Having created dozens of community designs and evaluated many more, I feel confident in saying that most community homepages today are terrible.
Or, to be more precise, they are targeted at people who don’t exist while trying to satisfy needs their audience doesn’t have.
Fortunately, by being pragmatic, learning the basics, and making a few small tweaks, you can drastically improve the community experience to be much, much, better.
Note: by homepage, I’m talking about the main introductory page of your community. Whatever you consider the single ‘home’ of your community, that’s what I’m talking about.
The Most Important Principle Of A Great Community Homepage
We can boil pretty much everything down to one principle;
Is the majority of content in the community relevant to the majority of visitors?
If it’s not, people don’t visit.
If I visit a community that shows 20 discussions and 15 of them are within a topic that’s relevant to me; that’s good. I’m highly likely to keep coming back because most of the content is relevant to me. If only 1 in 20 are relevant, I probably won’t. The effort is too high for the reward.
The same is true of other features shown on the homepage too. If the majority of them aren’t relevant to the majority of visitors, they shouldn’t be on there.
This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be on the community at all (although that’s often up for discussions), but they shouldn’t be on the homepage.
You can usually remove a lot of clutter from a homepage and improve the outcomes by following the relevancy principle.
But this raises the big question; relevant to whom?
Who Visits Community Homepages (and what they want to find)
How often do you casually visit a brand community homepage (that isn’t your own!)? Actually take a second to think about it.
If you’re like most people, your answer is probably fairly close to never.
We have to drop the idea that people are actively seeking to join brand communities. Believe me, the data is pretty clear that the majority of visitors to a community fall into one of three buckets. You can see these below:
We can dive deeper into each group below:
Audience 1 – Disappointed Seekers (60% to 80%)
For most brand communities, the majority of people arrive at the community by searching for a topic on Google when they have a problem. This group skips straight past the homepage to the specific article/discussion itself.
They only visit the homepage when they don’t get the answer they need. Now they want to do one of three things:
1) Search the community for relevant terms to find the answer they need.
2) Ask a question to find the answer they need (this means they have to register).
3) Look for the contact details for customer support.
There are some important things to know about this group:
1) They’re frustrated with the problem and disappointed they haven’t gotten an answer yet.
2) They want to expand the least possible mental effort to resolve their problem. Every barrier you put in their way of doing any of the above increases the likelihood they will go elsewhere.
3) They aren’t remotely interested in anything other than solving their problem. They don’t want to belong to a group of peers, connect with others, or share their advice. Anything which isn’t aligned with their problem is redundant (or worse, annoying).
Perhaps the most important thing to know about this group is this comprises 60% to 80% of visitors to most community homepages.
In short, this is the primary audience you’re designing for.
p.s. If your community is private, you can skip this group.
Audience 2 – Curious, Casual, Visitors (5% to 10%)
Curious, casual, visitors comprise of everyone who clicked a link from somewhere else to visit your community. The most common examples are:
1) Clicked a link on your homepage.
2) Clicked a link from the product itself.
3) Clicked a link shared on social media or promoted in the newsletter.
In most cases, they are newcomers to the topic/product itself. They’re not looking to solve an immediate problem, but they are very open to being surprised.
This is a really interesting group.
These folks browsed to the community from your main site or clicked on a referral and are just curious to see what’s out there. They’re not looking to solve a problem, but they are usually receptive to the following:
1) Beginner-level help. The best beginner content is usually some combination of examples, breakdowns, how to get started, and equipment/configuration recommendations.
2) Surprise value. This is anything immediate and likely to be useful. It includes upcoming events, topical discussions, new articles.
3) Finding people who can help. They may not have a specific question, but they’re open to finding people who can help them on their journey in the future (or simply people like themselves).
When this group visits your homepage they are typically:
1) Curious. They’re open to being impressed and will pay more attention to the messaging and content of the page itself.
2) Time-limited. While you have a window to impress them, it’s relatively short. They will make 5 to 6 clicks in your community max. If they don’t find something in that time, they’re not going to come back again anytime soon.
They will register (and possibly even join groups/follow topics) if there is something valuable enough to get them to do so. Aligning your value proposition to their needs is critical.
Audience 3 – Regular Visitors (1% to 5%)
These are the people who know your community well, visit frequently, and like to share what they know. They’ve often been visiting your community for months – even years.
Their goals in visiting the community are usually looking to do the following:
1) Find questions they can answer (or share their knowledge and help others).
2) Learn something new. They often browse past answers to see if they can learn from the responses of others.
3) Talk directly to the brand. They want to engage directly with people who work for the organization.
In some communities (especially developer communities), this will look quite different.
