It’s always tempting to dive into potential solutions for a struggling community without first trying to investigate the cause.
In one recent client project, we brought some prospective members together into a shared online space to both diagnose what’s going wrong for the community today and identify what the community could become if we collaborate together.
Using a zoom webinar with Mural, we asked members some key questions:
What’s stopping you from participating in the community?
What do you want from the community?
What can you contribute to the community?
What might be a good trigger to visit the community?
You can see the responses here:
This isn’t a definitive list of questions or topics (it’s also good to ask about the toughest challenges, what’s stopping people achieving their goals at the moment, who they want to connect with etc…).
However, It yields some good and immediate insights you can use when developing the strategy. Better than that, the mere act of bringing people together to identify what is and isn’t working about a community creates a shared mission.
This might not work well for customer support communities, but if you’re trying to build a community of practice I would definitely recommend it.
Imagine someone you’ve never met walks up to you, shows you a copy of a magazine article, and says:
“I’ve recently read this article about [widget]. What do you think about [widget]? Do you think [widget] will be the future of our industry?”
If you’re cornered, you might give a quick reply and then try to move on. The approach just feels a little weird.
The obvious catch with an online community is people aren’t cornered. If the approach is off and there’s no real benefit of replying, people don’t reply.
A lot of newcomer community managers, in their haste to initiate activity, will try to create discussions like this. They will share a relevant article (or raise a topical issue) and ask “what do you think?”
These are the worst types of discussions for almost every community.
People reply to discussions for an emotional payoff. They want to feel useful and know they’ve helped someone. Giving opinions on random topics doesn’t create that feeling. This is why initiating a bunch of discussions to ‘get activity going’ usually fails.
It’s also why in the very early days you need to be very careful how you structure the question.
For example, if you ask the question as:
Subject: Would you set aside a budget for [widget] in 2022?
“Next week I need to submit my budget for the coming year. I’m trying to work out whether it’s worthwhile setting some money aside for [widget] as this article seems to recommend.
Does anyone have any experiences or insights into whether [widget] is likely to be important without our industry? Any examples or case studies would be really useful”
Now we have a question which lets members both give an opinion and feel they’re helping. It’s clear why the person is asking the question and the value they will get from the answers.
The challenge in the early stages isn’t to start discussions to ‘get activity going’. It’s to find people who need help and persuade them to ask questions in the community (or, last resort, ask them on behalf of the person).
In my new book, Build Your Community, I write a lot about the advanced engagement skills we need in the new era of community building.
Here’s a story that didn’t make the cut, but illustrates why understanding psychology at a more advanced level is so important for this new era.
I had a client which was sending automated emails to members when they had been inactive for over a year. The emails, written by another consultant, read:
Subject: We’ve missed you in [community]!
Hello, this is [name], the community manager of [community]
It’s now been a year since your last visit and we’ve missed you.
Why not come back and see what you’ve been missing?
You can login to your profile, ask questions, get help, and share your expertise.
All you need to do is click here.
If you have any questions, email me”
Before you continue, take a second and think about this email. Is it good or bad? Would it entice you to visit a community again or not?
The open rate of this email averaged around 11% and the reactivation rate varied between 0.6% and 0.9%.
Which meant less than 1 in 100 people who received this email clicked on it. It was a classic example of a good idea which was poorly executed.
I came up with a very different message. This message read:
Subject: [topic] questions
I’m hoping you can help.
Is there anyone else you believe should be a member of [community] that isn’t today?
I’m looking for a couple of recommendations of people doing interesting work which other members would find useful. Anyone with interesting perspectives to share would be great.
Is there anyone you can recommend?
A huge thanks,
When I proposed this email, it was greeted with disgust (especially by the marketing team). The complaints included:
“The subject line is too vague!”
“Why would they give advice for a community they haven’t visited in a year?”
“It’s too blunt – almost rude!”
“It doesn’t include an obvious link to the site!”
But thanks to an internal champion [you know who you are], I was allowed to run a test for 3 weeks. During this 3 week window, the email was sent to 225 newly ‘long-term inactive’ members.
You can see the comparison below:
Clearly the latter message worked a lot better, but that’s not the point here.
