Community Guide vs. Guidelines

Replace your community guidelines with a guide.

Filemaker (a client) is a great example.

When you join, you’re taken through a guide that deeply engages you in key areas of the community.

You can join groups for newcomers, follow key topics, and decide how many notifications you want.

Even this only scratches the surface of what’s possible today.

Community guidelines are good, a community guide is much better.

The Filter And The Fountain

Your community should filter out all but the essential topic news and save everyone time.

A single roundup of new product information, major announcements, and key events can do this well. Members can submit news, but you filter it to just the essential.

You’re not sharing anything new, you’re just making it easier for everyone to digest. That’s valuable.

But while your community should be a filter for the topic, it should be a fountain for the sector.

It should be the single source of news about who’s rising in the field, the latest successes of members, and what’s new or popular at any given time.

Your community should be the single best place for your members to find what people like themselves are doing. Heck, it will usually be the only place for this kind of content and information.

Call for more case studies, more field reports from members, and as many updates of what people in your field are doing as possible. You can have a people on the move section, milestones achieved area, call for blog posts, and even a gossip section.

Filter news about the topic and become a fountain of news about the sector.

Part-Timers

Almost everyone I know who tried to manage a community part-time has regretted it.

The problem isn’t the limited time available, it’s the level of priority.

You can quickly sense when you’re not someone’s priority.

You wait longer to get a response, your tone of voice is different (more formal, less empathy), and you don’t go the extra mile it takes to make the community a success.

Working part-time is hedging your bets. Either your company is ready to commit to a community and should hire someone full-time…or it probably shouldn’t have one at all.

A community is never going to provide better support, expertise, and connections tomorrow if it isn’t treated that way today.

Declining Engagement Isn’t Always A Problem

Two companies this week complained about a decline in engagement.

But is a decline in engagement a bad thing?

If your community goal is to reduce support questions, a decline in engagement could simply mean you’ve already solved most of the problems your members face. Because of your community they can find answers without having to ask questions.

That’s a success you should be celebrating, not a cause for concern.

This is one of the many problems with measuring any form of engagement. You’re not measuring the things that matter to your company or to your members.

Feelings matter more than actions. Often, simply knowing there is a world-class community supporting the product is even more important than how often they use it.

Yet the things that really matter (and influence buying decisions) are rarely the things we’re measuring. For example:

  • Do customers feel the community adds unbeatable value to your products/services?
  • Do customers feel any problems they have would be quickly resolved?
  • Do customers feel they would be listened to and have influence over what you do?
  • Do customers feel they could hire great people from the community to work for them?
  • Do customers feel the community could give them feedback on what they’re doing and suggest ideas they haven’t discovered before?
  • Do customers feel they have a place to vent and receive emotional support from people just like them?

All of these things are measurable through surveys and interviews, but we rarely try to measure them.

If you ask your members to rank how important each product/support feature is in their buying decision, you will soon see how important the community ranks. That gives you a good baseline to work from.

Your members aren’t sitting around right now wishing they were more engaged in a community. I bet they are wishing for more of each of the above.

Don’t Hoard Content: Archive and Remove

As your community grows, you eventually spend more time removing content than creating it.

This requires archiving content, discussions, and even members.

Your goal is to encourage members to more easily find the most relevant (up to date) content they need with the minimum possible effort.

There are a few useful steps here.

1) Archive ‘no visit’ and ‘low visit’ content. If few people have visited an item of content in the past year, consider archiving it. However, be careful of removing highly useful, but niche, long-tail content (generally 3+ visits of 20+ seconds is worth keeping). Don’t delete it entirely as this will impact gamification scores of veteran members.

2) Archive out of date content. You can usually safely archive discussions that are 5+ years old – especially when new products have been released in that category. Sometimes you can archive discussions that are 2+ years old.

3) Archive unpopular content. If some discussions are clearly unpopular by rating/votes – consider archiving this too.

4) Remove no-visit members. If members haven’t visited in 3+ years, consider removing them too. Don’t delete their contributions (this could break a lot of discussions) but send out an email letting them know their account and data will be anonymised within 3 months.

It’s tempting to hoard as much content as possible. But this creates a tougher experience for members who want to find the best information right now. Instead, develop a system to automate the archiving and removal of low-value content and inactive members.

The Advanced Community Sessions [free online workshops]

Next week I’m teaming up with Vanilla to host a series of 3 online workshops.

The sessions aren’t long.

Each will last approximately 30 to 60 minutes and cover a key aspect of community development.

These include:

Developing a complete community member journey.

Updating the design of your community.

Using community data for decision-making.

If you feel you’ve mastered the basics and you’re looking up to the next step, sign up to the webinars.

They’re completely free and will get you thinking at a deeper, strategy, level than you do today.

How Far Can You Go Without A Community Platform?

One client asked whether they needed a dedicated community platform.

The answer depends on whether they have gone as far as possible without one.

If you don’t have a large audience already engaging with each other through blog comments, webinars, and social media channels, why do you think launching a central platform will help?

There is plenty you can do to build community without a single platform.

You can create a curated list of Twitter/LinkedIn accounts for members to follow and learn from each other. You can even promote a hashtag members can follow to participate in topical discussions. Members can share their accounts and join the list.

