Most community strategies are missing the key elements they need to succeed.
Last month, I spoke at CMX Summit and shared where most community strategies are going wrong and the 5 critical steps you can take to fix yours.
If you think your community strategy could be better, I recommend you watch it.
p.s. You can also develop a full strategy by signing up for our Strategic Community Management course here.
p.p.s. You can also check out this resource.
“what’s the best way to say no to marketing requests from the community?”
…By not saying no.
If another department is interested in the community, you want to encourage and support their enthusiasm. You want your marketing team to know the community can help them achieve their goals and be an indispensable asset for them.
It’s hard to do this if you’re keeping them away from the community.
But you probably can’t say ‘yes’ either.
‘Yes’ can take you off your strategy, become a distraction, and can result in the community becoming flooded with exactly the kind of requests and promotions which might upset them.
Instead of a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ focus on the ‘how’ and ‘when’.
If another department wants to be engaged in the community, have the materials in place to engage them. This should include:
- The benefits of the community.
- The needs and desires of members (and the rules for engaging members).
- A summary of the current strategy.
- What a department needs to provide to gain each benefit.
- The process of engaging the community and the time-frame to results.
If marketing wants to be involved, great, explain the resources they need to provide, the best ways to get their results, and the time-frame. If they’re still eager after that, even better.
If you think of a strategy as a bunch of ideas written down on a piece of paper, then it’s probably not worth much.
The words on the page are the tip of a large iceberg of work.
The words on the paper are the summation of all the conversations, research, persuasion, and thinking which has taken place before. If anything on the page is a surprise to a reader, you’ve failed.
The community strategy process:
- Gets everyone aligned with the benefits, requirements, and expectations of the community.
- Identifies concerns and creates the right messaging to use internally to bring others along in the journey.
- Introduces the community to new departments and secures additional resources.
- Uncovers the real needs and desires of members and uses these in communications and activities to significantly increase the level of participation.
- Stops tasks that aren’t achieving good results and allocates that time to achieving the community’s big wins.
- Develops complete user journeys, gamification programs, and MVP programs.
- Creates detailed timelines, action plans, and training material for community managers.
- Builds decision trees to not just measure what’s happening, but continually improve what’s happening.
- Identifies exactly what technology you need, how to set it up, and the specifications developers can use.
- Identifies major risks, how to mitigate them, and who will mitigate them.
- Creates a detailed budget for the community along with forecasted results and data.
A good community strategy isn’t a bonus or ‘nice to have’, it’s essential. Any of the above won’t just slow a community down, they will stop it from reaching anything close to its potential.
If you’re struggling to get support, not sure where you’re going, or haven’t seen any big improvements in participation and the metrics you care about, get some help.
Filippo reminds us of the power of metaphor to make a message stick.
Data is not the new gold, data is the new uranium.
Sometimes you can make money from it, but it can be radioactive, it's dangerous to store, has military uses, you generally don't want to concentrate it too much, and it's regulated.
Why keep uranium you don't need?
— Filippo Valsorda (@FiloSottile) August 16, 2019
You will probably read hundreds, maybe thousands, of tweets this week.
But I suspect that one will stick.
This is the power of metaphor, contrasts, imagery and emotion in a single, simple, sentence (or two).
As the battle for attention becomes ever more fierce, the ability to communicate effectively with our members becomes even more important.
If you’re still communicating facts instead of emotions, you’re probably going to be disappointed with the results. Facts are just the foundations of the story you can tell. Without the emotions, imagery, and metaphors they’re just an empty shell.
I spoke with a company last year which wanted their community to be about the industry.
They wanted the community to have its own brand and not be beholden to internal conflicts.
This meant they rarely promoted the community to millions of customers.
Instead, they were hoping for a miracle.
They were hoping millions of industry professionals would suddenly hear about the community and join it.
The miracle was never going to happen.
It doesn’t matter what you do in a community if no-one is going to see it.
It’s hard to fill a community with members when you only have drops of attention to work with. Far better to figure out who controls the attention faucet and how the community makes their work better/easier.
The community doesn’t have to be about your brand, but if your brand isn’t willing to promote it, it’s not going to work.
(p.s. It’s hard to keep a community separate from the rest of the company and still succeed. Believe me, even if you do magically make it work, your marketing/PR/other teams will want to be involved).
It might sound obvious, but if you are going to undertake a big promotion of the community to an external audience, make sure you do it on your best days.
Clean up the community first.
Ensure most discussions have a response, initiate some topical questions for newcomers to join in.
Check the onboarding journeys for newcomers work effectively (and the formatting of emails looks great).
Plan for greeters to help newcomers.
Line up quality blog posts and new ideas from members shared in the community.
Do all the things that will make the community look great.
And if you can’t do these things, don’t do the big promotion.
Brian shares this great video.
In any random sample of 1,000 members, 1 or 2 will form the vocal minority. If you have 10,000 members, you can do the math.
If you’re responding to the daily needs of a vocal minority, you’re not managing your community; the community is managing you.
Spiral of silence theory predicts the louder the vocal minority become the more other members accept this as the consensus of the group and either adopt the same views or fail to share opposing views. This is dangerous.
