FeverBee’s Advanced Community Skills Workshop @ CMX Summit (September 4-6)

When you first begin building and managing communities, you rightly spend the majority of your time engaging members and responding to what happens. This is what helps get your community off the ground and helps you learn core community skills.

But if you’re still spending most of your time doing this kind of work a few years’ later, you’re probably not delivering on your full potential.

 

Design Processes and Interventions To Take Your Community To The Next Level

As your community grows through the community lifecycle (and your career develops) your work should shift from daily one-to-one interactions with members to designing systems that help your community achieve its big wins – the things it was set up to do in the first place.

At the moment, too few of us are doing that (and fewer still are doing it as well as we could).

This September, I’ll be hosting an Advanced Skills Community workshop at CMX Summit to help those of whom have mastered the basics, design the systems that will take their community to the next level.

 

The Advanced Community Skills Workshop

We’re going to focus on some of the biggest wins and how you can achieve them.

This includes:

  • Understanding research techniques to know what your members truly want from a community.
  • Developing successful user journeys for each of your community’s personas.
  • Optimizing your community technology to achieve increasingly better results.
  • Establishing standards for how you and your team engage your community members.
  • Designing community decision trees.
  • Setting benchmarks for your community and building a roadmap from your benchmarks.
  • …and plenty more.

This workshop is targeted entirely on the areas where you have the biggest and most immediate impact upon the level of participation and success of your community.

If you don’t have validated personas, clear user journeys, engagement standards or find yourself using default platform options, this workshop will help you.

 

Learn Advanced Community Skills

If you’re a beginner, this isn’t a good workshop for you yet.

However, if you’ve already got an active community and want to take it to the next level, this workshop might be ideal.

I strongly believe every community needs a highly trained community professional at the helm. A community needs someone with the expertise and toolkit to take their community to where it needs to go. This September we’re going to give you the skills to do just that.

You can sign up here:

https://events.cmxhub.com/events/details/cmx-san-francisco-presents-cmx-summit-2019//#/code-RICHSUMMIT10

(p.s. You get a discount if you use this link)

Breakdown of Spotify’s Thriving Online Community

For a few weeks we’re going to be taking a deeper dive into some of the more advanced aspects of running an online community.

If you’re looking to up your game, move up to a strategist level, or get an insight into what top community pros work on; this should help.

Last year, we analyzed a few of the top communities around (Apple, Autodesk, StackOverflow, and Airbnb). We’re going to add to this collection today by taking you on a deep dive of the Spotify Online Community.

Note: If you’re reading this by email either click here to see the full post, get the slides here, or enable images).

View the slides

Overview

Let’s begin by looking at the basics from available information (note this data is accurate up to May 2019).

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However, it’s worth noting community growth (0.4% per year) lags far behind customer growth (2% to 4% per year). Most members join and don’t ask a question.

This is clearly a mature community (based upon the community lifecycle).

* Note: per day numbers are collected by comparing figures listed on the website today vs. several months ago (via Archive.org) and averaging the results. This will not account for any posts which have been removed.
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Community Structure

The Spotify community has a relatively simple structure with five key elements. These are:


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Although slightly hidden, the community also has a knowledge base and promotes some additional communities for developers off-site (StackOverflow, GitHub, and Twitter).

To support this, the community is using the following features provided by Lithium:

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The lack of groups is interesting. This could be because either groups is a relatively new feature from Lithium or because it’s outside of the community strategy.

Either way, it’s likely the addition of groups would support the ‘Music Chat’ where members could form groups and exchange playlists around topics of interest.

 

Community Design

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Layout and Navigation

The community design has two clear calls to action for visitors. These are to sign up for a premium account, and search for an answer to a question. Both drive an immediate return on investment (new accounts/call deflection). However, the size of this banner means it’s likely most members won’t see the four key areas of the community below.

We would recommend reducing the size and ensuring people can get an immediate insight into what the community is about.

Navigation

Navigation is hidden in a hamburger menu at the side of the page. This probably works great for mobile, but it might be easier if they used a standard tabbed navigation bar. Especially given how difficult it is to find the knowledge base.