You can host webinars, invite members to submit questions and participate in live discussions with each other during the webinars. Better yet, ask members to nominate guest speakers or even put themselves forward for webinars.

You can start a blog, build a following, and encourage members to submit content for it. You can invite members to share comments on the blog and identify topics they want to be covered.

Etc…

The best time to launch a platform is after you’ve created a large demand for it. A platform should improve what you’re already doing because trying to create new behaviors from scratch is risky.

Predictions, Trends, and Data

A prediction is an extrapolation of a single person’s experience (often combined with exaggeration for attention).

Predictions are fun and easy to make, but neither accurate or useful because it’s an extrapolation of a single person’s experiences.

Identifying trends is more helpful to everyone. If you’re sure about current trends, you can plan for the future.

But trends are harder to identify because they require data. The more data people have access to, the better they can identify trends.

At the end of this year, instead of asking members to make predictions, ask them to help one another identify far more useful trends.

This begins by asking members to be open about sharing what data they’ve seen and what data they have. Or, failing that, what data they would like to have.

Helping members identify trends in your field is one of the most valuable things you can do for your members. Alas, it’s also one of the hardest.

A Good Time To Specialise

There’s plenty of opportunities.

Specialise in community migration, platform development, and establishing a community.

Specialise in measuring and reporting. Help others quantify the impact of the community, and develop systems to pull/analyze content from Google Reports, different platforms etc…make sure you can visualise the data beautifully too.

Specialise in running MVP programs that transform how organisations engage with their top customers.

Specialise in running large conferences and in-person events for huge communities.

Specialise in launching new communities from scratch.

Specialise in creating 10x content which attracts members indefinitely.

Specialise in setting up and running video channels for communities.

Specialise in running community teams and knowing how to attract, motivate, and drive key people.

Specialise in localisation of large communities to each region. How do you support conflicting needs of members by language and culture?

Specialise in ideation and building the right internal systems to utilize external ideas.

Specialise in moderation. Both reducing costs, improving results, and implementing policies which find that balance between freedom of speech and freedom from abuse.

Specialise in gamification programs that are unique, different, and game-changing for their hosts.

This isn’t an exhaustive list. But judging by the queries we’re getting today, you can get a head start if you specialise now.

Topics Over Categories

If members are visiting a page, they want to learn something new about that topic, see questions they can answer, and perhaps find out who are the rising stars within this field.

This is why categories (which only show a list of discussions) aren’t a great option. It forces members to go elsewhere to find blogs, news etc…

Topics, however, display discussions, content, and leaderboards, in a single place. Members can find anything that’s new without having to visit multiple pages.

In an ideal world, they can also see a separate leaderboard for the top members in that topic.

Topics also allow more flexibility. Not every item of content or discussions your members create neatly falls into a single bucket. If you can add more than one tag to content, it can be displayed in more than one place. On some platforms, members can choose which categories to follow and develop their personal feed of new, relevant, activity on each visit.

Members care far more about the topic than they do about the medium. Make sure they can easily see everything that’s new in a topic in a single place.

Embedding Community Into The Event Experience

Event-specific apps are simple solutions for a conference that typically undermine the community.

The problem is the event app is completely separate from the community, it serves a short-term purpose but never helps build a long-term community.

If you don’t make community both an essential and beneficial part of the event – they remain disconnected. So link them closer together.

  • Have questions for speakers? Ask in the community (they’ll be hosting a short AMA next week).
  • Aren’t sure how to apply their advice to your context? Ask in the community.
  • Want to meet up with others? Ask in the community.
  • Want to find people in your place to connect with? Search the community.

You can also go beyond this.

  • Invite speakers (especially paid speakers) to also spend time in the community answering questions about their topic.
  • Have booths and show the current unanswered questions on large plasma screens and give rewards for members who can answer them.
  • Display the current leaderboard of the community on a large plasma-screen everyone can see. Give prizes whoever is top at the end of the event.
  • Post new questions from customer support into the community and challenge people to answer them.
  • Reveal locations of the afterparty via the community.
  • Share the videos of the event in the community first.
  • Invite top community members to give lightning talks in their field of expertise.
  • Run a live ideation session during the event via the community.

An event should be a celebration of the community. The community shouldn’t be bolted on to the event. Integrate the two deeply and everyone wins.

The Trickle Stage

It’s scary to launch a new community.

This is especially true when you’ve been working on it for half a year and made a $500k investment into the technology.

You launch and wait for the first trickle of activity. Two posts become four. Four posts become Eight. Eight posts become 16 and so on.

You see this with Datarobot’s community right now. The first trickle of activity is just starting.

Don’t rush this stage. An explosion of activity doesn’t help you if you’re left with a trickle of activity afterward. You don’t want most of your audience to see an empty community. That’s a terrible first impression.

Instead, go above and beyond for each new member who does arrive. Ensure the questions receive a quick and empathetic response. Direct message members and check their problem was resolved. Get to know each of them. Make the first members feel part of something new, special, and exclusive. Give them unique access just for being one of the first pioneering members of your community.

Don’t rush this process, but lean into it (and set expectations for it). The trickle stage is the time to identify and resolve issues, nurture future top members, and provide a world-class experience to every newcomer.

Soon the trickle becomes a stream, a stream becomes a river, and the river becomes a torrent of activity.

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