I’m a member of a private WhatsApp group with precisely 12 members.
Early on, the group host encouraged each of us to share our goals (both personal and professional).
We each tried to be as honest as possible and pushed each other to be so too. Any time someone mentioned a vague goal, they were given helpful suggestions to clarify it and why they want to achieve it. In the process, some of us changed our goals entirely.
Anytime someone needs something to help them achieve their goals, they ask in the group. Sometimes that’s emotional support, sometimes that’s someone to take a look at their work, and sometimes it’s referrals for great web designers, video developers, or places to host events etc…
Helping someone achieve their goals is an incredible feeling. Being a part of a group where you all help each other to achieve their goals even more so.
If you’re managing communities based around small groups (I’m not sure this scales especially well), I’d suggest encouraging each newcomer (and existing member) to openly share their goals and commit to helping one another achieve them.
Too few brand communities deliver the value they should be delivering.
The problem isn’t usually a lack of resources, but a lack of awareness in how the community can support so many areas of the business.
This graphic below gives a number of examples:
A successful community supports every stage of the funnel. For a breakdown
In the awareness stage, communities can:
- Attract more search traffic.
- Help build a mailing list.
- Create retargeting opportunities through pixel tracking.
- Nurture advocates for the brand.
- Host events that attract new prospects.
- Provide PR teams with success stories to promote.
- Provide statistics that can be promoted publicly.
- Be targeted in a particular topic to attract a broader base of customers.
In the interest stage, communities can help members become more interested in buying the product or service. This includes:
- Members getting answers to product questions (notably which are best for them).
- Community-created lists of recommended products/services for different use cases.
- Members publishing reviews on shopping and comparison sites.
- Members creating content that is featured in marketing material.
- Members creating long-form guides solving particular problems with your products/services.
- Automated email campaigns guiding members to buy items based upon community participation.
- Members giving ideas and feedback to improve products.
In the conversion stage, communities can increase the number of interested prospects who make a commitment. This includes:
- Sales staff using community data to help convert leads (knowing what people have searched for and looked up before).
- Member testimonials and quotes featured on product pages.
- Including purchase links directly to mentioned products.
- Members getting referral fees to help sell products.
- Short-term exclusive offers to members only.
- Using social proof and statistics throughout the community.
Communities play a role (although often overstated) in retaining members. This comes via:
- Members having an improved experience by getting high-quality support from other members.
- Members sharing and learning tips/best practices to get more value from their products.
- Members feel a powerful sense of community.
- Members participating in shared activities together and befriending others.
In the advocacy stage, communities can:
- Turn members into advocates who promote the brand through social channels.
- Members sharing content created within the community with others.
The biggest win for many of us building communities professionally is to build the relationships, processes, and features necessary to ensure our community supports as many aspects of the business as possible.
When you get a new community job, you might be tempted to dive in on day one and begin engaging with members in the community.
A few things to consider before you do this:
1) Do members know who you are yet?
2) Do you know who members are?
3) Do you have sector/product expertise or knowledge to properly respond to and engage with members?
Imagine a stranger jumping into a technical discussion with you and your colleagues without knowing who any of you were, what contributions you had made before, and sharing information that wasn’t accurate.
It’s probably not going to go well. It’s easy to cause long-term damage to your reputation based upon your first few contributions within a community.
It’s perfectly ok to reach out to a few members, introduce yourself (ideally via a referral), and say you’re keen to get their views on the community while you get up to speed.
Likewise, if your organisation has a training course or certification you can go through on the products, it’s worthwhile going through it and reading up on the top 50 or so discussions ever posted in the community.
Taking a couple of weeks to familiarize yourself with the community and its topic now can save you plenty of problems later.
Over the past few years, I’ve spent copious amounts of time diving deep into the minutia of community data to extract insights that you can use to improve your community without investing a huge sum of money.
I’ve shared some of these in this blog before, but now you can find the whole webinar below.