The key thing to know about this group is they’re visiting because they believe the community will satisfy their desires, not their immediate needs. These include:
1) Feel important/useful. They want to feel like they matter and they are making unique, useful, contributions to the community.
2) Feel influential. They want to feel like they can influence the brand. If they don’t, they are far less likely to stay engaged.
3) Feel connected. Some even want to feel connected to each other. This is often a tiny group of a dozen people or so who engage in a private group.
The key factor on the homepage is to minimize the effort required for them to gain these benefits. For example, if they can’t easily find questions they can answer, they’re probably not going to participate much.
What Should Be On The Homepage?
We can match these profiles to very specific things which should be on a community homepage:
- Search box.
- CTA to ask a question.
- Registration form.
- Contact us option.
Curious, Casual, Visitors
- Registration form.
- Most popular articles/discussions.
- Ability to browse back to the company homepage.
- Unanswered questions
- Recent questions
- Ability to reach a private group
The Key Features of A Community Homepage
I won’t dive too deep into taxonomy here. But we can turn these into some very specific feature requirements for a typical community homepage.
1) Tier one domain-level navigation bar. This lets people quickly navigate back to the homepage and other areas of the corporate site.
2) Tier two community-level navigation bar. This lets people quickly and easily navigate through and around the community.
3) Banner with a clear value proposition. This should convey the unique value of your community.
4) Search bar. This occupies a prominent position where people can search for and find everything they want. Ideally, it should be a cognitive search that retrieves information from both community content and other support articles.
5) Registration/login section. This should show for visitors who aren’t logged in only. Once logged in, this shouldn’t appear.
6) A clear CTA to ask a question. This should appear on the homepage (not buried within specific topic pages).
7) Liveliness statistics. If you’re a larger community, show the liveliness statistics. Some brands like total membership count, questions, answers etc. I prefer response rate, time to first response etc…This lets the casual visitor know the potential value of this community.
8) Upcoming activity. This is the ‘surprise value’ for casual visitors. It’s often promoted in the newsletter and other channels.
9) Popular topics. A list of popular topics within the community which people can easily find and browse through.
10) Latest activity. This shows the latest activity within the community where a regular visitor can browse and quickly respond.
11) Footer. Providing an easy means to navigate around the community.
What Might A Homepage Look Like?
You can see most of the principles in place here, but it’s worth going into a little more depth as you can see below:
If you’re using a sidebar, you can come up with a very different design. But using a Discourse template you can see all the elements in place here.
1) Top link-navigation bar.
2) Community-level navigation bar.
3) Clear positioning and value statement with strong contrast against the background.
4) Search box.
5) Registration form on the homepage.
6) A warm, inviting, background (most communities have really cold, sterile, corporate, backgrounds).
7) A list of popular topics members can quickly find.
8) Surprise value in the ‘news flash’ of an upcoming event.
9) Showing the latest discussions.
10) A clear CTA to start a new discussion (this could probably be stronger but we include them below as well).
11) Options to browse the latest/most popular topics.
12) Showing the latest discussions by category on the homepage.
This satisfies almost all the needs of the audiences we’ve mentioned above.
How Do We Make It Function Well On Mobile?
It’s staggering how often organisations try to condense the same information from a desktop screen into a million small boxes on mobile.
Most community mobile experiences are borderline usable as a result. No-one wants to spend hours endlessly scrolling down to find the content they want
On mobile you have to prioritise. This isn’t easy, but it’s not exactly difficult either. In the same example below, we’ve compressed this into a few calls to action while making it easy to browse the community.
You can see the key things in place for a mobile site to work here.
1) Hamburger menu replaces countless navigation options.
2) Text is removed to make it easier to find the content members want.
3) Announcement takes up the full width of the page.
4) Search box takes full width of the page.
5) Two main calls to action are clearly highlighted.
6) The boxes of content are listed one after the other.
7) Beginner content is moved down (most mobile visitors are not beginners).
What Should A Homepage NOT Look Like?
This is a useful example of a community with a sidebar.
To put it bluntly, this homepage is a complete mess. Let’s tackle three specific things here.
1) The messaging.
If you browse the discussions, it’s patently obvious the majority of visitors want answers to their problems. Yet the messaging seems to cover every possible need except this.
“Share your experience!”
“Be part of our community!”
“Share your views, experience, enter competitions, check our tutorials, share your photos, or just chat with other members”
The messaging is promoting the things members least want to do when trying to solve their problems.
2) The photos.
There is no reason why photos should appear on this homepage at all. It’s clear they get almost no engagement. Members neither want to share them nor view them. Many of the photos haven’t been updated for the better part of a decade.
It might make the homepage appear more dynamic, but it is clearly unnecessary clutter.
