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.
You typically have two short and two long windows in the community development process.
It’s handy to know whether you’re in a short or long window to plan your next steps.
The Pilot Phase
The pilot phase, where you attract your first members and reach a critical mass of activity, needs to be achieved within 1 to 3 months (the sooner the better).
If you don’t manage to attract around 300 monthly posts, 100 active participants, with 10 new registrations per day, quickly, you lose momentum and activity dissipates to nothing. This is the approximate level when the community is capable of delivering value to members (knowledge, influence, and relationships) they can’t easily get elsewhere.
There are ways to shortcut the process (hosting large events is one), but it’s typically the result of countless conversations with hundreds, even thousands, of people in a short amount of time.
The Growth Phase
Post-pilot you enter a long window.
This is typically the phase between critical mass and the community having widespread internal support. It can last from months to years.
This is the time to grow the community steadily. Be clear and careful about the culture you’re creating. Define what behavior you will and won’t accept. Figure out where most members are coming from and nurture top members etc…
This phase runs from critical mass until the time you can’t handle the workload by yourself anymore and need further support.
The Community-Kill Zone
This is the immediate post-funding phase.
The kill zone is the time between when the community is so young, cheap, and full of potential, it’s not worth killing and when it’s proven itself indispensable. It’s typically when the community grows from a cost of less than $500 per day to more than $1k per day.
This is a short-window (typically less than 18 months). It’s the time when you need to work hard and fast internally to gain support and demonstrate value. Pure engagement metrics matter less than internal support here.
The Indispensable Phase
This is the long-window.
It’s when you work at an organization with widespread support and you need to maintain (and grow) that support, deliver increasing value to the community, and optimize your processes.
This window lasts indefinitely (but be careful about regressing backwards).
If you’re in a short window, you need to focus on the few core areas that matter and move fast.
If you’re in a long window, you need to make steady improvements across multiple areas.
If you’re like most community professionals, the answer is probably not many.
You’re learning on the job without a fixed plan of what skills you need to acquire (or when you need to acquire them).
No-one trained you to manage communities and you’re doing the best you can with the resources you’ve got.
You’re also too busy to find the time to master new community skills.
To help you out, we’re launching our community coaching programs.
These programs include our community accelerator, peer groups, live mentoring, and online courses.
The Community Accelerator Program
The Community Accelerator is your on-demand guide to mastering the community skills you need to rapidly develop your community.
It works in three steps:
1. Benchmark your abilities. When you join, you complete a short assessment to benchmark your current skills against defined standards. You get a scorecard and review where your focus should be.
2. Build your roadmap. Once you know your abilities, we help you set your goals. We recommend one big ‘level’ increase in skills per month. Each goal is assigned to a specific map. This creates your roadmap for your progress.
3. Get training to achieve your goals. Once you’ve set your roadmap, you receive private, specific, recommendations to acquire the skills you need to progress. You also receive private coaching from us and support from others who have been there and done it.
At the end of each month you receive a report showing your progress (you can share this with your boss if you like).
You also receive our estimate of your salary level (regionally adjusted).
Mentoring and FeverBee Peer Groups
If you’re remarkably self-guided, you can sign up solely for our on-demand community accelerator.
However, as our pilot program illustrated, most people need more than an on-demand tool.
They need someone to join them on the journey and ensure they take the steps to make progress.
Therefore, in addition to The Community Accelerator, you can also sign up for ongoing mentoring and private peer groups.
These peer groups are not the place for conversations about the difficult nature of community work, philosophising about the future of community, or sitting through webinars with guest visitors each week.
We’re not going to do any of that.
Our FeverBee Peer Groups are focused entirely on helping you set your career path, master new skills, and overcome the immediate challenges you’re facing right now.
Our FeverBee Peer Groups are for people who believe we need to treat community work with the same seriousness as software engineers treat theirs.
Our FeverBee Peer Groups are for people who aren’t too proud to admit they can be an even better community professional than they are today.
Are These Coaching Programs for Newcomers Or Veterans?
Our coaching programs aren’t an online course which serve the same content up to everyone regardless of their experience and situation.
Each program is customised to your current skillset and experience.
If you’re a newcomer, you might be guided on improving your engagement skills, creating content, and designing better systems for growing activity in the community.
If you’re a veteran, you might be guided on improving your business skills, measurement, growing business teams and scaling your systems.
Every person gets their own unique, personalised, customised, roadmap.
What Does This Cost?