The point is why it worked better. Because if you understand why the second message was so much more effective you can craft your own.
I spend a lot of time in Build Your Community explaining the principles of psychology you can use to increase engagement.
Here’s a quick breakdown of why the second email was so much more effective (and this isn’t the only time we’ve created far more persuasive emails like this).
1) A vague subject line provokes curiosity. Look at your subject lines you get from real people. They’re not laden with benefits. The fierce competition for attention means we’ve developed a natural filter against typical marketing spiel.
2) The utility principle. Reminding people they haven’t visited a community in a while is a really terrible idea. It simply reminds them they weren’t getting any value. But asking people with a simple, specific, request to help makes them feel useful (there are limits to this).
3) The commitment principle. When we’ve helped someone (or a project) we become more committed to its success. When people have recommended a friend especially, they become a lot more committed.
4) The link was linked to a purpose. We linked the url to the member directory so people could check if the people they planned to invite were already there. This re-engaged the audience and we found most people were naturally browning to find what’s new.
There’s nothing particularly staggering or technologically advanced in the revised email we sent out.
All it needed was a deeper understanding of what really motivates members and how to apply those principles effectively.
A great reason to buy my new book is to get access to community industry benchmarks.
One major difference between experienced community professionals and relative newcomers is their knowledge of benchmarks (or ratios).
If you know your benchmarks, you can tell if you’re above or below average. You know what’s realistic. You can set reasonable targets and achieve them.
Most importantly, you can avoid being held accountable to entirely unrealistic targets.
For example, if you have 1m customers, do you know how many people you should expect in your community?
If you have 100,000 registered members, how many should be active in your community this month?
If you have 50,000 questions each month, how many superusers should you have?
How long can you expect an average member to remain active in your community for?
Over the past decade, I’ve worked with over 300 organisations and analyzed many more. We’ve literally scraped data to identify what a good time to first response looks like, a good response rate looks like, how many accepted solutions you should expect.
If you needed another reason to buy my new book, getting access to the benchmarks makes it worthwhile.
Buy ‘Build Your Community’ This Week And Get Access To The Community Skills Accelerator
Why should you buy my new book, Build Your Community, this week?
Well, if mastering community skills isn’t urgent enough for you, I’m going to add an additional bonus.
The first 100 people who purchase the book will also get access to our community skills accelerator.
This was a tool that lets you benchmark your current skill level today and then develop a roadmap to improve your skills.
Many of our clients over the years have used this to develop roadmaps for their entire community teams and check they have the right skills for their community strategy.
All you need to do is send proof of purchase (a screenshot of a receipt is fine) to [email protected].
p.s. It works better if your entire community team goes through this process.
My new book, Build Your Community, launches today. I hope you will consider buying it.
It’s an urgent book about developing incredible community skills.
We all know there’s a big difference between having an average or great designer, manager, salesperson on your team.
…well there’s also a big difference between having average and great community managers on your team too.
Put bluntly, great community professionals are game-changers.
Great community professionals are more persuasive, have natural credibility with their audiences, and can design systems that engage thousands, even millions, of people.
Sure, technology helps. But eventually, everything depends upon the abilities of you and your team to make this work.
I’ve been working with (and training) community professionals for over a decade now. Believe me, there is huge potential for most of us to get better at the work we do.
A Book For People In The Trenches
My new book, Build Your Community, will help you develop and improve your abilities to build more engaging communities.
This is a book for those of us in the trenches living and breathing this work every day.
It’s a book for those of us who know that community skills are indispensable to the success of communities.
It’s a book for those who believe we can improve how we design and nurture our communities.
If you’ve found this blog useful over the years, you will find the book even more so.
If you dig deeper behind most acts of aggression you usually find fear.
Fear of not being enough.
Fear of not being considered part of the group.
Fear of not feeling important.
Fear of being overlooked.
Fear of being overtaken by a competitor.
Fear of losing standing.
Fear of experiencing physical/emotional pain.
One way to resolve acts of aggression within a community is to remove the symptom (the act or the person).