3) The navigation.
The navigation of the site is pretty much a disaster. The navigation bar is hard to spot immediately. It’s light blue text on a light gray background. Worse yet, the ‘about’ tab creates an entire new row of every space which pushes everything else down the page.
So what if we redesign this community with a focus on all the principles here.
Do you notice the difference?
You can see a breakdown of all the changes below:
There are a few things going on here, but let’s highlight some of the most important from the perspective of the three audiences.
1) Better navigation bar. The navigation bar is where members expect it and out of the way of other areas of the site.
2) Clearer registration/login CTA. This isn’t taking up the entire row, it’s placed where members are likely to look for it alongside the other critical CTA.
3) Clearer messaging. The messaging here is a lot clearer. This is a community to get fast answers to your questions in an official Sony environment.
4) Search box is clearer. We moved this to where it belongs so disappointed seekers are more likely to find it.
5) Add community navigation sidebar. This is for the return visitors to quickly find the parts of the community they need.
6) Moved discussions/features topics up. This provides a better experience for disappointed seekers and regular visitors. It enables the community team to feature discussions where members are more likely to see it.
It’s worth noting, this is just a design I created in 30 minutes to showcase the key principles here. Overall, it’s a FAR better community experience catering to each of the three audiences we’ve featured above.
Get The Basic Design Principles Right
It’s painful when an otherwise good community design is let down by ignoring basic principles of design. Here are a few to be mindful of.
1) Watch out for distracting background images. Both Mural and Qlik have otherwise fabulous communities. But we can probably agree the background images in the navigation bars below are extremely distracting for both:
Both of these images add far too much noise without offering any value. It makes it impossible to find what you want. White space is your friend here.
2) Align the elements. The Sony example above is a typical example of what happens when elements are randomly placed on the page with a mixture of right and center alignment (and some options randomly dropped into their own rows). Nothing should be randomly placed on the page. Everything should be aligned to specific columns.
3) Contrast. Make sure the text contrasts well with the background image. It should never be difficult to read the text. The more important the text, the more it should contrast with the background.
4) Avoid the massive banner. Remember members don’t want to spend forever scrolling to find the content they want. Avoid having a massive banner. It’s never, ever, necessary. A simple example here is the Dropbox Community below.
The banner consumes around 80% of the space on the homepage forcing members to expend a lot more effort to find what they want.
5) Position the calls to action clearly. A while back we revamped the banner for an Eventbrite community and increased conversion by 400%. The simple trick was to put the call to action in the most visible places.
By making it crystal clear about what we wanted members to do, more people took action.
For Mega-Communities, Use A LaunchPad
People interested in getting answers to their Microsoft Windows problems aren’t the same people who are going to be interested in getting help with their Xbox game. The audiences are so different it would be silly to try and set up a single homepage for them.
It would be a waste of everyone’s time here to try and create a universal brand homepage. Instead, create a launchpad and multiple sub-communities.
There is a relatively simple rule of thumb here:
If regular visitors are unlikely to be able to answer questions outside of a unique category, you need unique communities.
If the audience is relatively the same, then you can design a homepage. If you’re engaging completely different audiences with few overlapping interests, create a launchpad.
How To Evaluate Your Homepage Today (a simple checklist)
Here’s a simple checklist to think about when evaluating your homepage.
1) Does the community homepage satisfy the needs of the three core audiences?
2) Are the calls to action clearly visible to each of the three core audiences?
3) Is there a clear call to action which highlights the unique, indispensable, value of the community to these audiences?
4) Is the community messaging all aligned to promote the same core value?
5) Is there a strong contrast between the messages and the background?
6) Is the search bar clearly positioned and impossible to miss?
7) Is the navigation bar positioned in the place members are expecting to see it?
8) Is it clear where people can go to find out more about the community (and/or getting started with products etc..)
9) Are the most popular areas/topics of the community features in places where members are likely to see them?
10) Does the mobile experience condense information and present a few, simple, large buttons to click?
This isn’t a comprehensive list, but if we follow just these principles most homepages would deliver a far better experience.
Some Resources To Build Better Homepages
- FeverBee consultancy (even the biggest brands need experience on their designs).
- Steve Krug – Don’t Make Me Think (The classic book on user experience).
- Robin Williams – The Non-Designers Design Book (you don’t need to be a design expert, but learn the basic principles).
- Figma (probably the best tool for prototyping pages today).
- Omnigraffle (build your taxonomies in this).
- Designing Community Experiences (our in-depth masterclass on building world-class community experiences).
- Community Taxonomies (understanding the different types of taxonomies and which you should use).
