Showing which questions have a ‘best answer’ or ‘accepted solution’ is a big commitment.
If you aren’t committed to individually marking ‘best answers’ at the end of each day to most questions, don’t display ‘best answer’ on your homepage.
It doesn’t look good if only 1 out of 20 questions seems to have an answer
One of our clients, Geotab, recently launched a new community and is doing this very well. Most questions do receive a best answer within a day and this appears on the homepage.
However, as the volume of questions grows this will become more of a challenge.
If 20 questions are posted an hour instead of 5 to 10 per day, each visitor will only see the list of new, unanswered, questions.
- You have three solutions here.
- You can remove ‘answered’ from being shown on the homepage.
- You can increase the speed at which you answer questions (and mark them as best answers).
You display posts by latest activity rather than latest question. Latest activity means older posts with answers are as likely to appear as new posts without.
When you’re just getting started, it makes sense to show the latest questions over latest activity. Once you’ve hit maturity, switch to latest activity and keep working hard to make answers as best/accepted.
If you have a ‘general’ discussion category (remember topics are better), you can expect 50% or more of members to use it when asking a question (I’ve seen up to 90% fall into this category).
This is easy for them, but bad for you and SEO.
Instead of trying to think where a question belongs, members simply post everything in the ‘general’ category and shift the burden on you.
If you’re just getting started, having a single ‘general’ category isn’t always a bad idea. But once you’re past your first few hundred discussions, you need to think seriously about structure.
Your list of categories should usually:
- Cover all types of questions.
- Not overlap with one another.
- Not be overwhelmed with activity, nor struggle to sustain activity.
- Match existing categories for your knowledge base/documentation.
- Be no more than a dozen.
Once you come up with a list of categories, test them. Look at the questions you currently get (or grab a list from your support team) and see if you can easily place every question in a category.
If you need to think about it for five seconds, tweak the category system.
If you still need a catch-all category after this, add a ‘miscellaneous’ category at the bottom of discussions, not a ‘general’ category at the top.
A rising share of high-quality discussions today occurs in small, private, groups.
These are often hosted on WhatsApp, Telegram, Slack or another mobile-friendly channel.
The reasons are obvious.
- These apps are ‘in the flow’ of our current habits.
- Members get a sense of exclusivity from being accepted as a member.
- Every member is vetted and can be removed if they break written (or, more likely, unwritten) rules.
- The small group size fosters a deeper sense of trust.
- Members can speak openly without fear of their thoughts being leaked across the web.
In a growing number of our client community programs, we find ourselves setting up small off-site groups on WhatsApp just for top members, task-groups, or VIPs.
In fact, we’ve found small, off-site, private, groups on WhatsApp just for VIPs to be the only method that consistently attracts VIPs.
It might not take place on your platform and you might not be able to measure it, but I’d strongly advise giving them a shot.
It’s far better to be the host of your industry’s top figures than hoping for an invite.
Only a fraction of the people with a relevant question will turn to your community for help.
The vast majority go elsewhere.
They turn to their nearest colleague, Facebook friends, or their favourite search engine.
If they don’t find an answer there, they go to the website and look for an email address, a place to file a ticket, or (god forbid) a contact number.
The problem today is we spend far more time optimising what people do once they visit the community instead of getting more people to visit the community by default.
I cringe a little whenever I see someone asking for help fixing their iPhone from Facebook friends instead of Apple’s fantastic community of experts.
The biggest opportunity for growth today isn’t better optimising what people do when they visit your community, but driving more people to visit.
The biggest opportunity for growth today is to persuade your audience, customers, or followers that asking a community of people like themselves is the smart approach for every problem and frustration they have.
This requires more than just a single email announcing the launch of a community.
It requires a clear, ongoing, and persuasive campaign. We’re talking outreach and key messages on every possible channel.
It requires answering the question; how does your community help your members do something they’re already doing even better?
It requires creating a sense of identity about being the kind of person who knows it’s smarter to ask for help from expert peers instead of filing a ticket.
