Everyone responsible for engaging communities has a decision to make.
Do you persuade members to come to you or do you go to them?
Do you spend your time trying to get people to participate in your platform? Or should you engage members where they are?
The former is great when it works. It enables you to have a lively community on a platform which you can completely customize to your needs.
The problem is it’s becoming harder to do this. It’s painful to spend thousands (even hundreds of thousands) of dollars developing a hosted community experience and struggle to get people to use it.
The latter approach is equally precarious. You can spend countless hours building communities on platforms over which you have little-to-no control. The rules might suddenly change or audiences might quickly change their preferences. Your account might be closed down with little justification.
Align With Strategic Trends
As you know, we always align strategies to current trends.
The trends here are quite clear. The popularity of hosted platforms is declining and the popularity of social media platforms continues to rise.
No matter what you do, there is going to be a sizable chunk of your audience who won’t engage on your community platform. As time goes by, this chunk is going to get bigger.
Test this on yourself if you like. How much time do you personally engage in a hosted brand community that isn’t your own? Can you even recall the last time you did it? You’re not alone.
We need an approach which aligns with current trends.
A New Mindset for A New Era
The old mindset was to create a central platform and drive everyone to it.
This mindset is outdated today.
The new mindset is to engage members where you can offer and gain unique strategic value.
Community is less about a destination you host and more about an experience you facilitate.
Where Should (and Shouldn’t) You Engage Members?
Before we get into the minutia of platforms, let’s remind ourselves of strategic thinking.
Thinking strategically means recognizing opportunity costs. Time spent on one platform is time you can’t spend on another.
A general doesn’t spread troops evenly across every battlefield. They decide which battles are worth fighting and then allocate their resources to win those battles decisively.
Our goal is to find the few places where it’s worth building a community outpost and commit the resources required to deliver a remarkable experience.
The battle we fight is the battle for our audience’s attention. We win it by delivering the value they urgently need that no one else can provide.
The Decision-Making Framework
We’ve summarized our thinking about whether to engage on a new platform below.
Much of this is self-explanatory, but it’s worth going through each decision.
1) Where Does Your Audience Participate?
It shouldn’t be difficult to discover where audiences participate today.
Create a list of all the platforms you think or know your audience engages in today. List specific accounts/channels rather than broad platforms (i.e. r/brandquestions vs. ‘Reddit’).
Interview a couple of members to see if they suggest any others which aren’t on your list.
Then compile this into a survey you send out to your audience.
Whenever a member selects an answer, the survey should prompt them to explain why they participate in that channel. You can suggest attributes if you like.
This gives you both the list of potential places to consider and the exact value members want when they go to each.
2) Can We Offer Unique Value?
Adding another voice to the conversation doesn’t magically make it a better conversation.
It doesn’t matter how popular any platform is if you can’t offer unique value by hosting or engaging in an outpost there.
Common examples of brand value here might include:
- Offering a verified/validated source of information amongst rumors and chaos.
- Providing exclusive information and insights.
- Answering questions others don’t have the ability to answer.
- Supporting leaders with more resources.
- Providing a space where you truly listen to member feedback and act on requests.
This isn’t a comprehensive list, but you get the idea. If you’re going to be on another platform, you should be able to use your unfair advantage to offer unique value members can’t get from anywhere else.
(Note: You must be offering unique value members urgently want. If it’s not abundantly obvious they want it, don’t be there).
Resource: How To Benchmark Your Community
Resource: What Is Your Unfair Advantage?
3) Can We Gain Unique Value?
You should only participate in places which offer you unique value.
If you’re simply engaging with the same audience in another destination, what’s the point? You’re just working twice as hard for the same outcome.
Unique value typically includes some combination of:
- Access to unique audiences. The platform offers you access to audiences which are difficult to reach through existing channels.
- Access to unique mindset. Third-party channels are great for getting the real story from members b/c they feel like it’s their space versus a company-hosted space.
- Unique functionality. This is the ability to deliver information in unique and valuable ways (think YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, event hosting platforms, etc.) which support your community’s goals. Plenty of things are unique, but do they help you achieve your community’s and organization’s goals?
- Improving brand perception. Will participating improve your brand perception? If all your competitors are on a particular platform. The opposite could also be true. it might make sense for you to be on a platform before competitors are. Sometimes it improves brand perception to be a pioneer (think Adidas on the Metaverse).
The critical lesson is you should increase your reach, relationships, or perception as a result of being on these platforms. If you’re not achieving one of these goals, consider carefully if being on the platform helps or hurts your outcomes.
Remember, it is expensive to host or engage in any platform at a high level. If you’re not going to get unique results from it, don’t do it.
4) Is The Platform Rising Or Falling In Popularity?
For most platforms, you have a choice about whether to host a community there or participate in one. Remember participating in a platform is a lot easier than hosting a community. The latter is a far bigger commitment of resources. But you have to participate the right way right or face the consequences.
Three is a simple framework you can use here. If a platform is rising in popularity, you might want to invest the time to build an outpost there and really commit to it.
On some platforms, you can simply see and track the level of engagement over time. At other times, you can look at public statements of user engagement to get a good picture. Pew Research is also a good source.
However, if a platform is falling in popularity, you probably want to spend far less time on it. You probably don’t want to invest too much time in a platform that’s falling in popularity.
Resource: Popularity of Social Media Engagement
How To Use Each Outpost
Once you have a broad idea of the right platforms to engage, it’s important to engage in each the right way.
You can see common examples of this here:
This varies a lot by the type(s) of community you’re building.
Two different types of community communities can use the same platforms in very different ways.
Test the platform with ideas before making a full commitment to it.
Don’t Try To Use New Outposts As Inbound Recruiting Tools
In theory, you can create an outpost on popular platforms like Twitter, Reddit, YouTube, etc. and use it as a source of new members for your existing community platform.
In practice, this is not going to happen – at least not at a level that makes the endeavor worthwhile. Attempts to use platforms as a recruiting tool will almost certainly end in disappointment for both you and your audience.
Your audience(s) have chosen a platform for a reason. That reason isn’t the result of a lack of awareness of other platforms. It’s simply a reflection of their preferences.
When you try to persuade people to move from their preferred platform you’re going to cause frustration. It’s far better to accept the preferences of your audiences and create the best possible experience you can on that platform.
New Platforms Require New Metrics
You’ve probably already spotted the problem with the above. You can’t use your current measurement system on new platforms.
For starters, this is often an apples-to-oranges comparison. How one platform counts a member, view, or action is different from another. It’s not an even playing field.
The far bigger problem is most of the platforms which will let you build outposts are designed for advertising. You often only get a small sample of aggregated metrics which reflect the needs of advertisers.
If you’re going to build an outpost on a platform you need to accept you’re measuring the success by the metrics available to that platform. Almost every platform offers some method of seeing views, posts, and comments.
You need to measure growth in the metrics available.
To get started, here are some unique steps.
- Use interviews and surveys to determine where your audience participates today.
- Evaluate the unique value people want and get from each platform.
- Analyze if you can offer unique value to the platform.
- Determine if you can get unique value from the platform.
- Research if the platform is rising or falling in popularity.
- Use our framework to determine how you might engage each platform by your community type.
- Five Brand Community Building Models That Succeed (And Why)
- How Brands Should Participate In A Community
- Popularity of Social Media Engagement
- How To Benchmark Your Community
- What Is Your Unfair Advantage?
- Which Platforms Should You Engage On?
- Primer: Strategic Thinking
- The Unique Value of Each Community Platform
Should you launch your new community on a forum-centred platform?
It depends on whether you’re building a customer support community or not.
If you are, great! Go ahead and use a forum-centred platform.
If you’re not, then the picture is a little murkier.
Forum Use Cases Have Slowly Narrowed Recently
The number of community use cases for which forum is the best solution has steadily narrowed over the past decade or so.
Let’s begin with the five primary uses cases of community:
As you can see above, these are:
- Success (or practice).
- Peer/friendship groups.
- User groups.
Ten years ago, a forum might well have been the best platform for all of the above. However, new platforms have increasingly emerged to better cater to unique use cases than a forum can.
What Makes Forums Unique?
We’re so familiar with forums we don’t often reflect on what makes them unique.
The answer is simple. Forums create pages. Lots and lots of pages!
Each discussion (or topic/question) is essentially a new page created at the request of a member. Someone with the answer responds and this answer is documented for others to find. The more pages there are, the more people are likely to find the answer to their question before having to use any other channels.
This is the primary reason why forums deflect support tickets, but chat channels don’t. They’re not indexable. This makes forums much less like chat rooms and more like Wikipedia. Forums won’t wow you aesthetically, but, like Wikipedia, the technology is reliable and it’s easy to find what you want.
A forum is the best tool for documenting the collective experiences of a vast number of customers in a searchable database containing thousands, even millions, of answers.
So is a forum still a good fit for your community or not?
The answer primarily depends upon whether members creating thousands of pages of searchable information would be a great help. If you’re selling simple, retail, products, the answer might be no. But if you’re selling a complex technology product, the answer might well be yes.
Why Forums Aren’t Usually The Best Fit For Customer Success Communities
Not long ago, it was common to launch a forum for members to proactively share their advice about a product or topic. That sometimes still happens today, but it’s becoming rarer than before.
These non-support communities have a remarkably high failure rate. The problem is they rely upon a small group of experts willing to share their advice. But if you’re an expert in a topic today, you don’t want to share your wisdom in a forum.
Expertise gets buried in forums. Each new post pushes the former off the page. Experts want to share expertise in a place where they can build their reputation, grow their audience, and exercise some measure of control. They can then leverage this platform for tangible and intangible rewards.
Social media platforms (including those like YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Substack and Medium) are now the preferred choice for experts to share their knowledge. They offer better tools and the grand prize; the opportunity to go viral.
The best approach for brands is encouraging members to share expertise in places which suits them and then aggregating/promoting it within a central location.
But What About Reddit?
This approach works well when the potential knowledge gap between newcomers and experts is vast – and thus the number of experts is low. However, when the knowledge gap is low when someone can be considered an expert in months rather than years (i.e. most video games), there is another very powerful option – Reddit.
After some early stumbles, Reddit has become powerful by offering a hybrid forum/chat experience. In Reddit, the best expertise naturally rises to the top through the votes of other members.