With the rise of help centers, chatbots/virtual agents, automated diagnostic tools, and support staff, there’s growing confusion about where a community fits into the picture.
I’ve stopped being surprised by organisations that spend thousands, even millions, of dollars each year on a support community and then ask us to tell them why.
This raises some critical questions:
1) Who exactly does the community serve and how?
2) Why would a customer visit a community instead of simply using a growing number of other tools – often tools which are easy and quick to use?
3) What is the unique role of a support community in 2022?
The Golden Rule About Customer Support
Putting aside the (many) outliers, we can abide by a simple rule about how people (notably customers) will resolve any problem:
Like water, people will follow the path of the least resistance to achieve a goal.
Or, to put it more succinctly:
Your customers will follow the path of least mental effort to resolve their problem.
The goal of a support community is to reduce the level of mental effort to achieve their goal.
There are several very specific areas where a community does this better than any other channel.
But first, we need to understand how people resolve problems these days.
How People Resolve Problems In 2022
This diagram below is illustrative rather than comprehensive, but it gives a standard overview of how people resolve a product problem today.
First, people fiddle around with a potential problem for a few minutes (typically some variation of turning it off and on again).
Next, they go to a search engine and type out a phrase or two that best describes their problem. The search engine will hopefully either surface documentation or a community discussion that contains the solution.
If the search engine doesn’t provide an answer, the average person visits the company website and looks for a ‘contact us’ button to file a ticket.
Community Resolves The ‘Inbetween’ Questions
Community fills the gap between the problems which are common and can be easily solved by typing an answer into Google and those which require the responder to have insider expertise or the customer’s personal data to resolve.
You can see this in the example below
If the community didn’t exist, a lot of customers would have to expend a lot more mental effort (and potentially wait a lot longer) to have their problem resolved by support staff.
Or to put it in more financially viable terms:
A community reduces support costs, increases satisfaction (or NPS), and retains customers who would otherwise give up and seek an easier product to use.
And it does this by reducing the effort required to resolve the intermediate problems.
Why Doesn’t Everyone Simply Visit The Community?
It’s best to use a real-world example here.
Recently the left earbud of my Sony WX-1000MX3 earphones stopped working.
I didn’t visit the Sony website to find the answer because the website is huge and it feels like a lot of effort to navigate through to find the specific piece of information I needed. I didn’t visit the community because first I would have to find it and then I would have to navigate through it.
Most importantly, I couldn’t remember the name of the model of earphones I was using at the time. This is what we call an indescribable problem. Communities are also good places to go when you don’t know how to describe a problem.
It’s far less effort to type “left earbud of Sony earphones not working” and see what pops up.
Not only did Google retrieve the precise article I was looking for from the Sony support site, but it also retrieved walk-through videos others have shared as you can see below.
Why Don’t Community Results Show Up On Search?
They often do! Most traffic to most customer communities comes via search.
But most of the time this traffic is from queries that are too specific (or narrow) for a broad help center article to resolve.
This is again where the community fills the gap between the help center and support. If you know exactly what to search for, you might land on a result.
Likewise, if you don’t know what to search for, you might eventually ask in the community (as opposed to contacting a support agent and asking what your problem is).
The Single Biggest Driver Of Engagement In A Support Community
The single biggest driver of engagement in a customer community is the number of questions your audience has which lie in the mental effort gap between the help center and a support agent.
You can have a huge customer base with lots of questions, but if not enough of those questions fit within the gap above, the level of engagement in a community will be small (as the diagram below depicts).
This is helps explain why brands with similar numbers of customers can have very different levels of engagement.
Some simply have more ‘inbetween’ questions than others – questions which are too niche for support but don’t require personal data or insider expertise to resolve.
The (Occasional) Exceptions To The Rule
However, there are some exceptions here.
You might be targeting a specific audience (e.g. gamers) who would rather eat off their own arm than phone a support agent. They’re more likely to switch products than make the extra effort of resolving their problems.
There are other audiences/fields, like software developers, where the problem is part of the process of collaborating and learning together. It makes sense to visit a community first and collaborate on a new solution to the problem.
There’s also plenty of organisations that only provide support during working hours (the very hours ironically where people can’t spend 20 minutes on the phone trying to resolve their problem). In these situations, a community can provide 24/7 coverage as an added benefit.
But these are the exceptions, not the norm.
Implications Of The Customer Support Experience in 2022
This has implications which change how we think about and value a community. Going forward this is going to have several key implications for all of us.
1) Calculate the theoretical potential of the community. The estimates of engagement are typically wildly inaccurate. The best estimate of potential engagement is to take an (ideally large) sample of customer support queries and tag what percentage could theoretically have been answered by other customers. Then you can estimate the cost of resolving a support ticket and come up with a defensive estimate of the community’s potential value. You can measure this % later on to estimate the community’s potential impact.
