option for people looking for support answers. Position it above the ‘contact us’ option.
  • Federated search to retrieve community discussions. Ideally, you want a search tool (Coveo/SearchUnify) that can retrieve information from throughout the support center (both discussions and help articles). This can greatly increase the number of people arriving at the community.
  • Reminding callers about community while on hold. I’ve only seen this done once, but a message advising people on hold they can ask questions in the community can add a (small) number of active members.

3. Homepage Placement

A lot more people are going to find your community if it’s featured on the main navigation tab than if it’s buried several levels deep. Sometimes this tweak alone can double the amount of traffic a community receives.

At the top level, you want the community in the main navigation tab. If not, you want it featured first in the support tab/help center. If not there, then you’re not going to get much referral traffic.

The SAP Community (below) is a best in class example here:

4. Product Integration

This is more relevant to some products than others. The more integrated the community is with the product itself, the more traffic you’re likely to get. There are some wins here:

  • Prominent inclusion in the product. If you can include the community as a simple click from the product itself, this can help. Quickbooks (below) is a good example of this.

  • Packaging. It’s relatively rare, but I’ve seen the community featured on packaging for products. “For support, visit community.brand.com”. It’s probably not a big win, but can help.
  • In-app community. Some organizations have an in-app community which can be directly integrated with the product so customers/audiences can directly ask questions without having to leave the app. Other times I’ve seen software error messages link to the community where people can get support/ask questions.

 

5. Related Articles

A major way to drive traffic to a community is to ensure it shows up in more places ‘in the flow’ of where people visit today. A common missed opportunity is connecting the metadata from knowledge articles to community discussions and using it to show related community discussions alongside knowledge articles.

For example, for any knowledge article, you could show related community discussions in the sidebar that members might find useful.

Another option is to include an option to ask a question about any article at the bottom of the article itself. Apple does this well.

6. Newsletter Promotion

You can get bumps in traffic from properly promoting the community within a newsletter which goes out to a majority of customers (or your audience). The newsletter isn’t a suitable option for customer support communities, but it can be useful for success communities (promoting individual items of great community content) and using it to help get user groups and new peer groups quickly to a critical mass of activity.

 

7. Paid Social Ads

It’s not common for organizations to launch paid social media to promote a community, but it can be useful when an organization doesn’t have a newsletter audience to promote a new community initiative (and has limited time to build an audience).

It’s best used for a small number of success and exclusive peer group communities (the kind that charges a membership fee to make a budget worthwhile). I’ve seen the cost of acquiring a new member range between $4 to $120.

 

8. Social Media

If you have an existing audience, social media can help you amplify discussions to a broader audience. This works well in success, advocacy, and peer groups. If you don’t have a big audience, social media can be the best place to look for the first trickle of discussions.

  • Promoting good discussions on social media channels. When you have discussions (or content) that are becoming popular in the community, you can boost traffic by also promoting them on social media too. MoneySavingExpert (below) is a good example.

  • Finding new members on LinkedIn. Another tactic is to recruit new members directly from social media. LinkedIn and Twitter, for example, provide a great channel to promote the community to new audiences. You can search specifically for the people you want to join and invite them. This works especially well for smaller peer groups. This is where knowing tools like Canva can really help.
  • Platform referrals. Sometimes the platform will automatically promote your group/community/content to others on the same platform. Facebook groups are a good example. There might be a way to optimize this with the right name/description, but I haven’t yet worked out how. Reddit is another one where the community facilitates mass cross-promotion of related groups from one to another.

 

9. Member Referrals

In theory, as a community grows more people talk about it and it grows. In practice, that doesn’t happen as much as you might think. Most people don’t go around recommending communities to each other. However, there are a couple of things you can do to help facilitate referrals.

  • Engage members in creating a shared project. If you engage members in creating a shared project, they’re quite likely to share it with others. This works especially well with eBooks, events, and similar activities where members will promote the community to others (aside this post is 13 years old and still relevant).
  • Lists or rankings of top members. I hate that this still works in 2022, but creating a list of top community members (or industry influencers) tends to attract a lot of promotion and people on the list sharing it with others. If members can even vote and rank the list, even better.
  • Enable member sharing/referrals. Increasing the prominence of shared options (all the usual social channels) can provide a small boost. But most people don’t share community discussions unless something remarkable is happening. For peer groups and user groups, inviting members to invite others (or giving members a fixed number of invites they can use per month) can really help grow a community.
  • Create content worth sharing. A final option is perhaps the most obvious, create things worth sharing. As mentioned before, definitive guides to specific topics can attract a lot of attention. Especially when members have played a part in creating it.

 

10. Partnerships

  • Influencers. The common myth is you need influencers to launch a community. You don’t. But they can be great people to help promote a community once it’s launched. The most common are hosting events featuring influencers, letting influencers curate discussions/have their own ask me anything category for a short-time, hosting panels with influencers or simply paying influencers to answer questions. The more influencers know a community exists, the more likely they will mention it at some point to their audience. This isn’t a big win, but it can help.
  • Existing organizations/communities. You should have a clear ecosystem map of related organizations/similar events in your space. You can offer a partnership where you promote them if they promote you. This works especially well for events which don’t have their own community. You can be the community for events. Likewise, you can reach out to large organizations and suggest your community be added as a resource for new/existing employees etc.

 

11. Direct invitations

Direct invitations are primarily used to get people to join small groups. At the larger side, it doesn’t make sense to send out invitations directly to members. An additional member doesn’t move the needle. Therefore direct invites work best for attracting advocates, launching small groups of peers, and creating a program of superusers (one client fantastically referred to the superuser invites as the ‘Hogwarts letters’).

There are plenty of useful scripts you can use here. However, fundamentally, the name of this game is about customizing the approach to make each recipient feel like they’re being invited to something special based upon their skills, knowledge, or personal attributes. In short, it’s about making the recipient feel as special as possible.

If you’re launching a new group, you can easily find and send messages to numerous people on LinkedIn, Twitter, and other channels who might want to join.

 

Create A 12-Week Growth Plan

I’ve found it works best to create a ‘12-week sprint’ when it comes to growth. 12 weeks is arbitrary, but the key is to figure out which options make sense to you and then put this into a specific plan for growth.

You can see an example below:

This growth plan is probably too ambitious for 12 weeks, but it shows the full range of activities available. If you’re going to deliberately grow a community, you need a specific plan to do it that everyone can rally around.

 

Don’t Leave Growth To Chance!

We teach our clients not to let growth happen by chance.

Sure, you might get a surge of new members who happen to stumble upon your community. But you’re going to be far more successful if you deliberately drive a group of new visitors to your community.

You can (and should) develop a deliberate plan of growth (i.e. a 12-week plan), target a couple of channels, and then work hard to optimize each of them.

You have more influence over some of these channels than others. The trick is to figure out which are the best channels for your community and how you can best optimize them. This isn’t a comprehensive list of resources, but it should help.

 

Resources

©2022 FeverBee Limited, Apartment 2410, 251 Southwark Bridge Road, London SE1 6FN England FEVERBEE