You’ve launched your online community. You’ve got hundreds, maybe thousands, of active members.
But there is a problem; you’re not sure what you want them to do.
You’re not alone, this happens to the majority of companies we’ve worked with. Many have invested a lot of time and resources to get members to participate without ever answering the fundamental question; ‘what do we need our members to do?’
This usually leads to asking the wrong members to do the wrong things. Fortunately, it’s a very fixable problem.
In this post, I want to take you through a process we go through with clients. This highlights the most valuable things a member can do, the challenges you will need to overcome, and a framework you can use to move forward.
Only A Small Percentage Of Community Contributions Matter
Only a few contributions to your community are valuable. These are the contributions which drive the results you want. They also tend to bring in other members, set the tone for the community, and carve out a unique identity.
You can have a lot of people talking about a lot of things in a place you control (and pay for), but this doesn’t mean it’s valuable. This is like owning a popular bar where people bring their own drinks. Your members get the social benefits while you pay for the overheads.
Your mission is to get every member making their best possible contribution to the community. These are valuable contributions which help you achieve your goal.
What Should Your Active Members Do?
Let’s focus on active members here (we will cover lurkers another time).
Begin by working backward from the result you want. Use this table below if it helps.
This isn’t a definitive list. You should notice however that only a very narrow number of contributions are valuable from active members.
If you want to avoid building another opinion-sharing community, you need to be clear what you want your contributors (usually up to 10% of your membership) to do first.
Select the contributions that most closely match up your goal. Be very clear and specific in the contributions you want members to make.
e.g. ‘members writing detailed blog posts’ as opposed to ‘members sharing good advice’
By the end of this stage you should have identified the contributions you need to achieve your goal.
Great Examples Of Valuable Contributions
The best communities are defined by the great contributions members make.
If you need some examples, here are a few:
- The Spotify Rock Star program has a few hundred people who contribute thousands of great quality solutions every year. These great contributions (quick, personalized, solutions) bring in hundreds of thousands of members and reduce support costs for 6.4m+ members.
- ProjectManagement.com has the smartest people in Project Management sharing detailed articles and resources. These templates and resources saves thousands of people spending days, even weeks, of their lives creating their own resources to do their work. They also serve as a premium feature of the community.
- The Adobe forums has thousands of members sharing their best tips to use the products better. These tips aren’t just targeted at the elite experts, they’re targeted at the far bigger audience of newcomers. This reduces churn, increases loyalty, and improves search traffic.
- Goodreads has members publishing dozens of independent, quality, reviews every minute. This provides Amazon with a treasure trove of information and increases sales.
Each of the communities above are crystal clear in what they wanted members to do. They orientate their activities around these goals. They didn’t hope they would happen by chance if they got enough activity, they proactively drove those behaviors first.
Why Your Members Aren’t Making Great Contributions
Most people, perhaps you too, are making the same mistake. You’re asking members to make contributions they don’t have the skill, time, and motivation to create.
Once you’ve identified the contributions you want, it’s tempting to start blasting messages out to members asking them to make those contributions.
The problem is different kinds of contributions require different attributes from members. A newcomer to the field can hardly be expected to share expert advice.
…But that’s exactly what happens in many communities(!)
These attributes typically fall within three categories;
1) Skills/experience. Great contributions like those above require a significant experience or an acquired skill. If a member doesn’t feel they have a unique skill or experience to share with the community, they won’t participate.
2) Motivation. Motivating refers to deviance from normal behavior. This means getting members to proactively do something they wouldn’t usually do (and don’t see peers doing).
3) Time. This refers to taking an hour or more to contribute the contribution. If you’re writing a review, this doesn’t matter, but if you’re about to share a detailed resource or host an AMA, the member needs the time to create that post.
You can influence each of these a little. You can train members, reduce the time it makes to make a great contribution (e.g. pre-set resources/templates), and deploy motivational messages. This is good practice too. But you’re still going to be working within these relatively fixed restraints. You can’t get members to do things they aren’t able (or willing) to do.
So, what’s the solution?
Going Beyond An Opinion-Sharing Community
You need to match the kind of contributions you want to the members who have the skill/experience, motivation, and time to do those things.
This means identifying members who have the ability to make these contributions and spending more time on them. You can use different systems for each of these.
1) Skill/Expertise. Tag members who demonstrate expertise in a particular niche. You and your volunteers can use admin notes on profiles, create customer badges, or keep a separate list on excel/google sheets (the latter is easiest). Whenever a member makes a great contribution on a topic, tag the contribution to member’s profile/contribution.
2) Motivation. This is harder to fathom. One simple method is to look either at members who create the most posts, those who create deviant posts (e.g. publishing something different or unique), or use your own subjective observations. Listing members by the number of posts they have made is easiest. Set a mark, usually 5+ contributions in the past month.
3) Time. Create a list of members who have either spent the most time on the site or read the most posts within the previous 60 days. You can do this by either listing members by time spent or the site/posts read. You can list members from native features or, if you’re pulling data from the server logs, you can run a simple query below.
This provides a list of members who have read more than 50+ posts within the past 60 days (you can change these variables to suit you).
You can build increasingly complex and automated systems to add people to the right list. The key principle is you should now be able to divide your regular members into active groups based upon the table below:
(yes, this list is quite subjective)
Now you place many of your active members into the categories above (feel free to add your own) and pursue those on lists which lead to the contributions you need to achieve your goals.
- If someone appears on all three lists, you want to invite them to share a detailed resource/template based upon their expertise. Highlight the kind of resources you need, emphasize the status of those resources, identify similar resources elsewhere for them.
- If someone appears on experience and motivation, you want to see if they can share their best tips or solutions on a semi-regular basis. Highlight the tips required, the impact they have, and make a big deal out of great tips shared.
- If someone appears on time and motivation, guide them to volunteer or leadership roles within the community (hosting interviews, welcoming members, moderating areas of the site etc…).
- If someone appears just on motivation, ask them to highlight or vote on the kind of content or material they would love to see in the community. Then feed this back to members creating tips/resources.
- If someone appears just on one list (e.g. experience), you might want them to share reviews or help connect members where possible. etc…
The more resources you have, the more lists you can pursue.
You can begin with just a single list if you like (perhaps resources/templates), find people who fall into that category, and see if you can start adding some tremendous templates and resources to your community. This is terrific for lead generation.
Your goal by the end of this is to make sure every member is making their best possible contribution to the community.
The equation is simple. If you want more support for the community, you have to show the community is driving more value.
The common mistake is to equate value to activity and trying to attract more members to drive more activity.
Having undertaken in-depth interviews with almost 70 people for my book, I feel fairly confident to say that there is a far more effective option. You don’t need more members, you need better systems to capture and use the value you have already created.
The Insights Matrix
Online communities are rivers of powerful insights. We usually let these insights wash away because we don’t have good systems to capture and use them.
This, in turn, means our communities aren’t generating anywhere near the value they should be. Which, in turn, means were’ not getting the support we need to build the incredible communities we want to create.
If we can better capture and use these insights, we can solve these problems.
We can divide these insights down into the four distinct categories we see below.
|Members||Aware||Ideas and opinions|
This includes ideation, co-creation, surveys, polls interviews, asking for ideas and feedback.
e.g. asking customers what they think about a product.
This includes problem posts, voting on problems (or ‘me too’) posts.
e.g. finding out what customers are really angry about.
|Unaware||Sentiment And Qualitative Data|
This includes tracking mentions and popularity of topics. It involves identifying the words and language members use.
e.g. waiting to see what your best customers say about a product.