2) The unique role of the community should be clear internally and externally. A lot of pain and confusion arises when colleagues and customers don’t really understand what a community is for. If you can clearly communicate to both groups the unique purpose and value of the community, everyone will benefit. You can use this to optimize your customer journey for example. In all of your customer onboarding materials (and on the site) it could be clear which questions go to which channel.
3) Your community should be laser focused on reducing the effort a visitor expends to find the result they want. I’m looking at you private support communities! This means reducing the complexity of information and the sense of ‘overwhelm’ a member might experience. Keeping the community tidy, well organized (properly tagged, good taxonomy, archiving old material), and ensuring information is up to date goes a long way here.
4) Cater to niche and indescribable problems. Don’t try to dominate generic search terms (i.e. ‘[x] isn’t working’). Far better to focus on getting answers to the niche questions (i.e. where someone knows the problem they’re getting answers to) and situations when someone doesn’t know what terminology to use to get an answer (the former is far more important than the latter).
Win The ‘Inbetween’ Questions
While some might dream that the community might one day replace the majority of support functions. This probably isn’t going to happen. Other tools are often the better option because they require less mental effort. There’s a danger in trying to be ‘just another support channel’.
Where community really shines is in solving the ‘inbetween’ questions. If you get a lot of ‘inbetween’ questions, then you should build a community to resolve them.
The value of answering a lot of ‘inbetween’ questions can be extremely high. If you don’t get a lot of these kinds of questions, then you might seriously consider if a traditional support community is the right option for you.
Here are two statements that seem oxymoronic but actually complement each other:
1) No matter what you do, the majority of your members won’t become more engaged than they are today.
2) It’s possible to double (even triple) the retention rates of your community members.
These are both true because of the huge gap between ‘a majority’ (51%+) and the retention rates most people see in their communities are getting today (5% to 20%).
Last week, I hosted a webinar where we shared the step-by-step process we used to triple a client’s retention rates.
What We Learned From Our Research
The client sold a fairly popular technology product (but wasn’t a SaaS vendor). The company operated in the $750m to $850m revenue per year range and had a community that had been around for a couple of years before we were invited to help.
We spent 5 weeks evaluating the current community and interviewed 26 members of the community, 17 members of staff, and collected 279 survey responses.
- The company had no capacity for major technical changes.
- Members only visited when they had a problem.
- Newcomers didn’t find “any reason” to keep coming back.
- Newcomers weren’t aware of many of the benefits the community offered.
- Superusers felt increasingly ignored.
- Members disliked receiving countless notifications.
As you can see below, member retention rates were poor and had been relatively static for months.
Step One – Reducing The Noise
We began with small optimisations. We know members hated receiving countless automated messages (especially those from the gamification system), so we stopped almost all of them.
Removing automation rules didn’t significantly increase or decrease participation.
Lesson: Automation rules don’t seem to increase participation much at all (probably because most people ignore them)
Step Two – Improving the First Impression
Next we changed the default setting to show the ‘latest posts’ rather than ‘top posts’.
i) Changed default settings to show latest posts
I’ve consistently found when members make a post, they want to see it appear at the top of the page (i.e. not be crowded out by popular posts). We also found in our research most members had already seen the top posts in the community. They wanted fresh questions to answer.
ii) Remove survey pop-up
We removed an irritating survey pop-up asking members to share what they think of the community. Newcomers were being hit with three pop-ups upon visiting, so removing one helped.
Aside, if you want a good non-intrusive example of a pop-up, the UiPath community (a client) is a great example below:
iii) Created a list of suggested questions
Because many newcomers reported not knowing what questions to ask, we created a list of suggested questions, shared examples of good questions, and helped them become as familiar as possible with what a good question looks like.
iv) Send direct messages from the community manager’s name
We replaced the generic messages from [email protected] (which were often ignored or found their way into spam filters) with emails from the community manager’s name.
We wanted members to know the community managers’ name and begin a direct discussion with them. A few months ago, we worked with Shuning at Veracode on this message which is both personal and shares the benefits of community.
v) Repositioned the community (and changed its messaging)
Much of the previous messaging focused on people joining a group of peers like themselves.
Our research showed members wanted quick responses to long-tail questions first (but might join peer groups later).
We changed the messaging from getting personal questions to getting personalised responses to difficult/niche questions. This was reflected in the banner, CTA, etc…
At this point we began to see some noticeable improvement. It’s hard to say which changes had the biggest impact, but the metrics were definitely heading in the right direction.
