…is a total failure to understand what community is all about.
It’s also likely to drive people away from performing the behavior.
No-one earning an average salary is going to be too excited at the slim prospect of earning a gift card.
They will be more excited about the chance to influence the direction of the company, get training from top experts, be invited to exclusive events, earn a leadership role within the community, share their expertise to a bigger group, or even complimentary passes to events.
If you need to dangle a carrot to get members to perform the behavior, don’t offer gift cards. Offer them the chance to do what they’re already doing – but even better.
Community newsletters are hard to get right.
They often become an automated digest of irrelevant activity no-one is too interested in reading about.
The newsletter needs to be a curated selection of content from the community which is easy to scan for something interesting.
I quite like The Overflow for its simplicity here (this is primarily distributed by email).
The trick is to keep the signal to noise ratio as high as possible.
If you don’t have good enough blog posts or questions this week to share, don’t share any. Or hold back sending a newsletter until you have high-quality content to fill it.
Okta (a client) recently revamped their help and community experience.
This is what it looked like before:
This is what it looks like now:
It’s a lot better now.
There is also one major difference, the ‘Open a case’ button has disappeared from the top navigation bar and is instead dropped into a ‘Get Support’ tab at the bottom of the page.
This forces members to browse to find the answer via the help center and the community before lazily opening a case without doing any research.
In turn, this drives more people to the community. Sometimes tiny tweaks like these can have a bigger impact than you imagine.
Ask your CEO (or her assistant) if she wouldn’t mind sending out a few personal emails to top community members as thanks for everything they’ve done for the community this year.
They have to be personalised (no mass cut & paste to the entire community) and they have to come from the CEO’s account.
You can even draft them up. Be sincere and honest. Don’t pretend the CEO is reading every post when they’re clearly not. For example:
I’m the CEO of [company] and my team have been telling me about your great contributions to the community over the past year. They especially liked your posts about [x], [y], and [z].
I just wanted to drop you a quick note of thanks.
Our community only works because of key members like you who take the time to help other members. Please don’t ever hesitate to drop me a line if there is ever anything I can do to help.
CEO, [company name].
If you can’t get the CEO to send out a few pre-written emails from her account, then find the next senior person who will.
If you wanted more people to come to a meeting, rearranging the chairs or improving the snacks wouldn’t make much of a difference.
The only people who would notice would be the people who were already there.
It’s what you do outside of the meeting which will attract more people to join it.
Think about this when you’re trying to increase participation in your community.
You typically have four major options here.
1) Direct invites. Reach out to people via social media channels and invite them to join. This works well if you’re just getting started, it’s not going to make a difference in a mature community.
2) Social ads. You should be able to recruit new members for $1 to $3 per person. This is good when you’re just getting started, but less effective after the first year.
3) Redirection. Better placement of the community on your company’s homepage navigation, better integration with the product, links from the support center, asking people to ask a question in the community rather than contact support/filing a ticket. These are all big wins.
But the other big wins come from finding out who has the attention of the people you want and how you can make promoting the community a no-brainer for them.
Your marketing, PR, customer support, product management, and customer success staff all have the attention of customers. For example, you could try to:
- Include introducing yourself to the community as part of both new staff and new customer onboarding.
- Feature community news stories and member successes in company newsletters.
- Promote the community to the company email list.
- Include a message telling customers on hold with phone support they can ask a question in the community instead.
- Include ‘ask a question’ next on the ‘contact us’ page for support.
- Ask customer success teams to also tell customers they can ask questions in the community.
- Include the community in customer-facing staff signatures.
- Have a community-stand at the company event.
You get the idea, once you get the maturity phase your success in boosting participation relies increasingly upon your ability to work with others to promote the community.
We typically have three options for technical development of client projects.
The first is hiring an implementation partner. These are firms with considerable experience doing precisely this kind of work. They can guide you through developing use cases, developing the technology, and testing.
The second is finding a consultant (or consultants). These are usually self-employed freelancers with expertise in the technology. They overlap often with the above.
The third is to do it in-house. Your internal development team takes on the project and delivers the results.
When we guide clients through these decisions, we usually consider six factors.
These are (in rough order of priority):
1) Policies. If your company has policies against outside help, is unable to give access to community technology, or simply refuses to work with companies based outside of the home country, the decision is often made for you.
2) Capabilities. If you haven’t done much development on the platform you’re using, you’re going to need outside help. Remember too you will also need to maintain the platform. So any code written externally will need to be clean for in-house developers or future partners to work with.
3) Experience. This could better be described as ‘risk tolerance’. Implementation partners like 7Summits or Paladin can guide you through the entire process, develop the user cases, specifications, and avoid the common landmines. But this comes at a price. However, almost every company I know which did an internal development made mistakes which they would have avoided with more experience.
4) Cost. If you’re on a budget, you either need a cheaper implementation partner (i.e. Grazitti), to do the project in-house (this has costs too), or find a solo consultant who can take a very precise specification and develop as required. If your budget is below $100k, you typically need to find a consultant you can truly trust.