This includes click-through rates, conversion rates, attribution, landing page data.
e.g. tracking what people are most interested in about the product.
These insights are categorized by whether:
a) they are solicited by the organization.
b) our audience knows they’re generating insights.
Solicitation matters because asking someone what they think gives you a very different type of insight from a furious member complaining about a problem.
Audience awareness matters because members have a tendency to lie or struggle to explain what they really want. Fortunately, their clicks don’t lie.
You’re probably capturing at least one type of insight today, but you can immediately bring more value to the table if you start capturing multiple types of insights.
1) Ideas and Opinions
Any time you ask members for feedback, you’re going to get their ideas and opinions.
Ideas are useful both in themselves and also to validate or challenge existing thinking, identify great talent, and get a range of options to choose from. If no-one else can come up with a better solution to a problem than you have today, you can probably move on to the next thing.
In practice, this falls into two buckets. Insights generated through a dedicated platform and those sought after through more traditional platforms.
The dedicated platforms include:
- Ideation platforms. In an ideation platform, members are invited to submit ideas and vote on the ones they like best. This usually involves a platform like BrightIdea, Spigit, Charodix etc…
- Competition platforms. In a competition platform, members are set a challenge and invited to work together to come up with the best solution. Good examples here include Kaggle, Topcoder, 99designs.
- Co-creation platforms. In a co-creation platform, members collaborate with each other to develop a bigger project. Many open-source platforms can fall under this banner. Other common examples might include Forth and platforms like Jovoto and others. Though, in practice, outside of open-source its rare for members to refine and update each other’s ideas.
You can find a bigger list of platforms here. Pricing ranges from a few hundred dollars per year to low-six figure sums for larger efforts which require high levels of customization.
These platforms are essentially efforts that align the goal of the community to a single type of insight. It’s more effective for that purpose but limiting if you want any other kind of insights.
This leads us to the second category of ideas, those sought after on a more ad-hoc basis without a dedicated platform. This includes:
- Surveying community members. You can ask members a range of questions about their opinions on products, their problems, or what they would prioritize. SurveyMonkey is probably the simplest tool.
- Running a community poll. You can run a poll and get immediate feedback from members on a single question. Most platforms have this as a native feature today. Getting feedback from most members on a single question. Otherwise SurveyMonkey and Doodle are quite simple options.
- Interviewing community members. In-depth interviews give you deep, qualitative, data on members. This can help you build profiles, better understand the problems, and appreciate how people conceive the problem. I personally use Skype with SkypeRecorder for these. I also transcribe each interview in real-time with a few pre-set questions to begin.
- Initiating discussion questions. The easiest way to get feedback is to use the community what it is there for, asking questions and getting responses. This gives you a quick and simple understanding of what your participants (not to be generalized to your community) want.
Capturing and using these ideas and opinions:
There are a lot of different ways you can make this work for you without building a dedicated platform. The easiest might include:
- Set a competition to solve a problem your marketing/engineering teams are struggling with. Have a small prize for the best response (or top 3 responses). Be sure to check the law on competitions.
- Ask members to review upcoming content before it’s published (I’m doing this with my book). Find out what they like about it, don’t like about it. Does it make sense? Is it relevant? Does it read well? What were their main takeaways?
- Ask engineers what features they would like feedback on and run a poll or survey on those issues. Solicit questions from your colleagues on a regular basis to run past the community. Find out how many ideas they want, what format they want them in, and when they want them.
- Get snapshot responses to any question raised in meetings that would benefit from quick feedback.
- Ask members what they would most like to change about your product/service and feeding that information back to your colleagues.
- Highlight the roadmap and ask members to prioritize what order they want these items fixed in a survey.
You can develop plenty of your own ideas here too.
Be sure to find out exactly what feedback about your product, PR, and marketing teams would most love to see and set questions, polls, or surveys in the community to gather that feedback.
Complaints are often more powerful than ideas because they reveal what members really care about.
If someone takes the time and energy to write a complaint, you can be sure the problem is important to them. Solicited ideas might reveal preferences, but complaints highlight what will influence purchase decisions.
Complaints can also act as an early warning system to any upcoming problems and avoid PR disasters. They also give you a great opportunity to correct bad strategy mistakes and turn unhappy members into satisfied participants, if not eager advocates.
However, the number of complaints received via customer support tickets or calls usually dwarfs those received by the community. But the community typically contains an organization’s most dedicated fans/supporters.
A community shows what your best customers are upset about. If you lose your best customers, you have a major problem.
Many communities are launched as a customer support channel, this means they host only complaints. Others try to focus on the positive aspects of the product, but often become overwhelmed by the negative tone of discussions.
Capturing and using these insights:
- Setup a place in the community for member complaints and share this link with the people that need to see them. This also separates the positive community discussions from the negative.
- Tag or screenshot each complaint (or the biggest complaints) and compile these into a simple briefing for engineers or product managers at the end of the week.
- Find out from colleagues what complaints they want to be immediately escalated internally and train your staff/volunteers on what to do with these complaints.
- Report which areas/features get the most complaints.
- Respond quickly (where legally possible) to every complaint that’s received within the community and demonstrate a positive approach to trying to solve the problem.
You want to develop your own system for tagging, screenshotting, or having a place for members to post complaints. Evernote is the simplest, but far from the only solution. Most platforms will either let you ‘tag’ a discussion or add a note to these discussions. This lets you pull these complaints in a query.
3) Sentiment and Qualitative Data
Every day your audience is giving you great insights in both their sentiment and the choice of words they use. Each of these has different benefits.
Qualitative data (or sentiment) is great for analyzing how much people care about a complaint they have posted. It can help prioritise which complaints to focus on. For example, a large number of members might be mildly irritated by a feature most used, but a smaller group might be furious about a less used feature. You might want to prioritise the latter or risk losing that smaller group of customers.
Alternatively, you might notice members no longer speak about a product or the company as positively as they once did. This portends a major problem you should raise at the next company meeting.
Finally, how a member describes a problem is very useful. You can find out exactly how members talk about issues and describe problems.
This can be passed on to copywriters, marketers, your PR team, and anyone involved in writing anything members read. When you start using the exact words members use, you get a better response (as well as SEO benefits).
Capturing and using sentiment:
- Run your community logs (or URL) through a sentiment analysis tool to either track positive/negative sentiment broadly or towards a particular product. There are plenty of social media focused tools that do this, but a few others like blockspring and Haven will either let you build your own or do this for you (note: I’ve never used Haven). You can also track mentions of specific words that might be associated with positive or negative sentiment.
- Capture the titles and words members use to describe their problems and feed this data back to the people that write the FAQ, help center, and marketing copy. This helps them ensure they’re using the language members best understand.
- Track which topics are most popular within the community and share this information with people who provide this data. See which discussions have the highest level of positivity associated with them.
Word of warning, sentiment tools are addictive. Make sure you know what you’re looking for before you use one.
Behavioral insights are usually the most powerful (and the most overlooked).
It’s one thing to track what members say, it’s another matter entirely to track what members do.
Behavioral insights are relatively easy to setup and use. You can use Google Analytics and other simple tools to easily see what pages most people arrive on and make inferences about what got them there. If most people are arriving at a discussion about ‘cheap conference venues in London?’, you might want to create content about the topic.
You can also see which categories (or topics) are rising and falling in popularity. Your colleagues can then devote more time to creating content or product features within these categories and devote more time to creating content or product features within those categories.
Click data reveals trends and shows what’s rising and falling in popularity. It can tell you exactly what members are doing and help you personalize activities for your members. It also helps you to optimize for key topics.