We would also recommend renaming ‘Spotify Answers’ as it’s not clear that this refers to the knowledge base compared with ‘Help’.

Overall, the navigation is relatively simple and uncluttered with a few areas of improvement.

Aesthetics

The community design gets almost everything right. It matches Spotify’s brand well, there is a clear contrast between different areas of the site. The site avoids stock images and is generally uncluttered. However, two downsides stand out. The first is the call to action asking people to sign up for premium at the top of the page. This looks too much like a cheap banner advert. The second is the level of static content.

Newcomers

In most support communities, the majority of questions come from relatively new customers. It usually makes sense to provide an obvious place for newcomers to get started. Spotify hasn’t yet done this on the homepage. Given the community uses single-sign-on, it might be useful to provide an obvious place for newcomers to get answers to their questions.

Activity

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Spotify has taken a unique design decision to only show contributions from staff members and top members (Rock Stars) on the homepage. This means the community only shows posts which have been answered.

Given how unlikely it is an average newcomer is searching for that solution, it might be better to show either the latest unanswered posts (which regulars/top members can then answer) or trending/top posts (which helps most users get the answer to their questions).

Another downside is staff/Rock Stars are likely to respond to multiple posts at once. This means almost all the posts shown on the community homepage could come from the same person.

We would also like to see trending topics/discussions shown beneath the search bar at the top of the page to drive more traffic to those areas.

Mobile

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The community seems designed primarily for mobile and functions well with boxes dropping down to a single column. However, it would be wise to remove some of the static text to make it easier for members to find what they’re looking for.

CTAs

The two major calls to action (create a premium account and search) are clear. Perhaps the only downside is the ability to ask questions directly from the homepage – which is what most members are likely to want to do. The community also lacks any dynamic CTAs which vary by a member’s stage in the community. Newcomers are shown the same CTAs as veterans.

Final Rating

Using our benchmarks, the community design hovers somewhere between ok to good overall.

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Onboarding

We can break onboarding down into three areas; pre-registration, registration, and post-registration.

Pre-Registration

Despite the community’s size, it’s curiously absent from the Spotify homepage.

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It doesn’t even appear under the ‘Communities’ option at the bottom of the page(!). Both the ‘help’ tabs direct members to the support center. To find the community members have to click on ‘help’ and then scroll down below the fold to find the community. Even after they click on this, they’re not taken to the main community homepage but to the lesser-used knowledge base (which is unlikely to provide better answers than those available in the support center).

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What this implies is the community isn’t used as the primary customer support channel, but as the ‘catch-all’ for when members couldn’t get the answer from anywhere else. It also means that while the community has general music chat, it’s not utilized anywhere near as much as it could be.

This feels like a major missed opportunity. It also suggests almost all traffic comes via search.

Here the Spotify community competes with its own support center (more on that later) to display results. However, when results do appear, they are often displayed as featured snippets (see below). This is a major benefit of using Lithium as the community platform.

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When members do visit, it’s difficult to see where to register. Members have to click on the ‘log in’ section instead of a registration link. It might be better to show a registration call to action for visitors who haven’t logged in.

Registration

The Spotify community uses SSO (single sign-on). To join the Spotify community you need to have a Spotify account. You can sign-up via a Facebook account. The upside is this makes the registration process simple, the downside is it becomes far more difficult to create a unique user journey for newcomers (i.e. members who sign up via the community aren’t usually distinguished from those who sign up via any other method).

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However, once someone does sign-up for an account, they are taken back to the community homepage. The process is relatively simple and the community can track when a member first visits the community.

Post-Registration

Outside of badges shown here, there is no further communication or support for community members. There are no on-site tips or emailed information to guide members towards different aspects of the community. The music section of the community could be thriving, but it won’t be anywhere near as active as it could be if the only people who can find it are those who have problems with their Spotify account first. The poor navigation is significantly hampering the community’s success.

It’s hard to feel a sense of community with other members when you don’t know who the community team is, who other members are, and what the community is about.