This presents an enticing offer. If I share a detailed article on a forum, it will be chronologically buried by each new post that appears – regardless of quality. But if I share it on Reddit, there’s a chance it might attract a lot of votes and spread like wildfire.
While other platforms have the mechanisms of voting Reddit (Discourse), none has yet been able to replicate the culture of voting like Reddit.
Peer Groups and Communities of Interest
The rise of group messaging apps (Slack, Teams, Discord) along with the growth of Reddit and Facebook Groups have pretty much swallowed the peer group market (along with the communities of interest). A large number of legacy forums remain, but you will struggle to launch a new one in the modern era.
The problem here is simple. Other platforms have made it easier to chat. By chat, we don’t mean someone asking a question and another person responding. We mean the places where people casually hang out without having to discuss a defined question.
Forums were always clunky substitutes for real-time discussions. They required someone to come up and post a topic of discussion. But then in the real world, conversations flow seamlessly (and effortlessly) from one topic to the next. It’s not surprising that group messaging apps (along with Facebook Groups) have swallowed this market whole. They make it easier to do that.
The standard argument against these tools is once these groups become big, it becomes impossible to follow the conversation. The problem with this logic is most members aren’t trying to follow the conversation. They’re happy to dip in and out whenever suits them – just like they do when they meet their friends.
Until fairly recently, most user groups relied upon a forum experience. But they always faced the same dilemma; outside of events, they struggled to sustain any meaning level of conversation.
Often they become repositories for event recordings and notices of upcoming events. This was never the right fit for the functionality forums offer.
This situation was ripe for new entrants and platforms like Bevy (and Meetup) have successfully stepped taken the lead here. They provide better event experiences for members. They recognise that people want event-first, discussion-second experiences. They deliver the key functionality that members want better than forum-centred platforms ever could.
Advocacy / Marketing Use Case
There are some great examples of forums being leveraged to attract new customers or drive sales (Element14 and Sephora). By bringing people into an environment you control, you have plenty of opportunities to create community-generated revenue.
However, you might struggle to find many examples created this decade. The problem is these communities are essentially communities of interest. Most audiences prefer to have these discussions on more modern experiences like Reddit or social media than older forum platforms. People care far less about finding the answer to a question than learning ‘what’s popular right now’. Social media and popularity-driven platforms are simply better for that.
And if the goal is to drive advocacy, there are often simply better platforms for that than forums. Platforms like BazaarVoice, Olapic, Influitive, and others all make it easier to work with brand advocates, create user-generated content, and attract new customers than a forum does.
The Strategic Implications
Our strategy philosophy is always to align our clients to current trends. If you don’t you’re forever fighting an uphill battle. That’s why it’s essential to identify the trend and then determine how best to align with that trend.
The major trend here is the shifting preference of members to use whichever technology best serves their immediate needs (as opposed to a forum-centred platform which supports all of them).
Strategic Implication 1 – Select The Platform Which Aligns With The Trends
If you’re launching a community, ignore the outdated dogma and select the platform that best aligns with future trends.
The above isn’t written as a comprehensive list. By all means, do your research or ask us for help. But make sure you aren’t beholden to ancient dogma or vendor-driven advice about which platform to select.
Pick the platform that best satisfies your use case.
Strategic Implication 2 – New Use Cases Require New Platforms
If you’re shifting or broadening your community’s goal, you probably need to shift or expand the platforms you’re using too.
Many efforts to adapt a forum for a new use case fail because it’s not aligned with member preferences. Members have habits for your current forum and preferences for the behaviours you want them to perform – which involve other platforms.
Just because a use case is enabled for that platform (i.e. user groups, knowledge base, events) doesn’t mean members want to use that platform to do those things. Community vendors have tried (and largely failed) to incorporate more use cases into their platforms. They can replicate a lot of the functionality – but it’s never as good as a platform dedicated solely to that use case.
As you expand your use cases, be prepared to expand the number of platforms you use too.
For a while now, our community intelligence team has been helping clients gather and analyse data to definitively prove the value and success of their community.
If you’ve ever bemoaned that you “don’t have the data” you want, I would wager a reasonable amount you haven’t developed a specific enough process to get the data you need.
For example, a client recently mentioned they had waited years to have their data team tell them the impact of the community upon retention. But they’ve never once tried to build the process to get that data.
Once you’re up to the professional and elite level, it helps to be much more informed about community data and what you need to do to get the information you need to deliver terrific results.
Every project is different, but this is our standard process for clients.
There is a collaborative process and there are three stakeholders in this example.
1) The consultants. These are the consultants at FeverBee (but could just as easily be community managers on your team). They bring the client and community expertise to the table.
2) The data analysts. These are the analysts at FeverBee (but they can be the data people in your organisation). They bring analytical expertise to the table.
3) The IT team. These are tech experts on the FeverBee team or (more frequently), the client’s IT team who provide access and may help extract the data.
You may want to add more stakeholders to your process (e.g. your boss and other stakeholders).
Not every step is relevant to every project. Sometimes, for example, you don’t need to do fancy data modelling when you can get the data through your platform or community intelligence tool. So remove the steps you don’t need in the data analysis process.
What’s critical here is the right people are brought into the project at the times when they add value and kept out of the process when they don’t.
Defining The Question
We’ve often seen community professionals ask questions like:
“Show me the impact of the community upon retention rate”
This sounds reasonable, but actually, it’s an impossible question for an analyst to answer.
There isn’t a metric labelled ‘impact’ to compare against a metric labelled ‘retention’ in a database. To create those metrics the analyst would have to know what you mean by ‘impact’ and ‘retention’.
The most critical part of this entire process is defining a specific question that an analyst can answer.
If you don’t define a good question, you will never get good data.
This sounds dead easy. But, trust me, having recently gone through this process in a room full of seasoned community professionals, I suspect we all need help with it.
The Business Questions
Our first step is to speak to the client and gather as much context as possible about the background and the desired outcomes.
This obviously means finding out the background of the community, why it exists, what goals it serves etc…We’ve spoken a lot about this before, so will skip it here.
Next, we uncover how the data will be used.
Who will see the data? Is it going to just one person or will it be shared widely? What kinds of decisions will be made looking at the data? What format does the data have to be in?
For example, there is a big difference between providing an answer to a one-time question (e.g. how many leads has the community generated?) and creating a methodology which enables the client to track this data point month by month.
The answers to these questions inform the initial business questions our consultants develop.
Some typical questions here might be:
What is the impact of community upon retention?
How many of our leads are sourced from community?
Does community impact our product?
At this stage, we’re not trying to define what these terms mean. We’re simply putting together a list of questions to answer.
Define The Answer
Now next to each question or decision, we want to know what a good answer looks like.
We’re not speculating on the desired value here – that would be cheating – we’re simply trying to estimate what the format and structure of an acceptable answer might be.
I.e. We don’t want the client to say “We want to show a $2m+ savings in customer support”. We want the client to say “I want to be able to say what is the average number of tickets deflected per month in a community”.
We talked about this in our recent post on finding the perfect metric, but it’s important to note there isn’t a single way to investigate a question.
You can see the four common approaches below and the type of answers they provide:
Notice that each option involves trade-offs between the time/resources required and causation or correlation.
Sometimes we encounter a stakeholder who says “just give me the answer”. In this case, we put together example answers in each of the four options and ask which method they prefer.
By the end of this process, you should know the business question, the desired type of answer, and the broad methodology to take.
Now we convert the business question to a data question.
Define The Data Question
Now comes the critical part of the process. We need to turn the business questions into data questions
If we get this wrong, we won’t get the answers the client needs.
As we mentioned before, there isn’t a metric labelled ‘impact’ to compare against a metric labelled ‘retention’ in your database. Every term in the business creations we created needs to be clearly defined.
How you create and define terms can lead you to completely different outcomes.
Here is a simple example.
Is the community below growing, shrinking, or approximately staying the same size?
I asked this in FeverBee’s community data workshop recently.
The room was evenly split between the three options.
The same people are looking at the same data and drawing completely different conclusions!
Isn’t that incredible?!?
This happens because people interpret the question very differently. Some look at the increase in recent months and see growth. Some look at the decrease since its peak and see decline. Some look at a broad variation around the mean and conclude it’s staying the same.
This is why community expertise is required, not just a good analyst.
Why Community Expertise Is Required
Let’s use the question above as an example.
An analyst might try to calculate if the community is growing by looking at the number of registered members. But anyone with community expertise knows that’s the wrong metric to use because people don’t tend to delete their accounts. So the number can only go up.
The community could be experiencing a rapid decline in activity and the analyst would still conclude it’s growing as there are more registered members than before.
Likewise, the timeline matters too. I once saw a data analyst gather data since day 1 and conclude it had grown. Well, duh, anything above the zero members the community had on launch day is growth!
Also, imagine a major global event (like a pandemic) happened during the period above. It might be obvious to you not to compare present data to peak or trough pandemic data. But it might not be obvious to an analyst.
This is why you (the person with community expertise) need to refine the question before you give it to a data analyst. Otherwise, you’re leaving too many decisions in the hands of someone who doesn’t have the expertise to answer them.
Refine The Question
This is why we refine the questions in data terms which also reflect our expertise in the topic. To evaluate growth, we might refine the question to:
“Is the total number of active participants over the past 3 months greater this year compared with the same period last year?”
Notice how we’re using community expertise to set a question which:
- Uses a metric which best represents growth or decline.
- Uses a 3-month average to avoid random fluctuations.
- Uses year-on-year data to avoid seasonality.
This gives an analyst a clear and specific target to hit. They shouldn’t have to make any critical decisions.
Most importantly, these are all metrics you can easily create from existing data or find in your database.
Example: ‘What is the impact of community upon retention?’
Let’s go back to the retention-based question from before. We can break this down into steps.
Step 1: Define ‘Community’
It sounds simple, but defining who we’re studying here matters and we have some decisions to make.
Do we include anyone who has ever joined the community (even if they haven’t visited in years and never made a contribution)? Can we honestly claim the odds of them staying with a company were impacted by community? If the answer is ‘no’ (and it should be), then where do we draw the line?
Do we only include people who are regularly active members (even if can only generalise the result across active members)?
This isn’t binary and there are other options too. In this case, we might agree that you need to have visited the community at least three times (=>3) in the past year for the community to have influenced your likelihood of remaining a member. Again, this will exclude the majority of people who have visited the community (and means we can only generalise the results across this audience).