Capturing and using behavioral data
These systems can become considerably complex, but at their easiest you can usually do the following:
- Ensure each discussion is not just placed within a category, but properly tagged. Track and report the popularity of each tag (by visits and comments) to identify possible trends and feed these trends back to colleagues.
- Track the top 50 landing pages to the community each month. This reveals what members (and, most often, newcomers to the topic) are searching for. Your marketing team can create more content around these trends to capture newcomers.
- Use Google Analytics to check where members are visiting from (geographic region as well as demographic data). This might reveal the need to translate your product content or sell the product to new regions. It might at least identify possible favourable markets.
- Track where members arrive from. High-volume websites might indicate opportunities for referral/partnership programs.
- Track visits from specific devices or on multiple browsers. This may show a need to cater the product or material to those browsers or devices.
This is far from a definitive list. Start with something simple and expand gradually to add greater depths of insights.
Your colleagues might not act on a single data point, but if the information proves credible it becomes a powerful and invaluable asset to have.
Pros and Cons Of Each System
Each of the options above have various pros and cons.
|Ideas and opinions|
|Sentiment and language|
Download Our Reporting Sheet
Once you begin collecting your insights, you will also want to share them more broadly than just the immediate person in need. This is why you should prepare an insights report to share around at each meeting and email to a broader group at the end of each month.
This covers the summary, the key takeaways in each of the four areas above, next steps, and insights implement.
Make sure everyone is aware of previous insights which have been implemented as a result of the community.
You can download our worksheet here:
Getting great insights from your members to your colleagues is the most effective way to increase the value of the community. But you need to work at both ends. You need to find out what insights your colleagues most need and develop systems to capture those insights.
Your success (and the success of the community) depends not on how much activity you generate or how many members you persuade to join, but by how useful your colleagues find the community.
If you collect a lot of great insights they can use, you will quickly win them over and build the kind of community you want to create.
You can even watch the slideshare below (click here if it doesn’t appear), or read the breakdown below.
StackOverflow was launched in 2008 as a Q&A site for programmers. It has since grown to 50 million monthly visitors and is the crown jewel of the expansive StackExchange network.
StackOverflow enforces extremely strict moderation policies designed to get great answers to great questions. It does not allow casual chatter on the main community platform. This is unique amongst most organizations.
Unlike other branded communities, StackOverflow earns direct revenue from the community via recruitment (talent), advertising (ads), and helping companies create their own private instance of StackOverflow within their organization.
The community consists of several core areas:
1) Questions. The community is entirely orientated around ‘questions’ which also appear on the landing page of the community.
2) Developer Jobs. Programmers can search and find jobs published by paying advertisers on the community.
3) Tags. These are keywords or labels that members can browse through to find relevant information.
4) Users. Members can browse through the list of users and search by keywords.
5) Developer Stories. This is where members can create their ‘online resumes’.
6) Business Solutions. For businesses who want to hire, advertise, or use StackOverflow in their work.
- The community has a different homepage for visitors compared with logged in members. This is really smart to do. Visitors have different needs than logged in, returning, members. The focus is more upon registration.
- The community is entirely focused on the latest activity. Members are expected to scroll through and find questions to answer. This is a fixed list rather than infinite scroll.
- The search box is slightly hidden, but not too hard to find at the top.
- There is a good selection of tabs. But it’s not clear what the difference between interesting and featured is. Can probably remove a few of these.
- Clear gamification features and notifications on previous posts in the top right.
- The ‘Ask Question’ button is a little hard to see.
- This is a good use of showing the popularity of questions by votes, answers, and views. People know how popular a question is without having to click the link.
- Most of the questions here seem very unpopular. This is due to the sheer ferocity of questions StackOverflow receives. Might be worthwhile showing questions which are popular but not answered yet.
- The display of tags beneath the question is excellent.
- Look out for the blog integration in the top right to show the latest news about the community here. This doesn’t intrude on the main activity, but lets people know the broader community news
- The add/edit favorite tags on the right hand side is useful.
- This advertising works. It’s not too intrusive or hurtful to the user experience.
- The ‘latest activity’ metrics show a clearly active site. This is good to show before clicking the question.
- The mobile version of the visitor homepage removes the registration form and tags. It focuses purely on showing the latest questions.
- The ‘ask question’ option has also curiously vanished.
- The slimmed down nature of the site makes it ideal for visitors looking to scroll through questions – possibly without participating.
USER EXPERIENCE AND PARTICIPATION
- StackOverflow is hosted on a custom-built site. While most main platforms have auto-complete search, StackOverflow does not. The search bar expands, but does not display the relevant questions and discussions in drop down mode.
- Search works well. It shows not just relevant questions, but also the specific and highest voted answers to those questions.
- The speed of search is also faster than any other community visited.
- Next to the search results are also ‘advanced search tips’. This is an incredibly useful and interesting addition to programmers. It helps people find the answer to their question even faster.
- StackOverflow tackles the ‘repeat question’ problem by forcing you to thoroughly research the answer first. This is the screen you see when you select ‘ask question’.
- The tips are good and include relevant links. Although many members probably skim right past this.
- I love this ‘tick box’ along with the ‘open mind’ text to confirm that this has been read.
- The ‘adapted from Google’ section in the top right is something other communities can easily use.
- Related links to ask a good question are also a nice touch. It might be a good idea to guide newcomers to read this before asking a question, otherwise I suspect most people will ignore this.
- StackOverflow continues its maniacal focus on good questions by providing prompts at each stage of asking a question. Here there is a prompt in default, the title itself to be specific along with advice on the right hand side to provide details, share research, and ask unrelated questions about the community in the meta area.
- StackOverflow also provides a relevant link to the help center. This ensures people begin questions with the right mindset and a good, specific, title.
- When you click on the box to enter your question, formatting help appears on the right-hand side. These small prompts are incredibly useful. Each of the main tabs (links, images etc…) also drops down to reveal further advice as part of advanced help.
- As you begin typing the question, it appears in preview mode below so you can see exactly how the question will appear. Similar questions will also appear on the right-hand side.
- This appears complicated as you begin typing the question. However, if StackOverflow detects something which is incorrect, you receive a bright red notification. You cannot post the question until you’ve resolved this problem. This is another very neat touch.
- You can also see the advanced help above the question, the preview below, and the similar questions on the right hand side.
- The community shows suggested tags from those mentioned in the question or using AI from previous questions.
- If you begin to type your own tag, a drop-down box of relevant tags appears below along with a description. This makes tagging really easy (and enforced).
RESPONDING TO QUESTIONS
- Questions are clearly displayed with regard to the audience’s expectations. Here the coding is properly formatted and shown within the questions with simple tags.
- Members can do one of a few things. They can either vote, favourite, comment, or answer the question. However, newcomers are not allowed to vote on questions until they have a 15-point reputation score.
- Commenting on a question is a novel feature of StackOverflow. It’s designed to improve the quality of the question and provide feedback to the original poster as well as providing more information for people to create good answers.
- This would be distracting in most online communities, but works well when good quality answers is the overriding part of the community concept.
- As we can begin to expect now, answering questions contains further prompts about what to do to provide a really good answer.
- The link to further tips on writing great answers is also a great practice to observe and easy to replicate.
- One of the truly unique aspects of StackOverflow’s community is the ability of members to edit the questions and answers of other members. Everyone has the ability to do this, although the process is peer-reviewed.
- Edits are used to fix grammatical errors, clarify meaning, correct minor mistakes, and add related resources. Aside from Wikipedia, I haven’t seen any other community successfully implement this feature.
- Unlike most organisations where empathy in responses is a critical part of the response, StackOverflow is designed for an audience that only wants good, quick, answers to questions.
