Late September last year, we were invited to help a struggling superuser program for a SaaS support community.
The community team had spent the past year searching for a ‘motivation button’ they could push to increase participation. They had tried gamification and various rewards. This resulted in some spikes of activity, but it rarely lasted. The total volume of responses was low.
Recently they had been testing adding more people to the private group. As you can see, it didn’t work well. Each superuser was making an average of 1.5 contributions per week (barely more than an average member).
Our preliminary analysis showed just 8 of the 75 registered members were making 5+ contributions per week.
So (with their support) we overhauled the program.
First, we set up calls with all 8 of these members to tell them we were downsizing the program only to those who had really earned their place. They were told they were one of the few who made the cut.
Second, we also spent an hour or so with each of them to get a sense of what drove them, what they wanted to see in the program and what kind of rewards they wanted.
We discovered a few important things.
1) Their motivations (some they stated and some we ascertained) varied significantly. There wasn’t a single ‘magic motivation button’ we could push to increase participation from a large group of members.
2) From the eight, two loved seeing the impact of their work (helping others/contributing to the field), two loved getting to know the employees and feeling part of the group, one wanted to be better than another member, two were doing it to promote their own business, and one we struggled to get any read on.
We then worked with the community team to design a system to engage each of this group with these individual motivations in mind. This means treating each participant a little differently.
The two members who loved seeing the impact of their work were informed how many people their contributions had reached in the past week. We also put together a simple summary of any gratitude expressed by members and sent them a thank you card.
The two members who loved getting to know the employees were invited to participate in the community team’s secret santa and given direct lines to contact any member of the team at any time. If they didn’t reach out every few days, one of the community team would casually contact them to check in.
The two members who were doing it to promote their own business were invited to write long-form blog posts, speak (in a lightning round) at the company’s annual conference and give a monthly webinar to members tackling a common problem.
We didn’t link any of these benefits to a specific number of contributions (certainly if their contributions plummet we’ll probably stop doing them), but they are linked directly to our best sense of what motivates each member.
We also provided all 8 members of this group with best answers to the most common questions, direct contacts for any problems, and a few minor additional powers (being able to edit/correct problems in the initial questions).
The participation of 7 of the top 8 members rose by about 80% within the first month.
We also began gradually adding around one new member per week. Each member gets a call (or two) and we try to determine the specific motivation button we can push individually for each of them.
The community isn’t huge, so every single superuser has a huge impact. Previously employees answered 60% of member questions with superusers taking a small minority. Today superusers answer the majority of questions. You can see the impact below:
There’s still work to do. The no. of replies is a lot higher but still more volatile than we would like. We also need to ensure the quality of responses remains high and check member satisfaction has remained as high (and hopefully increased). But, small caveats aside, the results have been positive.
Understanding the Psychology Behind Successful Communities
When we talk about understanding psychology of community, we’re not talking about big broad theories.
We’re talking understanding members well enough to make direct, immediate, tactical steps you can take to increase participation and drive better results in your community.
It doesn’t matter how good your strategy is if you don’t understand psychology well enough to execute it. None of the actions we took above are hard to execute, but you have to understand members well enough to do them.
This week we opened enrollment for our Psychology of Community Course to help you understand things like member motivation and use it to help your members do what they want to do. I hope you will join us.
p.s. The fee for the course rises at the end of this week.
p.p.s Here’s an older talk I gave on Sense of Community in 2014. I believe it’s as relevant today as it’s ever been.