People only complain about things they have an interest in.
If someone complains about an aspect of your community, ask them if they want to help fix it. Or better, ask them how they would like it fixed and provide the resources they need to get the job done.
You might just turn a disgruntled member into a proud power user.
Nothing you do should be random. You should know why you’re doing everything you plan to do. That means asking “Why?” a lot.
Why do you need that many members?
Why do you need to add that feature?
Why are you designing the interface in those colors?
Why is your community open? Or closed?
Why are you going to approach those people?
Why are you going to say that in the e-mail?
Why are writing about that?
Why are you using a Facebook group? Or Joomla? Or Yammer? Or Kickapps?
Why do we need a blog? Or a podcast? Or forums? Or a Facebook group?
Why did 3 members leave yesterday?
Why did 33 members join yesterday?
Why do you need to let people comment?
Why will people comment?
Why do we need to support delicious tagging?
Why don’t you reduce the size of the community?
Why will he invite his best friend?
Why is it going to take that long to launch?
Why is it going to cost that much?
The answers might not be as important as thinking through the questions.
If you run a closed community, you should either encourage members to invite as many friends as possible, or restrict them to one invite per month.
The two strategies are very different.
The first requires the most work. You have to keep finding ways to stimulate members to invite friends. If it works, you get a long period of sharp growth followed by a period of levelling off.
The second is easier. Giving members just one invite increases the value of the invites. Members will headhunt the best people they can find. Or they might run competitions with the invites as prizes. You get a stronger community that aims for a growth rate of 100% per month.
It pains me when new web companies get the two confused. Kwippy, Naymz and BrightKite are all guilty of giving members up to 15 invites. You can’t go half-way on this, either unlimited invites, or just one.
There is a theory that states in any online community, 90% lurk, 9% participate and 1% create. There are different ways you can treat this theory…
You can treat it as a huge opportunity. Most community managers are doing a bad job if only 10% of members are engaging. You can step in and save the day.
You can treat it as a benchmark. Anything below is bad, anything above is good. Clients like benchmarks.
You can treat it as a warning. Online communities are overrated and no-body really wants to get involved.
You can treat it as a strategy. You need to focus on finding the participating 10% and growing that number.
You can treat it as a tactic. If you kick out members that don't contribute you've got 0-0-100% participation. Guaranteed.
You can treat it as a multiplier. If you need at least 20 people creating content, you need to attract 2000 members. That’s a target.
You can treat it as irrelevant. It’s an aging theory based upon communities that are nothing like yours.
How do you treat it?
Following on, if you do need to redesign the community interface, inform everyone first. Explain why you need to do it and the benefits of doing it.
Take your community through the entire design process. Show them the same screenshots and templates your designers show you. Listen and respond to their concerns.
Let members participate in the new design. Use some of their suggestions and invite important members to test the community before you launch. Perhaps even let them write the copy for each other?
Most communities hate brand new interfaces. It’s too new!
If you get past the hate, they might grow to love it. But that’s a risky ‘if’.
The solution is simple, have a small budget (or a talented volunteer) to make a smaller improvement every month. Let members vote on what they want improved. It keeps the design fresh without risking the backlash.
Create a diagram of where your new members are coming from. Then work out who are the connectors, and who influencers these connectors. You need to treat these people differently.
Charlie told Chuck about this blog. Chuck posted about this blog in his project, which sent a few hundred people here. Amongst these people is Vicki. Vicki posted about this blog to a 300 people of her followers on Twitter.
Chuck and Vicki are the uber-connectors with big followings. But Charlie influencers Chuck who influences Vicki.
Knowing these connections matters. You can offer Vicki something that will benefit her followers. You might offer Chuck the same, only with something special for ‘select’ friends like Vicki. You might ask Charlie for his advice on what would make him recommend you.
If you’re trying to build a B2B community, you need to appeal to employees not organisations.
Figure out what motivates these employees want most. Fame? Money? Power? Recognition? Easier work? Your challenge is to translate your community’s core appeal into one of these motivations
Imagine your community is about the toy industry. Can you offer members the chance to become well known in the toy industry? Can you improve their job prospects? Can you give them ideas that will save them money?
If you can, write up a few success stories and share them. If you can’t, work to develop a platform that does.
What if you could persuade a VIP to participate in your community for a day?
They might write a quick blog post, post and respond to comments on the forums, answer some questions in the shoutbox and take on a live-chat.
It’s only a day. In niches with ‘micro-celebs’, it might not be as hard to arrange as you think. Perhaps a local activist? A local journalist? Or even an old community member that’s gone on to bigger things.
It’s time to drop the introduction threads.
If your community has a thread for newcomers to introduce themselves, get rid of it. Nobody wants to stand before a big group and introduce themselves. Worse, these threads are usually 400 posts long and get little response from the community.
Create a weekly list of newcomers with a 3 line bio. Make it a tradition for existing members to introduce themselves to newcomers.
That’s much more welcoming.
Some say your blog should talk about your industry. They’re usually wrong.
Typically, customers don’t care about the industry.
People buying Nike trainers don’t care about the sports manufacturing industry. They care about themselves, and people like themselves. They care about being better at running, making their trainers last longer. They care about celebrities using the same products as them. They care about the young rising sportsmen and the 73-year-old who’s just started running again after 37 years.
Parents buying cots certainly don’t care about the baby products industry. They care about successful ideas for raising children. They want to know about other parents like them. They want great ideas for putting screaming babies to sleep.
Try blogging about your customers. Share their stories with each other. Invite the most successful ones to contribute. Build readership one member at a time.
Think of your blog as the local newspaper. Instead of covering Browstone County, you’re covering people that use your products.
Invite your members to review any community-related events they have attended.
People that attend events love to read reviews of it. Photos and videos are great too. The reviewer will promote the review to people s/he met at the event. That’s an immediate benefit.
But you can go one level higher.
If it’s a positive review, drop a note to the organiser and see if they might send the review to their list of attendees (and sponsors!). They can also link to it for next year’s event.
If it’s a negative review, invite the organiser to send attendees with positive opinions to give their thoughts.