- Almost all questions receive a quick response. The responses are usually detailed and specific to help the person. In this case, it’s code that the programmer might like to use to resolve the problem they are facing.
REGISTRATION AND ONBOARDING
- StackOverflow doesn’t have a separate registration page, visitors are encouraged to register with the fields shown within the header at the top of the page. This also allows Google and Facebook sign on.
- Allowing people to register without having a separate registration page is a really clever feature.
- StackOverflow has the easiest email confirmation page you will ever see. They have reduced the amount of copy to just 9 words. You can consider doing something similar with your email confirmations.
- This is really simple copy at the top to get people started. Not sure on the logo mind.
- I like the phrasing of ‘what should we call you?’
- Profile photo is easy to drag and drop into place.
- Picking a few topics of interest should be a standard feature of all players. It enables members to receive updates on topics which are relevant to them. It encourages a good use of tagging.
- Not sure why this section is relevant, possibly the only area here I’d remove.
- Most importantly here you don’t have to write detailed ‘about me’ paragraphs. You can select the key things that matter.
- Great way to merge in advertising opportunities.
- Notice the ‘all fields are optional’ – I’d move this to the top of the page.
- This welcome email is triggered by participation in the community. The quick summary, learning how to write great answers, and custom views are pretty effective ways to help newcomers get started.
- I suspect there might be an opportunity for improvement here based upon tags people have selected and what the latest activity of the community is.
- Once you join the community you receive a notification with a link to the tutorials page.
- This tutorial page is detailed and explains each of the steps required to become a great participant of the community. The visual element is especially useful.
DEVELOPER JOBS AND STORIES
- The jobs section revolves around developer stories which members are prompted to complete in the community if they want to be open to new job offers. The forms are relatively simple to complete and all fields are required.
- The developer stories are presented really well, with tags at the top (not shown), and then a detailed timeline of previous jobs and experiences below.
- Most communities could adapt this idea to immediately upgrade their member profiles.
- This is a relatively standard and simple list of job adverts. With a search function and location at the top and list of ads displayed below.
- Showing the salary, tags, and ‘be one of the first applicants’ is incredibly smart.
- Letting applicants create job alerts is also extremely clever.
- Showing the previous searches and job preferences is a nice touch. Easy to edit from the front page.
- This section is a relatively simple and clean way of showing the job adverts. This might be the least innovative page of the community.
- A major innovation of the community is to enable members to apply for the job directly within the platform. This includes using their current reputation score to apply for the positions.
- The member profiles is one of the most advanced areas of the community.
- Showing users where they rank comparatively is a smart way to drive more participation and reward the top members.
- Number of badges and reputation points are clearly displayed.
- Other communities where the member participates in. Not relevant for most communities (or here, really)
- The ‘impact score’ in the top right is genius. A great way of showing a member’s total contribution.
- The breakdown on the right hand side of a member’s vital statistics is also useful. Not sure what ‘4 hats’ are though.
- In the bottom right is a further good breakdown of where their expertise lies. You can clearly see where this member’s real expertise is.
- Mid-way down the profile is a list of a member’s top posts. This is a great way of letting the member ‘show off their best work’ without looking like an ass.
- Each member’s badges gained are displayed at the bottom, listed by date and the reason they earned the badge. This is a simple way of displaying the badges. There might be better ways of doing this.
GAMIFICATION AND REWARD SYSTEMS
- StackOverflow also has one of the most advanced gamification systems on the web. This begins at earning privileges for taking simple actions ‘such as creating a post’ all the way up to getting access to analytics with 25,000 points.
- The ticks next to the scores is an especially nice touch.
- This the ‘Tom Sawyer’ effect in action. The more privileges you earn, the more likely you are to take on doing work for the community for free. Full privileges board encourages members to take on more work for free.
- A good menu in the top right explains what’s required to progress to the next level.
- Showing the next privilege and what’s needed to get there is also a smart idea.
- There are multiple types of privileges members can earn, as broken down here.
- There are a near-infinite number of badges members can earn in the StackOverflow community. These range from question, answer, participation, moderation, documentation, and ‘other’ badges.
- The diversity of badges means everyone can and almost certainly will begin collecting badges from the very early days of the community.
- All of the systems are fully documented and explained in detailed guides. This limits confusion and potential anger from members when they don’t get the rewards or privileges they expected. It’s usually a smart move to fully document your reward systems.
- Interestingly, StackOverflow also operates chat rooms which members with a reputation score of at least 20 are allowed to participate in. This type of interaction allows for more general discussion which would be an ill-fit for the quality-information focus of the community.
- This is a good balance between ephemeral and serious discussions which many organisations struggle with. However, they are hard to find on the community.
CONCLUSION – THE MOST ADVANCED ONLINE COMMUNITY ON THE WEB
StackOverflow, with the possible exception of Facebook, has the most advanced and sophisticated community platform on the planet. There are hundreds of tiny details which are all designed to support its core concept of getting great answers to great questions.
To support this mission, StackOverflow deliberately limits engagement in favour of quality contributions. This has the desired impact of attracting the highest quality programmers to share their best advice on the community, but it’s a tough path for others to follow.
However, platform vendors and organisations can learn plenty from StackOverflow’s homepage setup, gamification systems, onboarding systems, and job pages.
There is also plenty to learn here about creating tutorials and nudges throughout the platform to ensure that members make great contributions to the community.
Many organisations would benefit from focusing less on driving as much activity as possible and instead focusing on driving the right kind of activity within their community. This is the real frontier of our work today.
You can visit for yourself at: www.stackoverflow.com.
At some point, almost everyone looks at their community and wishes they could increase engagement. This usually leads to clever ideas that members might find interesting, but soon the novelty wears off and engagement returns to the same level.
The problem is a failure to properly diagnose why engagement decreased. Much like medicine and engineering, it’s far harder to diagnose the problem than to identify the solution. If you properly diagnose the problem, the solutions usually present themselves.
Diagnosing Your Community Engagement Problem
The diagnosis begins from a motivation perspective. You can use our membership motivation model below. This identifies why people don’t visit the community, why people initially participate in a community, and what leads to healthy long-term participation in a community. You should be able to use this to diagnose the problems you need to overcome:
If Your Audience Doesn’t Visit Your Community
The most common problem is people simply aren’t visiting the community. This usually breaks down into four buckets (by descending order of priority):
1) Lack of awareness. No-one can visit your community if they either aren’t aware or have forgotten it exists. You can diagnose this by asking or surveying a random sample of your total audience. Ask them to name any communities they have heard about and see what percentage mentions your community. If it’s less than 5%, you have a big awareness problem.
2) Low value perception. This is when the audience is aware the community exists, but they are not especially motivated to visit. This means your community concept isn’t right.
Ask your audience what challenges they are tackling today and check if this matches the discussions and activities taking place in the community today. You might also want to check Google Trends and other tools to see what terms and topics people are searching for today. Is your community aligned to match?
3) Trust. Here your target audience understands what the value of the community is supposed to be but doesn’t trust you to deliver it. This happens most often when people have visited the community once but didn’t see enough value to visit or participate again. You can diagnose this by asking members if they did visit the community to highlight what advice/value they got from the community.
4) Competitor groups. You’re probably not the only community in town. Members might participate in other groups as well. Their ties to those groups might be hard to break and other groups might be better at delivering on this value than you are. This usually requires focusing on a unique, growing, niche you can dominate (if you’re smaller), or fear of missing out (if you’re the bigger community). This can also be diagnosed by asking your audience what other communities members participate in today.
