A client was seeing a steadily declining percentage of new visitors registering join the community.
This isn’t unusual. Most communities have a natural downward curve after they first launch.
In a graph, it will usually look like this.
For most communities (where the community is behind a tab), the registration rate begins at around 2.5% and drops to around 0.25% to 0.5% over 2 to 3 years (with variation when the community is a standalone community).
However, our client’s community was different, it was a mature community in a mature sector which had hit the bottom of the curve several years ago. They hadn’t changed a thing, but the percentage was declining again.
If you don’t fix problems like this, you soon struggle to convert enough new members to replace those you’re losing.
Digging into the new visitors data, it became clear the decline in conversion rate exactly matched the increase in the percentage of visitors visiting on mobile phones. These mobile visitors were 43% less likely to convert.
Sometimes the problem is a simple oversight. For example, I doubt anyone at IGN has noticed just how damaging their banner ad seems on mobile.
This is costing them hundreds of members per day and pushing activity way down the page, but no-one seems to be checking the mobile experience (because most people work on desktops).
And this is the point. If you’re a paid professional in this field, you’re almost certainly working on a desktop most of the time. You see the community through a very different lens than your members do. Most members visiting a community might be doing it via mobile. This changes what the process should look like and your competition becomes the simplicity of rival apps, not rival websites.
In our client’s case (not IGN), the problem was the mobile registration process hadn’t been tweaked in years. It closely resembled the desktop process….only the text was smaller, more fiddly, and featured a pop-up to remove (which meant hitting a tiny small ‘x’ on screen). It’s a really simply fix in hindsight, but you only notice it if you’re constantly checking the mobile experience. t
As the number of mobile visitors rise, it’s important to analyze their traffic separately. This is easy enough to do in Google Analytics. Create a new segment, filter only mobile traffic, and then compare the two side by side. Look specifically at time on site, conversion metrics, and bounce rate to different pages.
This will let you zero in on the big differences and start taking action.
I recently met with a small community management team whom spend around 80% of their time responding to their members’ product questions.
This isn’t community management, it’s customer support.
Your job isn’t to answer question yourself. Every minute you spend responding to a member’s question is a minute you can’t spend getting another member to respond to that same question.
Your job is to get your members (or colleagues) to answer these questions. You need to spend your time creating the right conditions for experts to be identified, nurtured, and provide rapid responses to questions.
Your members will answer questions when the reward for answering a question exceeds the cost of creating an answer.
The best rewards are those which only a community can offer. It’s when members feel a unique sense of joy from helping others, feel like an expert within the field, or a feeling of belonging or rising stature among their peers.
Stop trying to answer every question yourself. Instead begin looking for members who have received answers or contributed posts on the most popular topics and reach out to them. Ask what brings them to the community and test different appeals (helping others, become an expert, build your reputation) and see what clicks best. Then design rewards which help this group achieve those benefits in the most powerful way.
Trust me, it will pay off a lot better over time.
We use a similar project plan we use for most of the clients we work with.
We don’t go through every step with every client, but the process is relatively the same for each.
A typical community strategy usually takes us between 10 to 12 weeks to complete and goes through five stages. These stages are:
- Getting started. Admin, gathering basic information, and tracking progress.
- Setting up the research. Getting access to people, data, resources, and gaining permissions to do the research.
- Undertaking the research. Interviews, surveys, data analysis, competitors, macro-trends and participating in the community.
- Developing the strategic plan. Developing, testing, and refining the short and long-term strategic plans (sometimes presented as options).
- Building the measurement framework. Developing custom dashboards for our clients.
You can see a small sample below:
You won’t need to progress through every step, but it should give you a clear framework to build your community strategy.
I’ve found the major benefit of this framework is it ensures mutual accountability, lets you plan to avoid the major time-sinks (getting access to data, setting up interviews etc…) and ensures the entire strategy is built upon good data.
Every major success we’ve had has been achieved by following the research.
You can access the project plan for free (click file > download as to save in Google Docs).
As part of our Strategic Community Management course, we’ll teach you how to go through this process gather great data, and think strategically to achieve the best results with your resources.
If you find the project plan useful, you should click here to learn more about the course.
The course begins on Sept 17 and costs $675 USD.
…a big headache.
One retort to Friday’s post is you need a highly engaged community before you can get them to do the behaviors that matter.
This works better in theory than in practice.
It’s extremely hard to get members to start making contributions which require more vulnerability, time, effort, motivation, skill, and knowledge if they’ve gotten used to posting short, simple, comments on latest updates.