Final Rating

Spotify’s community onboarding is ‘ok’, largely thanks to a simple registration experience. It should do a lot better at attracting new members and keeping them in the community after they register.

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Search

We’ve recently broken search into its own category.

Spotify’s community shows the problems with using the native search function of a community platform. Native search only pulls content from the community. The Spotify community search bar can pull content from Lithium’s forum and tribal knowledge base, but not from the support center.

This means the same search for an answer on the community and the support centre leads to two completely different results – typically with Lithium’s user-generated content given the poorer answers. In fact, Lithium’s default search results are worryingly bad in the few examples we tested.

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I suspect this is because the search has less content to retrieve information from and has been customized to prioritize the results with the most ‘likes’ instead of the best relevancy.

This means emotionally charged topics which encourage a lot of people to like (as shown above) appear above what might be the best answer. This happened across multiple search requests we tested. It’s a major problem which needs to be solved (also note: showing topics which are 7 years old is not normally ideal).

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The other downside of using a native search feature is you end up duplicating what’s in the knowledge base and help center which hurts your search results. The solution is to use Coveo, SearchUnify or another option which retrieves content from multiple databases and shows the best result. This means the support center could show results from the community and vice-versa. This would immediately improve the support experience for all customers (the Zuora community is a good example)

 

The Engagement Experience

The Spotify engagement experience is spread across three areas;

  1. Help/Support (Q&A).
  2. Music Chat (Forums).
  3. Ideas (Crowdsource Ideas).

Help/Support: 201k posts (approx 40 posts per day – 2019)

The support community is where Spotify’s community really thrives.

The Help Q&A has generally good taxonomy with limited overlap between categories. However, the categories are listed in an odd mixture of alphabetical and by popularity. We would recommend sticking with either (ideally with the most popular categories at the top).

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A few things we can pick up instantly here:

  1. Most question titles are reasonably clear (although with a few which need improvement).
  2. The community has a near 100% response rate to questions from top members. Around 80% of responses seem to be from community Rock Stars with the remainder coming from rising stars, moderators, and a handful of other members.
  3. The accepted solution rate which seems to hover around 15% to 25%. This isn’t necessarily bad (most members who ask a question don’t take the time to mark an accepted solution).
  4. It’s clear which questions have an accepted solution and which have been answered by a moderator.

The average time to respond seems hard to determine, but a random sample of questions and responses suggests around 15 to 30 hours. This is too long for a community of Spotify’s size and a reasonable target for improvement should be to bring this down to a handful of hours. In a community with 40 new posts per day, it should be possible to reduce this to 3 to 5 hours.

If we dive deeper, the quality of responses is generally extremely good. Community Rock Stars (who provide the bulk of the answers) respond with friendliness, empathy, clarity, and often ask clarifying questions to get to the crux of the issue.

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It’s also clear who is an employee and who isn’t by the signature within the posts. This is an excellent and clear way of helping members understand who a response is from (and potentially avoid any legal liability for the responses).

The only downside (and this is minor) is after viewing a dozen or so they all start to sound the same – often using the same words and mannerisms. This suggests they’re trained to use a template and this might feel impersonal over time. However, given how unlikely it is anyone is going to browse through many answers, it’s a minor issue. The tone of responses is generally at a world-class standard.

Music Chat: 40k posts (approx 42 posts per day – 2019)

The ‘Music Chat’ section has incredible potential which isn’t being fully utilized at the moment.

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It’s interesting to note music chat appears to have just overtaken help as the most popular activity in the community (by posts per day). The section is broken down to include:

  • Featured discussions.
  • A full list of discussions (with pinned topics).
  • The blog posted as a discussion.
  • A featured playlist.
  • ‘Content Questions’ Q&A.
  • Playlist exchange – you can submit your playlist (albeit it’s not clear where these go).

This section is a mishmash of different ideas all under a single umbrella of generic Music Chat. It clearly has huge potential but also a clearer strategy. Playlists are likely to be huge, while content discussions might be a better fit for the help forums.

