Completing Profiles

The myth is if members complete their profiles they’re more likely to participate in a community.

The reality is the people who complete profiles are already most likely to participate in a community. Asking them to do it doesn’t change anything.

In fact, asking newcomers to complete their profile is a waste of an ‘ask’.

Profiles represent how someone in a community wishes others to perceive them. If they’re visiting a community to get an answer to a question, they really don’t care how they’re perceived.

However, as they start to participate in a community beyond an immediate need, they do start to care how others see them. This is when they complete their profiles.

You shouldn’t be asking newcomers to complete their profiles. You should be challenging newcomers to figure out what they can contribute to the community – which in turn will make them more likely to complete their profiles.

“What can you contribute to the community?” is a far better ask than “complete your profile”.

“I Don’t Have Anything To Share”

It’s probably the biggest reason I’ve seen for people explaining why they don’t participate in a community.

They don’t feel they have the expertise to participate.
They don’t have any questions they need answered.
They don’t feel they can make a useful contribution to the community.

But I never believe them.

Every single one of us in every single community has something valuable to share.

Even if it’s our very first day working in that sector or learning about the topic, we know what it’s like to be new.

We know the kind of questions we need answers to. These questions and answers will help the person that comes after us. That’s incredibly valuable.

We know what resources are missing or confusing. By sharing our thoughts we can get help from others and hopefully improve the resources for the next person.

We know how it feels to be new. We know when and where it feels frustrating, intimidating, and confusing and can share that with others who can help. Again, this helps the person who comes after us.

The problem is never that people have nothing to share. The problem is you haven’t persuaded them that what they do have to share will be incredibly valuable to others.

The Perfect Welcome Message (and what made you take action?)

We’re in the early phases of revamping the FeverBee Experts community (which, admittedly, has been unsupported for too long).

Part of what we’re trying to figure out is what the perfect welcome message looks like (feel free to add your thoughts).

There are two ways of doing this.

The first is to use your personas, your understanding of the audience, and your own intuition to craft a message you think is going to resonate.

The other is to look at what’s worked really well elsewhere. But since you rarely have the data to see if another message made people take action, look at it from your own perspective.

What welcome messages in the past have made you take action?

Any time you join a community or group and then find yourself clicking a call to action and participating, capture the exact language and format used (use Evernote or similar tool). Copywriters often refer to this as a ‘swipe’ file.

This doesn’t just work for welcome messages, it works for any effective email, newsletter, digest, static copy, or aspect of any community. If it motivates you to take action, make a note of it.

Or, as a shortcut, feel free to help us out by sharing what welcome messages have worked on you (or for your community) in the past.

The Weekly Status Update

A client of mine sends a weekly status update.

It includes three things:

  1. What has been accomplished in the past week.
  2. The focus areas for the coming week.
  3. The lowlights of the week (what hasn’t gone well).

I like the format.

It keeps everyone focused on proactively developing a community instead of reactively responding to it.

When You’ve Made A Mistake

If you’re leading a community and do something which reeks of favouritism, hypocrisy, or simply failing to live up to your community’s own standards, you’re going to find it very hard to regain the community’s respect.

Sure, the majority of members will continue visiting and participating as before. The majority of members don’t know who is in charge in the first place. But your top members, the ones who know the community best, they will notice.

Your top members will lose respect for you. Your top members will be less likely to participate, respond to questions, or help you in any way in the future.

One acquaintance recently found herself in this position. But, as she kept telling me, there was a loophole in her community’s terms and conditions which let her take the actions she did. So ‘technically’ she did nothing wrong.

She had a simple choice. She can keep her pride, refuse to admit any wrongdoing, and lose her community’s respect. Or she can clearly state she was wrong, apologise, and work with her community to take the necessary steps to rectify the problem.

If you’re truly committed to your community, you will do what’s best for your community in these situations – especially if you don’t think you’ve done anything wrong.

That’s something you can be proud of.

Community Vendor Management

In my experience, organisations grossly underestimate how much time they will need to spend working with their vendor.

Even once the platform is live, you’re still going to need to set aside several hours each week for upgrades, customisations, and fixes of your platform. Some organisations need 10 to 15 hours per week.

If you have a small team, this becomes a problem. Time which needs to be spent developing the community is instead spent developing the platform.

Once you move to an enterprise platform, you either need to invest in a bigger community team too or bring in more colleagues to help manage the vendor start of the process.

Environment Scanning

People can drift away from a community for many reasons.