The problem is this increases the antagonist’s level of aggression towards you. Do this often enough and eventually one of them will have the skills and motivation to be as disruptive as possible.
Another approach is to consider if you can resolve the underlying fear. It’s not always an option, but when it is, try it.
Do you need to convince or persuade people to participate in (or support) your community?
A typical mistake is to try and convince people by finding the ‘right facts’.
This typically means identifying the benefits from an authoritative source and sending them to the recipient.
But facts aren’t persuasive. If they were, we would all be eating healthier and taking steps to prevent global warming. The (sad) reality is if we’re resistant to the idea, we dismiss or disagree with the facts.
I’ve known several community leaders who went to exorbitant lengths to gather data to prove the community’s value. They were disappointed when the data was dismissed out of hand (my favourite dismissal was when the executive said the benefits of community were ‘too high to be believable’).
Most of the time, we need to persuade people, not convince them.
Persuasion is a different game. You need to build relationships and be seen as a credible source. You need to tell a story that resonates with their worldview. A story that is based upon emotions. Emotions like fear, pride, curiosity are powerful levers to gain community support.
You can see how these merge with stories:
This is what innovative companies like ours are doing.
Our competitors will do this first if we don’t.
We’re starting to be seen as backwards, we need a community.
We can excite customers by doing something we’ve never done before.
This is a bold, new, modern direction…
I’ve genuinely persuaded more people to support (and engage) in a community by noting their fear of competitor’s doing it first than by presenting detailed ROI studies.
If you’re not getting the support you want, you might need to focus less on facts and more on persuasion.
Visible recently launched their community.
You can see what it looks like below:
There doesn’t seem to be much of a strategy guiding this community.
The community doesn’t have a unique name, the listed benefits (questions, tips/tricks, knowing fellow visible members) doesn’t match what most members want (saving money by finding parties to join), the use of accepted solutions in many posts feels off, there’s no clear journey for newcomers etc…etc…
It’s also not the most enticing experience. There is no activity on the homepage and the majority of activity seems to focus on people looking to save money. There aren’t really any clear cultural expectations of the community.
Compare this with the recently launched Mural community.
While I’m not the biggest fan of the hero image design, the rest of the community is quite well developed. It’s clearer who the community is for, what’s expected, it feels lively, there are designated routes for newcomers, and the positioning/value of the community is a lot clearer.
This is why community strategy really matters. It guides every other decision you make. From platform selection, design, community manager recruitment, journeys members take etc…
If you’re developing a community without a clear strategy, you’re probably making each decision adhoc. That’s neither effective, efficient, or beneficial to your members.
I met an executive two years ago who described himself as “something of a visionary”.
His vision was to “10x the level of participation” and make the community “central to everything we do”.
The only catch was he didn’t want to invest the resources to match this vision.
This isn’t visionary, it’s delusional.
Anyone can set a really high target for a community.
A true visionary would’ve seen the amazing potential of a community and bet big on it by reallocating resources from elsewhere.
Sure, you can usually get more (sometimes a lot more) from your current resources in a community. That’s what a great strategy does. But when you start talking about multiples of your current metrics (e.g. 3x, 5x, 10x etc..) then you need an increase in the budget to match.
It’s tempting to post announcements and major updates as a discussion topic.
Why wouldn’t you? It (feasibly) helps your announcements reach a broader audience.
I can think of communities (especially internal communities) that are filled with nothing but announcements and news updates. Often it’s types of content or updates about upcoming events.
The irony here is the more of these announcements you post the fewer people will read any of the discussions. Posting an announcement as a discussion is a clear sign of an organisation’s priorities (you wouldn’t announce a new discussion would you?)
I’d suggest a simple rule. Don’t do this. Don’t post any announcements as discussions. Instead, start a discussion about it (and not ‘what do you think about [announcement]?’).
Not only will you get more participation, but you might also get some useful insights too.
The more you treat your community like a noticeboard, the more your members will ignore it like a noticeboard.
- The average support employee can handle 21 tickets per day.
- The average response time is 7 hours and 4 minutes.
- The average resolution time is 3 days and 10 hours.
If the goal of your community is solely to provide support to customers, these are the metrics to beat.