Step Two: Define ‘Retention’
Retention can mean many different things.
Do we look at product usage, annual renewal rates, monthly renewal rates etc?
What if the people who purchase the product aren’t those who use it or participate in the community?
What if you sell subscriptions to an organisation that enables access for hundreds of staff – some of whom visit the community when they need help?
We first check if clients have an existing definition we can use. If not, we work with them to craft the definition of retention.
In this case, we might say retention occurs when an organization renews their annual subscription.
Step Three: Check with the analyst
Now check the analyst understands the terms. They should now be able to find (or easily create) the two metrics above and begin studying them. In this case, they will look at the relationship of people who visit the community >3 times each year (compared to those who don’t) and organizations who renew their subscriptions (or not).
There are dozens of ways to define a term
How you define the terms will completely change the outcome you will get. The people with community expertise need to be doing this – not the analyst.
This is just one of many possible definitions. Other examples include:
Has the annual % of customers who renew subscriptions improved since the community was launched in [date]? If so, by how much?
What is the retention rate of members in the lower, middle, and upper quantiles of community visits compared with non-participants?
Is there a statistically significant relationship between community visits and monthly churn rate?
Do members who visit the community at least once per quarter have a higher probability of renewing their annual subscription?
Each option involves trade-offs and assumptions you (and others) need to be comfortable with.
Whatever the business question is, you need to translate it into a data question.
You can see more examples of translating the business question into a data question below:
|Business Question||Data Question|
|Is our community growing?||Is the total number of posts over the past 3-months greater this year compared with the same period last year?|
|Does our community improve retention?||Do organizations with at least one member who has visited the community >3 times in the past 12 months have a higher probability of renewing their annual subscription than those who don’t?|
|Does our community increase customer satisfaction?||Is there a positive relationship between the number of posts member make in a community and their satisfaction scores over the past 12 months?|
|How many support tickets does our community deflect?||What is the relationship between the % answer rate in a community and the number of support tickets a product category receives when normalising for product size? What is this number multiple by volume of the % difference?|
|Has moving to a new platform increased engagement?||Is the number of members who have made a contribution to the community higher in the 3 months since the platform migration compared with the 3 months before the platform migration?|
Assess The Data Available
Now, this is where the analyst and the consultants need to work together to determine if and where this data might already exist. Both have useful expertise to contribute and it’s often something of a fishing expedition to go through with a client to determine
a) If the data exists.
b) Where it is stored
c) Whether it’s possible to gain access to it.
Over time, you get better and better at knowing where the data is likely to be and how to extract it from different systems.
You can see a simplified example below.
You can see here that while we can get most of the data we need, there are some we don’t have access to and can’t gain access to. In this case, we might need to refine our question to reflect the data which is available.
This often means finding a proxy metric which represents the metric we are interested in. For example, we might not know if people are using the product more, but we can see how many times they log in to the CRM for example.
The further we progress through this process, the more we may need to refine our data question to reflect the data available.
Every data question, methodology, and dataset has limitations.
At this stage, it’s good to list the limitations we’re aware of to ensure they are acceptable to the client.
Some common examples of limitations include
- The methodology can only prove correlation, not causation.
- The dataset only stretches back [x] months.
- A major pandemic occurred which may distort the results.
- Major platform changes may have impacted the results.
- Some data is unavailable or missing.
- Data is self-reported.
- Data isn’t collected from all of the audience.
- Can only generalise the results to the audience studied.
You can add to these as you go through the process. But for now, it’s good to list the limitations and ensure everyone understands and signs off on them to avoid problems later.
As you go through the process, your analyst may add additional assumptions or limitations in the project.
By this point, you should be able to put all the steps into a template like this.
Template: Click here to download this template
Handoff To The Analyst
This is the stage where the project can be handed off to our data analysts.
By this point, we (and you) should have
- Alignment among stakeholders on the purpose of gathering data.
- An agreed list of business questions to answer.
- Agreement on the type of answers expected (and visualisation to be shown).
- Agreement on the data questions.
- A list of limitations of the approach.
- Alignment of the data needed and where it will be found.
Now the analyst should be able to work with the IT team and begin undertaking the analyst.
One critical thing is the analyst keeps a record of everything they’ve done with the data.
This ensures the process can be replicated (and turned into a monthly updated dashboard). It also allows others to understand and dig into the answers a little if they want to.
During this process, our analysts will work through the process of collecting, describing, exploring, and verifying the data to build their understanding. This is followed by preparing the dataset for analysis by selecting the right variables, cleaning it, and constructing, integrating, and formatting it.
From there they can begin building the model to answer the question. This includes selecting the methodology, testing it, building the model, and then evaluating the model.
Our consultants check in with the data analysts at the data selection and methodology stage. This ensures there are no changes or assumptions we aren’t aware of.
Implementing The Results
The final stage is the implementation of the results.
This means not just presenting an answer but ensuring the client gets the maximum value from the data. There should be both an answer to the question(s) (data points, visualisations etc…) and a methodology which can be used in the future.
For example, if the question is what is the impact of community on retention, we may both create a presentation to show the results, provide context, and share a methodology so this data can be automatically tracked month by month. This provides not only value for today, but value for the future too.
Our consultants now work with clients to deploy the results internally. This might mean implementing the methodology on a dashboard or providing advice for them to do it themselves. At this stage, we also want to set realistic targets for the future.
Finally, we provide training to best understand and interpret the results internally to ensure the client can make data-driven decision-making.
1. Uncover how the data will be used. Who will see it, what will they do with it, and what decisions will they make with it?
2. Identify the ‘type’ of answer they want. You have four broad choices. This will impact the methodology you use.
3. Turn your business questions into data questions. Be really specific with the terminology and time frame so an analyst can find or easily create the data.
4. Identify what data is available and refine your questions if needed. Begin with what you need, what exists, and whether you can gain access.
5. List limitations and assumptions. Create a list of limitations and assumptions baked into the process and ensure people agree on these in advance.
6. Hand over the project to an analyst. Have check-in points when they finalise the data and the methodology they will use.
7. Implement the outcome. Develop training materials, develop the dashboard, and set forecasts/targets for the metrics you’re tracking.
This breakdown spends far more time at the beginning of the process rather than at the end. That’s not an accident. It stresses just how important it is to do the hard collaborative work at the beginning to set really specific questions to answer.
These questions are embedded throughout the entire process and are what will show up on the dashboard.
We’re also clear about who should be involved in when. It’s critically important the people with the most community expertise turn the key questions into data questions. Once that’s done, it becomes a LOT easier for the analyst to run with the project using their skillset.
If you get this right, you can drastically improve the data you’re currently getting from your community today.
If you don’t have the time, expertise, or confidence to set up your community data setup, let FeverBee take it on for you.
Contact us at [email protected]
COMMUNITY DATA PROCESS TEMPLATE
[ARTICLE] The Perfect Community Metric
[ARTICLE] Designing Your Community Data System
[ARTICLE] How To Prove Your Brand Community Changes Attitudes
[ARTICLE] Community-Driven Impact
[BOOK] Build Your Community (Pearson, 2021)
We’re looking for a community consultant to join the FeverBee team.
If you want to work at the cutting edge of the community industry, help the world’s largest organisations solve complex community challenges, and master a range of new skills, we want to talk to you.
Put simply, our mission is to help great companies build thriving communities.
We’re the consultancy the world’s top brands turn to when they want to improve how they build their communities. Our recent clients include Google, Microsoft, Intel, Apple, Meta, SAP, HP, Esri, Atlassian, Okta, and many more.
We hire passionate, intelligent people, and give them the autonomy to do exceptional work.
What you will do
You will work with clients in a wide range of sectors and industries. Our work is multi-disciplinary and covers corporate strategy, user experience design, data analysis, internal and external communications, and much more. You will be exposed to a wide variety of skills and resources.
Working with our team, you will help shape community strategies at some of the world’s most prominent organizations. This work includes gathering and analysing quantitative and qualitative information, developing and presenting recommendations, and helping implement solutions to our client’s community challenges.
As part of the FeverBee team, you will receive exceptional training as well as frequent coaching and mentoring from our senior team. Additionally, you’ll receive a stipend to undertake training courses, attend events, and purchase relevant books as needed.
Key responsibilities include:
- Undertake user experience research on behalf of clients.
- Interview community members to understand needs, pain points, and desires.
- Interview key stakeholders to uncover challenges, understanding, and enthusiasm for community.
- Evaluate client communities against best-in-class standards.
- Work with FeverBee’s data analysts to identify key trends, challenges, and value of a community.
- Develop playbooks, training materials, operational plans, and roadmaps for clients.
- Use community research to develop and implement best-in-class solutions
- 2 to 5 years of professional community experience with hands-on experience using at least one of the following community platforms: Khoros, Salesforce, Discourse, Vanilla, Insided, HigherLogic, or Verint.
- Located in North America (this is a remote position).
- Deep understanding and/or past experience in at least one of these fields; design, UI/UX, data analytics, or business strategy.
- A Passion for analytics and/or statistics.
- Excellent ability to work in a team environment, and engage effectively with people at all levels in an organization.
- Ability to communicate complex ideas effectively, both verbally and in writing, in English.
- Learner – asks thoughtful questions, catches on quickly, interested in people and ideas.
- Adaptability – receptive to change, flexible, can collaborate with a diverse range of people.
- Deliberative – exhibits good judgment, identifies risk, and makes sound decisions.
- $70k to $90k – Depending upon experience.
How To Apply
To apply for this role, send an email to [email protected].
Include your résumé and a link to your LinkedIn profile (if you have one).
Most importantly, tell us:
- Who you are.
- What you’ve done.
- Where you’re going.
- What drives you.
- What skills you bring to the table.
- Why you want to do consultancy work.
In short, sell yourself (but don’t tell fibs!)
Applications close on Dec 2, 2022 (but please don’t leave it until the last minute).
FeverBee is an equal opportunity employer and prohibits discrimination and harassment of any kind. All applicants will be considered for employment without attention to age, race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, veteran or disability status.
Today we’re launching The Beginner’s Guide To Community Management.
This is a project which has been some time in the making. Our goal has been to put together a resource which helps newcomers in the industry quickly get up to speed on the basics.
The guide covers:
- What community management is (and isn’t)
- What makes the community unique from other company activities
- Which tools and software to use for a community.
- What tasks should be undertaken daily, weekly, and monthly.