Often they lose interest in the topic or don’t have any information to request (or exchange).

An equally likely reason is a new place emerges which satisfies those same needs quicker, with less effort, or with better results than your community (as one paper shows).

This happens most to mature, established, communities who feel their sheer size or scale negates any threats. But, as history has shown, members are happy to walk away from their connections, badges, post counts, and track record when a new thing emerges.

One option is to develop the new thing. Continually survey and interview your members to unearth new needs and satisfy them. This is an ongoing part of your strategy.

Another is to scan the environment for ‘the new thing’ and react quickly to incorporate similar features within your community. This might even mean creating something outside of your current community platform to support members wherever they may be.

A Short Riff On Competitions

When competitions are done well, they drive the behavior you want and bring people closer together.

When they’re done badly, they incentivise poor behavior, cheating, and drive people apart.

The most common approach is also the worst; have a competition with just one winner.

The problem is the more people who enter, the less likely anyone is to win. Each new person to enter decreases the motivation of everyone else. There’s no reason why anyone would share it, invite others to participate, or even enter themselves.

Luckily there are some better approaches.

The first is to increase the size of the prize with each new participant.

The second is to ensure the top x% of participants win a prize regardless of the number of entries (i.e. top 1%).

Even better, make it a collaborative challenge. Members should have to form teams to enter and solve a series of challenges together. Perhaps consider a tournament format or eliminating one group per week. I guarantee you’ll get more participation and engagement this way.

Once you drop the ‘one winner’ approach, a lot of interesting competition formats begin to emerge.

The Influencer/Superuser Problem

Superuser programs and influencer programs typically target two groups.

One group has built a reputation inside of your community (superusers) and the other outside of your community (influencers).

You run into trouble when you provide influencers with better rewards, access, and benefits than your top community members.

Imagine you’ve been a loyal, contributing, customer to a community for five years and then see an industry influencer, with no history as a customer, getting superior treatment. That’s going to sting.

One solution is to have parity between the two programs. But this still leads to the same problem. A better solution is to treat superusers better. Offer them inexpensive rewards which would be highly valued by them. This typically includes unique access, status, and connections.

Let them switch to the rewards of the influencer program if they want to, but I doubt they will.

The Mockup

A simple rule; make your mockups of the community really good.

If you’re trying to get support from your boss, colleagues, or people you want to participate in the community, putting together a shoddy wireframe and adding the disclaimer ‘this is just a mockup, the real thing will be a lot better!’ isn’t going to cut it.

The mockup is the only thing that people can see.

They can’t visualise what lies beyond that.

If it looks bad, they will only see it as bad.

This means you either need to hire a designer, head on over to 99 designs and get some help, or invest the time to learn a tool like Figma.

Whether you’re trying to get support, help people to understand what the community is, or simply solicit feedback – begin with something that looks good. Trust me.

Getting Support Is About Finding The Right Story

For the first five years or so of my career, I used to think data was a silver bullet.

If I had data and examples that proved the value of community, I’d bring people around.

Turns out data is better at convincing people rather than persuading them (and if they don’t like what the data says they simply find ways to ignore it anyway).

You need to find the right story that matches their current worldview.

Some people need a story of fear. “If someone else does this before you, you’re going to lose out”

Some people need a story of ego. “This is what the best people in the world do”

Some people need a story of change. “This is what the future of the field looks like”

Some people need a story of ego. “Imagine how great it would be to be standing on stage presenting this to the world”

Some people need a story of togetherness. “We can create this amazing thing together…”

Some people need an underdog story. “They don’t think we can do this…”

Some people need a story of pride: “We do this better than any of our rivals, let’s not ruin that”

Some people need a story of love. “If we truly care about them, we should do this”

Your story has to be believable. It has to be visual. You should come equipped with examples and data. Most of all, it has to be the right story. And the secret to finding the right story is to build a strong enough relationship with someone (by asking questions and listening) to know what emotions really drive them.

‘At A Glance’ Homepage

Take a second to visit Norton’s community homepage.

(click here if image doesn’t show)

It’s not very attractive, yet it gives regular visitors exactly what they need.

In a single glance, every visitor can see everything that’s going on in the community.

They can see the latest threads, trending topics, latest announcements, and where to go for urgent issues.

If they cut out the big chunk of text and huge graphic at the top, it would be even better.

When it comes to homepages, you want to put function over form. Every visitor should be able to see everything new in the community without having to scroll down the page or click through an unceasing number of opt-in permissions.

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