How Everyone Can Become An Expert

(reminder: Join me for my webinar with Jono Bacon tomorrow)

I’ve been impressed by ServiceNow’s Community recently.

It’s clean, well-designed, and answers a large number of questions every day.

The gamification system is worth exploring. Member profiles clearly feature the latest member achievements.

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The community also has the best leaderboard system I’ve seen yet. You can easily find the top 10 members by points gained as we see below.

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But most importantly, you can search the system by points gained in specific topics and forums (and by all-time and the past month). If I want to search for the top expert in a particular topic, I can easily do that and see their overall level.

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There are several major benefits to this.

1) Every member can reach the top rankings. With so many months and so many topics/forums, every member knows if they make an extra effort they can become the topic expert in at least one part of the product/service.

2) It’s easier to find people who can help. You can get granular and find exactly the person you need to help.

3) You can validate someone’s expertise. Being a ServiceNow expert isn’t as useful as being the top expert in the particular issue you’re facing today. You can check the person giving you the answer.

This creates other opportunities too.

Top experts can get notifications of new or unanswered questions in their particular field of expertise. This gives them the first opportunity to solve them (and the motivation to solve them – scarce time).

You can also give awards and prizes for the top members each month or solicit feedback just from the top experts in each category each month.

Don’t Be A Dumping Ground For Everyone Else’s Content

If you let other departments treat your community like a noticeboard, don’t be surprised when members ignore your community like a noticeboard.

A single job advert alone won’t do too much harm.

But it’s rarely just a single job advert. Soon it’s a single job advert and a product announcement, corporate video, news about the new CEO, press release, and new year’s greeting etc..

The same thing that makes the community seem attractive to other departments (more attention) is the same thing that the community will lose by posting these announcements there.

A better approach is to set standards and adapt each approach for the community.

Instead of a job advert, offer community members $500 if they refer someone you eventually hire. Let them headhunt for you.

Instead of posting a corporate video, host a competition and invite members to create, edit, or critically evaluate your own videos.

Instead of posting news about the new CEO, host a live AMA with the new CEO exclusively for the community.

Instead of a press release, ask members for their opinions on the issues and let them chat with your experts.

Instead of a new year’s greetings, let members come up and share their priorities for the new year.

Whatever you do, don’t let the community become a dumping ground for everyone else’s content.

Community Management Tips With Jono Bacon and Richard Millington

To start the new year with a bang, this Thursday (5.30pm GMT // 12.30pm Eastern) Jono Bacon and I will be sharing some of our top community management tips.

You might know Jono through his incredible books about online communities, his remarkable work in the developer relations and technology space, or The Community Leadership Summit which he’s been running for years.

I’ve been following Jono’s work for years and few people have his expertise, insights, and ability to articulate the present and future of communities as he does.

The webinar is completely free, I hope you will join us.

What: Online Webinar
Who: Webinar with Jono Bacon
When: 9th January, 2020 @ 5.30pm GMT // 12.30pm Eastern // 9.30am Pacific (sorry Australia)
Where: Click the link here to register.

If you haven’t bought a copy of his book yet, do so here.

See you in the webinar.

Preparing For Success

It’s easier to plan for failure than success.

If your community isn’t reaching a critical mass, you can tweak the concept, change the on-boarding, or do more to promote the community (possibly even use social ads).

But getting too much activity too soon is harder.

If you’re expecting to answer 10 questions per day and you’re getting 100, you have a problem.

If you don’t solve this problem fast, you’re going to disappoint members and have a community filled with unanswered questions.

Three things here.

1) Learn enough to answer the easy questions. You don’t necessarily need to be an expert (although it helps), but you do need to learn enough to be able to answer most of the basic questions yourself. If you’re not using the products you’re managing the community for, this will be tricky. If you need to get educated fast, have a plan for it.

2) Put community questions in the support team process. You need to build strong relationships with customer support/success teams to answer questions in the community as well as those received by tickets. The most effective approach is to work with senior leaders to make the % of answered community questions a support goal as much as it is a goal for support tickets/calls. If you need to scale up response rates fast, this is the only way to do it.

