It’s not uncommon when launching a community to register fake members and initiate some activity between them.
This can work, but it’s dishonest, you won’t feel good about it, and you could be exposed at any money (whether through a mistake, an angry ex-staffer, or a suspicious member).
Once you’re exposed as a liar, it’s impossible to regain your members’ trust.
The tragedy of this approach is that there’s no need to do it.
Your audience isn’t dumb, be honest with them. You can always say:
As we’re just getting started in the community, I’m sharing some of the most common questions we get through our customer support channels which I’m hoping we can answer here.
The first question is about [xyz]….”
You can do this until members begin to ask their own questions. You can even have support staff answer questions in the community too using the same honest approach.
I like this question from the Okta community:
Members drift away for all sorts of reasons. They change job, lose interest in the topic, have no problems to solve, don’t get enough value from the community, or didn’t have a good community experience.
Once you know which, it becomes a lot easier to retain the members you do have.
If search is responsible for the majority of traffic to a customer community, it helps to optimise your community for search.
For example, take this question from the Kronos community:
It’s a valid question with a good answer. But it would get more traffic if it included the product name, Kronos’ name, or anything which would clearly identify this question as relating to products.
Move this question to another community and no-one would have any clue what company you’re referring to. People searching for an answer know this and will include the product name or the company name in their search.
These are the kinds of questions you need to tweak the titles for. Members are unlikely to do it themselves – so I suggest you set aside time each week to update old titles to attract more search results.
It’s tempting to believe you can nurture the first sparks of activity into a thriving community.
Any sparks will do…right?
Any activity won’t do.
If newcomers visit a site filled with low-quality, repetitive, beginner-level content they won’t come back. You don’t just need any activity, you need good activity to get started.
High-quality contributions trumps high-quantity contributions. And if you don’t get the former, the latter won’t happen anyhow.
But you can’t expect anyone to create quality contributions if you don’t explain what quality is and how members can create quality contributions. Some useful rules for you and for your members:
- Contributions shouldn’t already exist anywhere else.
- Contributions should be something you cannot Google.
- Contributions should be placed in context. Share the context of the question, what the contributor is trying to achieve, what resources they have available, and what they’ve tried already.
- Contributions should be succinct, direct, factual, (or, in rare cases, highly entertaining).
- Contributions should go the extra mile to bring something unique and special.
- Contributions should be brave and unafraid to be contrarian.
- Contributions should be honest, trustworthy, and open.
- Contributions can be videos or photos – especially if they’re easier to understand than text.
- Contributions should be empathetic.
These are all examples of course, your definition of quality and what it takes to make a quality contribution might be different
Just remember that no-one can create quality contributions if you don’t tell them what quality is.
A holiday season story for you.
In one of my first video gaming communities, we tried to organise a secret santa for members.
One member volunteered to write a simple program which would enable members to opt-in, and randomly assign them another member to buy a simple gift for.
It turned out the program wasn’t as random as we had been led to believe.
Instead of assigning a member another username at random, the developer instead programmed it to send his name to the 2k+ members who had opted in.
He earned a small fortune in gift cards and we learned a valuable lesson; when any tangible reward is involved people will always find a way to cheat.
Worse yet, it’s hard to spot the scam until it’s too late.
The lesson? Don’t offer tangible rewards.
Better to offer things worth more than tangible rewards. Offer what money can’t buy, reputation, gratitude, influence, a sense of making a difference. Offer things the scammers and tricksters will never care about.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 sessions aren’t long.
Each will last approximately 30 to 60 minutes and cover a key aspect of community development.
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.
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.
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.