Sometimes the vocal minority have valid concerns which you can validate with a survey or poll, but typically their concerns are simply the tools they’re using to validate their status and identity. If you resolve their concern without validating their status, they still won’t be happy.
This is why the same vocal minority form around every issue instead of a new group forming around each issue. It’s not about the issue.
If you reject their ideas, they adopt a persona of being smarter, wronged, and righteous. If you accept their ideas, you embolden them to suggest more.
The two better approaches are:
1) Take the time to build relationships with each of them. Use flattery, ask for advice and ideas in person, providing them with a perceived sense of influence over you typically helps. This takes time but tends to be effective. Use the occasional positive public remark.
2) Formalise their role in a private group. Invite them to a private group (let them pick their own group name) to share their concerns, discuss their ideas, and give them unique access. You can put their best ideas/concerns into a survey for the broader community. Better yet, it removes negative comments from the main areas of discussion.
Nothing you do will entirely remove a frustrating vocal minority with high demands, but you can reduce the negative posts by working with them rather than for or against them.
Static content in a community is primarily for newcomers.
Once they’ve read it once, possibly twice, they don’t need to read it again.
The problem is when areas that should be dynamic (blogs, popular discussions, or announcements) feel like static content.
When this happens, you’re training members to ignore areas of your community you planned to keep updated.
For any dynamic section of the community, keep it updated. If this doesn’t happen organically, manually update it with new blogs, discussions, or announcements on a regular schedule.
If you don’t have the capacity or volume of contributions to keep it updated, close the area down and redirect attention to other areas. Blogs and announcements can easily appear as discussion posts if there isn’t enough activity to sustain them alone.
More than one client has been surprised to learn the $250k a year they pay for a community platform doesn’t cover the implementation (which typically costs from $50k to $500k).
A community platform is essentially an empty house with great potential. The foundations are in place but everything else costs extra.
The fee you pay for the platform dictates the size of the house, the number and type of rooms, and other basics, but it’s the implementation partners who act as the decorators, plumbers, and electricians etc….(note: some platforms offer implementation as a service too).
You should spend as much time deciding the implementation partner as you do on your platform. If you get this part wrong, it’s hard for the community to be a success.
Having done this many times with clients, there are a few things to work out.
Before you approach an implementation partner (7Summits, Grazitti, Paladin, Oktana, SocialEdge etc…), you need to figure out:
- Strategy. Going to a platform vendor or implementation partner without a strategy is like going to a car salesman and asking what car to buy. You’re likely to buy whatever they want to sell rather than what you need for your budget. Get your strategy in place first.
- Specificity. Some are better at helping you figure out what you need (e.g. 7Summits) whereas others are better at taking precise plans and making them happen (e.g. Grazitti). The latter is cheaper, but if you forget to put something in you need later (i.e @mentions) your community will suffer. It’s also not a good idea to go cheap if you’re not quite sure how every single detail and function work. If you haven’t done this before, going cheap is especially risky.
- Staffing. This is a major project which requires project management. If you don’t have someone who can spend up to 50% of their time managing the project, you’re going to need the implementation partner to provide project management. Good project management is critical. It’s what stops your community being delayed for weeks while you wait for your in-house developers to collaborate with external developers and respond to emails/tickets (among many other things).
- Level of integration. Will the community look the same as your support center? What are the SSO and authentication requirements? How many distinct audiences will there be? Will each distinct audience require a separate or integrated community? Do you have clear branding guidelines to work from?
- Do you have in-house skills to maintain the code once the project is complete? If you do, you need to be sure the code is well documented so you can improve and build upon it later. If you don’t, you’re going to need a budget each year for further developments.
- How will they work with your team? Are they friendly and open to feedback or do they get defensive and irritable? Do you and your team personally click with them? Are they in the right time zone to collaborate throughout the day with your team? Do they understand how to work with a business like yours and the stakeholders/level of collaboration it requires?
- Speed. Some are busier than others. If you have a tight schedule, you need to book your implementation partner’s time as early as possible. Few partners have so much slack they can take up a major project next week.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but be aware that working with an implementation partner is a skill and requires a huge amount of work with plenty of things to figure out first.
I can name dozens of projects which have gone off the rails because a community professional either selected the wrong partner or didn’t know how to work with their partner.
Earlier this year, I coached a community manager who had been doing the same basic tasks in her community for almost two years.
She initiated and responded to discussions, hosted webinars, built relationships with members, and had a small group of top members.
The level of engagement was ok, she was handling just over 1000 posts per month, but the level of participation had barely budged since she had arrived.
Her plan to improve results could be boiled down into a single sentence; do more of what she was doing.
Or, to use another phrase, try harder.
Trying harder isn’t a strategy, it’s a new year’s resolution.
You Can’t Engage Your Way To Huge Improvements
Creating more discussions, responding to more posts, and hosting more webinars aren’t game-changers that get people more engaged.
If you want more participation, which she did, you need to do things which fundamentally change the game.
