“If I Had More Resources…”

…you would have fewer excuses.

Blaming a lack of engagement on a lack of resources is great, no-one can ever prove you wrong. But that doesn’t mean you’re right.

There are thousands of thriving communities founded by passionate amateurs today who had far fewer resources than you.

The problem is rarely a lack of resources, but often a lack of ingenuity and permission.

Ingenuity matters a lot. If you don’t have the right community concept, can’t find clever ways to keep members engaged, or foster a desire in members to invite others, you’re going to struggle. None of these things are resource-intensive.

Often the problem isn’t a lack of resources but a lack of permission. Permission to do things that need to be done has a far bigger impact on participation than money. If you don’t have permission to promote your community to your customer base, integrate it with the product/service experience, or use the right platform, that can be a killer. And permission is about credibility.

Demonstrate what you can do with what you have. Then ask for more. Asking people to put more resources into a struggling project is never a winner. If you can’t drive a good level of engagement with limited resources, you’re not going to do much better with more resources.

You need to drive plenty of engagement before getting more resources. Companies want to back winners, not losers.

Remember also the kill zone is real. The bigger your community budget, the bigger target it becomes during hard times.

Strategy, Gaining Support, Legal Matters, and Making Community Work

I was recently invited onto the Enterprise Alumni video series to talk about some of the more challenging parts of community.

I shared my thoughts about how to make a community work in challenging environments, building a strategy from scratch, legal matters, and plenty more.

It was one of my favourite interviews yet, if you have nothing better to do this lunch hour, you can find it here.

Or you can read some takeaways here.

Unhappy Community Strategists

It’s easy to come up with a list of what needs to be changed.

In my early consulting days, I was prone to diagnosing problems and suggesting improvements like; “add all newcomers to a newcomer group”, “introduce ideation”, or “create a regular newsletter”.

But I soon found these suggestions clashed with technical realities.

For starters, few platforms had these as default capabilities.

This meant custom development would be required. And once you introduce a custom element, you need to keep updating it. Worse yet, you need developer time. You might be waiting for weeks, even months, for your in-house team to work on a critical community task.

Next, every new feature caused a chain of other issues to solve. Ideation is pointless unless a technical team has a process to evaluate and use the ideas. Sometimes the technical team thinks ideation is a terrible way to generate ideas. Unless you can get them onside, there’s no point doing it.

Quickly your calendar becomes filled with vendor meetings, internal meetings trying to win over skeptical colleagues, and it becomes harder to focus on the fun strategy stuff you thought you were going to do.

Almost every community manager wants to become a strategist. But, strangely, many strategists seem to miss being community managers and focusing on day to day engagement with members.

Three things to consider here.

1) A good community strategist invests the time doing these things before making the recommendation. We spend countless hours with vendors, technical, and internal teams to identify what’s possible before adding it to a strategy.

2) If you don’t enjoy this kind of work, don’t do community strategy. It might sound prestigious, but a lot of community strategy work is less about crafting a strategy from up on high and more about diving into the thickest of weeds to determine what’s possible and prioritising things accordingly.

3) Get help. It’s hard to do this alongside another job. I’d suggest getting help. Either through a dedicated strategist to tackle the entire project or to turn the high-level strategy into practical steps.

It’s ok to simply enjoy engaging with members and not the fiddling technical or internal details. That doesn’t make you a bad strategist, it makes you a great community manager.

Influencers, Top Fans, and Top Members

A recent project had lumped three unique audiences (industry influencers, top fans, and top members) into one group.

They’re really not.

As your work increasingly stretches beyond a typical community hub, it’s good to know the differences between who each group are and their potential value to the community (and to the brand).

This diagram might help:

There are some overlaps, but you get the idea. Each group presents different opportunities and challenges.

Be clear about your goal and then select and engage the audience you need.

Report Fewer Metrics

I saw a recent community report which was filled with metrics.

They were tracking and sharing pretty much everything.

Believe me, no-one will be impressed that you can dump a lot of data into a report.

It’s far more impressive to:

a) Identify the one (or two) metrics that matter.
b) Explain why they matter.
c) Show those metrics heading in the right direction.

The person(s) you’re sending these reports to probably get plenty of other reports too. Make yours less confusing, investing in good data visualisation, and show the line heading in the right direction.

Telling The Right Story To Superusers

Working on a client’s superuser program recently, a question kept coming up.

Why would members step up to do the things we wanted them to do?

Why would they lead groups, mentor newcomers, or participate in feedback sessions?

Because they get to!

I see people wrestle with this often. They think of people in purely rational economic terms. i.e. if they’re not getting free stuff then they won’t help.

But that’s absurd. No-one would ever help anyone in any community if that were true. And even if it were true, the gifts you’re offering amount to far less than these same people would earn in a minimum wage job.

Superusers are going to do these things because you’re going to ensure they experience feelings they can’t get anywhere else. You’re going to make sure they feel valued, feel they are making a difference, and feel a powerful sense of purpose.

The skill in a superuser program isn’t identifying the right tangible incentives, but in crafting a powerful story members can tell themselves and feel good about. If you screw up the story – even just once – the superuser program dies.

Many years ago, I sat in on a webinar on the launch of a superuser program. The host literally said:

“We can’t afford to pay you anything, but we can give you badges to display on your profile and you will get a Christmas card from the CEO each year”

The moment he uttered those words, he killed the motivation of every prospective superuser on the call. He made them feel like it was underpaid work.