If you want to know how quickly to reply to posts, where the biggest wins are, and how much engagement you should have, watch this webinar:
A couple of times, I’ve been invited by a major platform or a social network to provide strategic direction.
One of the overlooked considerations in these ‘mega’ projects is what will competitors do?
For example, you can use your audience research and intuition to determine features or activities which will prove popular with members. For smaller communities (or those without natural competitors i.e. most support communities), hitting a home-run here is good enough.
But at the ‘social network’ level, you can be sure if a feature proves popular, a competitor’s first move will be to copy and improve upon it. This is why the pioneers of a particular feature are rarely those who build long-term success upon them.
If the competitor has better resources than you do, having a head start of 6 months won’t help you much. You’re simply saving them some market research time.
So what can you do?
The best option is to integrate features with other features to deliver value that proves increasingly difficult to copy, i.e. adding disappearing images isn’t hard to copy. But combining this with a powerful and existing distribution system using a member’s existing connections is hard to copy.
Whatever feature you develop, you need to combine it with your unique advantages (unique focus, unique skill set, unique niche), in such a way that any major competitor will be unable or unwilling to copy it. This in turn should lead you to only develop features that can be configured in such a way that your competitor’s simply won’t be able, or willing, to copy them.
Of course, if you have better resources than competitors, you have to be ready to double down and constantly improve upon the feature quicker than competitors can catch up.
Don’t overlook what competitors will do.
Engagement can’t continue rising indefinitely. At some point, it has to plateau and the closer you get to the plateau, the rate of growth will naturally slow.
Most communities follow an S-Curve of growth. Participation begins slowly, hits a critical mass, and starts to grow rapidly, and then plateaus as most of the likely people to participate are already participating.
There are some exceptions. Customer support communities often explode to life simply by redirecting traffic from one channel to another. And some organisations might just have a big launch and then struggle to sustain the initial base of activity.
If you’re being asked to increase engagement, the next obvious question is to what level?
There are many ways of tackling this question.
If you’re managing a support community, then the total number of answerable questions (those not requiring a member to share personal details) is a fair place to start.
If you’re managing a success based community, where members are expected to proactively share ideas and knowledge with one another, you might try to get a figure on how many people are already doing that today (and whether that rate of growth is increasing or decreasing).
If you’re managing an interest-based community, you might look at how many people are searching for related terms today and making a rough calculation based upon that.
Ultimately, you need some baseline metric that describes the type of engagement that matters to you, how much of it is happening elsewhere today, and what the top figure looks like. Once you have these metrics, you can plot your S-Curve accordingly.
(Aside, shifting behavior is a lot easier than initiating it. If you’re asking members to do something they’ve never done before, your estimates should be a lot more conservative).
An acquaintance recently launched an online support group.
However, he was struggling to make it sticky. Members might join and post, but they would rarely stick around and reply to each other’s comments.
A little digging revealed a fairly obvious problem. It was seen as a depressing place to spend time.
Visiting the community meant browsing through the posts of numerous members sharing honestly (and bravely) the dilemmas they were facing. Each was its personal own story, sometimes its own small tragedy.
When a community is a depressing place to visit, fewer people choose to visit it. People will share honestly and openly (at least with trusted friends), but they don’t necessarily want to read through the countless comments of others doing the same.
In communities like this, you need to balance the need for members to speak openly, with the need to create hope, enjoyment, and success. People who suffer from low confidence or anxiety, for example, should certainly be able to share that in relevant communities. But they should also be able to see the success stories from others and ask questions.
A community shouldn’t be a place for a thousand personal tragedies. It should be a place for a thousand successes. Members shouldn’t be encouraged to share their problem, but to share what’s working for them, what they intend to try, and get feedback from others.
That’s how you pull a community from a depressive downward spiral into an uplifting success for everyone.
The feeling people have when they visit your community will play the decisive role in whether people will stick around or not.
Wistia’s CEO, Rob Savage, once told me about a behind-the-scenes video they had posted about his (then) fledgling company.