It’s hard to change the expectations from your boss/colleagues about what’s worth measuring once they’ve gotten used to seeing engagement metrics going up each month.
Worse yet, you might find there aren’t enough able (or willing) members to make the kinds of contributions you need. By now it’s too late to make a major course correction.
You need to bake the behaviors you want from members into the community from day one (and if it’s already too late, do it from today). Anyone can get people to be engaged almost any place, but it takes a lot more skill to build a community concept designed to help members make their best possible contributions.
Twitter removed the first bundle of bots recently and it’s share price DROPPED by 20%.
It still has the same number of (real) people, just now they have less spam and fake news to contend with.
But investors don’t care. All they see is the number of active Twitter users is down. This does make sense. It’s the same number Twitter has aggressively pushed to justify its value.
Now Twitter is discovering it’s very hard to switch to driving outcomes that matter because investors are used to measuring Twitter by simpler engagement metrics.
This is a classic engagement trap. If you’re measured by engagement metrics, it’s almost impossible to build a community that matters.
You’re probably caught in the engagement trap too. It looks like this:
This is why you should never report engagement metrics to your boss. It might sound like a good idea today, but it will kill you tomorrow. You can’t build a great community when you’re forced to chase metrics that don’t matter.
Crowdsourced competitions are widely misunderstood.
Visit any major crowdsource effort and you will find only a tiny percentage of ideas are ever implemented. Most contributors don’t have the skill, knowledge of your products, or understand your company’s constraints well enough to develop a fully-formed idea.
Worse yet, crowdsourcing efforts are rarely set up to accommodate truly groundbreaking ideas.
Browse the 550+ ideas implemented through Dell’s Ideastorm, is there really a game-changer in the bunch? Most ideas tinkered around the edges of old products. There aren’t any new smartphones, social networks, cryptocurrencies, machine learning, or breakthrough products here.
Crowdsourced ideas often closely resemble a list of customer complaints (isn’t every complaint also an idea of what to improve?)
But the real benefit of crowdsourcing ideas and solutions extends beyond fully-formed ideas. It helps identify amazing talent to hire, new approaches to follow and to confirm or refute your existing thinking. You might not use an idea in its entirety, but you may learn from unique aspects of each idea.
Having a hundred, or even a thousand, fresh pair of eyes give their opinion on a problem more than pays for the relatively tiny fee to attract them in the first place.
You want new customers to find your community as quickly as possible.
This is one of the biggest missed opportunities for communities around products and services.
New members are going to have a lot of questions, face a lot of uncertainty, and are your most likely segment of customers to drop out. Small increases in retention rates have a big increase in profit.
Two approaches work well. First, in the onboarding material, product information, and new customer emails add places where members can ask questions about any challenges they face. Show links to relevant questions in the past, include a top 3 questions about this area in each email and provide a specific category for newcomers to ask questions about their uncertainty.
Even better, invite your new customers from the past month into a new cohort group. Each group is mentored by one of 12 expert members. In these groups, members can ask questions, get advice from mentors, and get to know other people going through the same challenges as them.
After three months, you can have a graduation where they join the rest of the community. Welcome and mention them by name (within reason). You might be surprised how powerful this approach can be.
Two years ago, we launched the Strategic Community Management course. So far the course has helped 200+ community professionals to rethink how they approach building their community and achieve phenomenal results.
Today we’re opening registration for the fall semester of the course.
The course will run for six weeks from Sept 17th to October 26th and feature a combination of 6 live lessons, 20+ recorded videos, access to our entire vault of materials, and the same resources we use on our client projects.
The course, updated for this semester, is designed to help you and your team approach your community differently. We want you to stop losing time on tasks that don’t achieve good enough results and double down on the tasks that help you achieve your big wins.
During this course you will learn how to:
- Create a community strategy from scratch (or check and revamp your existing strategy).
- Establish your ‘biggest win’ goals and design a roadmap to get there.
- Build community segments and develop unique journeys to deepen engagement with each of them.
- Design a strategy based upon proven principles from social psychology and principles of motivation to ensure people participate.
- Drastically cut your community tactics to the core few which move the needle on metrics that matter.
- Build community dashboards which measure your specific strategic plan and not generic engagement metrics.
If you’re just getting started, looking to take your community to the next level, or get unstuck from your current quagmire, this course will probably help.
The fee for the course is $675 USD and this includes:
- Access to all of the material mentioned above.
- Updated detailed strategy templates we’ve used for our own clients.
- Our exact interview scripts and questions list for stakeholders to uncover and refine the community goal.
