Predictions, Trends, and Data

A prediction is an extrapolation of a single person’s experience (often combined with exaggeration for attention).

Predictions are fun and easy to make, but neither accurate or useful because it’s an extrapolation of a single person’s experiences.

Identifying trends is more helpful to everyone. If you’re sure about current trends, you can plan for the future.

But trends are harder to identify because they require data. The more data people have access to, the better they can identify trends.

At the end of this year, instead of asking members to make predictions, ask them to help one another identify far more useful trends.

This begins by asking members to be open about sharing what data they’ve seen and what data they have. Or, failing that, what data they would like to have.

Helping members identify trends in your field is one of the most valuable things you can do for your members. Alas, it’s also one of the hardest.

A Good Time To Specialise

There’s plenty of opportunities.

Specialise in community migration, platform development, and establishing a community.

Specialise in measuring and reporting. Help others quantify the impact of the community, and develop systems to pull/analyze content from Google Reports, different platforms etc…make sure you can visualise the data beautifully too.

Specialise in running MVP programs that transform how organisations engage with their top customers.

Specialise in running large conferences and in-person events for huge communities.

Specialise in launching new communities from scratch.

Specialise in creating 10x content which attracts members indefinitely.

Specialise in setting up and running video channels for communities.

Specialise in running community teams and knowing how to attract, motivate, and drive key people.

Specialise in localisation of large communities to each region. How do you support conflicting needs of members by language and culture?

Specialise in ideation and building the right internal systems to utilize external ideas.

Specialise in moderation. Both reducing costs, improving results, and implementing policies which find that balance between freedom of speech and freedom from abuse.

Specialise in gamification programs that are unique, different, and game-changing for their hosts.

This isn’t an exhaustive list. But judging by the queries we’re getting today, you can get a head start if you specialise now.

Topics Over Categories

If members are visiting a page, they want to learn something new about that topic, see questions they can answer, and perhaps find out who are the rising stars within this field.

This is why categories (which only show a list of discussions) aren’t a great option. It forces members to go elsewhere to find blogs, news etc…

Topics, however, display discussions, content, and leaderboards, in a single place. Members can find anything that’s new without having to visit multiple pages.

In an ideal world, they can also see a separate leaderboard for the top members in that topic.

Topics also allow more flexibility. Not every item of content or discussions your members create neatly falls into a single bucket. If you can add more than one tag to content, it can be displayed in more than one place. On some platforms, members can choose which categories to follow and develop their personal feed of new, relevant, activity on each visit.

Members care far more about the topic than they do about the medium. Make sure they can easily see everything that’s new in a topic in a single place.

Embedding Community Into The Event Experience

Event-specific apps are simple solutions for a conference that typically undermine the community.

The problem is the event app is completely separate from the community, it serves a short-term purpose but never helps build a long-term community.

If you don’t make community both an essential and beneficial part of the event – they remain disconnected. So link them closer together.

  • Have questions for speakers? Ask in the community (they’ll be hosting a short AMA next week).
  • Aren’t sure how to apply their advice to your context? Ask in the community.
  • Want to meet up with others? Ask in the community.
  • Want to find people in your place to connect with? Search the community.

You can also go beyond this.

  • Invite speakers (especially paid speakers) to also spend time in the community answering questions about their topic.
  • Have booths and show the current unanswered questions on large plasma screens and give rewards for members who can answer them.
  • Display the current leaderboard of the community on a large plasma-screen everyone can see. Give prizes whoever is top at the end of the event.
  • Post new questions from customer support into the community and challenge people to answer them.
  • Reveal locations of the afterparty via the community.
  • Share the videos of the event in the community first.
  • Invite top community members to give lightning talks in their field of expertise.
  • Run a live ideation session during the event via the community.

An event should be a celebration of the community. The community shouldn’t be bolted on to the event. Integrate the two deeply and everyone wins.

The Trickle Stage

It’s scary to launch a new community.

This is especially true when you’ve been working on it for half a year and made a $500k investment into the technology.

You launch and wait for the first trickle of activity. Two posts become four. Four posts become Eight. Eight posts become 16 and so on.

You see this with Datarobot’s community right now. The first trickle of activity is just starting.

Don’t rush this stage. An explosion of activity doesn’t help you if you’re left with a trickle of activity afterward. You don’t want most of your audience to see an empty community. That’s a terrible first impression.

Instead, go above and beyond for each new member who does arrive. Ensure the questions receive a quick and empathetic response. Direct message members and check their problem was resolved. Get to know each of them. Make the first members feel part of something new, special, and exclusive. Give them unique access just for being one of the first pioneering members of your community.

Don’t rush this process, but lean into it (and set expectations for it). The trickle stage is the time to identify and resolve issues, nurture future top members, and provide a world-class experience to every newcomer.

Soon the trickle becomes a stream, a stream becomes a river, and the river becomes a torrent of activity.

Three Community Design Principles And 1 Great Example

There are three good principles to consider when designing your community site.

1) Minimize effort and maximize reward. If members have to scroll past large banners or find useful information among static content, that’s bad. Minimise the static material to show the latest activity. Deliver the maximum value for the minimum amount of effort.

2) Prioritise by popularity. Don’t prioritise alphabetically, prioritise the display of topics/categories, content, features, and navigation options by what’s most popular in the community. If you don’t have a community yet, prioritise by use cases.

3) Keep social density high, but not too high. If you’re launching with multiple features (Q&A, ideas, groups, etc…) and a dozen topics/discussion categories, you’re doing it wrong. You need to keep activity high, but not so high it’s impossible to follow what’s happening.

