Who Really Deserves Appreciation?

Human moderators are the web’s worst kept secret. The web would be a cesspit without them.

Machine algorithms help, but it’s a person who takes the flagged content and decides if you should see it.

Moderators endure the worst of society to give us a shot at building communities.

Moderators can’t unsee the images we’ll never see. They make a thousand correct decisions every day and lose their job for one mistake. They have the lowest pay, worst working conditions, and worst career prospects of anyone in the space.

Moderators must read, categorize, merge, and resolve thousands of repetitive questions. It’s a tough way to earn a living.

If you feel compelled to show appreciation today, show it to moderators.

Better yet, take action. In any moderation contract you create add policies to ensure good working conditions, access to psychiatric care, a living wage, and reasonable job security of all moderators.

Believe me, it’s hard to build a sense of community when every 3rd post is a penis. Moderators don’t get enough respect or support. Let’s change that and make this day meaningful.

Announcing The Community

Grace asks for ideas for announcing a community.

You don’t need to announce a community because no-one is looking for a community. They’re looking to solve their problems.

So announce the problems you’re solving instead. Announce the big names who have joined. Announce the amazing events you’ve got coming up. Announce the innovative solution your community has just discovered.

And if you don’t have these yet, make sure you do before you announce anything.

You get one chance to make a first impression.

Prioritize Space By What You Want Members To Do

See Tableau’s community below.

Screenshot 2017-01-16 10.35.40

Featuring the weekly digest above recent content, top discussions, unanswered questions, and exploring the forum is a mistake.

It’s the least exciting (and engaging) thing on the page.

You prioritize your community homepage by what you want members to do. For most customer communities this priority should be:

  1. Search for an answer to your question.
  2. Ask a question.
  3. Explore the latest tips.
  4. Unanswered questions.
  5. Recent content.

‘Search and ask’ quickly helps people resolve their problem.

‘Explore the best tips’ helps people get more value from their products (so they keep buying them).

‘Unanswered questions’ is for the star contributors to share their knowledge.

‘Recent content’ is for those genuinely interested in the everyday community discussions (this is higher in passion-based communities).

P.S. Two more thoughts.

1) Number of questions answered, tips shared, or average speed of response is far more impressive than mentioning the number of users.

2) Newcomers don’t come to learn the tech side of community, they need the social side of community. How to avoid looking dumb and get faster answers to their questions.

Building Skills Of An Online Community Team

For everyone managing a community team…

To improve a community you can either improve the technology, processes, or the people. The first two get far more attention than the latter.

But if you improve the people…the technology and processes naturally improve too. It’s the best bang for your buck by far.

Set the expectation that each member of your team will acquire new skills. Detail what skills they will need. The Roundtable’s framework is a good place to start. Provide the time (and resources) to acquire new skills. Build a mutual understanding they will make mistakes along the way.

This last part is critical. Skills involve practice. Practice means mistakes.

Then put your framework together.

  • Engagement. Engagement skills begin with the ability to stimulate activity and effectively reply to questions. At the highest end, you want a recognized industry expert able to persuade a large following to take action which benefits both the brand and themselves. This requires more sector expertise, better relationship building skills, learning tools of persuasion, and developing systems for moderation/responding to questions with empathy.
  • Content. Content skills begin at creating content members may find useful or entertaining. Most community professionals can do this. At the higher end, you want a community manager who can increase conversation rates, search traffic, automation campaigns, write effective newsletters, and attract top industry experts to submit content on a regular basis. The ultimate goal is a self-sustaining system filled with high-quality content that achieves specific goals.
  • Technical. Technical skills begin with understanding how the platform works and diagnosing basic problems. At the higher end, you want a community manager to use data to optimize every part of the site, improve speed and functionality, and manage the entire vendor technology process. This means being able to select vendors, negotiate rates, improve design, manage implementation/maintenance etc…
  • Strategy. Strategy skills begin with pulling basic engagement data to decide what to work on. At the highest end, you want clear data-driven systems to allocate limited resources to achieve the highest possible ROI for the organization. This means the ability to set logical benchmarks, provide decision frameworks for the team, run multiple experiments simultaneously, building customized dashboards, and doing deep research into the audience’s unique needs.
  • Business. Community professionals probably struggle more with business skills than any other category. This begins with understanding how the community fits into the organization’s competing strategic objectives and communicating effectively (e.g. knowing who needs what information and when). At the higher end, you should be able to build a network of allies throughout the organization, attract and keep world-class talent on your team, and become a senior leader within the organization.