5) Speed. If you need this project done fast you typically need outside help who can begin immediately. However, be aware that in larger organisations it can take weeks, even months, to onboard a new vendor. Check this before using outside help if you’re on a tight schedule. The problem with internal development, however, is getting engineering resources. You might be waiting for weeks, even months, for your project to become a priority.
6) Time. Development projects require about 3x more of your time than you imagine. A terrific project manager will help cajole everyone to deliver on their tasks. But the larger the project, the more of your time it will take. Larger implementation firms often supply their own project managers which can save time.
Selecting the right approach to developing your community experience (or doing future development) is one of the most critical decisions you will make. Select the wrong person(s) and you will spend years trying to fix their mistakes.
We don’t generally recommend using videos in the community.
Especially not for introducing a community or explaining how it works.
The data shows few people watch them and fewer still watch more than 10 seconds.
If your technology is so complicated to use it requires a video, simplify the technology, don’t create videos to explain it.
There are better uses for videos. For example:
1) As a celebration of community. An annual roundup of the best discussions and content on the community. Something which really helps people see and feel the difference the community made and their own role within it. Facebook’s year in review is good at this.
2) As a teaching tool. Videos are useful for teaching members about the topic. You can create a 101 video series shared solely on your community to attract more newcomers and help people get up to speed quickly. This, in turn, makes them better at answering questions. You can also have an exclusive video series created by engineers/product people to help your top members learn how to answer questions even better.
3) Testimonials and advocacy. Okta is a great example of this. The community can be a phenomenal source of testimonials to support your company’s sales and marketing efforts.
4) As a video library. You don’t need to create all the videos yourself if you and your members can collect them from across the web to create a video library for the topic. The problem today isn’t finding information, but filtering it. This is where a community can step in and create a top 10 list of videos all members should watch.
Skip the generic tutorials for using the site or explaining what a community is. Instead use videos to create lasting value for you and your members.
It’s not uncommon when launching a community to register fake members and initiate some activity between them.
This can work, but it’s dishonest, you won’t feel good about it, and you could be exposed at any money (whether through a mistake, an angry ex-staffer, or a suspicious member).
Once you’re exposed as a liar, it’s impossible to regain your members’ trust.
The tragedy of this approach is that there’s no need to do it.
Your audience isn’t dumb, be honest with them. You can always say:
As we’re just getting started in the community, I’m sharing some of the most common questions we get through our customer support channels which I’m hoping we can answer here.
The first question is about [xyz]….”
You can do this until members begin to ask their own questions. You can even have support staff answer questions in the community too using the same honest approach.
I like this question from the Okta community:
Members drift away for all sorts of reasons. They change job, lose interest in the topic, have no problems to solve, don’t get enough value from the community, or didn’t have a good community experience.
Once you know which, it becomes a lot easier to retain the members you do have.
If search is responsible for the majority of traffic to a customer community, it helps to optimise your community for search.
For example, take this question from the Kronos community:
It’s a valid question with a good answer. But it would get more traffic if it included the product name, Kronos’ name, or anything which would clearly identify this question as relating to products.
Move this question to another community and no-one would have any clue what company you’re referring to. People searching for an answer know this and will include the product name or the company name in their search.
These are the kinds of questions you need to tweak the titles for. Members are unlikely to do it themselves – so I suggest you set aside time each week to update old titles to attract more search results.
It’s tempting to believe you can nurture the first sparks of activity into a thriving community.
Any sparks will do…right?
Any activity won’t do.
If newcomers visit a site filled with low-quality, repetitive, beginner-level content they won’t come back. You don’t just need any activity, you need good activity to get started.
High-quality contributions trumps high-quantity contributions. And if you don’t get the former, the latter won’t happen anyhow.
But you can’t expect anyone to create quality contributions if you don’t explain what quality is and how members can create quality contributions. Some useful rules for you and for your members:
- Contributions shouldn’t already exist anywhere else.
- Contributions should be something you cannot Google.
- Contributions should be placed in context. Share the context of the question, what the contributor is trying to achieve, what resources they have available, and what they’ve tried already.
- Contributions should be succinct, direct, factual, (or, in rare cases, highly entertaining).
- Contributions should go the extra mile to bring something unique and special.
- Contributions should be brave and unafraid to be contrarian.
- Contributions should be honest, trustworthy, and open.
- Contributions can be videos or photos – especially if they’re easier to understand than text.
- Contributions should be empathetic.
These are all examples of course, your definition of quality and what it takes to make a quality contribution might be different
Just remember that no-one can create quality contributions if you don’t tell them what quality is.
A holiday season story for you.
In one of my first video gaming communities, we tried to organise a secret santa for members.
One member volunteered to write a simple program which would enable members to opt-in, and randomly assign them another member to buy a simple gift for.
It turned out the program wasn’t as random as we had been led to believe.
Instead of assigning a member another username at random, the developer instead programmed it to send his name to the 2k+ members who had opted in.
He earned a small fortune in gift cards and we learned a valuable lesson; when any tangible reward is involved people will always find a way to cheat.
Worse yet, it’s hard to spot the scam until it’s too late.
The lesson? Don’t offer tangible rewards.
Better to offer things worth more than tangible rewards. Offer what money can’t buy, reputation, gratitude, influence, a sense of making a difference. Offer things the scammers and tricksters will never care about.