- How best to engage members in a community.
- What metrics matter (and which don’t).
We’ve also thrown in plenty of resources, frameworks, and examples to help us in the journey.
Whether you’re new to the industry or a veteran looking to brush up on the basics, this guide might help.
P.s. please also share it with anyone who might find it useful
History is littered with organizations (and entire industries) that failed to adapt until it was too late.
The community industry isn’t immune from this fate. Many of us are using community technology and offering experiences that really haven’t changed much over the past decade (or two).
But now major forces are emerging which will permanently change the experience we need to offer our members. If we don’t adapt fast enough, we risk consigning ourselves to irrelevance. It’s time to update our technology roadmap, and do it fast.
The Major Forces Shaping The Future of Community Technology
To figure out what should be on your community technology roadmap, we first need to know what the big trends are and why they’re relevant.
Everyone will have their own opinions, but I think these are the ones that really stand out to us.
Some of the above are critical trends already impacting our work on a day-to-day level, others are slow-boiling micro-trends that might affect us in the future (and we need to prepare for them now).
What Are The Short, Medium, And Long-Term Community Tech Implications?
Every trend above will impact your community technology needs in a different way.
It’s hard to predict the exact impact of each trend, but based upon our best guess, we would advise clients to consider the following updates to their community experience:
Short-term Implications (within the year)
This section includes the improvements which should be on your roadmap to complete within the year. These are generally inexpensive and don’t require a huge amount of time and resources to implement.
Build A Better Community Dataset
Community professionals have been grumbling about the analytics of community vendors for decades. The complaints tend to fall in two areas. Either the vendor doesn’t show the data the client wants to see or the client can’t pull the data from the vendor into another platform. The reality is vendors will never provide the analytical insights many clients want. It’s simply not what they’re set up to do.
But two things are changing now. The first is the rise of community intelligence tools like CommonRoom and Orbit. These have some useful features like creating cohorts based upon member behaviors, being able to instantly get a picture of how the community is doing, and easily export the data into a CSV.
Another major benefit is they help create better datasets which combine social media data with community data. We might argue whether social media ‘is community’, but in countless surveys and member interviews over the years, we often hear responses like:
“Yes, I participate in the community on Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, and sometimes the forums”
Members have already defined it for us. It makes sense to offer a united, connected, experience. A top member in the community shouldn’t be treated like a newcomer on social media channels (and vice-versa). Better yet, having this data lets you build a more comprehensive picture of who your audience are and what they want.
The first step then is to select and utilize one of the two community intelligence tools above. Now you can integrate the accounts. Orbit premium even has a partnership with Clearbit which will let you enrich your dataset from LinkedIn and other channels.
You should be able to have a detailed dataset which includes:
- Member name
- Job title
- Twitter followers
- Community vendor username
- Slack username
- First activity
- Last activity
- Date created
This will be the first step to creating a ‘dream’ community dataset we’ll discuss later. For now, you should have this data to hand.
Better Engage Newcomers
Community platforms generally don’t do a good job of helping you engage newcomers. You can either send out an automated message to the many (or series of messages) or use the first post notifier present in some platforms to welcome members when they make the first post.
The problem is neither is especially effective. That’s partly because of the nature of the issue. In support communities, most people don’t want to do anything other than get an answer. Bombarding them with poor interruptive messages won’t help. Instead split your audience into two groups.
1) People who joined more than a week ago and didn’t participate.
2) People who made their first post in the community.
This is easy to do in either of the two community intelligence tools.
For the newcomer non-participants, send them a message along the lines of:
I noticed you joined our community last week but haven’t been involved much yet.
Is there anything you’re looking to learn? People you want to connect with? Or anything else that would help? Just let me know.
We also have a group for newcomers who want to quickly get up to speed. It might be useful!”
Aside – we’ve noticed when people have a direct interaction with the community manager, they’re far more likely to engage in the community.
For the people who made their first post in the community, send them a message along the lines of:
Did you get the answer you wanted from [question]?
If you have a second, it would really be nice if you can let the person who offered a solution know if they solved your problem or not.
This also helps others who read your question know if the solution worked or not (and helps our product developers too know what to fix!)
You can also mark the question as an ‘accepted solution’ by using the tag at the top of the page.
P.s. If you’re just getting started, you’re also now welcome to join our group just for newcomers who want to quickly get up to speed.”
If you’re worried that this isn’t sustainable, engage your volunteers to help you.
Identify Current And Future Top Members
There’s a lot of academic literature which predicts who the top members of the future will be. As a general rule, it’s people who make multiple contributions on multiple posts quickly after signing up to the community.
You can set up a filter in CommonRoom for example for members who joined within the previous 28 days and are in the top 1% of active members (or you can set an exact number of topics/replies they need to give).
Each month you can reach out to members in this segment and see if they want to be more involved in the community and check their level of expertise. You don’t have to boost them straight up to an MVP level, but you can give them smaller tasks to see if they might be a good fit.
This can be a very gentle message to let them know they’ve been seen and recognised. For example:
I really loved your post about [topic] last week.
Did you find [clarification question]?
I think our members might really benefit from learning more from your experiences. Would you be interested in being more involved in the community?
I’m thinking it might be great to have you [run a group, write a regular blog, host a meetup, be responsible for a topic]?
Let me know if you’re interested. I’m happy to speak further”.
The goal is to build up a pool of potential MVPs you can bring into the program once they’ve shown they have the expertise and the right personality to engage in the community.
Reactivate Members Who Are Drifting Away
This is one of the best uses of community intelligence tools right now.
You can identify which members were previously highly engaged and drop them a personal note. Don’t try to automate this. Top members are too important. Instead, you can use a message like that below to find out a) why they departed and b) to gather their input on a topic
Haven’t seen you in the community in a while, I hope you’re doing ok?
If you have time, I’d love to get your expertise on a question/event/issue we have in the community.
@username is trying to [question]. Given your experience in [topic], I thought you might be able to help. No worries if you’re swamped, but any thoughts would be appreciated”
The key points from the message above is it’s personal, it’s undemanding, and tries to make the member feel like an expert for the experience they have within the community.
Both CommonRoom and Orbit will let you find members who were previously in the top 25% of active members and are now drifting away. You can even setup alerts to make this a weekly practice for the community team.
Eliminate Most Automated Emails
A quick aside on automated messages here.
Of all the new things you can do with community intelligence tools, automated emails are the most overrated. It’s certainly possible to design complex automation processes to appeal to every segment of your audience and reflect their past contributions.
In practice, automated emails rarely have any significant impact. At best, people ignore the emails. At worse, they begin to ignore the source of the emails altogether. Automated emails are not the silver bullet you might imagine.
You can safely remove nearly all of them and not see any negative impact.
Kill Your Customisations
Customisations are a lot like buying a boat.
The two best days are when you get them and when you ditch them.
The dates in between are largely filled with a lot of stress. They’re difficult to maintain and you never quite seem to get it to work the way you want it to. Even if they do, they’re rarely as widely used as you think they will be. Whenever possible, kill the customisations. They’re not worth the bother.
As no-code/low-code options increase, drag and drop options will replace coding and more complex technical developments. You may want to hold back on a big relaunch for a while. If you really need a specific feature (and believe me, you probably don’t), you can find a tool that does the feature really well and send people there. Don’t try and make two things fit together which really weren’t designed for one another.
If you have painful customisations, consider phasing them out in favor of dedicated technologies.
Intermediate-Term (within 1 to 3 years)
This section covers some of the improvements which will require additional time, resources, and some difficult decisions. This involves setting the community up for a more challenging internal and external environment – one where security, data, and integrations are increasingly important.
Search And Destroy (or Remove)
The user experience of hosted community platforms is going to fall further and further behind that of mainstream social media. Given the choice of where to participate, people will choose the big social media platforms. They’re simply slicker, less concerned with strict security rules, and easier to use.
This means hosted community platforms are increasingly like Wikipedia. They’re clunkier and not as aesthetically pleasing as most web pages – but it’s the king of search traffic. Optimizing for search is going to be critical.
This means improving technical search and ensuring the community itself offers the best possible experience for people searching for information. A major part of this is archiving content no one visits anymore.
I’d suggest beginning with content/discussions which:
1) Attracted less than 10 visits in the past month.
2) Have received less than 2 posts in the past year.
3) Have been published more than 2 years ago.
Aside – the wild thing is most people don’t even consider search when deciding what platform to use. Yet, our experience suggests the platform has a big impact upon the level of search traffic you can expect. Budget $10k to $20k for search optimization.
Secure ISO27001 and SOC 2 Compliance
Infosec teams are gaining veto-rights on new and existing community platforms. Ensuring your platform is compliant is becoming an increasingly important issue. As fines for infosec breaches grow, compliance is going to become an increasingly big issue. This makes selecting a platform with high security requirements evermore important.
ISO27001 and SOC 2 are similar but not the same. The former is a set of standards which define an information security management system (ISMS), the latter is evidence that security management systems have been implemented and are functioning well.
Most of the major platforms are working on them. Generally speaking, the bigger the platform, the more likely it is to have the compliance certificates you need.
Create and Optimize Your Workflow (for high-volume communities)
You really shouldn’t be managing a high-volume community by the front-end (i.e. using the same interface every other member uses). It’s simply darned inefficient to manually click, reply, and/or delete posts. It also leads to important posts slipping through the cracks (i.e. new activity pushes posts to the top of the page as you scroll down).
It’s also terrible for escalating questions and issues to colleagues. I know too many community professionals who manually email discussion links to colleagues (usually product folks) and wait for an answer. That’s far too much effort.
Beyond a relatively low level, it makes sense to focus on choosing a platform (or developing a system) which enables an easy back-end process for engaging members and responding to discussions. This means having posts shown in a stream which can be filtered by a variety of criteria and allow for easy tagging, assignment, escalation, and approval of various discussions and content.
You can get an extremely hefty performance bump simply by choosing a platform with the right workflow or developing one manually.
Integrate with the CRM
Everyone wants to ‘integrate’ their community with other platforms, but it’s not often clear what that makes in practice. So it’s a good idea to get really specific about what that ‘integration’ means. Typically it means something on one platform doing something on the other (and vice-versa).
You might want some combination of the following functionality:
- The community platform being able to create new contacts on the CRM.
- The community platform to automatically update the CRM when a member updates their profile data (i.e. photo, name, email, company, location etc…)
- To have a button that appears to admins alongside community posts that enables the post to be escalated as a support case in the CRM.