3) Provide overwhelming benefits to MVPs. You already plan to do this, but if you need to scale it up faster you need to provide overwhelming benefits. This doesn’t mean free gifts, it means giving MVPs overwhelming opportunities for influence, recognition, and feeling respected. You might ask the CEO to reach out personally, put MVPs in touch with product teams for feedback, or provide them with their own domain within the community to take responsibility for.

Ultimately, it helps to have a plan to educate yourself fast, processes to drastically increase support team participation, and provide overwhelming benefits to MVPs.

Don’t let your biggest success become your biggest failure.

Pre-Approving Members

Trying to stop spam in a community is like a politician trying to prevent heckling during a speech.

Sooner or later, it’s going to happen.

Far better to have a plan for how to respond to it (from the solo spammers to an automated attack of hundreds of spammers) than overreact to individual incidents of spam.

Pre-approving every member to prevent spam is a solution with a big price tag. It slows participation to a crawl.

A member with a question is frustrated and wants the answer now. If they have to wait hours (even days) to be approved to even ask the question, they will file a support ticket, go somewhere else, or use a competitor’s products instead.

Worse yet, beyond the obvious it’s as hard to predict who will spam. If you were watching the door at a political event, how would you know who would or wouldn’t heckle?

A better option is to ensure you’ve turned on all the spam safety features on your platform, enable members to report and remove spam (to a moderator approval queue), and stay vigilant.

If it becomes overwhelming, sure turn on pre-approvals if you must. But this should be a last resort, not a default option.

A Chance To Win A $50 Gift Card

…is a total failure to understand what community is all about.

It’s also likely to drive people away from performing the behavior.

No-one earning an average salary is going to be too excited at the slim prospect of earning a gift card.

They will be more excited about the chance to influence the direction of the company, get training from top experts, be invited to exclusive events, earn a leadership role within the community, share their expertise to a bigger group, or even complimentary passes to events.

If you need to dangle a carrot to get members to perform the behavior, don’t offer gift cards. Offer them the chance to do what they’re already doing – but even better.

The Overflow

Community newsletters are hard to get right.

They often become an automated digest of irrelevant activity no-one is too interested in reading about.

The newsletter needs to be a curated selection of content from the community which is easy to scan for something interesting.

I quite like The Overflow for its simplicity here (this is primarily distributed by email).

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The trick is to keep the signal to noise ratio as high as possible.

If you don’t have good enough blog posts or questions this week to share, don’t share any. Or hold back sending a newsletter until you have high-quality content to fill it.

Make ‘Ask The Community’ The Default Option

Okta (a client) recently revamped their help and community experience.

This is what it looked like before:

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This is what it looks like now:

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It’s a lot better now.

There is also one major difference, the ‘Open a case’ button has disappeared from the top navigation bar and is instead dropped into a ‘Get Support’ tab at the bottom of the page.

This forces members to browse to find the answer via the help center and the community before lazily opening a case without doing any research.

In turn, this drives more people to the community. Sometimes tiny tweaks like these can have a bigger impact than you imagine.

An Email From The CEO

Ask your CEO (or her assistant) if she wouldn’t mind sending out a few personal emails to top community members as thanks for everything they’ve done for the community this year.

They have to be personalised (no mass cut & paste to the entire community) and they have to come from the CEO’s account.

You can even draft them up. Be sincere and honest. Don’t pretend the CEO is reading every post when they’re clearly not. For example:

Hi [member],

I’m the CEO of [company] and my team have been telling me about your great contributions to the community over the past year. They especially liked your posts about [x], [y], and [z].

I just wanted to drop you a quick note of thanks.

Our community only works because of key members like you who take the time to help other members. Please don’t ever hesitate to drop me a line if there is ever anything I can do to help.

Thanks again,

CEO, [company name].

If you can’t get the CEO to send out a few pre-written emails from her account, then find the next senior person who will.

Rearranging the Chairs

If you wanted more people to come to a meeting, rearranging the chairs or improving the snacks wouldn’t make much of a difference.

The only people who would notice would be the people who were already there.

It’s what you do outside of the meeting which will attract more people to join it.

Think about this when you’re trying to increase participation in your community.

You typically have four major options here.

1) Direct invites. Reach out to people via social media channels and invite them to join. This works well if you’re just getting started, it’s not going to make a difference in a mature community.

2) Social ads. You should be able to recruit new members for $1 to $3 per person. This is good when you’re just getting started, but less effective after the first year.