It requires making members feel a sense of duty to highlight questions they have so the person after them can learn as well.
It requires making members feel confident and encouraged to challenge experts with their questions – even if those questions have been asked before or might be relatively simple to answer.
This isn’t a launch campaign, it’s a maturity campaign. This isn’t something you do when you launch, it’s something you keep doing several times a year. The bigger your community is, the more evidence you can use to support your campaign.
The vast majority of your customer base doesn’t know your community exists. What are you going to do to change that?
Last week, Jono Bacon and I went deep on some of the most urgent and pressing issues in the community space today.
If you missed the webinar, you can catch it here (or below)
Buy ‘People Powered’ (with a discount!)
Jono has also provided webinar attendees with a limited-time discount code for his fantastic new book, People Powered: How Communities Can Supercharge Your Business, Brand, and Teams.
Upcoming Courses [Feb 24, 2020]
These courses are for people who want to take themselves and their communities to the next level. We’re going to breakdown what a great strategy looks like, what the process of creating one looks like, and how to understand and deliver exactly what your members want.
We’re keeping places limited to 30 people on each course. You can learn more about our courses and sign up here.
I’ve seen too many community redesigns backfire.
This usually happens when it becomes harder for members to scan the latest activity and find what they need.
In the design phase, it’s easy to overlook the impact of a single extra click. It only takes another second after all. But when it’s a single extra click for members who visit a thousand times a year, that’s a thousand more clicks they need to make.
For example, imagine your members are used to seeing a long list of new discussions when they visit the homepage. But now those discussions are behind seemingly-neat categories. Those extra clicks get annoying fast.
Likewise, if you add a large banner above those discussions, include large category icons members must scroll past, force members to complete their login details more frequently, prevent members replying by email, change how search works, or otherwise interrupt their usual flow, members will be upset.
Part of the problem is there are simply too many things your platform can do.
It’s tempting to try and squeeze them all above the fold. But this always does more harm than good.
They’re the ones that appreciate the homepage is for scanning and make it easy to search for content and browse the community without interrupting the scanning.
Even well-intentioned additions (i.e. a pop-up onboarding journey) can frustrate newcomers who want to ask a question right now.
Stop thinking about what you can add to your next community redesign and begin thinking about what you can remove (or hide and downsize).
You live in an ecosystem where your members might ask a question in your community or on a dozen or more other channels.
It makes far more sense to connect and support that ecosystem than fight it.
The Microsoft Azure community (below) is a great example.
Encourage your members to ask and answer questions on different platforms.
Automatically complete the tags for them to ask questions on each platform.
Assign badges and offer congratulations for members who answer questions on any platform which suits them.
You get far more value from supporting and integrating with your ecosystem than fighting against it. Consider designing a similar homepage for your community.
(reminder: Join me for my webinar with Jono Bacon tomorrow)
I’ve been impressed by ServiceNow’s Community recently.
It’s clean, well-designed, and answers a large number of questions every day.
The gamification system is worth exploring. Member profiles clearly feature the latest member achievements.
The community also has the best leaderboard system I’ve seen yet. You can easily find the top 10 members by points gained as we see below.
But most importantly, you can search the system by points gained in specific topics and forums (and by all-time and the past month). If I want to search for the top expert in a particular topic, I can easily do that and see their overall level.
There are several major benefits to this.
1) Every member can reach the top rankings. With so many months and so many topics/forums, every member knows if they make an extra effort they can become the topic expert in at least one part of the product/service.
2) It’s easier to find people who can help. You can get granular and find exactly the person you need to help.
3) You can validate someone’s expertise. Being a ServiceNow expert isn’t as useful as being the top expert in the particular issue you’re facing today. You can check the person giving you the answer.
This creates other opportunities too.
Top experts can get notifications of new or unanswered questions in their particular field of expertise. This gives them the first opportunity to solve them (and the motivation to solve them – scarce time).
You can also give awards and prizes for the top members each month or solicit feedback just from the top experts in each category each month.