These are all fundamental problems. You need to have a constant source of new visitors, a relevant community concept, to deliver value, and compete effectively against other groups.
Why People Join And Initially Participate In An Online Community
Once you’ve tackled the fundamentals, you also need to ensure it’s easy for members to make their first contributions to the community. People make their first contributions to an online community for five key reasons. These are to ask a question (or solve a problem), improve their expertise, increase their status, be part of a group, or explore a topic with a group of likeminded friends.
You can reverse engineer this to diagnose why people don’t participate in a community they visit (e.g. why do people only lurk?).
This boils down to:
1) They don’t feel they can ask a question. They either don’t have a question to ask or don’t feel comfortable asking it. The latter usually because of fear about their personal reputation or fear of getting a negative (or no) response.
2) They don’t have expertise to share. People don’t respond to questions or write blog posts because they don’t have the expertise to share or comfort to share their expertise. This happens in many fields where there are a lot of newcomers and the experts are hard to persuade to participate.
3) They don’t feel participating will increase their status. This occurs when the cost/benefit of participating isn’t worthwhile from a status perspective. This means they don’t feel their contributions will get alot of good responses and help increase their status.
4) They don’t feel they will be left behind. In many communities there is no danger of being excluded from a group by not participating. There is no urgency to participate now or fear of missing out.
5) They are not passionate about the topic. Another reason is they aren’t interested enough in the topic to explore it with others. This comes up again when we talk about healthy, long-term, participation.
You can interview or survey people who visit to see what’s preventing them. Alternatively, you can test different ideas from those listed above until you come up with an effective solution. Tip: it’s usually best to work from the top down.
Why Most People Don’t Become Regular, Active, Members
Usually the level of participation declines rapidly after the first contribution to a community. You can see this in our data below:
There are three big reasons for this.
1) They aren’t curious about the topic. They might participate when they have to (for work or to resolve a frustration), but they aren’t motivated to learn more about the topic beyond this level.
2) They don’t enjoy participating in the community. They don’t feel a part of something special when they do participate in the community. They don’t feel they have much control or ownership. They don’t feel it’s a part of their peer group where people like and respect them.
3) They don’t enjoy helping others. They don’t get much joy from helping others. This occurs most often when they don’t receive gratitude for contributions or don’t feel much of a connection to other members. It also arises when they are answering the same questions repeatedly within the community.
All of these tie back to the three root causes that you can work on. These are:
1) Limited sense of competence. If members don’t feel their abilities are growing, have opportunities to demonstrate their abilities, nor have any control over the site, their motivation is sharply reduced.
2) Limited sense of autonomy. If members don’t feel they can participate the way they like, in a way that aligns with their values, and give input into the direction of the community, they are less likely to enjoy participating there.
3) Limited sense of relatedness. In short, they don’t feel liked and respected by other members. There is no larger sense of community forming around the topic that gives people their social identity.
The key here is to gradually increase this sense of competence, autonomy, and relatedness by designing specific journeys you take members through. There are no shortage of tactics here.
Ultimately, to sustain long-term, regular, participation the community ultimately has to offer more than just solutions to problems. It has to offer members the chance to feel really smart, to feel they can finally behave as best aligns with their values, and the opportunity to build strong relationships.
Always Diagnose The Problem First
Before you move on to testing any tactics, properly diagnose the problem. Once you diagnose the problem the solutions usually present themselves.
Last week we began the first in-depth breakdown of a large, established, online community. You can read our breakdown of Apple’s online community from last week.
This week we’re going to do a detailed overview of Airbnb’s online community.
You can view the slideshare here (or read the breakdown below)
Concept and Background
Airbnb’s online community is a community for hosts (not guests) which has existed for over five years and been through several iterations and strategies during this time.
The community is based on the Lithium platform and uses most of Lithium’s available modules. This means the community allows hosts to ask questions, share tips and tricks, connect with other hosts, suggest ideas, create and host meetup groups, and collaborate with each other in home sharing clubs.
The community also uses translation (rather than separate sites) to cater to different languages.
The main challenges for a mature, highly active, community like Airbnb usually include handling high levels of activity, being highly responsive to member questions, and ensuring members are engaging in actions which drive real value to the brand.
There may also be questions about the value of an online community. The larger the community becomes, the bigger the team required. As the size of the team grows, so does the temptation to cut the budget if the value of the community cannot be proven.
THE STRUCTURE OF THE COMMUNITY
The community umbrella includes (by order of website prominence):
1) Tips and tricks to become better hosts. The primary goal of the community is to facilitate members sharing ideas with one another.
2) Connect with local hosts. A second goal is to build sub-groups for hosts to connect locally with one another.
3) Customer Support. Much of the community activity revolves around hosts asking questions and getting support from one another.
4) Home Sharing Clubs. This is where hosts can share stories with one another and support local initiatives.
5) Host Voice. Members can suggest ideas they would like Airbnb to implement.
6) Meetups. Members can create and sign up to attend local meetups.
This list doesn’t include the host newsletter, toolkit, host stories, webinars, and toolkits which have lesser levels of activity. Nor does it include social or groups started on 3rd-party platforms (e.g. Facebook).
COMMUNITY HOMEPAGE AND NAVIGATION
- The language and copy on the community is telling. This should highlight the main goal of the community. A community where ‘anyone can belong’ suggests Airbnb is pursuing a movement rather than a function. This is a high-risk, high-reward approach. I’m not sure it’s the best way to motivate contributions.
- There are two very clear calls to action. This suggests this isn’t just about resolving problems but genuinely facilitating ongoing conversations.
- Would love to see photos of some top members here instead of just hosts. The diversity within the photos selected is a smart balance of sexualities, age, and race.
- Three clear categories here. 1) Get inspired by new ideas, 2) connect with others (validation), and 3) get support. However these don’t clearly connect to the mission-statement opposite.
- I like the translation method of handling the multiple-language challenge.
- Showing top posts instead of latest posts by default is a good idea for idea/tip-driven communities.
- ‘Your latest posts’ is great for catching up on recent discussions or seeing if any answers have been received. Would be good to show date or recency of last response.
- The mid-form display is an interesting way of displaying content. It works well when the goal of the community is to provide new ideas and get people to click on ‘blog style’ posts for inspiration. But it’s not great when it includes customer support posts that won’t be relevant to as many people.
- Featured discussions on the right are fantastic when they support a clear goal. I’d be interested in displaying them clearly.
- This looks like a good an interesting mix of content here, but it’s buried too far down for almost anyone to see it. I’d look to display this much higher up. Showing lengthy posts instead of just titles has reduced what can be shown on the page.
- The site works well on mobile with the images dropping out to reveal a simple layout above the fold. Could possibly remove the copy below the headline here.
- The full posts take up lots of space and lead to a lot of scrolling on a mobile space. I’d reduce this to just the titles of the post to allow for easier scrolling
USER EXPERIENCE AND PARTICIPATION
Now we can begin to explore what it’s like to ask a question within the community.
- First, you will probably enter the question in the search. Lithium’s autocomplete search works well with the related discussions appearing as the question is being typed. The tick next to the questions with resolutions is a useful touch.
- This prompt when you first click on the search box is also a nice touch. Small nudges like these can be really effective in online communities.
- Once you select ‘start a discussion’ you’re taken to the ‘all discussion rooms’ page which then asks you to select from relevant ‘rooms’. This feels clunky and the categories are confused. This would work better within a ‘drop down’ menu to select while writing the post itself. Also, many questions could easily be in hosting and help simultaneously.
- Not sure this large image at the top of the page has to be here. This pushes all the other content way down the page.