The first cohort gets a discount rate:
- Community Accelerator (fully on-demand – $25 per month)
- Community Accelerator plus Mentoring and Peer Groups – $45 per month (I’d recommend this option)
- Community Accelerator plus Mentoring, Peer Groups, and On-Demand Courses – $750 per month
You’re welcome to join and leave at one month’s notice.
If you’re ready to up your game, we’re ready for you.
You can learn more sign up here.
Registration closes on Oct 1, 2019.
You can increase the response rate easily enough, just spend more time answering questions.
The problem is answering questions in a community instead of via customer support is nowhere near as valuable as encouraging members to answer each other’s questions.
This is better known as the organic response rate. It’s the % of questions answered by fellow members.
The only way to boost this metric (without sneakily removing posts) is by making members smarter and more motivated to help each other.
This is why a superuser program is typically the best approach to increasing the organic response rate. You’re supporting and training the very members who are eager to listen and have already indicated a willingness to help.
The more posts you receive, the more superusers you need. If the organic response rate is declining, you typically need more superusers or to do a better job supporting and motivating the superusers you do have.
This makes the organic response rate a far better measure of your work than most other metrics.
A lot of our work diagnosing communities is finding the ultimate cause of problems.
You can’t really improve a community until you know the ultimate cause behind a problem.
To find the ultimate cause, you need to dive deeper into your data.
Let’s imagine a typical problem, your posts are declining.
To diagnose this you have to go through a series of specific, binary, questions.
Question 1: Why Are Posts Declining?
For example, imagine the number of posts in your community has dropped by 25% in the past 3 months.
There are two possible causes behind this you can investigate.
- Members are posting less when they visit (measure # posts/# visits has dropped).
- Fewer members are visiting the community (# visits has declined).
By looking at the number of visiting members and posts per visit, you can soon identify the answer.
Let’s assume it’s the second answer. This means it doesn’t really matter what you do within the community as fewer people will see it anyway. This guides you into your next question.
Question 2: Why are fewer members visiting the community?
For example, let’s assume fewer members are visiting. This too leads you into two unique options.
- Members are visiting less frequently (visits/active members).
- The community isn’t attracting as many newcomers as it used to (visits from newcomers).
By looking at first-time visitors to the community and visits per month you will soon get to the answer.
Let’s assume it’s the latter (few newcomers). This means you’ve still got the same level of visits from regular members, but fewer newcomers are arriving to replace the churn.
Any activity you take to resolve this problem should be focused on newcomers.
Question 3: Why is the Community attracting fewer newcomers?
Again, you can see this as a binary option based upon whether fewer newcomers are reaching the site in the first place or whether fewer are completing the registration process.
This would tell you whether it’s an acquisition problem or a registration problem.
- Fewer members are arriving via search (search traffic).
- Fewer members are completing the registration process (registrations per visit).
If we assume the answer is the former, we now know too fix the problem we need to focus on search traffic.
Question 4: Why is search traffic declining?
Search traffic is fiddly but you’re working within two obvious reasons why search traffic has dropped. Either you’re not ranking as highly or fewer people are clicking on the terms you do rank highly for.
- Community ranks lower in search terms.
- Fewer people are clicking the relevant search terms.
Notice at this stage you can’t start to think of really specific resolutions to these problems. If we assume it’s the latter again.
We now know the answer lies in something which has changed about the people rather than about our website or Google algorithms.
We need to figure out what.
Question 5: Why are fewer people clicking on our search results?
Now we can get to the final question. Has the terminology our audience used changed (relatively rare) or has the popularity and interest in the sector/topic begun to decline?
The community is optimised for the wrong search terms.
The popularity/interest of the sector is in overall decline.
We might research metrics that show interest in the sector to identify if this is the solution and accept or eliminate based upon the results.
If we again, finally, assume it’s the latter we can make a really specific problem diagnosis.
Our 25% decline in post quantity over the past 3 months has been the result of a declining interest in the topic which in turn caused a decline of search traffic to our website, fewer registrations, and fewer newcomers to replace the natural churn of members.
Once we have a clear diagnosis, it’s obvious that the typical approaches we might’ve tried (more on-site engagement activities) would only have resulted in a short-term boost at best. The real solution, as you can see in the decision tree below, must be to expand the community to cover a broader array of topics which are of interest to the same audience.
If you want to see the full decision tree, click here:
We can interview and research our members to identify additional needs and expand the community to accommodate those needs.
Trust me, never try to improve a metric without being crystal clear about what has caused it to go up or down.