Decluttering A Community Experience (it’s not easy)

In one of my first consultancy projects (over a decade ago!), I interviewed two dozen members. The majority mentioned the community platform was ‘too cluttered’ and difficult to navigate.

My suggestion was to declutter it by “removing stuff”.

You can probably spot the problem. It’s a lot easier to make simple recommendations like this than to really get into the causes and solutions to clutter.

To declutter a community platform you usually need some combination of:

1. Undertake internal interviews to uncover why the site is cluttered in the first place (there’s usually competing internal interests).

2. Gather data on which areas are being clicked and why.

3. Interview members and use tools like hotjar to see how members progress through the community.

4. Use the above to prioritise every aspect/feature of the community.

5. Develop a criteria for which things can be removed and gain support for this criteria.

6. Identify the benefits of decluttering (i.e. what metrics will increase in exchange for the internal/external backlash you will get for removing areas of the community).

If you’re planning to improve your community by removing ‘clutter’, be warned clutter masks a level of complexity you need to dive into to reduce it.

P.s. Quick aside, 90% of the time, a ‘clutter’ problem is really symbolic of a ‘strategy’ problem. Sometimes stakeholders aren’t aligned on the value of the community so try to cater to multiple goals. Other times it’s not clear who the community is for and what each of those segments need.

You’re Invited To The Tripling Retention Rates Seminar

Over the past decade, the steps we’ve used to increase retention of members have changed significantly. We’re using an entirely different toolbox with our clients now than we did ten (or even five) years ago.

On Jan 12, I’ll be hosting a free live seminar to share a case study in how we used new techniques to triple a client’s retention rates. Some of these steps might validate what you’re already doing. Others, I suspect, will give you new ideas and insights you can use.

  • Who: Richard Millington (Founder, FeverBee)
  • What: Tripling Member Retention Rates Webinar
  • When: January 12, 2022 @ 5pm (UK), Noon (Eastern), 9am (Pacific)
  • Where: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_f6TWAN2xQNmR8IiNcpeAtg

What Will You Learn

During this webinar, I’m going to take you step by step through the actions we undertook to achieve the results below.

You’re going to learn that the majority of things we tried didn’t work. This probably includes many of the actions you’re taking today.

You’re also going to learn what does work. You will learn what we did and in what order to achieve the results above.

You can sign up here:

https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_f6TWAN2xQNmR8IiNcpeAtg

 

About The Topic vs. The Product

In my experience, it’s 10x harder for a brand to build a community about the topic than about the product. This is because you’re trying to create demand rather than satisfy demand. And creating demand is extremely hard.

Some organisations have succeeded here to various degrees (FitBit, Hubspot, and Monday.com spring to mind). But the successes are few and far between.

Yes, given the choice people probably do want to have industry-level discussions.

But (and this is a big but), why would they do it on your community and not Twitter? Why would they not do it on a platform which offers the maximum exposure with the least amount of effort? Why do it in a brand community where people will naturally be suspect of the brand’s motives vs. an independent community created by a passionate amateur?

It’s no surprise that the overwhelming majority of successful industry-related communities are founded by people without being employed by one of the major players in that industry.

This doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it means you have to leverage your unique advantages and tell a very different story.

This might be a story about exclusivity. Perhaps only the top people get to join and participate in your community. But that story limits what the size of your community can be. Perhaps you tell a story about focusing upon a particular niche that is underserved at the moment. But, again, that has natural size limitations.

Or it might be a story about influence and making change within an environment that is being supported, but not led, by the brand. There’s no shortage of stories to tell.

But, trust me, just giving an audience another place to have these kinds of discussions won’t be enough to get them to visit. The competition is far too fierce for that.

See you in the new year.

Explore New Tools

I have a confession, I only began using Calendly this year.

Before that, my (fab) assistant Clare handled scheduling. The process seemed to work well enough, so I didn’t change it for 6+ years.

But once I switched to Calendly, I realised how cumbersome the previous process had been. I’d connect Clare with the person(s) I wanted to speak with and she would negotiate a time that worked for everyone. The back and forth took time.

Simply sending someone a link with all my (and my colleagues’) available times (which show up in the recipient’s time zone) reduces all this down to a click or two. In hindsight, it’s such an obvious move.