Step Three: Personalising The Community Experience
i) Created a ‘members to follow’ list
A frequent problem on the Salesforce platform is people were encountering blank feeds as they hadn’t followed any members or topics.
We tackled this in two stages. First, we created a list of members to follow. These were verified experts endorsed by us. The second step was to create a more custom onboarding journey.
ii) Created Personalised Responses To Every Poster
Alongside the onboarding tool, we built out a system to get personalised responses to everyone that contributed a post in the community.
This required the use of a Zapier integration to Slack identifying superusers, moderators, and the community team to members who had made a post more than 30 days ago and not participated since.
We created the standardised framework below to ensure each of them received a response to their discussion.
iii) Newcomer meetings and newcomer groups
We knew newcomers wanted to engage with product managers as they were getting started. So we tried to do this in the community.
This turned out to be too much work for too little reward. So we replicated this with a newcomer group supported by superusers who could answer most of the common questions in the community.
iv) Used Asset-Based Community Development Approach
We tried to find everyone a unique role in the community. We know when members feel they can make unique, useful, contributions to the community, they tend to stick around and participate.
This involved a lot of training and we created a few standardised messages to help as you can see below.
This is the point where we began to see huge impact from our work.
We saw major increases in each of the metrics we were tracking.
This wasn’t a spike either, it was a sustained increase.
Step Four: Support Superusers
i) Created Standard Templates
We began working with superusers in this phase to get them engaged in creating standard templates and responses for responding to most members’ queries.
We used a similar flow-chart to the one above to give every superuser an easy process they can follow to respond to almost any post.
This involved sharing a lot of examples of good and bad. The more examples you can share (and highlight what’s good or bad about them), the better the outcome will be.
ii) Curated the best resources
A common problem facing newcomers was quickly getting up to speed so they don’t have to ask the same repetitive questions over and over again.
If you’ve been in the community a while, you’ve already seen the best resources and participated in the best discussions. But newcomers didn’t have that.
So we created a list of curated resources ‘which every newcomer should read’.
Aside, the Digital Ocean community does this extremely well.
Step Five: Banner Relaunch and Follow-up Messages
i) Redesigned the banner
The previous community banner lacked a clear call to action and didn’t explain what made the community unique. We revamped this to focus on three actions visitors could take right now within links.
This focused specifically on ‘solve problems’, ‘top tips’, and ‘find a group’.
One of my favourite examples of banners was the former CodeAcademy community banner below:
ii) Follow-ups to check progress
Using a Zapier/Slack integration to top members again, we created a list of members for superusers to reach out to after they had been members for 3 months.
Around 65% (it wavered a lot) of FTPs (first-time posters) received a follow-up message after 3 months. If they were still highly engaged, they were invited to join a group of veterans.
iii) Automatically assigned members to roles
Finally, we tested something new (similar to the ABCD approach).
We sent emails to members assigning them to a role within the community (usually something like ‘topic reporter’ or ‘topic facilitator’) based upon their past contributions.
They had a choice about whether or not to accept the role. Acceptance rates varied from 10% to 20% (which is high when emails had an open rate of 20% to 30%.
What Worked And What Didn’t?
In an ideal world, we would make one single intervention at a time and measure the impact of each.
In the consultancy world, we don’t have the time for that. Instead we make a number of changes at once and assess which worked.
However, as you can see below, you can draw your own conclusions about what had the biggest impact.
I suspect the biggest wins were:
- Improving the banner design.
- Sending personalised messages.
- Using the ABCD approach to newcomers can make a unique impact.
- Suggested questions
Improving Retention Rates Isn’t Easy
The best thing you can do is deep research of your target audience (like, really go through the community site with them), embrace best practices in the community design, identify and prioritise the highest impact activities and build from there.
These resources might help:
- Some basic member engagement scripts.
- Personalised response framework.
- Template introduction message.
- 7Summits Onboarding Tool (Salesforce only).
- Download the presentation slides.
- Watch the webinar.
If you want more help increasing retention, I strongly recommend my book, Build Your Community which has lots of advice and examples.
You can also reach out to FeverBee about consultancy support.
In one of my first consultancy projects (over a decade ago!), I interviewed two dozen members. The majority mentioned the community platform was ‘too cluttered’ and difficult to navigate.
My suggestion was to declutter it by “removing stuff”.
You can probably spot the problem. It’s a lot easier to make simple recommendations like this than to really get into the causes and solutions to clutter.
To declutter a community platform you usually need some combination of:
1. Undertake internal interviews to uncover why the site is cluttered in the first place (there’s usually competing internal interests).