Don’t assume more experience leads to more skills. Performing the same, repetitive, role doesn’t do that. Instead, set clear quarterly targets for skills you want your team to acquire and check in each month to see how they’re getting on.

Once you create the right conditions, you might be amazed at how quickly your team improves.

The Allure of Off-Topic Discussions

You see it on many corporate facebook pages today.

The social media manager discovered lighthearted, off-topic, discussions boosted engagement metrics. Now most Facebook pages are almost entirely disconnected from any real strategy in the pursuit of engagement.

This happens in communities too. You discover off-topic discussions boost activity and pursue more of it – regardless of strategy.

But once most discussions are off-topic, it becomes almost impossible to attract newcomers. Newcomers are attracted to valuable expertise shared by topical discussions.

So you end up with a shrinking group of familiar regulars (and a steady churn to zero).

Off-topic discussions are a strategic tool to build a stronger sense of community among members. This sense of community should facilitate more shared expertise. If it doesn’t, why do it?

Or to put it simpler; if you can’t engage people in the topic, off-topic discussions won’t save you.

p.s. Final week to sign up for our Strategic Community Management course.

Personal Learning Goals

Simple tip, ask members to share their own learning goals.

This works on two levels.

  1. It forces members to think carefully about what they want to learn.
  2. It allows you and others a drop-dead simple way to please a member.

I think you can take this one level higher.

Update member profiles to let them identify current shared learning goals and include an area where they can display what they have learned in the past. This might be books read, events attended, courses completed, or experience acquired.

Each progression acts as its own trigger to update the profile. This, in turn, encourages them to share the profile elsewhere. This, in turn, triggers more people to update their profile.

Try it. Add a field to member profiles with a current learning goal. Notify the community. Add another field for previous goals/experience gained. See what happens.

Navigating Free Speech In Online Communities

A rare(ish) book recommendation, Free Speech – Ten Principles For A Connected World.

Should you allow members to write posts which might offend others? What if that offense leads to physical or psychological harm?

Do you adapt your response to what’s offensive to different cultures or do you force your culture upon others?

How do you build a harmonious community which avoids groupthink? Should you encourage minority views which the majority might find offensive? Should you follow what most people in your community want?

You have your own moral code, but it probably needs augmenting.

Every time you remove a comment (or person), you’re making a trade-off between free speech and public safety. Remove too many comments and you’ve ‘become Hitler’. Remove too few and you’re ‘enabling/profiting from terrorism’ (or worse).

No-one is going to give you the benefit of the doubt and you can’t please everybody. You have to make decisions and those decisions are going to upset people.

So, what should you do?

Read this book and decide where you want your community to be on the free speech vs. public safety continuum. Then communicate your position aggressively. Be consistent in applying that position.

You can’t predict every problem, but you can predict the types of problem and develop simple frameworks.

Did this person intend to cause offense? Is this offense the result of something an individual did (lied, cheated) or something the individual is (gender, race etc…). Is it offensive to a group identity or solely to an individual? Is this a minority opinion which deserves protecting? Or does it have the potential to cause real harm?

You can develop your own rules enough and teach them to others.

The past few years have taught us that free speech problems are going to become an increasingly bigger problem for the mega-communities. Best to become an expert.

Upcoming Courses, Events, And Consultancy Pages

Our strategic community management course begins in two weeks. If you want something meatier than the average blog post (and to learn the ins and outs of community management at an advanced level), I hope you will consider joining my team and 86+ community professionals at http://www.feverbee.com/scm.