- Is the copy at the top right necessary? It duplicates the copy opposite and most people would naturally ‘start a discussion’ if they wanted help.
- The ‘welcome to help’ area also feels like it could be shortened to something much simpler, it’s a good idea though.
- Now you have to click ‘start a discussion’ AGAIN to start a discussion. This shouldn’t be happening.
- Showing the community guides at the top of the page works well, I think showing the guides themselves in box/pinterest style would be better here.
- Showing related tags works well, but would be best to organise these by priority or trending topics.
- This is a clean interface. The autosave feature is also appreciated. The drop-down list appears again to avoid duplicated questions. Smart.
- The box offers images, links, and bullet points but no other HTML. this is probably a good idea for Airbnb.
- This area would benefit from some Apple-style advice sharing simple tips to help people ask good questions (e.g. give context and details).
- Tags don’t automatically appear (nor are there any suggested tags based upon the post) – this would make it easier to select the right tags in the community.
- Do you really need a ‘cancel’ button? People will either post or not. Feels an odd place to encourage a cancellation.
- There are FAR too many things to do here. This is before we look at the two ‘options’ drop-down menus which show the same options. Would benefit from a like / me-too / reply and nothing else.
- Could move the # comments and views to the top of the page to show popularity of each post.
- ‘Join the conversation’ feels a bit weak, why not ‘reply’ or ‘help’? Can be more specific with the kind of participation required here.
RESPONSES AND EMPATHY
Now we can look at what kind of responses we get…
- Airbnb does a very good job of ensuring almost all questions and tips shared receive a quick response. In some areas, these become sprawling discussions. In others, they are simple customer support questions which receive a good response.
- It lists the respondee as a ‘level 10’ here but there is no other information on the community about gamification, rewards, or what these levels mean. It seems level 10 is the highest a member can reach in the community. There is great potential to further develop and improve this.
- ‘Mark as helpful’ is a useful button. This might benefit from an additional prod to select this.
- Most responses come from community members at a level 10 or above.
- The responses are generally factual, but not rich in empathy and there isn’t much attempt at a follow up to check if the problem was resolved or make a solution as a featured answer. This is a missed opportunity. The low-level of responses from staff members suggests a relatively small team manages this online community
REGISTRATION AND ONBOARDING
How easy and motivational is it to join and register for this online community?
- Accessing the Airbnb community requires using an Airbnb account. There isn’t a distinct community registration pathway. You go through the same process as you would to register for the site itself. There aren’t separate user journeys here.
- This means there is no onboarding pathway to engage or educate members. The anti-discrimination policy acceptance is a welcome touch.
- Because there isn’t a distinct community participation track, there is no welcome email that guides people into their ongoing contributions to the community. This feels like a missed opportunity to convert people into active participants and also hints at a limited level of integration with other areas of the organisation. This email even guides people away from the community they just tried to join.
- A curated list of tips and help guides is a great addition, but it’s buried within the community and would benefit from being listed in an automated onboarding journey. The list is strong and potentially very useful however. It is also kept regularly updated.
- I’d list by popularity rather than alphabetically but it’s a minor tweak
- The community also has a list of centrally created tutorials to do basic actions on the site. I prefer these as one-time pop-up notifications, but they can work well here if they are easy to find. They appear above the fold, yet tend to push down after discussions. It’s best to showcase a tutorial next to the action where it is needed.
TIPS AND TRICKS
Now we can start reviewing the subsections of the community in a little more depth. This begins with tips and tricks which is relatively active and has good content.
- The tips and tricks area of the community is structured similarly to other areas. This needs a good display of the top tips shared by hosts, ideally in visual form.
- This area would benefit from best tips ever shared, top tips for new Airbnb hosts, tips to get higher ratings, and trending tips relevant right now.
- Despite the best efforts of the community manager, many topics are filled with complaints about Airbnb or customer support questions. This brings the tone of discussions down from what it could and should be.
- It’s impossible to upvote or rate a tip without clicking into it. Reddit-style upvoting works best when sharing new ideas. Make it easier for people to upvote ideas they like.
The local connections area could easily be removed.
- Airbnb encourages members to ‘connect locally’ and join groups for their city. Very few of these groups are active and many share the same kinds of discussions as appear elsewhere. Ironically it’s not possible to send a direct message or ‘connect/befriend’ with other members.
- This section could easily be abolished or control handed over to regional community members who could lead these groups either on Airbnb or, much better, on Facebook groups where they may already exist. At the moment too many of these groups have very low levels of activity and need to be pruned.
HOME SHARING CLUBS
Home sharing clubs have high levels of activity and great potential.
- The goal of home sharing clubs is to educate local hosts about local laws and benefits of hosting.
- Home sharing clubs overlap significantly with local connection groups and should be merged. These are led by community members and generally have higher levels of activity which suggests great potential in letting community members lead areas of the community.
This is where members can suggest ideas and improvements. It’s not working well, mainly due to Airbnb’s limited ability to implement and respond to ideas.
- The ideation area is hidden and not very active (or clear under the name of ‘host voice’)
- Translation of ideas is very smart.
- The ‘how it works’ explanation would benefit from explaining the process of how an idea goes from ideation to participation.
- It’s best to display ideas by title with their current status. The design of this area is not well suited for ideation.
- Anger is boiling up from a lack of participation from Airbnb. This does not bode well.
- The idea statistics in the bottom right should be at the top. However, 6 ideas under consideration isn’t a great statistic. Showing the list of ideas previously implemented would be useful.
There are several indicators the community doesn’t have high levels of internal support. Two of the biggest are:
- The online community is hard to find. It appears at the very bottom right below several rows of invisible scroll posts. This indicates the community has low levels of internal support.. The easiest way to boost traffic would be to increase the community’s visibility.
- The community is interestingly not hosted on airbnb.com but has been moved to a ‘withairbnb.com‘ domain. It’s not clear why this has changed in the past year.
Overall, a confused strategy, some design issues, and far too much sprawl.
Airbnb’s online community has huge potential but feels like a smorgasbord of different initiatives which have grown under the banner of community. This leads to a confused strategy which has led to a sprawling use of Lithium’s modules and overlapping areas of participation.
The community would benefit from focusing on solving host’s problems, sharing the best ideas between hosts, and removing all other features from the website.
Local connections and meetups can be best facilitated by people submitted groups hosted on third parties (e.g. facebook.com or meetup.com) for approval to be listed. These can then be led by a committed advocate in collaboration with Airbnb.
Airbnb would benefit from customising the design for each purpose (customer support, best ideas) and making it easier to find and scroll through the trending questions or ideas and the best ideas ever shared.
The community mission of building a planet where everyone can belong is noble, but would be far less effective than focusing on the immediate needs of the hosts (e.g. booking their properties solid and solving host’s problems).
Ideation would be useful when Airbnb can communicate what ideas it needs and when it needs these ideas. There is also potential in better nurturing superusers and building a more advanced gamification system.
I hope you found this breakdown useful, drop me a line with any questions.
The big three tend to be excitement, fear, and frustration.
They manifest themselves as inspiration, validation, and resolution.
Excitement and Inspiration
Excitement comes through inspiration. It’s when you see new ideas in the community you didn’t expect. You might visit for one reason, but during that visit you see several great ideas you can apply to improve your efforts. You start to visit more frequently.
This makes it worthwhile to encourage discussions and create content around:
- Sharing relevant photos and videos of great ideas.
- Best advice from the web.
- Best personal tips from members.
- Recommended books.
- ‘Best of’ lists.
Newsletters work best when they focus on inspiration. Inspiration is what gets people returning to the community every day.