3) Redirection. Better placement of the community on your company’s homepage navigation, better integration with the product, links from the support center, asking people to ask a question in the community rather than contact support/filing a ticket. These are all big wins.

But the other big wins come from finding out who has the attention of the people you want and how you can make promoting the community a no-brainer for them.

Your marketing, PR, customer support, product management, and customer success staff all have the attention of customers. For example, you could try to:

  • Include introducing yourself to the community as part of both new staff and new customer onboarding.
  • Feature community news stories and member successes in company newsletters.
  • Promote the community to the company email list.
  • Include a message telling customers on hold with phone support they can ask a question in the community instead.
  • Include ‘ask a question’ next on the ‘contact us’ page for support.
  • Ask customer success teams to also tell customers they can ask questions in the community.
  • Include the community in customer-facing staff signatures.
  • Have a community-stand at the company event.

You get the idea, once you get the maturity phase your success in boosting participation relies increasingly upon your ability to work with others to promote the community.

Community Development Decisions

We typically have three options for technical development of client projects.

The first is hiring an implementation partner. These are firms with considerable experience doing precisely this kind of work. They can guide you through developing use cases, developing the technology, and testing.

The second is finding a consultant (or consultants). These are usually self-employed freelancers with expertise in the technology. They overlap often with the above.

The third is to do it in-house. Your internal development team takes on the project and delivers the results.

When we guide clients through these decisions, we usually consider six factors.

These are (in rough order of priority):

1) Policies. If your company has policies against outside help, is unable to give access to community technology, or simply refuses to work with companies based outside of the home country, the decision is often made for you.

2) Capabilities. If you haven’t done much development on the platform you’re using, you’re going to need outside help. Remember too you will also need to maintain the platform. So any code written externally will need to be clean for in-house developers or future partners to work with.

3) Experience. This could better be described as ‘risk tolerance’. Implementation partners like 7Summits or Paladin can guide you through the entire process, develop the user cases, specifications, and avoid the common landmines. But this comes at a price. However, almost every company I know which did an internal development made mistakes which they would have avoided with more experience.

4) Cost. If you’re on a budget, you either need a cheaper implementation partner (i.e. Grazitti), to do the project in-house (this has costs too), or find a solo consultant who can take a very precise specification and develop as required. If your budget is below $100k, you typically need to find a consultant you can truly trust.

5) Speed. If you need this project done fast you typically need outside help who can begin immediately. However, be aware that in larger organisations it can take weeks, even months, to onboard a new vendor. Check this before using outside help if you’re on a tight schedule. The problem with internal development, however, is getting engineering resources. You might be waiting for weeks, even months, for your project to become a priority.

6) Time. Development projects require about 3x more of your time than you imagine. A terrific project manager will help cajole everyone to deliver on their tasks. But the larger the project, the more of your time it will take. Larger implementation firms often supply their own project managers which can save time.

Selecting the right approach to developing your community experience (or doing future development) is one of the most critical decisions you will make. Select the wrong person(s) and you will spend years trying to fix their mistakes.

Using Videos in Communities

We don’t generally recommend using videos in the community.

Especially not for introducing a community or explaining how it works.

The data shows few people watch them and fewer still watch more than 10 seconds.

If your technology is so complicated to use it requires a video, simplify the technology, don’t create videos to explain it.

There are better uses for videos. For example:

1) As a celebration of community. An annual roundup of the best discussions and content on the community. Something which really helps people see and feel the difference the community made and their own role within it. Facebook’s year in review is good at this.

2) As a teaching tool. Videos are useful for teaching members about the topic. You can create a 101 video series shared solely on your community to attract more newcomers and help people get up to speed quickly. This, in turn, makes them better at answering questions. You can also have an exclusive video series created by engineers/product people to help your top members learn how to answer questions even better.

3) Testimonials and advocacy. Okta is a great example of this. The community can be a phenomenal source of testimonials to support your company’s sales and marketing efforts.

4) As a video library. You don’t need to create all the videos yourself if you and your members can collect them from across the web to create a video library for the topic. The problem today isn’t finding information, but filtering it. This is where a community can step in and create a top 10 list of videos all members should watch.

Skip the generic tutorials for using the site or explaining what a community is. Instead use videos to create lasting value for you and your members.

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