Compare this to another launch a client and I worked on recently. We spent ages on the script (and its delivery) and told a completely different story. This included:

“Everyone of you here today is here because we have identified you as having unique skills, knowledge, or commitment to the community. All of our members have helped make the community, but you’ve risen even beyond that.

In the coming weeks, we’re opening up a small number of opportunities to contribute more to the community’s mission. We don’t have enough roles for everyone. So be quick! For those who get one of these new roles, we’re going to throw all of our support behind you!”

The idea of tangible gifts, rewards, or benefits doesn’t come up.

Not even once!

Everything is aligned to telling a story members can tell themselves to feel valued, do activities others can’t, and having the biggest possible impact.

If you’re ever wondering what skills a great community leader possesses that a mediocre one can’t, being able to frame and tell successful stories like these is definitely a big one.

p.s. If you want great community leaders managing your community, we’ve recently begun managing communities on behalf of our clients.

p.p.s Already read WIIFM objections.

Don’t Force Different Groups Into One Platform

If you’ve spent a bunch of time and money on a community platform, it seems logical to get all your different audiences there.

When everything is in one place, you can easily measure things like participation, link member accounts, and create/track the entire journey customers or members have.

But there’s a problem.

You might not be dealing with just two different groups, but often two different cultures. Forcing them to use the same platform – especially a platform which is more difficult to use and not in the flow of their daily routine – is going to prove difficult. It might even prove antagonistic.

There’s a reason, for example, many companies host developer communities on a completely different platform (often Discourse or Slack) from their main customer community. The group has a completely different culture. They often want privacy and separation from customers. They don’t want to click on a ‘developer’ tab within a bigger community. They want a place just to themselves.

My advice would be to host audiences on the same platform if you can, but don’t try to force it. You can easily push people out of your ecosystem doing that. It’s far better to be where they are, support them however they need that support, and accept that it’s going to be a little messy – but it works.

Subscribe To The Topic

No-one expects you to be an expert in the topic, there are other people for that.

But you should be passionate about the topic. You should be interested in what’s new and what’s going on in your sector.

This means a few things.

  • Subscribe to the relevant magazines and trade press.
  • Subscribe to relevant blogs, podcasts, and YouTube channels.
  • Identify the top influencers and read/follow their work.
  • Read the new books which come out in the sector.
  • Actually read the emails and updates your company puts out (you want to know what’s changed in each version of the product for example).
  • Skim through the latest Google alerts on relevant terms.

When you know what’s going on, you can start discussions in those areas, ask people for their opinion, and reply to questions with honest opinions.

Better yet, when you subscribe to the topic you might find yourself gradually becoming more passionate about it.

Crushing Or Encouraging Passionate Members

Don’t crush the spirit of passionate members.

I know, it can be tempting. We’ve all experienced an overposter. We know how irritating a hyper-passionate member can be.

They might comment on every article, respond to every discussion, and email a few times a week with ideas or tips for the community.

The problem isn’t their passion, it’s the lack of channels available for them to direct their passion.

The most passionate members are rarely the most experienced or most talented in their fields. They’re often newcomers who have found something they connect with. They often can’t answer many of the questions or contribute quality articles.

Almost all the channels we have available to members to benefit from the community require them to have the expertise to contribute at an advanced level.

The better method is to create non-expert channels. Helping moderate is the obvious one. But it’s neither the best nor legally possible in some communities. A better option is to encourage members to gather the best expertise from elsewhere, to host interviews and events with key figures, or help put together questions newcomers need answers too.

Community Includes Social

Community isn’t a destination, it’s a state of mind.

That state of mind doesn’t vanish when you close one web page and open another.

If you restrict your definition of community only to places you fully control, the community experience will be worse for your members.

For example, if members have strong personal relationships with your organisation in one channel they don’t want to be treated as complete strangers (or ignored) when they interact with you on another.

To pretend social media isn’t a part of community work when all of your community members use it far more than any other channel is like a public speaker pretending only in-person count when their members spend countless hours watching online videos every week.

If there’s a sure-fire way to condemn our work to irrelevancy, ignoring the largest channels in favour of some purist definition of community would be it. Just look at this graph below:

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These two channels should be deeply entwined at any organisation. This cuts both ways too. You want top members answering questions on social media as well as a community hub. You want community members sharing and promoting what you publish on social media channels. They’re far more likely to do that if they know and trust the team creating the content.

Sure, you might have different goals for each channel, but it’s still the same community.

Explaining How To Use The Platform

Far better than filling your community with videos, discussions, and content explaining how to use the platform, is selecting a platform that’s intuitive to use in the first place.

And if you are going to share tips on using the platform, do it in one single location – not in a dozen or so sticky threads that push all other content off the page.

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But even better than explaining how to use the platform, is explaining how to benefit most from the community. What kind of content and ideas is the community craving?

Who are some of the top members a newcomer should follow?

What’s the best way to build a reputation in the community?

What kinds of insider jokes should a newcomer know and what kind of questions should a newcomer avoid?

What are some books or guides which most members have read?

I’d bet this creates a much better experience for newcomers than explaining how to resize an image or create a poll.

Better Post Titles

I love this drop-dead simple screenshot showing the difference between good and bad discussion titles.

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Unless you want a lot of “help me!” or “urgent problems” or “I’m wondering…”, show members a message like this in places where they are likely to see it.

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