It makes you wonder what obvious moves you might be missing.

I recently recommended exploring a Zapier integration to an acquaintance. She replied, “I don’t have time to explore new tools”.

Understandable perhaps. But keeping your head down and ignoring the technology changes all around you is also a sure-fire way to become a digital dinosaur. Staying abreast of technological developments would appear to be a pretty important part of the community building process.

p.s. Maybe the reason you’re so busy is that you never invest the time to become more efficient?

Turning It Into Actions

About five years ago, I began to notice a trend in our follow-up calls with past clients.

About half the clients were executing on the majority of the strategy and half weren’t – one or two had hardly executed any of the strategies they had paid for (and enthusiastically approved).

So what was going on?

The answer was half didn’t have the systems in place to execute a strategy well.

They couldn’t turn the steps listed into the strategy into an immediate action plan (i.e. who will be doing what and when). No one was assigned to execute the tactics listed in the strategy by specific dates. And not only do you need to give the member accountability, but also the training, support, and confidence to ask for help when they need it.

Strategic success only happens when the strategy gets executed. We learned we had to not only complete the strategy but guide the implementation as well. This was such an important insight, in fact, that we made the final lesson of our Strategic Community Management all about execution.

I was reminded again last week just how important great execution is. If you make it a habit, you’ll reap the rewards.

SEO Considerations In Community Migrations

Worrying if a platform migration might affect your search traffic is like worrying if changing schools will affect your childrens’ exam results.

It’s going to have an impact, for sure. But whether it is positive or negative depends entirely on where you move and how you move. The basics of redirects don’t need to be covered here, a few things to look out for though:

1) Ignore the first few weeks’ of data. In the initial months after a month, search data can fluctuate considerably. It often begins much higher (or lower) before reverting to a baseline. It’s that baseline that matters.

2) Category titles matter. If you change the category titles or move to (or from) a platform with URL friendly links (i.e. /topic/discussion-title) to/from one without (i.e. question/0D52J00008kXTjJSAW) expect a big change.

3) Watch out for images. Migrations tend to break images – lots of broken images aren’t good.

4) Watch out for thin content. Some platforms by default create multiple pages to convey information that a previous platform might have used just one. For example, where one platform might have a single profile page, another might have distinct pages for badges, messages, about me all connected to the profile page. This is known as ‘thin content’.

5) Subdomains vs. subfolders. There are differing opinions on this, but if you’re moving a community from a subdomain to a subfolder, you should expect a big impact and tread carefully. Subdomains are generally better for the user experience and organisation, subfolders are often thought to be better for SEO.

Either way, get experienced help and tread carefully.

Task Completion Rate (better than NPS score)

I’m not a huge fan of using NPS to measure a community.

NPS is a (rather simple) tool to measure advocacy. But most communities aren’t designed for advocacy. It also has some rather obvious problems for some companies. It’s affected by too many variables outside of the community team’s control.

I prefer optimising for two related metrics.

The first is task completion rate. This is a simple pop-up (or top navigation survey bar) which asks members to answer three questions.

What brought you to the community? (drop-down list)
Were you able to complete your task? (yes/no)
If not, why not? (open comment box)

I’ve found this data infinitely more useful than any NPS measure.

You can also combine this with a CSAT score:

How satisfied were you with your community experience today? (1 to 5)

By combining this data you can start to see which topics and areas need the most improvement. It gives you both a standardized score you can work to improve each month and specific instructions of what to improve.

If you’re still stuck for what to measure, this would be a good place to start.

Automation Rules vs. Member Journeys

The majority of automation rule systems I’ve seen are an exercise in wishful thinking. They assume members are far, far, more interested in the community than they are (and don’t receive dozens, even hundreds, of emails per day).

More critically, they assume:

  • Members want to go through a journey (and not just get information and leave).
  • Members open emails they receive.
  • Members read the emails they open.
  • Members click the link to take action based upon the emails they’ve received.
  • Members take the desired action after they’ve clicked on the call to action
  • And members remember the emails they’ve received.

Looking at a couple of onboarding journeys at the moment, the click-through rate of a single email seems to vary between 0.5% and 3%. The odds of anyone successfully completing a 5+ email onboarding series are minuscule. Put simply, they’re not worth the time.

