Report Fewer Metrics

I saw a recent community report which was filled with metrics.

They were tracking and sharing pretty much everything.

Believe me, no-one will be impressed that you can dump a lot of data into a report.

It’s far more impressive to:

a) Identify the one (or two) metrics that matter.
b) Explain why they matter.
c) Show those metrics heading in the right direction.

The person(s) you’re sending these reports to probably get plenty of other reports too. Make yours less confusing, investing in good data visualisation, and show the line heading in the right direction.

Telling The Right Story To Superusers

Working on a client’s superuser program recently, a question kept coming up.

Why would members step up to do the things we wanted them to do?

Why would they lead groups, mentor newcomers, or participate in feedback sessions?

Because they get to!

I see people wrestle with this often. They think of people in purely rational economic terms. i.e. if they’re not getting free stuff then they won’t help.

But that’s absurd. No-one would ever help anyone in any community if that were true. And even if it were true, the gifts you’re offering amount to far less than these same people would earn in a minimum wage job.

Superusers are going to do these things because you’re going to ensure they experience feelings they can’t get anywhere else. You’re going to make sure they feel valued, feel they are making a difference, and feel a powerful sense of purpose.

The skill in a superuser program isn’t identifying the right tangible incentives, but in crafting a powerful story members can tell themselves and feel good about. If you screw up the story – even just once – the superuser program dies.

Many years ago, I sat in on a webinar on the launch of a superuser program. The host literally said:

“We can’t afford to pay you anything, but we can give you badges to display on your profile and you will get a Christmas card from the CEO each year”

The moment he uttered those words, he killed the motivation of every prospective superuser on the call. He made them feel like it was underpaid work.

Compare this to another launch a client and I worked on recently. We spent ages on the script (and its delivery) and told a completely different story. This included:

“Everyone of you here today is here because we have identified you as having unique skills, knowledge, or commitment to the community. All of our members have helped make the community, but you’ve risen even beyond that.

In the coming weeks, we’re opening up a small number of opportunities to contribute more to the community’s mission. We don’t have enough roles for everyone. So be quick! For those who get one of these new roles, we’re going to throw all of our support behind you!”

The idea of tangible gifts, rewards, or benefits doesn’t come up.

Not even once!

Everything is aligned to telling a story members can tell themselves to feel valued, do activities others can’t, and having the biggest possible impact.

If you’re ever wondering what skills a great community leader possesses that a mediocre one can’t, being able to frame and tell successful stories like these is definitely a big one.

p.s. If you want great community leaders managing your community, we’ve recently begun managing communities on behalf of our clients.

p.p.s Already read WIIFM objections.

Don’t Force Different Groups Into One Platform

If you’ve spent a bunch of time and money on a community platform, it seems logical to get all your different audiences there.

When everything is in one place, you can easily measure things like participation, link member accounts, and create/track the entire journey customers or members have.

But there’s a problem.

You might not be dealing with just two different groups, but often two different cultures. Forcing them to use the same platform – especially a platform which is more difficult to use and not in the flow of their daily routine – is going to prove difficult. It might even prove antagonistic.

There’s a reason, for example, many companies host developer communities on a completely different platform (often Discourse or Slack) from their main customer community. The group has a completely different culture. They often want privacy and separation from customers. They don’t want to click on a ‘developer’ tab within a bigger community. They want a place just to themselves.

My advice would be to host audiences on the same platform if you can, but don’t try to force it. You can easily push people out of your ecosystem doing that. It’s far better to be where they are, support them however they need that support, and accept that it’s going to be a little messy – but it works.

Subscribe To The Topic

No-one expects you to be an expert in the topic, there are other people for that.

But you should be passionate about the topic. You should be interested in what’s new and what’s going on in your sector.

This means a few things.

  • Subscribe to the relevant magazines and trade press.
  • Subscribe to relevant blogs, podcasts, and YouTube channels.
  • Identify the top influencers and read/follow their work.
  • Read the new books which come out in the sector.
  • Actually read the emails and updates your company puts out (you want to know what’s changed in each version of the product for example).
  • Skim through the latest Google alerts on relevant terms.

When you know what’s going on, you can start discussions in those areas, ask people for their opinion, and reply to questions with honest opinions.

Better yet, when you subscribe to the topic you might find yourself gradually becoming more passionate about it.

Crushing Or Encouraging Passionate Members

Don’t crush the spirit of passionate members.

I know, it can be tempting. We’ve all experienced an overposter. We know how irritating a hyper-passionate member can be.

They might comment on every article, respond to every discussion, and email a few times a week with ideas or tips for the community.

The problem isn’t their passion, it’s the lack of channels available for them to direct their passion.

The most passionate members are rarely the most experienced or most talented in their fields. They’re often newcomers who have found something they connect with. They often can’t answer many of the questions or contribute quality articles.