One of my simpler, but favourite, community designs is the Basecamp community by Kony.

(if image doesn’t show, click here)

It’s clean, simple, shows activity above the fold, displays navigation options clearly, and is probably the best implementation of Salesforce Community Cloud I’ve seen in years.

Tableau and (to a slightly less extent) Alteryx are also good options to study.

Developing the community experience isn’t easy, but if you follow the core three principles you will probably be ok.

p.s. Learn the principles of a great community design for free.

Boosting Early Membership (cost of acquisition)

Some interesting data from this study at

“In the fall of 2017, a series of 5 weeklong Facebook advertisement campaigns were launched targeting adults over the age of 18 years with an interest in lung cancer to increase opt-ins to the community

The advertisements released during this campaign had a sum reach of 91,835 people, and 863 new members opted into the community by providing their email address. […] A total of US $1742 was invested in the Facebook campaigns, and 863 people opted into, resulting in a cost of US $2.02 per new member.”

The numbers vary by community sector.

$2.02 per new member and a 1% conversion rate is only slightly higher and lower (respectively) of the numbers we’ve seen in past client projects.

While you don’t want to rely on paid social ads for your community’s growth, it can be a useful tool to speed up the community’s early development.

If you’ve invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to launch the community, it’s typically worth investing an extra $2k to $5k to ensure it quickly attracts a critical mass of members.

The Problem With Groups

With a few exceptions, most sub-groups within a community fail.

There are two primary reasons for this.

  1. They don’t have a good, committed, leader to succeed.
  2. There isn’t enough activity/members to sustain the number of groups created.

Sub-groups are one of the last things I’d add to a community. They take time and energy away from the community’s prime purpose. They are primarily a tool for large, mature, communities.

A far simpler option to creating and hosting groups yourself is to link to any existing groups which do exist. These might be on Facebook, Reddit, LinkedIn, Slack, Telegram or any other channel.

Now you’re supporting an ecosystem that extends beyond just your community website.

As a good rule of thumb, if there aren’t existing groups outside of your platform, you’re probably not ready for groups on your platform.

Coach Members To Share The Impact Of Solving The Problem

Consider two questions posted in your community.

Question A:

“Hi, does anyone know how to get [Widget x] to work with [Widget y]?

Any help would be appreciated!”

Question B:

“Hi, I’ve been struggling with a problem which is really driving me nuts.

I’m trying to get [Widget x] to work with [Widget y].

So far nothing has worked. I really need some help or I’m going to waste 3 months of work and have to begin the entire project again.

Can someone help?”

Which question would be more satisfying for you to answer?

For most of us, the answer is Question B. You feel a lot better about yourself if you know the impact your answer can provide.

The more you know the value of your help, the more you’re likely to provide it.

This should affect how we coach members to ask questions in a community. No, we don’t want emotionally manipulative language, but we do want to coach members to also explain the impact of resolving the issue to them where possible.

You can do this in your onboarding first question, the default text which appears in the text field before being replaced, or in ‘in line nudges’.

If members value the feeling they get from helping others, then make it easy to feel as great about helping others as possible.

Projected Members and Activity Levels

Too many communities are launched with features they will never be able to support.

The number of features your community deploys should be driven by two things.

The first, obviously, is your community strategy.

If you want the community to be resolving questions, suggesting ideas, sharing expertise in long-form, and connecting with each other then you need the Q&A, ideation, blog, and group features to enable that.

But this should be countered by your membership projections.

The fewer members you project, the less features you should deploy. There simply isn’t enough energy and attention to support them (regardless of how ambitious you want to be). Some features, notably groups, need a huge base of members to thrive.

This means you need to prioritise features and deploy just the ones you can support.

Given the median number of monthly active members in a customer community is somewhere around 550, this should temper your ambitions.

  • Below 200 active contributors: Q&A only.
  • 200 to 400 active contributors: Q&A + events/webinars
  • 400 to 700 active contributors: Q&A + events/webinars + ideas
  • 700 to 1,000 active contributors: Q&A + events/webinars + ideas + knowledge base
  • 1,000+ active contributors: Q&A + events/webinars + ideas + knowledge base + groups.

Treat these as general principles rather than rigid rules.

Bose, for example, has around 1,000 active participants but only uses Q&A.

Sophos has around 350 active participants and uses both groups and a knowledge base.

Two more important points here:

First, before you determine what features your community should have (or whether to deploy more) you need an accurate membership projection (use our template here).

Second, your community platform is never finished. It needs regular updates (some big, some minor) to ensure it has the right number of features for the number of active members.

More Strategy Problems

Without a strategy, you end up tackling problems piecemeal.

What should you measure? Why not ask around and see what others are measuring?

What technology should you use? Why not look at different vendors and select the one you think is best.

What should your onboarding journey look like? Let’s see what everyone else does.


Needless to say, this is a terrible approach.

A good strategy answers all of these questions.

You should be measuring the success of your strategy, not anybody else’s.

You should be using technology which best supports your strategy (audience needs, budget, and internal resources).

Your onboarding journey should guide members to the behaviors you’ve identified in the strategy. Each step should connect with a specific emotion to guide the next action.

Great examples can show you what’s possible, not what you should do.

You need a community strategy.

You’re Being Ignored

Ever noticed members seem surprised by a change you’ve announced several times already?

That’s because they read far less of your content than you imagine.

They clicked through the emails and on-site announcements.

A handy rule of thumb is to assume about 20% of your members read 20% of the content you send to them.

So target the members who care and reduce your message down to the core points.

The longer and more frequent your messages are, the fewer people will read them.

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