- Our survey templates which help us test, validate, and refine unique member segments.
- The dashboards and measurement templates we use.
- Access to our project plans detailing each stage of building a strategy along with time recommendations and job responsibilities.
- An invitation to our private FeverBee Experts group to share problems privately with a smaller, more dedicated, group of people.
If you want to sign up with your colleagues, we offer group rates for 3+ people.
We hope you can join us, we would love to work with you.
HealthUnlocked had an interesting idea. Let health partners create groups on their platform targeted at specific patients. If it works, they would build a community where groups are managed by partners driven to help their patients achieve their best outcomes.
Alas, I just visited 20 randomly selected groups from the 500+ on HealthUnlocked. At best, they had one or two posts in the past week. The overwhelming majority were dead. If I visited all 500, I suspect I’d find a similar result. The future isn’t looking good for the social network.
The problem is largely a lack of good leaders. The majority of groups seem to have no-one with the community skills to start discussions, welcome members, drive discussions and reach out to those who haven’t participated in a while.
There are plenty of good ways to nurture leaders, but HeathUnlocked doesn’t appear to have taken any of them. When you allow people without the right skill, motivation, or time to manage a community you wind up with lots of dead groups.
If I were in charge, I’d immediately move any groups with >10 posts per week (almost all of them) into an Area51 style nurturing zone and double-down resources on the groups which are working.
I’d demand every organization commit a member of staff or trained volunteer to manage the group, check their processes for guiding people to the group and welcoming them, guide each leader through a training program, and set minimum expectations of participation.
Now members would see the best groups in the community and could choose to help new groups get started.
I sometimes dread posts like these:
But it’s clearly not a good post. If you’re not managing a Facebook group it’s irrelevant and if you are managing a Facebook group there is nothing in the post compelling you to answer. What does he want? Is he trying to sell you something? You would need to post at least twice to be able to help.
These kinds of posts aren’t quite spam, but they’re not useful neither. And every post which isn’t useful makes the community less relevant. Once your community has too many of these posts, the overall quality of the people participating and their contributions declines.
This is where it’s better to maximize for quality rather than engagement. Set standards for new posts. Ensure members provide more context (who are they, what are their goals, what drives them to post this question now) and are more specific (they ask exactly what information they need and provide as much detail as possible).
Just because an item isn’t posted with bad intent doesn’t mean it’s not harmful to the community. You can safely ask these to be removed or updated.
Most people running a community aren’t working from a strategy.
Without a community strategy, you’re letting yourself and your community down.
You’re making it more difficult for others to take you seriously.
You’re making it impossible for your colleagues to know how the community helps them and what help they need to offer in return.
You’re making it impossible for your boss and her boss to know what resources you’ll need and when you will need them.
You’re not accountable to any metrics and can’t prove the success of anything you do.
You’re not leading your community, you’re following it.
You’re not deciding what you need members to do, you’re reacting to what they already do.
You have no idea what motivates your members or how to amplify those motivations.
You resort to using a rising number of tactics instead of narrowing down your tactics to those that matter.
You collect a lot of data without any idea how to use it to improve your results.
Without a good community strategy, you’re not treating your work with the professionalism and thought with which it deserves to be treated.
Next week we’re going to open registrations for the Autumn semester of our Strategic Community Management course.
It’s helped over 200 community professionals create, rebuild, and rethink their community strategies. If your strategy isn’t driving your community forward today, I strongly recommend you consider it.
Work in Progress is one of my favourite new communities. Members can share what they’re working on, get help from others, and be accountable to other members to keep their streaks going (were it not for the membership fee, they would have tens of thousands of members by now).
The community began as a tiny Telegram group with a few friends sharing what they had done or were working on. The accountability part took off and has now morphed into an entire community for people to share what they’re working on. They can earn streaks for posting several days in a row.
Work in Progress serves as an important lesson too about the range of possibilities for building a brand community today. It’s a place where you share your current projects, get help from others, and see projections in motion rather than the completed set.
Three lessons here are important.
First, test any concept in a small group first. If you can’t get the behaviors here, don’t build the community yet.
Second, if you want to enter a very competitive space, another forum-based platform doesn’t cut it. You’re going to need to build your own technology.
Third, communities that produce end results (actions) are better than members simply talking. Once you go beyond discussions as the main goal, you have an infinite number of possibilities for what the community can be.
There is no sector, even technology (by far the most popular sector for building communities) that’s too competitive to build a community. If you can identify the right use case, you can build a community that no-one has even tried to build before.