Almost all the channels we have available to members to benefit from the community require them to have the expertise to contribute at an advanced level.

The better method is to create non-expert channels. Helping moderate is the obvious one. But it’s neither the best nor legally possible in some communities. A better option is to encourage members to gather the best expertise from elsewhere, to host interviews and events with key figures, or help put together questions newcomers need answers too.

Community Includes Social

Community isn’t a destination, it’s a state of mind.

That state of mind doesn’t vanish when you close one web page and open another.

If you restrict your definition of community only to places you fully control, the community experience will be worse for your members.

For example, if members have strong personal relationships with your organisation in one channel they don’t want to be treated as complete strangers (or ignored) when they interact with you on another.

To pretend social media isn’t a part of community work when all of your community members use it far more than any other channel is like a public speaker pretending only in-person count when their members spend countless hours watching online videos every week.

If there’s a sure-fire way to condemn our work to irrelevancy, ignoring the largest channels in favour of some purist definition of community would be it. Just look at this graph below:

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These two channels should be deeply entwined at any organisation. This cuts both ways too. You want top members answering questions on social media as well as a community hub. You want community members sharing and promoting what you publish on social media channels. They’re far more likely to do that if they know and trust the team creating the content.

Sure, you might have different goals for each channel, but it’s still the same community.

Explaining How To Use The Platform

Far better than filling your community with videos, discussions, and content explaining how to use the platform, is selecting a platform that’s intuitive to use in the first place.

And if you are going to share tips on using the platform, do it in one single location – not in a dozen or so sticky threads that push all other content off the page.

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But even better than explaining how to use the platform, is explaining how to benefit most from the community. What kind of content and ideas is the community craving?

Who are some of the top members a newcomer should follow?

What’s the best way to build a reputation in the community?

What kinds of insider jokes should a newcomer know and what kind of questions should a newcomer avoid?

What are some books or guides which most members have read?

I’d bet this creates a much better experience for newcomers than explaining how to resize an image or create a poll.

Better Post Titles

I love this drop-dead simple screenshot showing the difference between good and bad discussion titles.

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Unless you want a lot of “help me!” or “urgent problems” or “I’m wondering…”, show members a message like this in places where they are likely to see it.

Helping People vs. Helping People Succeed

A recent community job ad sought someone with a ‘passion for helping people’.

This seems obvious. If a member has problems, a community manager with a passion for helping people can jump in and help them get answers. It’s picking someone up after they’ve tripped over.

Is that really who we want managing a community?

I think a more precise job advert would’ve read: “A passion for helping people succeed”.

Helping people succeed is different from just helping someone. It’s not a single interaction. It’s building a beneficial relationship over many interactions. It’s learning what people need and helping them satisfy their needs. It’s picking someone off the ground and connecting them with experts who will make sure they don’t trip again.

It may be just one extra word, but it means a lot.

Set Goals and Add To Calendar

I really loved this simple idea from Coursera.

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This feels like an idea we can pinch for communities too (especially superusers).

When members join, invite them to set a goal for themselves. It can be to visit on [x] number of days. Or it can be to achieve a certain rank, learn a specific skill, or read a set number of articles.

Then provide a simple means for members to add those times to their calendars.

I suspect for employee communities and superuser programs, this could be especially effective.

Measuring The Full Impact of Community Upon Its Members

In a recent (non-profit) client project, we’ve been looking for a way to measure the impact of community upon members.

Some aspects, like a sense of community or single-dimensional questions, don’t measure the full benefits of the community.

So we’ve been testing different methods and one has proven interesting; the Quality of Life scale.

The WHO version has different surveys. We’ve taken the 100-question version and reduced it down to a more manageable set of 15 questions. Right now we’re testing members when they join, members who have been members for more than a year, and a comparable set of members who haven’t joined.

I suspect this will be a better method of capturing the wide range of benefits of community participation across many areas.

Cleaning Up The Community (generally a good idea)

Babycentre is cleaning up their community.

This is a great idea and more communities should be doing it.

For mature communities, it’s easier to create a better community experience by removing content than creating more content.

It’s also better for attracting more search traffic (removing thin content), making popular content easier to find, and ensuring discussions are kept up to date.

The criteria for removing content is fascinating to read:

“The criteria for deletion depends on several factors, primarily:

  • Less visited posts with no new comments in the past 3 years.

  • Groups that, after removal of posts with no activity in the past 3 years, have 1 or no posts remaining.

  • Private groups with no members.”

Theoretically, you can remove any discussions which attract few visitors and participation. For some, this might mean removing thousands, potentially even millions, of posts over the years.

The problem with doing this is obvious too. It might affect member post-counts, points, rankings, and benefits they’ve earned.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. It just means you need to solve the problem of either ensuring members retain their current rankings or preparing members to lose them.

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