Fear and Validation
Validation is about removing uncertainty. It’s about overcoming problems you don’t know exist yet. You might be the only accountant in your company doing that job, how do you know if you’re doing it right? You want to check and compare your progress against others. Validation is about removing unforeseen mistakes.
This usually means content and discussions around:
- Comparison of tools.
- Equipment and product lists.
- Working out loud / what are you working on topics.
- Templates and resources.
- Case studies and examples.
- Fees and prices.
Think about different methods to get people to check and compare their efforts against each other. Newcomers are especially responsive to content that relates to validation.
Frustration and Resolution
Frustration is having a specific problem you can articulate that you want resolved. If your iPhone breaks, you visit a community to explain the problem and you want a resolution to that problem. You want the frustration removed.
- FAQ and lists of most common problems.
- Video and photographic guides to resolving problems.
- Answers to questions.
- Featured solutions.
- Trending problems.
The problem with frustration is people only visit when they are frustrated and the tone of discussions tends to be negative by nature.
If you’re stuck with your community engagement efforts, you’re probably not embracing one or more of the big three emotions.
This week I put together a detailed breakdown of Apple’s online community.
Here you can learn how Apple develops and manages its online community.
This includes how Apple:
- Designs its community platforms.
- Forces people to ask good questions.
- Gets people to register and onboards them.
- Encourages users to submit tips.
- Uses gamification to attract newcomers to join and participate.
- Responds to questions about the community.
You can view the slideshare below (and download the PDF)
Or you can read the detailed breakdown below:
Apple has had an online community ecosystem since the earliest days of the internet.
The current incarnation of the official community was launched in 2006, revamped in 2011, and has been gradually tweaked and upgraded since then to the site we see today (hosted on Jive).
The community is designed as a customer support channel. The primary goal is most likely to deflect customer support tickets (and calls) and provide a superior level of customer service customers can get through other channels.
The community also provides a less noticeable area for user tips. Members above a certain level can share their best advice to use products more effectively. This can have an impact upon customer satisfaction and retention.
- The ‘sign in’ option is hidden and it’s not clear this is the option to register. This could be pushed below the search box next to ‘learn more about’.
- The search bar is a very clear call to action (find answers) with the search box prominently displayed. This is common in most enterprise platforms today. This is a best practice worth following.
- The central image takes up a lot of space and doesn’t add anything to the page. It would be better to pull up the categories beneath to help people find what they need. Or, at least, feature the top community experts in this area.
- The featured categories are optimised by popularity with further categories hidden (but available) in a useful drop-down. This is great for navigation.
- It’s not clear what ‘featured’ means; Are they trending? Most popular? Most useful? Could replace with ‘trending issues’ or ‘most popular issues’ or ‘top tips’.
- There is a lot of empty space. Apple could reduce this space and have some tips appear side by side. It’s also good to personalize these tips to each member based upon their previous contributions or self-tagged interests.
- Still a LOT of empty space here that could be used to reduce the size of the site and need to scroll down.
- The ‘new to communities’ area is a redundant feature. There was already a ‘learn about support communities’ just below the search box. Could easily remove this and bring the bar below higher up.
- These three benefits are really interesting but relatively downplayed. Might be worth seeing if they can be moved up or have different versions of the site for return visitors/regulars.
Each product has it’s own support community with navigation, top communities, and latest posts. These are generally well-designed.
- Using the top banner for major announcements is a good idea.
- ‘Ask question’ is probably better than ‘start a discussion’ given the nature of the support community.
- Apple has 60+ communities across several major product lines. The navigation of these is pretty good, clean, and simple. You can get to any community in three clicks using the sub-menu. They are also well prioritised.
- Using the top banner for major announcements is a good idea.
- I suspect very few people want to ‘follow’ the discussions of an entire community (top right). Might be better to include an easier to find search bar here.
- The structure of these sub-communities feels a little odd. It’s unlikely the last 3 questions will answer the visitor’s question, so display these by most popular at the time rather than latest. This stops you showing a lot of unanswered questions to members.
MOBILIZE OPTIMIZATION AND RESPONSIVENESS
- The homepage feels designed for mobile, which works extremely well. Product tips vanish from the mobile version of the site.
- The site is also responsive with product tips disappearing at about 1/3rd of the screen.
- Autocomplete Search. Jive’s autocomplete search is a little slow but works well to find relevant communities and discussions. This is definitely a best practice today and forces members to check if a similar question exists before asking a repetitive question. However, it’s unclear if these discussions have been resolved or not. Many of the questions may also seem old and out of date.
- ‘Tell us what is on your mind’ works better on Facebook than someone who wants to get their problem solved right now. This isn’t a place people will casually chat about Apple.
- How to write a good question is minimised here, but should be expanded by default – especially for first-time posters. Anyone that forgets the basic principles won’t get the answer they need.
- Relatively simple, clean, interface. Allows HTML and other styling.
- It’s always REALLY hard to get people to post in the right areas. Apple makes it easier by autofilling from relevant keywords to help you select what community to post to. Very clever.
- Turning categories (used here more as tags) into buttons that people can easily select is really clever too.
- Asking people to select their product and operating system really helps people answer the question. The ‘add to Profile’ is also smart. Apple nails this section.
- This is a really awesome profile information integration here. It highlights what products you already own and helps you answer questions.
- Not immediately clear to the visitor if the question has a solution or not. This appears below the question, which it could be positioned here.
- Need to add prompts when people are writing the question, that any question < 200 characters should include the exact product, describe the exact problem or include a screenshot so people can answer it.
- “I have this question too” is an extremely useful feature (better than like) as it highlights what questions Apple should focus on resolving.
RESPONSES AND EMPATHY
- Apple suffers greatly from not being able to get an accepted answer to most of the questions which appear in the community. This is the single biggest flaw the community faces today. Most of the online communities we looked at, the number of solved questions was extremely low. These were questions asked days, if not weeks ago. This discourages future people from responding. Questions with solutions should be featured near the top along with any trending or ever-present questions.
- Who is this person? Do they work for Apple? Are they an expert supporter? Showing the level is good but would be ideal to make clear distinctions.
- The ‘solved’ green icon is a little too hidden away.
- The content of the response could use a little work, but we’ll go into that later.
- View answer in context is good when there are a lot of responses and the answer builds upon previous answers. Likely to be irrelevant for most answers.
- It’s a clever static bar at the top. This keeps the question present as you scroll down.
- What is a community specialist? Why does this person not have a real name or photo? Is this someone that can access my customer record and have real power or not? Is it an employee or a helper? Is it an external contractor (probably).
- Repeating the question back for clarity is good. Taking the information out of the resource and dropping it into the question is also smart. Don’t make people make that extra click if you don’t have to.
- Bullet points are ALWAYS a good idea in longer answers. Remember your responses have to be scannable.
- The ‘sign off’ feels a bit insincere. Let’s have a real person’s name sign this.
- Generally the responses are personalised and contain good knowledge, but they score badly on friendliness, checking for resolution, and giving the member a sense of influence over the outcome. Could use this as an opportunity to be more friendly, show more personality. Suspect this work is outsourced to a western contractor with a quota of questions to get through. For a contractor, it’s generally ok.
REGISTRATION AND ONBOARDING
- Apple unsurprisingly requires you to log in with your Apple ID or create one to be able to participate in the community. The single sign on and security is one of Jive’s strengths and works well here.
- This email is repetitive and badly written. Would be better to send after someone has participated. Most people who register will have one single-goal in mind; getting an answer to a frustrating question. The welcome email should acknowledge this and guide them to where they can get their answer as quickly as possible. This is the only thing that matters at this time. Would also sign it from a named community manager.