- To have a button that appears to admins alongside member icons to create a ‘lead’ in the CRM for others to follow up on.
- Add member activity feed data to records on the CRM.
- Use CRM data to suggest tags in the community platform when members ask a question based upon the products/services they use.
- Show community data on member records (date joined, date participated, last date participated, total number of posts, member rank etc…).
- Show CRM data (i.e. courses completed) on member profiles.
This isn’t a comprehensive list, but it gives you an idea of what you might be looking for.
Added Language Accessibility
It’s almost nonsensical not to add language translation options to your community.
Members in one country should automatically see posts published in another language automatically translated for them (with the option to disable this if they like). Sure the translation might not be 100% perfect, but it would make the community accessible to people from around the world.
Given the advanced translation capabilities recently, this is a great option. We recently added this to a Discourse community. When combined with members’ locale data, it automatically translates posts into the language based upon where the people are participating from. This massively increases the accessibility of the community to people from around the world.
This alone could significantly increase engagement within the community.
Advanced Data Analytics And Automated Reporting
As we discussed here, we’re not even close to getting the level of insights and engagement we should be from our community platforms. Analytics will never be a great feature of platforms (but being able to easily pull the data into another platform should be).
You need to invest a significant percentage of your time and budget into getting good community intelligence. This usually means things like:
- Automatically pulling community (and CRM) data into a data warehouse like Snowflake to clean and seamlessly use data across a variety of services.
- Publish monthly ROI reports which shows current community value and predicts future metrics based upon previous trends.
You should be able to constantly show the impact of community upon retention, churn, sales, deflection, and in a variety of other areas. You should also be able to model the impact of, say, spending $50k on social ads to drive more people to the community or increasing the number of MVPs by 20 etc…
Even better, have a validated model (like the one below) which highlights how the benefits of a community are achieved and what the moderating variables are.
You can use our community intelligence services to set this all up for you.
Long-Term Roadmap (3+ years)
This section covers where the long-term trends are heading and how best to harness them to deliver the best community experience for both members and the organization.
I’m far less certain about these areas than the former two – but that’s the nature of predicting long into the future.
AI-Assistance For Handling Problematic Content
For high-volume communities, you should have automated rules for handling problematic content. Some community platforms (e.g Discourse/Khoros etc…) have basic functions included which ban posts from members which are typed too quickly or published too soon after joining.
What we should be planning for is a system that learns how you handle flagged content and makes recommendations for you. The system should increasingly be able to make its own predictions about what content to remove and people to ban with an estimated degree of certainty. Now you might set upper and lower thresholds (say above 80% and below 20%) above which the suggested rule is automatically executed and below which it is not executed while you review those in the middle with a simple option to accept or reject the AI suggestion.
You can then skim through executed processes and correct any obvious errors.
Better Personalisation Based Upon Member Behaviors
The current personalisation options offered by major enterprise platforms are poor. Most people (from regions that share the same primary language) see the same view of the community as everyone else. This is because most major enterprise communities rely upon a forum format which really hasn’t changed much in 20+ years.
However, this also means members see a lot of content they have no interest in. However, social media platforms have shifted the trend towards more ‘feed-based’ formats which are personalized to the member-based upon a combination of:
a) What’s broadly popular on the platform today.
b) What’s popular amongst friends/connections of the visitor.
c) What’s likely to be popular based upon past member behaviors/interests/what we know about the member.
For example, if you know what products members own or have declared their interest in previously, only relevant categories, content, and discussions should appear for them on the homepage. They can still find other content if they want, but members should have a most customized experience.
Likewise, if you know the kinds of discussions newcomers visit when they join a community, they should be shown to future newcomers etc…This level of personalisation should be something to be planned for in the intermediate horizon.
Develop A Custom Community Experience
It’s pretty common for a group of community professionals to agree that community platforms are terrible and getting worse. This isn’t really true (although they have fallen far behind social platforms in user experience).
The problem is the needs of clients are diverging from one another. Large companies increasingly have diverging needs. One recent client would only consider vendors which met stringently high standards in the core web vitals. Another wanted the ability to run competitions with lucky draws from within the platform itself.
Satisfying emerging needs is nothing new. It’s what we expect vendors to do to stay relevant. The problem is the needs of enterprise seem to be diverging. The point of SaaS companies is they (ideally) make one version of their product which they can sell repeatedly at a high margin. They generally don’t want to work hard to customize a platform to solve one vendor’s unique problem. That’s not scalable nor sustainable.
Some organizations tackle this by taking a platform and spending a fortune on customisations. But they become a pain in themselves. There are three key approaches to resolving this.
The first is to build an entire community experience from scratch. Apple replaced this Jive experience with a (strikingly similar) custom build. DigitalOcean also developed their entire custom community experience.
Another growing trend, as shown by Notion, is simply encouraging people to create, join, and participate in groups that already exist.
There isn’t a single answer, but I’d be surprised if we don’t see more organizations taking a different approach to their community experience – one where the hosted platform (if there is one) is just one part of a broader experience.
Tokens and Metaverse (Web3)
Thus far most web3 activities have been more hype than substance.
As the web3 hits the trough of disillusionment, we’re hopefully going to see the hype fade and some practical applications emerge. What they are remains to be seen. I don’t imagine any community will move to the Metaverse for now. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see greater use of digital currencies within some specific kinds of communities.
I can also imagine some communities utilizing tokens they can accumulate through positive contributions to a community which affords them voting rights on the direction and key decisions of the community. I can’t see them being widespread, but in certain technical communities they could be powerful.
Predicting how macro-trends will affect community technology is similar to making predictions about how outside forces will shape any industry. We can never be quite sure.
It’s clear that some trends are already in motion (data security on platform selection, losing members to habitual platforms, declining differentiation etc…), others are going to be felt in the more distant future (AI, automations, and tokens).
What’s important is you’re building a community experience prepared to navigate these trends internally and externally. We might be wrong about the timeline, but we’re unlikely to be wrong about the broad direction community technology is going.
The danger is offering a community experience that falls increasingly behind standards to the point where its continuing existence is in peril. If you build a roadmap and make changes now, you’re likely to avoid that fate.
The key steps I’d recommend at the moment are:
1) Check and validate which trends apply to your situation. Use our template as a start, but be sure to adapt and customize it to your situation.
2) Estimate short, medium, and long-term impact of trends. Begin with changes that you’ve already noticed and grow from there. Use our template from above if you like.
3) Build your community roadmap in three phases. Begin with the quick and inexpensive changes. Begin gaining support for the more challenging changes.
4) Work with a group of peers to support each other. Collaborate with your peers when building roadmaps. Benefit from the expertise of others.
There’s something special about communities built by a brand, but not about the brand.
It’s one thing to build a community for your customers.
It’s another thing entirely to build a community for your industry (or topic).
While the former can be great for customer support, gathering ideas, and spreading best practices, the latter can position you as the host of an entire industry.
Whereas the customer communities are great for supporting and retaining customers, industry communities directly attract new customers, position a brand where it needs to be seen, and creates a host of new opportunities.
But doing this well requires you to make some extremely difficult decisions.
Why Create An Industry Community?
As anyone who’s hosted a party knows, being the host offers a lot of rewards. On an industry-scale, those rewards are multiplied.
You’re connected to everyone that matters. You have industry leaders competing for your attention. You are the gatekeeper and tastemaker of an industry. You get to exert subtle influence, learn from others, and have everyone in the industry reply to your emails.
But the most direct benefit is simple. You get to attract new customers.
When you create a community for an industry rather than about your brand – you’re attracting new audiences rather than serving existing customers.
Yet even attracting new customers reveals only a fraction of the community’s value.
Here’s a breakdown below:
Unlike a branded community, there is no maximum cap on the community’s potential value.
The only limit is the number of people interested in the industry – and if your community does its job really well, you can grow this number too!
How Do We Estimate The Value Of This?
This is a little like asking the ROI of a promotional campaign.
The result depends upon the quality of the implementation and a range of factors.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some interesting ways to estimate it.
Multiple By Value of Leads
You can also work with your sales team to find the typical value of a lead. This usually means dividing the revenue by leads generated to get a broad estimate.
You can also be more precise by working with sales teams to go through the sales funnel and match members up to similar behaviors.
You might also create separate values for inactive (subscribers), moderately active, highly active to create a total value.
Multiply By Costs Of Leads
Another way to estimate value is to look at the advertising equivalent cost. How much does it cost you to acquire a customer (or subscriber) through other channels?
If you know getting someone to subscribe to your mailing list (top of the funnel) usually costs you $100, you might estimate the present value of your 20k strong community at $2m.
Once you begin estimating value using these proxy metrics, you begin to see why it often makes sense for organizations to simply acquire communities. If a community in the SaaS field has 20k members and the average SaaS brand spends $344 to generate a lead, any acquisition value under $7m begins to look like a bargain.
Essentially acquiring a community acts as a short-cut to the lengthy and costly process of acquiring the audience through other channels.
Numbers Don’t Capture The Full Value
I’m struck by this quote from Max Altschuler, founder of the SalesHacker community (acquired by Outreach).
“We also use it [SalesHacker] as a value drive in deal cycles. We sell to Sales, so offering a CRO/VP Sales a spot on a podcast for a brand they know that gets 20,000 downloads is a great value driver no other sales vendor can provide and it opens up that relationship at the exec level now.”
There is huge value in being able to feature a prospective client in a community in front of tens of thousands of others. It won’t work for every community but it shows the raw numbers don’t even capture a slither of the full value of the community.
This also highlights something interesting – there is simply natural, innate, immeasurable value from being the provider of the biggest community in your space?
So, why isn’t every brand jumping to do this?
Because creating an industry community requires you to do something really painful – hide your brand name.
Don’t Name The Community After Yourself
With a few exceptions (HubSpot), in an industry community you can’t have your name prominently splashed anywhere.
The moment you call this ‘The [brand] community’ – two things happen:
1) People will ask questions about the brand. You will accidentally create a customer support community.
2) Customers of rival products will stay away. Why would they join? They use a competitor brand. This typically reduces your potential audience by 80%+.
It’s very, very, hard to defy these two outcomes if you name this community after organization. This usually causes some consternation amongst marketing and PR professionals who want to see their brand prominently displayed (and avoiding the effort of promoting two brands).