If you let other departments treat your community like a noticeboard, don’t be surprised when members ignore your community like a noticeboard.
A single job advert alone won’t do too much harm.
But it’s rarely just a single job advert. Soon it’s a single job advert and a product announcement, corporate video, news about the new CEO, press release, and new year’s greeting etc..
The same thing that makes the community seem attractive to other departments (more attention) is the same thing that the community will lose by posting these announcements there.
A better approach is to set standards and adapt each approach for the community.
Instead of a job advert, offer community members $500 if they refer someone you eventually hire. Let them headhunt for you.
Instead of posting a corporate video, host a competition and invite members to create, edit, or critically evaluate your own videos.
Instead of posting news about the new CEO, host a live AMA with the new CEO exclusively for the community.
Instead of a press release, ask members for their opinions on the issues and let them chat with your experts.
Instead of a new year’s greetings, let members come up and share their priorities for the new year.
Whatever you do, don’t let the community become a dumping ground for everyone else’s content.
To start the new year with a bang, this Thursday (5.30pm GMT // 12.30pm Eastern) Jono Bacon and I will be sharing some of our top community management tips.
You might know Jono through his incredible books about online communities, his remarkable work in the developer relations and technology space, or The Community Leadership Summit which he’s been running for years.
I’ve been following Jono’s work for years and few people have his expertise, insights, and ability to articulate the present and future of communities as he does.
The webinar is completely free, I hope you will join us.
What: Online Webinar
Who: Webinar with Jono Bacon
When: 9th January, 2020 @ 5.30pm GMT // 12.30pm Eastern // 9.30am Pacific (sorry Australia)
Where: Click the link here to register.
If you haven’t bought a copy of his book yet, do so here.
See you in the webinar.
It’s easier to plan for failure than success.
But getting too much activity too soon is harder.
If you’re expecting to answer 10 questions per day and you’re getting 100, you have a problem.
If you don’t solve this problem fast, you’re going to disappoint members and have a community filled with unanswered questions.
Three things here.
1) Learn enough to answer the easy questions. You don’t necessarily need to be an expert (although it helps), but you do need to learn enough to be able to answer most of the basic questions yourself. If you’re not using the products you’re managing the community for, this will be tricky. If you need to get educated fast, have a plan for it.
2) Put community questions in the support team process. You need to build strong relationships with customer support/success teams to answer questions in the community as well as those received by tickets. The most effective approach is to work with senior leaders to make the % of answered community questions a support goal as much as it is a goal for support tickets/calls. If you need to scale up response rates fast, this is the only way to do it.
3) Provide overwhelming benefits to MVPs. You already plan to do this, but if you need to scale it up faster you need to provide overwhelming benefits. This doesn’t mean free gifts, it means giving MVPs overwhelming opportunities for influence, recognition, and feeling respected. You might ask the CEO to reach out personally, put MVPs in touch with product teams for feedback, or provide them with their own domain within the community to take responsibility for.
Ultimately, it helps to have a plan to educate yourself fast, processes to drastically increase support team participation, and provide overwhelming benefits to MVPs.
Don’t let your biggest success become your biggest failure.
Trying to stop spam in a community is like a politician trying to prevent heckling during a speech.
Sooner or later, it’s going to happen.
Far better to have a plan for how to respond to it (from the solo spammers to an automated attack of hundreds of spammers) than overreact to individual incidents of spam.
Pre-approving every member to prevent spam is a solution with a big price tag. It slows participation to a crawl.
A member with a question is frustrated and wants the answer now. If they have to wait hours (even days) to be approved to even ask the question, they will file a support ticket, go somewhere else, or use a competitor’s products instead.
Worse yet, beyond the obvious it’s as hard to predict who will spam. If you were watching the door at a political event, how would you know who would or wouldn’t heckle?
A better option is to ensure you’ve turned on all the spam safety features on your platform, enable members to report and remove spam (to a moderator approval queue), and stay vigilant.
If it becomes overwhelming, sure turn on pre-approvals if you must. But this should be a last resort, not a default option.