- This tutorials page is a REALLY good idea and works well here. Easy to navigate and learn more about the community.
- After registration there is no further on-boarding program via email or series of notifications from Apple to help anyone get more engaged in the community or identify people who could become top participants from those who just want a response to the question. If you want to turn a one-time visitor into a regular, look at the on boarding of newcomers and your autoresponder series. There is usually a great opportunity here to establish a perception of the community and the idea someone can become seen as a top member.
- As a mature community with hundreds of thousands of members, Apple deploys a seemingly complex reward system which covers points/leaderboards, levels and perks, specialities, and ‘unique awards’. In reality, it’s actually two-related systems. A points-based system and a specialist-based system. Can easily remove ‘unique awards’ from this area.
- Points and leaderboards target each person’s competitive nature and create a habit.
- The perks target people’s need to feel a collective sense of identity with Apple. This works by giving members access to exclusive stuff.
- Specialities are rarely used, but really smart to have. They let each member ‘own’ their own small part of the community and feel an incredible sense of competence.
- The bottom ‘unique awards’ area feels a bit redundant. Could easily skip these. Also ‘adding colour to a profile’ is the least enticing perk imaginable, what’s the best perk to feature here?
- The points system is designed to convert newcomers into addicted participants by getting a quick ‘hit’ to their first question and then rapidly raising their score with the next few actions which gets them to socialise with other members or learn more about the community.
- After the first hit, the focus shifts to asking ‘good’ questions and eventually attending community conference calls or sharing community tips. It’s generally a logical and smart progression.
- Now we can see how the points translate to unique perks across 10 levels. The structure of these seems odd, reporting posts could easily be something to gain points.
- These levels are incredibly spaced apart and make it difficult to imagine progression from getting 4 to 10 points to a level where we’re on 1000+ points. The perks seem relatively minor too. Though note this is the first appearance of conference calls and user tips. Would be easier to show the perks for the higher levels here too. No reason to hide this.
- This is an incredibly clear and specific table about moving up the specialist levels. The levels get exceedingly more difficult at the higher end. Would be interesting to know of any special perks at these levels. What is the benefit of being a specialist compared with a generalist?
- It’s relatively easy to get a few badges. I’m not sure the value of these early badges for simply browsing the community are useful. Could raise the barrier to getting the first badge to at least some kind of active contribution, even clicking ‘me too’ on a single question.
- Behind the home page the content section becomes a more typical ‘no thrills’ Jive experience.
- User tips are presented without much fanfare. This does a huge disservice to many of the excellent tips shared which should be featured at different levels.
- Apple would benefit from designing a proper tips section or only including tips on each product page (where some tips are already featured). Far too many tips are not getting the audience they should in this format.
- This is simple and clean. Not sure whether this person is a specialist from the profile page but the layout is clean.
- Does this need both the user rating and the ‘like’ button? Does the ‘like’ button add anything the user rating doesn’t have? Could merge at least the like button and the follow button similar to Facebook
- Would be better to show the reputation at the beginning of the question. Move the average rating to the top. It’s one of the first things people need to see.
SNAPSHOT SUMMARY OF THE APPLE COMMUNITY
- Apple’s online community is strong on everything to do with technology. It’s level of integration with existing systems is terrific, navigation is extremely good, posting is simple enough and tackles the common challenges of repeat posts. The community makes the best use of Jive’s functionality.
- Use of the gamification modules are also among the more complex we’ve seen. Generally it is logical and is well designed to hook members who would most likely become regular, active, members.
- Apple is a little less strong on the social side. The answers are ok, but far too many discussions aren’t getting a response. This is a huge problem that can’t be tackled solely by technology.
Visit for yourself: https://discussions.apple.com/
Let me know if you found this audit useful, [email protected]
There are plenty of ways to make people jump through a hoop, but that doesn’t make a difference if they’ve stopped dancing a few minutes later.
This is the problem with using split tests within a community.
You can increase your conversion rates by amplifying the web copy or offering bonuses to people that register or participate.
But it’s only what happens over the long-term that really matters.
Consider this graph from a client below:
But by week 18 this has fallen to a THIRD of cohort 3.
The big win here isn’t stopping the big drop-off at the beginning. You can do that with an array of one-off novelty ideas. Big drop-offs happen in every online community.
The big win is stopping the drop-off after around week 16 (from the beginning of the 12-week cohort). You can’t make a single tweak. Instead, you need to look holistically at the experience and make sure it’s a very fun or very relevant place to visit.
- When people visit, are there always featured discussions taking place?
- Were members @mentioned and included in discussions in a positive way?
- Were there questions which relative newcomers felt informed enough to answer?
- Were relatively newcomers encouraged and felt safe asking their own questions within the community?
Looking at the first registration or first participation metrics might seem like a smart move, but I’d focus on the post-participation experience. Turning a 0.7% to a 2.3% here (like we see above) has a HUGE payoff over the long-term.
Two ways to launch a new project.
- You can set a group of people a hard goal and ask them to work towards it.
- You reveal a project you’ve been working on for a long time and ask for people to help.
The problem is only 1% of people tend to help create a project compared with 10% that tend to edit. Almost every successful collective effort requires an individual (or a few individuals) to make a huge number of contributions to get started.
If you want a wiki, a huge database, a successful fundraising effort, a big collaboration on an eBook or whatever, you need to have something huge to show to begin with. Then let people add and edit as they like.
Anyone can set a big goal and tell people what you want. The harder part is showing what you already have and asking people to help.
If your objective is growth, 60%+ of your time should be spent on growth.
This means improving SEO, high-profile guest blog posts, traditional PR, direct invitations, partnerships, paid social, getting the community positioned more prominently and featured on the homepage.
If your objective is retention, 60%+ of your time should be spent on retention.
This means building validated audience segments, satisfying each segment, developing a sense of community, converting newcomers into regulars, giving each member a scalable sense of ownership.
If your objective is internal support, 60% of your time should be spent winning over colleagues, building up stories, having coffees/meetings with others etc..
Make sure the bulk of your time is genuinely spent pursuing the main objective. I’m often amazed how few people are even spending a handful of hours a week pursuing their key aims.
The attention span for traditions is infinite, new traditions are being created right now.
When is yours? What date and time resonate with you? What would you do to commemorate or celebrate the event?
Who was born or died on that day? What industry-defining event happened on that day? When was the community created? There must be a birthday coming up soon…
The activities may be frivolous, but the meaning is incredibly important. Traditions remind us of the groups we belong to and what we get from those groups.
You might argue that creating a new tradition feels too artificial, but aren’t all traditions artificial to begin with? I’d much prefer a community professional setting an annual day of commemoration than another Amazon Prime day.
No-one wants business as usual every day of the year. Pick 1 day in the calendar and give some meaning to it.
There is a difference between ‘someone mentioned me, I better respond’ and ‘this improved how I think about the community’.
A lot of people @mention a list of newcomers when they join. It seems to work well. The person gets a notification and is prompted to respond. You get a lot of responses.
But having tried this with several organizations, the long-term impact is pretty minimal. You can install Community-analytics and test this for yourself.
@mentioning (tagging someone into a discussion) works best when someone is tagged in to make a meaningful contribution to the group or receive a useful contribution from the group.
This changes how they feel about the community. Now they’re not 1 name among 30, they are 1 among a tiny group who has been called upon to make/receive a useful contribution.
Now their opinion of the group’s ability to help them has increased. Their understanding of their value to the group has changed.
Let’s have less indistinguishable welcome lists and more specific contributions.