I’d suggest renaming it from ‘Music Chat’ – which feels like a placeholder, to something that closer represents the benefit of the area (finding and sharing your Favourite Music).

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Next, it would be ideal to feature the most popular member-submitted playlists, followed by general music discussions and content questions. Given Spotify is also moving into podcasts and concert ticket sales, there is potential to build a huge music community around these topics. It’s a little surprising this hasn’t happened yet.

Ideas: 51k posts (14 new posts per day)

The ideas area is one of the most successful we’ve seen with both a large number of ideas submitted and a considerable number of new ideas per day – many of which get a good level of support.

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The design of the ideas section isn’t great. The blog post takes up far too much space and lingers for the rest of the month even after members have read the post. In this case, the top March 2019 ideas post is still featured as of May 20. The display of the most popular ideas is great and should replace the blog section. The live ideas area should also appear higher up along with a breakdown of their current status.

This would also benefit from showing the latest implemented ideas (to encourage future ideas). The FitBit community generally does a great job of showing these benefits.

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One interesting innovation is Community RockStars are enabled to change the status of ideas submitted within the community.

All ideas also receive a reply and the most popular ones often receive updates on status. There seems to be a reluctance, however, to reject highly popular ideas which can linger for 5 years after they’ve been posted.

Final Rating

The Spotify community is one of the only ones we’ve seen which delivers a world-class level of engagement. There are still areas for improvement, but it’s far better than most.

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Gamification

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The Spotify community uses standard Lithium gamification with multiple levels based upon a combination of actions members have performed and badges reflect individual achievements. There doesn’t appear to be any integrations with other areas of Spotify (which is a shame).

Badges

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Spotify offers dozens of different badges to recognise behaviors ranging from logging in twice in one day to posting 500 replies. As a rule, we’re not generally a fan of giving badges for minimal behaviors. Top badges are prioritised for member profiles, but not on the badges page.

Levels

Spotify has a handful of levels ranging from 0 to 21 (at least).

These levels aren’t based solely upon providing answers, but by a range of behaviors (i.e. you can’t just post relentlessly, you have to provide [x] number of accepted solutions and receive [x] amount of kudos etc..).

Final Rating

Spotify’s gamification is largely reflective of Lithium’s gamification offerings and advice. You could easily argue this is a great implementation of Lithium. However, compared to what else is out there, I would disagree.

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The Spotify Rock Star Program

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The Spotify Rock Star program is widely regarded as one of the best MVP/Superuser programs around. The Rock Star program has 132 members from 20 countries who have provided around 60% of all accepted solutions in the community.

Participants of the Rock Star program don’t just answer questions in the community, they also have access to a shared @AskRockStars Twitter account.

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In this account they don’t just respond to questions mentioning the handle, they proactively respond to anyone mentioning a problem with Spotify. It’s rather impressive.

The level of access and permissions granted to RockStars is higher than we’ve seen in most other programs.

The process is also fairly well documented with the top rockstars listed by participation over a fixed time period (instead of since the beginning of the program).

The Rock Star Program also has an interesting reward system based upon the number of points members have accumulated. However, it’s not clear how points are determined (Lithium doesn’t have a default point scheme). Rewards range from a beach ball (15 points) to Marshall Monitor Bluetooth headphones – $250 (2,800 points).

This works out to each point being worth around $0.09 making each accepted solution probably worth somewhere in the region of $0.45 (this could be wildly wrong without knowing what point multiplier Spotify uses). Points are likely an accumulation of kudos, accepted solutions, and total posts.

The top 10 Rock Stars each year receive an all expenses paid trip to attend the Rock Star Jam in Stockholm, Sweden.

Final Rating

By almost all metrics, the Rock Star program is world class.

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OVERALL RATING: B

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The Spotify Community is a mature community with some remarkable strengths.

These are its broadly enthusiastic community, a fairly high level of activity, an outstanding MVP program (which answers almost every question), a thriving ideas section, and a rapidly growing music-chat community.