2. Gather data on which areas are being clicked and why.
3. Interview members and use tools like hotjar to see how members progress through the community.
4. Use the above to prioritise every aspect/feature of the community.
5. Develop a criteria for which things can be removed and gain support for this criteria.
6. Identify the benefits of decluttering (i.e. what metrics will increase in exchange for the internal/external backlash you will get for removing areas of the community).
If you’re planning to improve your community by removing ‘clutter’, be warned clutter masks a level of complexity you need to dive into to reduce it.
P.s. Quick aside, 90% of the time, a ‘clutter’ problem is really symbolic of a ‘strategy’ problem. Sometimes stakeholders aren’t aligned on the value of the community so try to cater to multiple goals. Other times it’s not clear who the community is for and what each of those segments need.
Over the past decade, the steps we’ve used to increase retention of members have changed significantly. We’re using an entirely different toolbox with our clients now than we did ten (or even five) years ago.
On Jan 12, I’ll be hosting a free live seminar to share a case study in how we used new techniques to triple a client’s retention rates. Some of these steps might validate what you’re already doing. Others, I suspect, will give you new ideas and insights you can use.
- Who: Richard Millington (Founder, FeverBee)
- What: Tripling Member Retention Rates Webinar
- When: January 12, 2022 @ 5pm (UK), Noon (Eastern), 9am (Pacific)
- Where: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_f6TWAN2xQNmR8IiNcpeAtg
What Will You Learn
During this webinar, I’m going to take you step by step through the actions we undertook to achieve the results below.
You’re going to learn that the majority of things we tried didn’t work. This probably includes many of the actions you’re taking today.
You’re also going to learn what does work. You will learn what we did and in what order to achieve the results above.
You can sign up here:
In my experience, it’s 10x harder for a brand to build a community about the topic than about the product. This is because you’re trying to create demand rather than satisfy demand. And creating demand is extremely hard.
Some organisations have succeeded here to various degrees (FitBit, Hubspot, and Monday.com spring to mind). But the successes are few and far between.
Yes, given the choice people probably do want to have industry-level discussions.
But (and this is a big but), why would they do it on your community and not Twitter? Why would they not do it on a platform which offers the maximum exposure with the least amount of effort? Why do it in a brand community where people will naturally be suspect of the brand’s motives vs. an independent community created by a passionate amateur?
It’s no surprise that the overwhelming majority of successful industry-related communities are founded by people without being employed by one of the major players in that industry.
This doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it means you have to leverage your unique advantages and tell a very different story.
This might be a story about exclusivity. Perhaps only the top people get to join and participate in your community. But that story limits what the size of your community can be. Perhaps you tell a story about focusing upon a particular niche that is underserved at the moment. But, again, that has natural size limitations.
Or it might be a story about influence and making change within an environment that is being supported, but not led, by the brand. There’s no shortage of stories to tell.
But, trust me, just giving an audience another place to have these kinds of discussions won’t be enough to get them to visit. The competition is far too fierce for that.
See you in the new year.
I have a confession, I only began using Calendly this year.
Before that, my (fab) assistant Clare handled scheduling. The process seemed to work well enough, so I didn’t change it for 6+ years.
But once I switched to Calendly, I realised how cumbersome the previous process had been. I’d connect Clare with the person(s) I wanted to speak with and she would negotiate a time that worked for everyone. The back and forth took time.
Simply sending someone a link with all my (and my colleagues’) available times (which show up in the recipient’s time zone) reduces all this down to a click or two. In hindsight, it’s such an obvious move.
It makes you wonder what obvious moves you might be missing.
I recently recommended exploring a Zapier integration to an acquaintance. She replied, “I don’t have time to explore new tools”.
Understandable perhaps. But keeping your head down and ignoring the technology changes all around you is also a sure-fire way to become a digital dinosaur. Staying abreast of technological developments would appear to be a pretty important part of the community building process.
p.s. Maybe the reason you’re so busy is that you never invest the time to become more efficient?
About five years ago, I began to notice a trend in our follow-up calls with past clients.
About half the clients were executing on the majority of the strategy and half weren’t – one or two had hardly executed any of the strategies they had paid for (and enthusiastically approved).
So what was going on?
The answer was half didn’t have the systems in place to execute a strategy well.
They couldn’t turn the steps listed into the strategy into an immediate action plan (i.e. who will be doing what and when). No one was assigned to execute the tactics listed in the strategy by specific dates. And not only do you need to give the member accountability, but also the training, support, and confidence to ask for help when they need it.
Strategic success only happens when the strategy gets executed. We learned we had to not only complete the strategy but guide the implementation as well. This was such an important insight, in fact, that we made the final lesson of our Strategic Community Management all about execution.
I was reminded again last week just how important great execution is. If you make it a habit, you’ll reap the rewards.