A better approach is to begin by mapping out the current journey (or journies) most members have (here’s an example). Now systematically go through each phase of that journey and look to optimise it stage by stage. The things that have the biggest impact are often in the areas you least expect.

In my experience, the biggest wins are in places like:

  • Improving the technical SEO of the site.
  • Reducing information required on the registration form (while adding affirmation messages).
  • Ensuring members receive a fantastic response to their first post.
  • Quickly ensuring newcomers find the most useful content in the community after joining.

It’s far better to improve the experience members are currently having than persuading them to have a different experience.

Standards Slip Slowly At First, Then Rapidly

A while back, a concierge of my apartment building was caught breaking into a neighbour’s apartment and rummaging through their possessions.

It’s easy to take necessary disciplinary measures against the individual and consider the matter settled.

It’s far more effective to look at the system which enabled this to happen. Once you look at the system, you can begin to notice how the standards have steadily fallen when enabling this to happen. This includes:

  • Salaries of staff members not keeping pace with inflation. This both encourages theft and high-rates of churn.
  • Failing to replace staff members quick enough leading to stressed out staff.
  • Deteriorating relationships between staff and residents (due to the above two factors).
  • Shortcuts were increasingly taken to save time (notably with spare keys being kept in the mailroom accessible by all staff instead of locked in a safe accessible only by the building manager).
  • Not undertaking a proper background check on staff.
  • Failing to properly follow-up on past concerns by residents of missing valuables.

Sure, it was the rogue concierge who committed the crime, but it was a slow erosion of high standards which created the environment for this to happen. Simply recruiting a new staff member doesn’t solve the underlying problem.

This happens in communities too. A major ‘blow-up’ is rarely the result of a single unexpected incident. It’s almost always the result of standards that have declined rapidly over time. These standards often begin with recruiting but continue with how members are engaged, treated, and concerns acted upon.

It’s easy to dismiss the minor things, like grumbles from members about how they’re treated. But these are usually the first warning signs that your standards are slipping. Better to deal with it now than later.

Creating A Mission And Then Getting Out Of The Way

I really admire AWS re:Skill.

The site looks great, it functions well and it’s great if you want to get support to learn AWS.

It’s also entirely built and managed by the AWS user-group community.

The site is a testament to the power of supporting a community to do what they want to do. We all preach the importance of letting the community lead the way (and handing over control to the community). But it’s far, far, harder to actually do it. At some point, members will want to do something you disagree with.

So perhaps it’s best to decide what’s more important. Would you prefer to have members stepping up to lead and creating amazing resources for one another – even though it will cause issues from time to time?

Or…would you rather none of the above?

Prioritising Which Community To Build Next

There are multiple occasions where you have the opportunity to build multiple types of communities.

You might be launching a pilot program and trying to decide what topic to launch first.

You might be considering expansion to new languages and feel unsure which language to pick first.

You might be considering launching a new group and deciding which group to target first.

There are two major considerations here. The first is whether you have strong support for this already (i.e. are you fully resourced for a new community/group?) or do you have to prove results to get the resources (90% of the time it’s the latter).

If you have the support you want, target the biggest win. If you don’t, target the quickest win.

For the quickest win, refer back to this model here.

Find the group which has the combest combination of:

a) The biggest-sized audience.
b) The audience with plenty of existing questions/problems to solve.
c) Has limited competition for members to solve those problems today.

Should You Automatically Close Old Discussions?

It’s fairly common to automatically close discussions after they have gone a few weeks (or months) without a response.

The benefit of this is it keeps the community fresh.

It’s tiring to see newcomers responding to discussions that haven’t received an update in several years. The common case is the member arrives via search to an outdated post, tries the advice provided, and points out it no longer works.

If the discussion was closed for new posts, that’s a good indicator that it’s out of date (or the matter is ‘settled’). It would also encourage the newcomer to create a new post that might solicit more recent, up-to-date, information.

The downside of this approach is you’re likely to get a lot more repeat discussions on the same topic. It can be exhausting for members to repeatedly answer the same questions.

So, what’s the best option? In most cases, it’s usually best to close discussions that haven’t received a new update in several weeks. For extremely large communities where repeat questions would be a problem, it’s probably best to try and have ongoing, definitive, threads (and up-to-date knowledge-base articles), which members can reply to.