However, it also faces several key challenges. Our recommendations would be:

1) Address the limited visibility within Spotify, it’s a major concern. It’s almost impossible to find from the main website today.

2) The lack of a unified search feature is also another clear drawback. The community and support section shouldn’t be in competition with one another.

3) Improve the on-boarding of new members (which is non-existent today).

4) Redesign the homepage to show trending questions/unanswered questions.

5) Redesign the music-chat area.

In short, Spotify has a really great community which could also be even better.

4 Ways To Grow A New Community If You Don’t Have A Large Audience To Begin With

It’s a lot easier to launch a new community if you have a lot of customers or thousands of names on your mailing list.

If you don’t, you’ve got a few approaches you can take:

Option 1: Grow an Existing Audience, Then Launch

Most common for founder-created communities is to build a large number of existing contacts in the 3 to 6 months before launching the community. Get them to engage in events, through other groups, and steadily grow from there. Most of the communities you see followed this approach (albeit unintentionally).

Option 2: Pay for Advertising

If you don’t have an existing audience, you can pay for advertising.

Social ads can work well here. Each new member will cost about $5 – $10. Invest a few thousand dollars and you will get 300 to 600 registered members.

Assume you can keep 10% of them engaged, and you have your 30 to 60 founding members to get started. Keep investing a few thousand a month and you will start to see steady growth.

It’s not cheap for many, but it can work out cheaper than spending months building your own audience (your time costs money too). It can also be a lot quicker.

Option 3: Start A Tiny Group and Grow Steadily

Create a group on Facebook, Twitter (hashtag) or another channel that people already use and use built-in network effects to attract members. You can test different concepts and ideas, then grow steadily. Only launch your community on these groups. Once you have some engagement you want to move across to something you control. Remember at any time these platforms can seize control of your platform, reduce your reach, or remove it entirely without warning.

Option 4: Create Something With Viral Power

My favourite (and least used) option. Create a community so remarkable and different that people can’t help but talk about it. Do what Kaggle did for data scientists and Figure1 for doctors. A simple forum probably won’t cut it. Target 1% of your prospective audience who are ridiculously excited or challenged by an aspect of the topic. Then overwhelmingly cater towards it.

Feel free to have crazy rules that no-one else would dare to use. Perhaps ban unverified opinions, force members to mentor at least one other, or perhaps ban questions entirely and force people to share what they’re up to in some other medium. There are endless possibilities.

Select whichever approach makes the best sense to you.

Of course, if you want to grow really fast…select all four.

Getting Help Is A Bargain

I have a list of organizations who turned down our consultancy proposal for being ‘too expensive’.

…and then sunk an additional $250k to $1m+ into their community (staff + platform costs) without managing to make it work.

That’s a lot of time and money to waste.

Many of these communities today have no organic growth at all – the community manager just pushes out new content and discussions hoping something will miraculously happen and the community will spring to life.

The miracle is never going to come, it’s just more time and money down the drain.

Whether from us or from someone else, get some help. It’s tremendously painful to watch brands repeat the same, easily avoidable, mistakes and condemn potentially incredible communities in the process.

If your community isn’t as successful as you want it to be, get another perspective. Get someone to challenge you, push you, and give you a wide-angle lens detailing what other organizations like yours have done to succeed.

Get someone who can explain other ways to figure out what your members want, build support etc…Get someone who can explain how to restructure your community, better design it, and ensure it’s making the best use of your staff/technology investments.

No, this might not come ‘cheap’, but when you’re spending $250k+ on your community a year you probably don’t want cheap – you want results. If getting consultancy support turns the community around (as we’ve done, consistently), it’s a bargain.

The Upward Cycle

The downcycle is pretty clear.

It’s a classic engagement trap. To get more engagement, you dumb your content down and make it easier to participate. You make it sillier, more fun, more emotive, more controversial, more clickbaity, and wait for the clicks to roll in. Instead of asking for thoughtful comments you aim for likes, clicks, and immediate reactions. To keep engagement rising you need to dive deeper and deeper into the engagement trap.