But this doesn’t mean your name can’t appear anywhere…
Won’t Members Get Upset If They Find Out It’s Owned By A Brand?
Sure they will…if you’ve kept it a secret.
If you’ve been visiting and supporting an independent bookstore for a few years and then suddenly discovered it was secretly owned by Amazon – you’re not going to be happy.
So don’t keep it a secret!
Be honest and upfront about your involvement and intentions from day one.
I’d suggest having your logo on the website such as (provided by [brand]) while giving the community its own unique name and identity.
This name should be something which reflects a commonly used unique symbol by the people you’re trying to reach.
I’d also suggest in your welcome message and about page that you’re clear about why you’re hosting the community. If you’re hoping to attract new customers then say so. But create rules about how and why this will happen. It might also help to create rules about how the brand engages with the community.
“While we hope to benefit from identifying potential customers or getting insights from members, we won’t send out promotional emails to community members. Discussions about competitor products will be encouraged – never removed.”
You can build trust and associate your brand name with the community by being honest and upfront from the very beginning.
What Do We Need To Get Started?
To keep it simple. There are three obvious things you need to get started.
1) A potentially large audience with a unique set of needs you can serve.
2) A dedicated platform to host your community.
3) A community manager to run the community.
As you can see above, if you don’t have someone in charge, you’re risking anarchy.
If you’re lacking a platform, you have a decentralized social media experience.
If you’re lacking an audience, you have a ghost town.
How Do We Get Started? What Should Be In The Community?
How you get started often depends on the size of your audience.
If you’re beginning with zero, it’s best to go through the CHIP process with blog posts, organizing events, engaging with existing groups, and building up your audience until you get up to 100 subscribers/followers.
Once you get near 100 active followers, then you might want to consider having a platform where members can engage directly with one another (hashtags can also work).
As you reach around 200+ members, you probably want to directly promote the community internally to any existing audiences, consider investing in paid promotion, and, eventually, working with influencers and other partners.
Once you have more than 2k members, usually word of mouth and search traffic drives most of your audience (you should optimize for both).
What Platform Should We Use?
The platform you use primarily depends on your budget and the audience you’re starting with.
When you have no people (and no budget), you usually need to use email.
When you have 10 to 250 you can usually use a WhatsApp group.
At 250 to 1000, you’re looking at Telegram, Email, Circle, and other lists.
Once you get to the upper end of that, it starts to become a chaotic mess. So you need to look at an enterprise (often forum-based) platform which allows for more structured discussions. There is always a slight tension between structure and ease of use.
It’s notable however that many of the most successful industry communities over the years have been built on custom platforms. This provides more flexibility and (often) proprietary technology which may increase a future acquisition price.
How Much Will It Cost?
Like most things, it depends.
Many of the big communities acquired by others over the years were launched on a shoestring budget – often by an amateur doing it in their spare time. Others were launched by big brands to much fanfare.
However, we can add a very broad cost estimate to some traditional approaches.
While it’s obvious there are some benefits of the amateur approach (testing things at small-scale first and adapting quickly), you’re less likely to be able to use that approach if you’re working on behalf of an organization.
Organizations have legal, moral, and reputational responsibilities which make them less likely to ‘throw something up and see how it goes’. You can’t launch something which doesn’t look or function well and hope you improve it later (the way a passionate amateur can).
Examples of Successful Industry Communities
You can find plenty of successful communities. Each has grown and evolved in different ways. Here are a few common ones.
- Kaggle. Kaggle launched with a single competition in 2010 for data scientists and gradually added blogs, events, content, and more. Acquired by Google.
- Element14. Launched by Premier Farnell in June 2009, Element14 is a community for engineers and electronic enthusiasts to chat with one another.
- Grow, Gain, Retain. Began as a mailing list created by Customer Imperative for customer success professionals before being acquired by HigherLogic.
- ProjectManagement.com. Began as a place for members to share resources and templates with one another. Over time expanded to enable peer discussions between members. Acquired by Project Management Institute.
- SalesHacker. Began as a blog before expanding to events, courses, and discussion forums and more. Acquired by Outreach.io in 2018.
- MindTheProduct. Primarily began as a series of events before expanding to content, courses, and, much later, dedicated community channels in Slack and elsewhere. Acquired by Pendo.
- RevOps Co-Op. Slack community created by FunneIQ. Began with some content and a Slack channel. Later expanded to resources, videos, interviews, and more.
- The Instructables. Community for members to share their DIY projects. Acquired by Autodesk in 2011.
- Honeybook – Rising Tide. Community for small business owners working in the creative economy. Created by HoneyBook, a provider of client management software for small businesses.
- MakerPad. A definition-stretching community for no-code professionals. Acquired by Zapier.
- IndieHackers. A thriving Reddit-esque style community for independent professionals to earn money directly. Acquired by Stripe in 2017.
- CFO Connect. Launched by Spendesk in 2018 is a community for CFOs. The community began by offering events and a few resources later expanded to include a Slack channel, one to one member matching, and more.
Each community took a different approach, but there’s some important commonalities here:
1) They all began relatively simply. They grew the permission asset of their audience over time. They usually focused on doing single things well before expanding beyond that. Over time they expanded to include content, resources, courses, podcasts, discussions, job boards, events, shops etc…
2) They focused on providing the most value to members. At each stage of the journey, the host of the community focused on providing the content, products, and services most in demand by members.
The Risk: What If A Competitor Does It First?
Perhaps the biggest reason to do it though isn’t the raw numbers but the fear of competition.
What if a competitor launches a community which becomes the definitive community in the industry before you do?
What if they own that mailing list and the right to contact any of them at any time?
What if they host events for that community where they can bring as many of their staff as they like and sell free sponsorships to themselves etc…
What if they can attract leads for free while you’re still paying hundreds of dollars for each lead?
What if they put together a collaborative steering group which creates defacto industry standards?
Is it worth the risk of not doing it?
Being the host of an industry creates plenty of useful benefits. When done well, industry communities can generate leads, convert prospects into customers, gather useful industry insights, and reduce customer acquisition costs.
The catch is you can’t make the community about yourself. If you position your organization’s name too prominently in the community, not only will customers begin to use it to ask product questions, you will also deter customers of competitor brands from joining. You need to give the community a unique name, possibly a unique URL, and let it naturally develop its own identity.
You don’t need to spend a fortune to get started. Many of the most successful industry communities were launched by amateurs in their spare time on a shoestring budget. The secret is to begin by doing the smallest possible things extremely well and expanding gradually. There are plenty of examples you can follow.
And if you’re having trouble using the above to convince others about the value of the community then consider this – what would happen if your competitors moved first to be the hub of the industry?
Here’s a relatively common story.
A community team is given a goal to achieve. This goal is usually something fairly simple like: “increase engagement by 50% by the end of this year!”.
However, a few months into the year, the engagement metrics haven’t budged.
In fact, the numbers are even beginning to drop slightly. No matter how hard the community team works to improve response rates, time to first response, and improve the platform, the overall engagement metrics simply don’t move.
At the end of the year, the engagement metrics are slightly below what they were the year before. The community team receives a negative performance review. Budgets are cut, team members leave, and the community suffers.
This raises the question, who failed here? It’s a more complicated answer than you might think.
(p.s. if you want the video version of how to set realistic community goals, click here.)
Setting The Right Goals For A Community
Perhaps the best way to begin is by looking at the goals themselves.
They were simply the wrong goals to begin with.
I wrote a whole book about this; engagement is a bad goal. It’s never the best metric to track, it’s simply the easiest. Worse yet, the number of posts, likes, shares, simply feels like a good metric for success.
To realize how wrong this is. I once came across a community manager who skyrocketed engagement overnight by removing the spam filter.
There’s plenty of information about finding the ROI of your community. I won’t rehash the entire topic here. The key thing is your goals should come from discussions with stakeholders and feasibility of behaviors.
1) Stakeholder interviews and analysis. You need to speak to as many stakeholders as possible, understand their unique needs and motivations (you can use this script), and undertake stakeholder mapping (see template) to determine whose needs to prioritize.
2) Needs, desires, and behaviors of members. You need to interview, survey, and study members to determine what they need, what they want, and what they desire. You can learn more about this kind of data here.
During this process we often host a workshop with the data to try to identify the right kind of goals for the community. We tend to set the members’ needs and let stakeholders establish their priorities.
You can see an example of this here:
Using our research and this simple framework, we should be able to identify and prioritize possible goals.
p.s. It’s worth noting this is an idealized approach. The reality is often a lot messier (it’s not unknown for a senior stakeholder to ignore all of this and simply set the goal).
Communities Need Really Specific Targets
In client calls, I often ask what the goal of the community is.
The person I’m speaking with can often give a clear and specific answer.
“The goal of the community is to improve product adoption”.
When I ask what metrics would show success, the answer usually becomes a lot more vague.
Often the answer is “plenty” or “lots”. Or, in the worst-case scenario “we’ll know it when we see it!”.
This leaves the community team in an unfair position. They might achieve a great result only for someone more senior to state “they expected more!”.
We need specific targets we can aim for here. For example:
We want to see 25% of active community members utilizing 2+ services.
Reach 3-month avg. 25% call deflection within two years while maintaining 4.2+ satisfaction score.
Generate leads with a value of $323,440 per quarter for 3 successive quarters.
Increase 3-month member satisfaction by 16% by the end of the year.
The challenge is where do these numbers come from?
Don’t Pluck Targets From Thin Air
Far too often numbers are plucked from thin air i.e. a 50% increase!
Why 50%? No-one knows! It’s just a nice round number that sounds good.
This often leads to a community team having goals which are impossible to achieve.
Is a 50% increase in call deflection a good target?
It might be if there was a 40% increase in the past year.
If activity rose by 40% in the past year, it might be. If it fell by 40% in the past year, it probably isn’t.
To begin finding the right target, we need to know our trends.
Use Trends To Set Good Community Targets
Targets should be based upon current trends with a range which indicates what great, good, ok, and bad look like.
Sometimes you can do a great job in reversing a downward trend but fail to hit your goals because whomever set the goal didn’t realize the community was in a downward trend.
Let’s use client data for a community which has a goal of answering as many questions as possible and in July 2021 answered 3971 questions.
The company wanted to increase this monthly average by 50% within a year.
But is this realistic?
Well, let’s look at the trendline below rather than pluck numbers from the sky.