The video itself was nothing special. But when they looked at the video stats they noticed something startling; viewers were repeatedly rewatching the final five seconds of the video.
This was the moment the camera pulled back to reveal the lighting setup.
This led to a major insight. Viewers didn’t want to know about the product, they wanted to learn how to set up the lighting equipment for themselves. This later led to an incredible content library and a community committed to sharing best practices with each other.
In the hubbub of managing a community, it’s important not to miss potentially game-changing sparks of insight like this. Posts that get far more responses than others, articles that get more views or are shared more on social media, members who are rapidly gaining a following etc…
I’d add this as an open field at the end of your weekly/monthly reports.
What surprised you this week?
Sure, nothing might come from most of them. But you never know whether you (or others), can use them to pick up on a major trend or opportunity.
…isn’t a great reason to build a community.
1) What will draw people to a community in the first place?
2) By nature, you’re drawing people in and then sending them elsewhere to talk about you.
3) There’s no obvious reason for anyone to do 1) or 2).
Community isn’t a great approach for ‘getting the word out’. There’s plenty of advocacy, influencer, and promotional efforts that work better.
Communities can help in some areas (once they’re established). They’re terrific places to source case studies, testimonials, and referrals. They’re fantastic for creating social proof and enticing those with an interest in whatever you do to take the next step.
But for just getting the word out? I’d consider a different approach.
Go to Google Analytics > Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages
Make sure you’ve set the date filter for the past 3 months.
And search the results by /forum/ or whatever tags indicate discussion posts only.
You should find a list of discussions like the client example below:
What’s remarkable when digging into the data shown here is 21 discussions accounted for 75% of all inbound search traffic to the community.
From the tens of thousands of discussions posted in the community, just 21 discussions account for 75% of all visitors.
This isn’t an outlier, some variation of this has happened in almost every community we’ve looked at. A tiny number of discussions are responding for most of the inbound visitors to a community.
This has some important implications.
1) Keep these discussions up to date. Provide fresh information, check the posts/answers are still relevant and feature some of them prominently within the community.
2) Consider creating content and advice articles based upon these discussions. Use the content provided within these discussions to create standalone blog posts, knowledge base articles, or separate pages.
3) Consider creating more discussions like these. Categorise these discussions and see which categories occur most frequently. Create more discussions within this category.
Every public community needs to find a constant source of new members to replace those lost to natural churn. Looking to see what brings newcomers into the community today is a good place to start.
Going through the script for an upcoming member feedback session, I caught a line which read:
“We’re soon going to be launching some exciting new changes we think you’ll love. […] And we want your feedback!”
If you’re telling members how you want them to think and respond, you’re not gathering feedback, you’re trying to persuade them.
There’s nothing wrong with persuasion, we do it all the time. But don’t confuse it with gathering feedback.
A feedback session is about creating a neutral space where members are encouraged to be honest and happy to share the things they like and dislike. You have to tease out the key insights (both the good and bad).
If you begin by telling members how excited you are, they’re far less likely to give honest feedback for fear of upsetting you (or being seen as the ‘negative’ person in the group).
A persuasion session is where you try to get members as excited about the upcoming changes as you are. You give them a narrative, sell a vision of the future, and identify their own efficacy to help make that future happen.
Both are fine approaches, just be clear which yours is.
If you need a clearer distinction…
When you’ve made a decision about a major change, you need to persuade members.
When you’re not sure what decision to make, you need to gather feedback.
If you haven’t joined a new community in a while, give it a shot today.
Whatever topic you’re passionate about (or even mildly interested in), join a community for it.
Search for “[topic]” AND “community|forum|meetup” or any term that makes sense to you.
Think about how the experience feels to you.
What do you notice? Does the community grip you to join and participate? If so, why? If not, why not?
If it’s for a topic you’re new to, do you feel comfortable asking questions? Yes? No? Why?
It’s easy to get lost in the technical details. You might be surprised how refreshing it is to be a participant…and how many things you notice which you didn’t see within your own community.