The opposite is an upward cycle. You set high standards and consistently raise them. Towards Data Science is an impressive example. To be published, you need to undertake your own study (hours and hours of work) and submit your findings. You can either tackle new problems or tackle existing problems in a new way.

When you set high standards and enforce them, a successful submission becomes a badge of honour. Others want to be published too. As more contributions are submitted you gradually raise the bar (keep the total number of contributions you publish restrained).

Towards Data Science isn’t alone, ProjectManagement.com and others have proved if you want to build a really powerful community, don’t lower your standards – raise them.

It’s a lot harder to start an upward cycle than a downward cycle – but that’s what makes it a lot more valuable. When your competitors start lowering their standards, start raising yours and stand firm.

Before You Allow Members To Create Groups

…you might want to consider the risk factors.

When you enable members to create groups on your community you’re essentially renting them your brand name (and a small portion of the audience) to pursue their own goals.

A few things to consider:

1) Which members will you allow to create groups? Can anyone do it or only a select few who have demonstrated the ability to manage a group (hint, choose the latter)?

2) Do you have a training program for members to create groups?

3) What happens if group leaders don’t crack down on minor abuse?

4) What happens if group leaders don’t crack down on serious issue?

5) Will you allow multiple groups on the same topic or only one group per topic?

6) What happens if a group leader becomes inactive (who can replace her and what does this process look like?)

7) What happens if a group leader is active but the group isn’t? What level of activity does a group need to continue as a group?

8) How will you remove groups which don’t take off without upsetting group leaders or members (and what will you do with the content in that group?)

9) Who gets to name the group? What are the restrictions on group names?

10) What happens if groups are local and want to meet in person? What is your legal liability for what happens? To what extent can you support groups?

11) What happens if group leaders get together to demand changes you are unable or unwilling to make?

When groups work well, everyone wins. When it doesn’t, you can upset your best members, building hundreds of ghost-villages, and see your brand name tarnished.

The Community Strategist

If you don’t love research, identifying costs, project planning, developing benchmarks, getting internal support, and building decision trees, don’t become a community strategist.

We’ve created more community strategies (and trained more strategists) than most.

Believe me, this isn’t just a small jump to focus ‘on the big picture’, it’s a completely different type of work.

It’s often work community managers discover they don’t enjoy.

In our coaching, four areas seem to surprise people the most.

1) You need to cost your strategies.
If you’re presenting a plan and you don’t know the resources it requires, you have no idea if you’re creating something feasible or not. Worse yet, you’re not taking your work (or your colleagues) seriously. It’s hard for people to support something if they don’t know what the costs are.

For example below, every community strategy we create is fully costed by both the time and financial resources required:

This is critical for two reasons. First, once you know the time required, you determine how many staff you need to reach each new level. This, in turn, guides you on the financial resources you need. Second, this makes the plan flexible. You can present options based upon resources available. (i.e. ‘with [x] resources I can achieve [y], but with [xx], I can achieve [yy]’).

Once you have your tactics prioritised you can quickly adapt them by the time and resources you have available.

2) You either have research or guesswork.
If you can’t point to the research that supports every assumption in your strategy, you should be honest and call it guesswork. You have no idea if it will work or not, (but, hey, at least it sounds good).

You have to love the research side of community. You have to enjoy interviewing dozens of people internally and externally, identifying segments, understanding their priorities, and using that to craft your approach from the community’s goals down to the specific tactics you decide to use. You have to analyze in-depth what is and isn’t working (more on that below). You have to enjoy reaching out to peers and researching other communities to identify the best approach towards everything you want to do.

3) Building Decisions Trees > Reporting Metrics
It’s one thing to set measurable goals and KPIs on the way towards achieving them. Reporting what happened/building a narrative around the data is vital. But reporting doesn’t tell you what you’re going to do differently. If you want your strategy to be more than just a snapshot in time, then you need to build decision trees based upon what the data tells you.

If a metric you really care about drops by 10% in the next few months, what will you do differently? You need to build out what success/failure of each tactic looks like, what you will stop doing and what you will invest more resources in doing based upon the data you’re seeing.