The trendline suggests at current rates that 5150 answered questions is the current expected result (a 30% increase). 50% would be an extremely high result.
But if you look closer, you might notice something important.
Since April 2020, the number of answered questions has plateaued!
Expecting a big increase when the community has plateaued is a big mistake. Using data that stretches back to Jan 2018 doesn’t make sense to set community targets for July 2022.
Instead we can do something clever; we can forecast the number of answered posts just using the past year of data.
If you’re using google sheets, you can use ”=ARRAYFORMULA(FORECAST(39:A56,C27:C38,A27:A38))” to make predictions about the future.
Now the result (as you can see here) is different:
Notice now the prediction is of 4500 answered questions per month for July (or about a 13% increase over the year).
The Difference Between An Increase And An Improvement
You can improve a metric but still be performing worse than last year.
For example, if you had a 40% increase last year and this year you only get a 10% increase, the numbers will still go up but you’ll be doing worse.
An improvement isn’t about improving the absolute number, it’s about improving beyond the performance achieved the year before.
An easy way to do this is to set a performance improvement (I’d suggest somewhere between 10% and 30% – which should be matched by an increased budget) above and below the trend line.
This is what adding this will look like:
Now we can start setting some rudimentary targets with a 10% performance improvement based upon the previous year of data. This might look like:
- Anything above 5000 is good
- Anything between 4000 and 5000 answered questions per month by July 2022 is ‘ok’
- Anything below 4000 is bad
You can change the upper and lower limits from 10% to any percentage increase (or decrease) you like.
Now you can set targets based upon current trends from the past year of data and can see what a performance increase might look like.
Set Targets Where You Have The Most Influence
What If You Can’t Control The Outcome?
The biggest problem with using the ‘number of. answered questions’ as a goal (and pretty much any engagement target), is that it’s primarily driven by how many people have a question in the first place.
You can’t exercise much control over that.
If your company acquires more customers (or loses customers), that number will rise and fall through no fault or achievement of your own.
Worse yet, many activity-based metrics have a natural curve over time. As you begin answering most questions, people no longer need to ask as many and engagement drops. This is a good result masquerading as a bad outcome on your stats.
So we need to find out what impact you have.
Track These Three Metrics To Identify Your Impact
We want to know how the community compares against other channels.
If, for example, the number of support tickets (or customer support calls) falls by 10% and the number of questions in the community drops by 10%, that’s probably not the community’s fault.
In most cases, we usually want to get the following data:
- No. questions asked in other support channels vs. in the community.
- No. visits to the company website vs. the community website.
- No. new customers each month vs. new community registrations.
Then we look to how closely correlated these are with whichever metrics we’re tracking.
For example, look at the graph below.
We see historically there is a close relationship between an increase in web traffic and answered questions.
If the web traffic suddenly rises or falls, we would expect community participation to rise and fall regardless of how good a job the community team is doing.
The increase in web traffic above should mean a lot more people are now visiting the community. We therefore need to have a model which dynamically updates the forecasts based upon this relationship.
We now use the same FORECAST function to predict this and show what a 10% above or below the predicted line looks like.
You can see now how a big increase in web traffic naturally raises the number of answered questions we should anticipate within the community.
This also raises the expected answer rate. Anything above 6198 by July 2022 is now good and anything below 5071 is a poor result.
This is a very simple explanation of how to set targets. In practice, it can become far more complex. What matters however is now the community team has clear targets based upon actual data which is within their control!
How Do You Use Data To Achieve Your Targets
Goals Should Change Behavior
There isn’t much point in setting a new goal if you’re going to keep doing what you’ve always done.
The point in establishing community goals is to change your activities to align with that goal.
If your goal relates to growth, then you should be doing more activities which drive growth.
If your goal relates to call deflection, then you should be doing more activities which drive call deflection.
Goals ultimately change priorities. That means you do more of some activities and less of others.
But how do we know which activities drive the outcome?
We first need to calculate which activities have historically been strongly correlated with the outcome.
What To Prioritize To Achieve Your Goals
You need two things; a dataset and an informed opinion.
When you have these two things, you can run a multiple regression analysis to determine which variables influence the goal and by how much.
If you don’t know how to do this, find a data person who can help (or reach out to us – we do it for clients).
Let’s use a client example trying to increase member satisfaction.
We ran a multiple regression analysis on a dataset covering 15 variables and discovered the following:
Don’t worry, you don’t need to know what all of that means.
This essentially says there are three statistically significant (and independent) predictors of member satisfaction within the community. Combined they account for 86% of the variability in satisfaction each month.
We use these three predictors as the basis of our strategy.
- Objective 1: Increase the number of event attendees.
- Objective 2: Increase the no. MVPs who make at least 1 post per month.
- Objective 3: Reduce the average time to first response.
Now we repeat the process above to find the right targets for each of these objectives and show what a 10% or 20% performance increase or decrease would look like.
Build Your Community Dashboard
It’s obviously important not to keep targets to yourself but to be able to share them widely and let yourself and your entire team stay on track.
We want to know at a glance if the community is on track to achieve its goals or not. If not, we can make rapid changes in our strategy to ensure it is.
Building a dashboard once you have the data isn’t that difficult. You can use Tableau or PowerBI if you want more powerful functionality.
But we’ve kept it simple and built this one below on Google Sheets.
You might want to click to open up the full image.
We can now track progress over time (we’ve added some dummy data to illustrate). This shows where the community is doing well, where it’s not and, most importantly, it’s tracking the metrics which actually matter!
As you get more data, you can see issues early and address them. You can especially see when a number begins to fall behind its predicted target and try to identify what happened each month.
(p.s. It helps to get familiar with ‘conditional’ cell formatting in Google Sheets (or Excel) to create custom rules for what happens when numbers fall above or below a certain range).
Let’s Build Out Your Strategy
Once you have the right targets in place it becomes a lot easier to build out the overview of the community strategy.
Now you have all the key elements in place:
1) A clear goal
2) Two clear objectives to achieve the goal above.
3) Specific targets to track progress towards those objectives.
4) A set of strategies each aligned to achieving those results
5) A set of tactics (or initiatives) to execute the strategy.
6) Clearly identified ‘must win’ battles which identify the hard part of each strategy.
Believe me, it’s a lot better to be working on a strategy you know is aligned to achieving specific results you can feel comfortable about being held accountable to. It all begins with setting realistic community goals and the right targets.
Yes, targets should be SMART. But they need to be so much more than that.
Good goals should possess the following attributes:
1) They reflect the unique value of the community to the organization and audience.
2) You should have the majority influence over them.
3) They should be based upon current trends.
4) They should show what a % improvement looks like, not just the increase.
5) They should translate into specific actions you can execute on.
It’s okay to have multiple goals (I wouldn’t recommend more than three). What matters is you have some goals which are translated into specific targets to guide your work.
Try not to rush the process of setting good community goals. It’s worth investing a little more time (or getting outside help!) to get it right.
Too many people are trying to develop a good strategy without access to good data.
This typically results in common problems like:
- Unrealistic metrics being plucked from thin air and set as goals.
- Tactics and community roadmaps which don’t reflect the priorities of members (nor the organization).
- Too much time wasted on low-priority activities.
- No ability to clearly prove the success of the community.
- Selecting the wrong platform and configuring it poorly.
All these problems tend to have a single root cause:
The people making critical decisions about communities don’t have the data they need
The difference between developing a strategy without and without good data is about as stark as the difference between night and day.
Every single step of the process was simply a case of looking at the data and then taking the next logical action.
We don’t always know precisely which tactic will have the biggest impact, but we’re beginning with a clear set of issues we want to solve.
Strategy is easy when you have good data
This is why we’re pretty obsessed about getting good data. It gives us a clean, systematic, approach to developing the community.
In the example below, we’ve shown how we used data to drastically improve member satisfaction in the community. Again, it’s a step-by-step process which all begins with the same thing; great data.
Let FeverBee Get The Data For You
We’ve noticed some clients want to build strategies themselves – but they don’t have the data they need (nor the time and knowledge to collect it).
So we’re going to take the process we use to gather data for client strategies and offer it as a standalone option.
Instead of trying to do it all yourself, you can rely upon our team of data/UX/research specialists to equip you with the data you need.
FeverBee’s Community Intelligence Services
Our new community intelligence services include:
Measurement and health
Proving Value and ROI
We can setup dashboards and explain which metrics matter (and why!). Let us set it up properly once so you can use it indefinitely.
We can range multiple datasets to show the impact the community upon whichever metric matters to you (i.e. community behavior on sales, retention or NPS etc…).
Member Needs Analysis (& UX testing)
You can learn more about this here. We can tell you where you should focus your efforts and how you’re comparing today.
We can gather member research and undertake UX testing to identify the key pain points and needs of members.
This isn’t a comprehensive list. We’ve helped clients undertake everything from a full evaluation of their communities, audience, and environment to analysing the specific needs of a unique geographic audience.
It’s all about the data…
Our goal is to make community work far more data-driven than it is today because we’ve seen the results of being data-driven.
We want to equip you with the data you need to make the right decisions for your communities.
We know not everyone has the time or knowledge to do it themselves, so we’re eager to do it for you.
If you think we can help, drop us a line.
In the good old days of community building, it was pretty common for top industry experts to share their best knowledge in hosted brand communities.
They published blog posts, detailed guides, videos, and photos.
But that doesn’t happen as much anymore. There are too many other platforms where people can share knowledge and build their audience.
This has resulted in a lot of struggling ‘success’ communities and empty knowledge bases. The problem is times have changed and the strategies for too many communities haven’t.
If we want experts to engage and contribute to communities (and prevent the evaporative cooling effect), we need to change our strategies and rethink our notion of community.
Who Shares Expertise In Communities?
To be honest, ‘experts’ is about as useful a term as ‘millenials’ to describe a group of people. It’s too broad to identify any meaningful shared traits or approaches.
This often results in ‘experts’ being invited to share in the wrong manner, for the wrong benefits, or contribute the wrong kind of information to any community.
So let’s break ‘experts’ down to the three specific groups of people who you’re most likely to target.
Like us, you should build out different approaches for each of these in your strategies.
1) Partners / consultants / freelancers.
The simple truth is the people most likely to share expertise (beyond just answering questions) in professional communities are the people who can best convert attention into dollars. This means audiences who sell to your customers. In most cases, this means partners, consultants, and freelancers.