Worrying if a platform migration might affect your search traffic is like worrying if changing schools will affect your childrens’ exam results.
It’s going to have an impact, for sure. But whether it is positive or negative depends entirely on where you move and how you move. The basics of redirects don’t need to be covered here, a few things to look out for though:
1) Ignore the first few weeks’ of data. In the initial months after a month, search data can fluctuate considerably. It often begins much higher (or lower) before reverting to a baseline. It’s that baseline that matters.
2) Category titles matter. If you change the category titles or move to (or from) a platform with URL friendly links (i.e. /topic/discussion-title) to/from one without (i.e. question/0D52J00008kXTjJSAW) expect a big change.
3) Watch out for images. Migrations tend to break images – lots of broken images aren’t good.
4) Watch out for thin content. Some platforms by default create multiple pages to convey information that a previous platform might have used just one. For example, where one platform might have a single profile page, another might have distinct pages for badges, messages, about me all connected to the profile page. This is known as ‘thin content’.
5) Subdomains vs. subfolders. There are differing opinions on this, but if you’re moving a community from a subdomain to a subfolder, you should expect a big impact and tread carefully. Subdomains are generally better for the user experience and organisation, subfolders are often thought to be better for SEO.
Either way, get experienced help and tread carefully.
I’m not a huge fan of using NPS to measure a community.
NPS is a (rather simple) tool to measure advocacy. But most communities aren’t designed for advocacy. It also has some rather obvious problems for some companies. It’s affected by too many variables outside of the community team’s control.
I prefer optimising for two related metrics.
What brought you to the community? (drop-down list)
Were you able to complete your task? (yes/no)
If not, why not? (open comment box)
I’ve found this data infinitely more useful than any NPS measure.
You can also combine this with a CSAT score:
How satisfied were you with your community experience today? (1 to 5)
By combining this data you can start to see which topics and areas need the most improvement. It gives you both a standardized score you can work to improve each month and specific instructions of what to improve.
If you’re still stuck for what to measure, this would be a good place to start.
The majority of automation rule systems I’ve seen are an exercise in wishful thinking. They assume members are far, far, more interested in the community than they are (and don’t receive dozens, even hundreds, of emails per day).
More critically, they assume:
- Members want to go through a journey (and not just get information and leave).
- Members open emails they receive.
- Members read the emails they open.
- Members click the link to take action based upon the emails they’ve received.
- Members take the desired action after they’ve clicked on the call to action
- And members remember the emails they’ve received.
Looking at a couple of onboarding journeys at the moment, the click-through rate of a single email seems to vary between 0.5% and 3%. The odds of anyone successfully completing a 5+ email onboarding series are minuscule. Put simply, they’re not worth the time.
A better approach is to begin by mapping out the current journey (or journies) most members have (here’s an example). Now systematically go through each phase of that journey and look to optimise it stage by stage. The things that have the biggest impact are often in the areas you least expect.
In my experience, the biggest wins are in places like:
- Improving the technical SEO of the site.
- Reducing information required on the registration form (while adding affirmation messages).
- Ensuring members receive a fantastic response to their first post.
- Quickly ensuring newcomers find the most useful content in the community after joining.
It’s far better to improve the experience members are currently having than persuading them to have a different experience.
A while back, a concierge of my apartment building was caught breaking into a neighbour’s apartment and rummaging through their possessions.
It’s easy to take necessary disciplinary measures against the individual and consider the matter settled.
It’s far more effective to look at the system which enabled this to happen. Once you look at the system, you can begin to notice how the standards have steadily fallen when enabling this to happen. This includes:
- Salaries of staff members not keeping pace with inflation. This both encourages theft and high-rates of churn.
- Failing to replace staff members quick enough leading to stressed out staff.
- Deteriorating relationships between staff and residents (due to the above two factors).
- Shortcuts were increasingly taken to save time (notably with spare keys being kept in the mailroom accessible by all staff instead of locked in a safe accessible only by the building manager).
- Not undertaking a proper background check on staff.
- Failing to properly follow-up on past concerns by residents of missing valuables.
Sure, it was the rogue concierge who committed the crime, but it was a slow erosion of high standards which created the environment for this to happen. Simply recruiting a new staff member doesn’t solve the underlying problem.
This happens in communities too. A major ‘blow-up’ is rarely the result of a single unexpected incident. It’s almost always the result of standards that have declined rapidly over time. These standards often begin with recruiting but continue with how members are engaged, treated, and concerns acted upon.
It’s easy to dismiss the minor things, like grumbles from members about how they’re treated. But these are usually the first warning signs that your standards are slipping. Better to deal with it now than later.