This is how you build a strategy that lives indefinitely instead of a strategy which becomes stale from the date it’s published.

4) Building Internal Alliances
You should never ‘drop’ the strategy on surprised colleagues.

The strategies we present are never a surprise. They’re the summation of a lot of conversations and collaborative decisions we’ve guided clients through to reach a point of agreement. If people are disagreeing with aspects of your strategy, you’ve probably not communicated frequently enough with your colleagues.

Anyone can whip up a detailed strategy document in a dark room in a week or two. The reason it takes us 3 to 4 months to build a strategy is we bring our clients along the journey with us. Every point is discussed, objections highlighted, concerns addressed as early as possible.

The end result is a strategy which has the support of all the key stakeholders (and key members of the community). There is a gulf in difference between tepid acceptance and enthusiastic support of a strategy.

Once the strategy is established, you have to continue to maintain strong relationships with stakeholders, address concerns, demonstrate results, build a shared narrative through powerful stories etc…

If this is the kind of work you want to do, then, by all means, push to reach the strategist level. But be aware it’s a very different kind of work from managing a community.

…and if you really want to thrive, don’t wait to reach the strategist level before acquiring these skills. Gain these skills before you have the job.

Are You Delivering The Best Search Experience To Your Community Members?

The best answer to a member’s problem might not be in response to a question posted in your community. It might be in documentation your company has created already but never duplicated in the community. It might be published in the help centre. It might even be shared in another social network/community (reddit/StackOverflow/GitHub/YouTube etc..)

If your search bar only retrieves information from your community, you’re limiting the ability of your members to find the information they need.

The community managers at the biggest communities have long realized that native search (the search function that comes with the platform by default) doesn’t quite cut it. Native search doesn’t typically let you:

  • Query multiple databases and retrieve the answers which best match the query.
  • Let you boost the best/most updated answers above others or older content.
  • Create keyword synonyms showing relevant results even if members don’t quite know the answer.
  • Identify and close content gaps (queries which don’t retrieve a satisfactory result).
  • Use AI/machine learning to display the answers which best solve a member question.
  • Show relevant content/queries alongside existing content/questions.
  • Track call deflection using queries which prevent members opening a ticket.
  • Analyze what members need in depth, and feed that information back to product, support and marketing teams.

Upgrading your search bar doesn’t come cheap (a license with Coveo/SearchUnify/others costs $20k to $50k per year), but it could also be a bargain.

It’s a bargain if it helps thousands of extra members a year find the answer to their question.

It’s a bargain if it also shows community solutions alongside others in the help centre.

It’s a bargain if it encourages hundreds of members to collaborate together to close the content gaps the tool has identified.

It’s a bargain if it accelerates how you develop products and gives you insights into exactly what your community needs.

It’s a bargain if it helps you to prove the incredible value of your community.

Your native search is fine when you’re just getting started, but if you’ve got a lot of documentation sitting outside of the community, have 50k+ members, and want to provide members with the best search experience, you might need to upgrade.

Are You Worth Trolling?

It probably doesn’t feel like it, but attracting bad actors is a sign of success.

It means you have a community that’s worth spamming, trolling, and hacking. It means you have a community where members care about what their peers in the community think of them and battle with each other to maintain their reputation.

The only real failure is a failure to plan for this.

Every large community has had to deal with the same problems you’re facing now.

Before you reach this size, you should have prepared scalable systems for dealing with spam, trolls, and hacking attempts. You should have learned from the many peers who have come before you and dealt with these issues.

You should have decided where you lie on the freedom of speech vs. protecting members from abuse continuum and be aware of the trade-offs you’re making.

And you should have a team that’s trained to resolve disputes effectively and enforce rules intelligently.

So, yes, congrats, you’re worth trolling…now don’t mess it up.

If You Want More Participation, Reduce The Social Costs Of Asking Questions

If you want more participation, an obvious area to target is to reduce the costs (that crippling anxiety) of asking a question.