We coached her in a few areas:
1) Making a stronger case for the community. Her colleagues accepted the company had a community, but weren’t proactively supporting it. This meant she didn’t have the budget, support, or resources of her colleagues. We helped her summarise the benefits of a community into a pity metaphor, create an emotive appeal for colleagues, and schedule meetings with colleagues to understand what they wanted. She managed to get product managers responding to product questions directly, share exclusive news and beta versions with top members, and had the CEO create a blog in the community.
2) Better positioning and promotion of the community. To increase participation, you need more traffic. Members only drifted in via search today. We helped her get the community featured as a navigation tab on her company homepage which doubled the number of visits the community received overnight.
3) Improving search traffic. We helped her understand the importance of removing thin content, merging discussions, and tweaking discussion topics to attract more search traffic. It consumed a lot of time but also produced demonstrable results.
4) Rethinking what members were meant to do. We helped identify her member segments and develop unique journeys for each of them. This ensured each member was doing the things which deliver the best value to the community and for themselves.
5) Expanded the scope of the community. We also expanded the scope of the community to include newcomer-specific content and mentoring groups. We want this to be the place for newcomers to the field, regardless of whether they’re customers.
Within 3 months the number of posts had increased by 67% and continues to rise (steadily) today.
The lesson here is you can’t keep doing what you’re doing today and expect dramatically better results.
There is plenty you can learn on the job, but you also risk being stuck doing the same tasks today without any improvement.
Escaping the comfort zone
To make the big leaps ahead, you need to become familiar with skills beyond just engagement.
In this case, the community manager needed to learn technical skills, business skills, and some strategic skills.
The very skills her company hadn’t taught her were the very skills she needed to master to take her community to the next level.
It’s situations like these where coaching delivers the best results.
This is why we’ve launched our coaching programs this month.
We believe community managers should be highly trained professionals with a skill-set that extends beyond just engagement.
FeverBee’s Coaching Program
We can give community professionals a broader picture, help them identify the skills they need, and then take their community to an advanced level.
In our coaching program, we’ve broken community management into five core fields.
Each of these has five unique levels. And each level has specific skills you need to master to progress.
When you join our coaching program you benchmark your current level by (honestly) answering questions about your past experiences.
Based upon your assessment, you get a benchmark which looks like this:
You then collaborate with us (and ideally your boss) to set your goals for the next few months. We recommend progressing one level per month.
For example, if one category (i.e. technical) isn’t relevant to your work, you can ignore it and focus on the ones that are most relevant to you. If you’re already ranking highly for engagement skills, you might choose to master business skills instead.
Once you’ve set your goals, you get a roadmap which shows you what skills you need to learn and how to learn those skills.
These won’t be vague recommendations, they will be specific and practical.
Now we connect you with the skills, knowledge, and resources you need to steadily up your abilities. This involves three areas:
1) Personal recommendations. We’ve developed hundreds of specific steps you can take to master new skills. Once you’ve set your path, you can see the specific recommendations for you.
2) Private coaching. We provide personal coaching to each participant of the course. Your situation is quite unique and you’re going to need private support at times too. We’re here to answer your questions and give you that support.
3) Private group. Every member is connected to a private group within our community based upon their assessment. Here you can have the discussions you can’t have anywhere else with a private group of people in exactly your situation.
Each month you get to track your progress and see your skills levels steadily increase.
If you work for a company which doesn’t have the time to coach you in the skills you need, this program will really help.
Do you need to try and keep pace with Facebook’s functionality to retain your members?
Some features have become standard in most platforms (@mentions, a wall of updates etc..).
But you would struggle to name many.
Most members in most communities aren’t asking for more photos, private messaging, disappearing videos, and a wall of personal updates.
Don’t try to compete (or keep up with) the world’s biggest company with the world’s best developers. You will just be seen as a ‘worse Facebook’.
Compete where Facebook can’t go. Have unique customisations for your members, create community-specific member journeys, name parts of the community after key terms, proudly display your shared history, build a stronger, smaller, tighter community.
Members don’t expect you to be Facebook, they expect you to be the best place in your field to support their goals.
A few times in the past few years we’ve been on a call with a CEO.
A CEO call generally has three objectives:
1) Gain support for the community project. This requires an instant summary of the community’s value in a sentence. A simple, easy, metaphor helps here. Don’t dive into the weeds much beyond how it helps customers and how it helps the organization. You should also take time to identify and alleviate any concerns (prepare responses to the most likely concerns).
2) Identify where the CEO can support the project. There are two levels to this. The first is to unblock internal problems. Some internal conflicts can only be resolved at the senior level and the CEO can ensure the community is made a priority internally. The second is to galvanize support for the community via participating in AMAs with customers, responding to the occasional questions, writing blog posts, and scheduling time once a quarter to talk to superusers/top members.
3) Get feedback and advice to ensure it’s a success. The CEO (should) know the company better than you do. What are the blind spots you’re missing? Where else can the community help? What else are you thinking about? (p.s. Asking for advice is also a good way to gain support).
And, of course, if you only have half an hour, prepare your key points and questions in advance.
p.s. This works as well for any senior leader.