On January 25th, myself and Lithium’s Joe Cothrel are hosting an exclusive event in San Francisco for 20 people working at the Director of Community (and above) level in large customer-support style communities. If you meet the criteria and want to join our exclusive session, send me an email (the event is free, but private).

I’ll be in Pamplona, Spain, from Feb 23 – 24 talking about the real value of online communities at the VIII International Congress of Rural Tourism.

The following week (28th February) I’ll be giving an advanced talk about using data to drive higher levels of engagement at the Game Developer Conference in San Francisco, USA.

Two weeks later I’ll be back in Palo Alto at the 2017 Summit of Customer Engagement sharing the results of our recent research outlining modern techniques B2B brands use to nurture customer advocates in communities.

And feel free to check out our new consultancy page too for more detail on how we work, what we’ve done, and how we might help you increase participation, solve your technology headaches, and train your team. You can still join our community too.

Make The Connections

This morning you have the unique and incredible privilege to make connections that can change lives.

You can make connections that overcome debilitating problems and achieve lifelong goals.

You can make connections that provide people with invaluable support at critical moments in their lives.

You can make connections that create new jobs or even new companies.

You can make connections that transfer and document skills for thousands, perhaps millions, of others.

You can make connections that become close friendships (or more).

If you ever find yourself feeling overwhelmed, beaten up, and the world is against you, I have a simple solution. Make more connections.

Building connections that change lives is the best part about working with communities. And it’s a tragedy we don’t spend anywhere near enough time doing it.

Not every connection will work. Most will fizzle and die. But it’s the few that do which will keep you energized and believing in the work you’re doing.

The best part? You don’t need your boss’ permission. In fact, you don’t even need to leave your computer right now. You just need to open a new window on your browser and start doing it.

What’s Happening In The Community Platform Market?

IDC released their report on the community platform market.

Read it for free here:

http://idcdocserv.com/US41576016 (Via Rachel)

…and then enjoy a great Christmas and New Year.

Using Existing Traffic As A Proxy Metric

Many people we speak with have either no idea of how fast the community will grow or a completely unrealistic idea of the rate of growth.

You might not be sure how many members will join your community when you launch, but you can put together an approximate guess.

You just need a few useful metrics:

  1. Unique clicks on most and least clicked-through tabs on the site (average monthly website traffic is a good proxy too)
  2. Number of mailing list subscribers.
  3. Average click-through rates to mailing list emails.

Now assuming you create a tab for the community on the site and promote the community through your mailing list, you can combine the traffic for each (between high and low estimates for tab-traffic) to put together a rough estimate of people that will reach the community landing page.

Now assume a 50% overlap between the two and cut the number by half. Then assume only 10% of those will click to register. Then only 50% of those will complete the registration process.

Your end number is your one-month benchmark. This number is often far less than most people imagine.

After the initial launch, you can usually assume a rate of growth consistent with the sustainable click-through rate on your site. Your rate of growth should speed up over time due to search and referral traffic – as per the community lifecycle.

The ‘One-Off’ Initiatives

Distinguish carefully between a one-off activity that spikes a particular type of engagement and a long-term process.

There is no shortage of one-off activities which will spike activity for a short amount of time. Discussions about politics, designed lurker days, and many off-topic discussions can spike engagement for a short amount of time.

But looking for spikes isn’t a strategic approach to achieve success over the long-term.

The novelty quickly wears off. Metrics return to what they were before. You’re still left facing the same problems. If you can’t run the same activity every week, you have to wonder if it’s worth running the activity at all.

A big win is different. A big win is a change in processes (i.e. how you approach tasks and allocate time) that achieves a very different outcome. A big win often begins from the mindset of ‘what can we collectively work towards that will benefit us the most?’

Building a definitive knowledge base for your field can be a big win, hosting a secret Santa is a big spike.

Sometimes you need a spike to blow-off steam and remind members you exist. Most of the time, however, you should be working towards the biggest possible benefit for your community’s collective energy.