There are many reasons why members don’t ask a question, they include:

  • They’re afraid of looking inferior to others.
  • They’re too invested as being seen as the experts themselves.
  • They don’t think they will get an answer.
  • They don’t think they will get a good/the right answer.
  • They’re afraid of spamming the community with a question.
  • They don’t know the right words to describe their problem.
  • They don’t know if the question has been asked many times before.
  • They don’t want to be in debt to others.
  • They don’t want to exploit friendships.

The more effective solutions remove the problem entirely. You need the technology to let members:

1) Ask questions anonymously. Let members ask questions anonymously. If your platform doesn’t offer this, request it.

2) Let members set a time period for questions. Allow members to ask a question which only shows for a limited amount of time (or until they’ve accepted the answer).

3) Let members decide who sees the questions. Categories help, but it would be better to let members decide whether the question can be seen by the entire community, only those who have posted in a category before, or just a handful of top experts/close connections. Group @mentions can help here. Create groups of experts and let members tag in relevant groups.

However, if technology solutions aren’t an option, you need to eliminate the fears members have through persuasion. That might mean:

4) Tell members ‘top professionals aren’t scared to ask questions’. Help members to rethink asking a question from an act of weakness to an act of courage. Support boldness and the bravery it takes to ask questions – especially on really beginner topics. Reward members by the number of collective visits their questions receive.

5) Develop on-page nudges of great questions. See in the social design webinar how platforms like StackOverflow, Apple’s community and others provide nudges to help members ask great questions. Guide people through asking a great question that’s going to get great responses.

6) Tag newcomers to ask their first question. Most won’t respond, but we’ve seen you can raise the number of newcomers who ask a question by double-digit percentage points if you tag them in to ask questions they might be struggling with.

Getting more members to ask questions is one of the most intriguing challenges you can tackle. You need to get into the minds of your members, isolate their social fears, and then design effective solutions to tackle them.

Accepted Solutions and Best Answers

An accepted solution is a solution to the original poster’s question.

A best answer is someone’s subjective opinion of the best response from a range of answers.

The distinction is important. The former is based on facts, the latter is based upon opinions.

The original poster is best qualified to mark an answer as an accepted solution. She knows better than anyone whether it solved her problem or not. No promise is being made other than it solved the problem for 1 person. If it helps others too, great.

The original poster is less qualified to select the best answer from several responses. That requires expertise in the topic (expertise they might not have if they’re asking the question). The premise is different. ‘This might not solve your problem, but it’s the best answer we’ve got here.’

Both can be abused and misused.

Two useful principles here:

1) Accepted solutions are ideal for support communities. But they need automated prompts to the poster to mark an answer as an accepted solution or allow other members to highlight if an answer worked for them (with a limit i.e. 3 tags) for that answer to be marked as an accepted solution. Customer support staff can skim other responses and mark successful answers.

2) Best answers are ideal for customer success communities with a focus on helping others learn from each other. Here it helps to allow top members in the insider/mvp/superuser program mark an answer as best.

Don’t fall into the trap of confusing what’s based upon facts and what’s based upon opinions.

Cleaning Up The Community

Adding more is a good thing…until it isn’t.

Over time, it becomes harder for members to find the good stuff, follow conversations, recognise other members and know which events are worth attending.

A good rule of thumb is to spend half as much time pruning and cleaning what’s in the community as adding more to it.

An easy way to improve most communities is to spend some time taking down less relevant content, archiving old discussions, pruning inactive members, and removing lesser used features. Look at your event calendar too and cease events which aren’t clearly driving great results.

I’d remove:

  • The bottom 10 to 20% of content (by landing page visits from search results).
  • All discussions which have seen <5 visits within the past 30 days.
  • Events which don’t attract at least 50 to 100 participants.
  • Members who haven’t visited within the past year.

Ironically, removing stuff is as likely to help you achieve your goals as adding more stuff. It increases your search rankings, improves the member experience, retains confused newcomers etc…etc…

Subtracting stuff from your community can be as valuable as adding to it.

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