This audience is usually looking to build their reputation. Their motivation is high and they have plenty of knowledge to share. It’s no surprise that in most successful ‘success’ communities, it’s partners/consultants who are doing the most work.
These folks can share guides, ideas, and perspectives from working with multiple organizations within the same industry. Success communities should commit 60 to 70% of their time to nurturing these groups to engage (in a manner that isn’t irritatingly promotional).
2) Industry veterans.
Industry veterans are people who work at mid to senior levels of an organization and have several years of direct experience with the product/service/topic.
It’s harder to engage this group because their motivation to share expertise is lower. They don’t immediately benefit. And because they’re often restricted in what they’re allowed to say. Sometimes they simply don’t want to share their lessons with competitors.
In addition, they often have a narrow lane of expertise from a single organization and can’t easily identify which lessons can be generalized to other organizations. However, this audience can excel in one particular area which is popular with other members; case studies.
They can share exactly what they did, what worked, what didn’t work and help you build up a database of great use cases and examples.
3) Senior Execs / VIPs.
This audience consists of C-level folks at large companies and (some top VIPs / influencers) in the sector). We’re talking about the elite of the elite here. The very people who would never lower themselves to write a guest blog post because the benefit is too small to consider.
It’s critically important when you engage this group to remember they are often several layers removed from doing anything tactical/practical. I often see these folks at conferences presenting ideas to an audience that, frankly, knows a heck of a lot more than them.
However, this audience is incredibly useful at contributing broader strategic ideas, industry-related thoughts, recommended partners, and things like big trends in the industry.
It’s important to know when you begin this process which kind of expert you’re targeting and what they can best contribute to your community.
What Motivates Experts To Share Their Knowledge?
If you want experts to participate, you need to understand what experts want when they share knowledge.
Sure, some might do it because they feel like it (and want to help). But that’s relying upon luck – and luck isn’t a great strategy.
In my experience, you’re far more successful if you identify what each group wants and offer them opportunities to gain exactly this.
The benefits vary by the type of expert, but they’re usually a combination of reach, scarcity, trust, and frequency as you can see below:
Generally speaking, experts want to become better known amongst a large audience or to build deeper relationships amongst a small audience. This typically benefits people personally and professionally.
For example, if you’re a partner/consultant, you can use social media, publish blogs *ahem*, or create as many podcasts as you like to build trust amongst your audience. But at some point, if you want to grow you need to reach an audience you don’t already reach. This is where you might participate in webinars, guest posts, and giving conference talks that can be shared in a community.
Likewise, if you’re an industry veteran, you can build reach for your work by engaging in high-frequency activities or, if you’re lucky, participating in high-scarcity but widely seen activities like major conference talks, news appearances etc…
And if you’re a VIP, being invited to invite-only gatherings/events is your preferred channel.
You’re most likely to respond to requests which let you impress peers, improve your organization’s standing, or directly earn money (e.g. speaking fees). The most common example of this are high-prestige events facilitated by individuals or organizations with a powerful brand name.
You can see more specific examples of what each group of experts wants in the table below.
A critical part of your strategy is to make sure you’re offering audiences what they actually want. If you don’t get this right, nothing else really matters.
Where Do Experts Share Their Best Expertise Today?
If you’ve got some great expertise to share, would you share it as a poorly formatted forum thread that would appear alongside every other thread published that day (and quickly disappear off the page?).
Or will you publish it on your own blog or social media account where you can build an audience? Or as a guest article on a popular site where it will be seen by thousands of people?
This is the problem for most customer success communities, there are simply far more (and far better) channels for people to share expertise than in a traditional community experience.
If you want to build a community with experts sharing great advice, the first lesson is you have to incorporate the channels they want to use, not waste your time trying to persuade them to use the channels you want them to use.
This means recognising that some channels are naturally better for sharing particular kinds of expertise.
You can see the most common below.
However, each type of expert also prefers different channels to share different kinds of expertise.
Outside of the tech world, for example, most CEOs don’t waste their time writing long twitter threads to share their expertise. They prefer private peer groups instead. Likewise, industry veterans don’t tend to have their own blog, they share their knowledge when invited in webinars and other channels.
You can see a table of the different channels different groups use to share expertise today below.
This isn’t definitive. Partners and consultants, for example, almost certainly want to do keynote talks/attend invite-only groups (and often do both!). Likewise, senior execs and VIPs can occasionally be tempted to participate in webinars and podcasts if the size of the audience or the prestige of the audience is big enough.
However, it does highlight the primary channels each group either prefers to use or has the ability to use to share knowledge. And we should use these primary channels to build our strategy.
Now we know who the experts are, what they want, what they can offer, and the best channels to engage them, we can bring this into a simple overview below.
If you want to engage experts and build a truly vibrant success (or thought leadership) community, you need to be clear about the best value an expert can offer, understand what they want, and select the best channels to engage them within the community.
This gives us the contours of our strategies, but it doesn’t fully identify the right tactics to engage each of them.
Examples Of Successful Tactics To Engage Experts
It’s one thing to see all the elements pieced together in the table above, it’s another thing entirely to develop the right tactics and approaches to make this work.
If your current tactics aren’t successful, it’s usually either:
1) What you’re asking experts to do requires too much effort. This is common when you create a knowledge base/wiki and expect experts to spend hours of their time creating content for it. It’s probably just not going to happen. The effort is too high. So you need to help them with the heavy lifting (more on that shortly).
2) The perceived rewards are too low to justify the effort. This is common when you want experts to share a testimonial video or spend hours participating in events with tiny audiences. The reach or prestige simply isn’t high enough to make it worthwhile.
The ‘Is it Worth It?’ Line
You can think of an ‘is it worth it?’ line going through the effort vs. reward chart as shown below:
Some common tactics clearly fall on the right side of that line and some fall on the wrong side of that line.
But the real art of what we do here is to make a few simple adjustments to some common tactics and see how reducing the effort or increasing the reward can change everyone.
High-Reward Tactics To Engage Experts To Contribute Knowledge
As we’ve seen, increasing the reward is all about increasing the reach or prestige (scarcity) of the benefit.
Imagine you want your best customers to share a case study of how they use your product. You could try asking them to write an article or record a testimonial, but it’s not clear how it helps them. But what if you increase the prestige by:
- Building a showcase of your top 5 customers. Tell your best customers they’ve been selected. Can they share an article explaining what they did and how well it worked and you will promote it widely.
- Letting all customers nominate themselves for ‘customer of the year’ award. They have to share a case study with results (or even find industry awards they may want to nominate themselves for).
- Featuring experts. Invite a consultant to become a ‘featured expert’ in the community with a monthly column sharing examples and best practices.
- Hosting a monthly showcase. Invite the expert to share their example and take questions in a monthly ‘best of’ showcase.
- Inviting experts to an exclusive gathering. Each person will share their case study with a small group of peers and learn from one another.
- Paying the expert a fee for sharing their case study. You can pay a flat rate or, sometimes better, pay based upon the level of traffic it receives each month (this incentivises the expert to share it widely).
You get the idea. The same tactics can be turned from a failure into a success simply by improving the reward you offer.
It’s a contrary idea but limiting who can share expertise often increases the prestige of it and attracts more knowledge. If you have an article featured in ProjectManagement.com for example, that’s a big deal – but it has to be good!.
It’s also important to be mindful that as people grow their audience or prestige, their cost-benefit equation is likely to change for them.
In the early days of building FeverBee, it made sense to say yes to every opportunity possible. We needed to get our name out there. These days, we need to be more discerning and balance the reward against the effort.
It’s still worth investing dozens of hours in a keynote talk seen by hundreds of key people in the industry. It might be less worthwhile to spend hours on activities that have low reach (or reach the types of audience which we’re not trying to support).
Engaging Experts Through Low-Effort Tactics
The other approach is to make it easier for experts to participate in the community. If you want consultants and partners sharing advice for example, there are plenty of interesting ways you can make it easier for them to do that. For example:
- Asking to repurpose their existing content. Reach out to people who have created popular content in the past and ask if you can republish (or at least include parts of it) with a link back to them. Often experts have a huge back catalogue of great content which isn’t getting any attention (but hasn’t been seen by newcomers in the industry). The Community Leadership Institute is one example of this.
- Aggregating ‘tagged’ content by experts. You might ask experts to tag social media content or blog posts that you can include in your community. Platforms like BazaarVoice, Mavrck, Fohr, Aspire, Olapic, and many others can provide a range of different services for this. FentyBeauty is one example of this in action. Sephora, a past client, even includes this kind of user-generated content on product pages. You will need to filter and approve contributions like this.
- Invite experts to webinars/interviews and turn it into articles. This is where you record a session with an expert (to an audience) and then you take on the hard work of turning this into a great article. It’s more work, but it’s a win-win (they’re more likely to promote it too). Since this is demand-driven, you can also build up a list of key topics from your audience and build articles on each one.
- Creating an advice/opinion round-up. Less common these days, but you can find a topic your audience wants to know more about – ask a group of experts for their best advice on the topic, and publish the results.
This isn’t a comprehensive list by any means, but you get the idea. If you want more participation, you can reduce the effort required.
Creating A Plan To Engage Experts In Your Community
Once you understand all the elements that make a success community tick, you can begin building out the strategic plan.
You will notice that this is goal-driven with clear objectives, targets, channels, and benefits.
Once you have all this in place you can determine the best technology to use. This is the ultimate goal of the process; to create a plan which is aligned with current trends and members needs to deliver the most value to your community.
What Should A Great ‘Success’ Community Look Like?
As you might have noticed, a big requirement of this approach is often being more flexible about how knowledge is integrated within a community. Right now, the typical approach is perhaps best personified within knowledge bases like the one from Anaplan below:
This is probably one of the more successful knowledge bases. But even this only attracts a handful of contributions per year because the reward/benefit ratio isn’t high enough.
You will need to visit the site or open the full image to really understand what’s happening here. But it’s very clearly a community-driven content site (and maybe the best ‘success’ community out there today). The difference is the presentation and permeance of the content.
Long-term, I think a ‘success’ community needs to move beyond a single hosted platform and include a combination of:
- Links to featured experts in the industry (in exchange for their contributions).
- Aggregated content from across the web in newsletters and on the site (The Overflow does this well)
- Aggregated social media content which is getting a lot of attention.
- Regularly hosted events and activities with top experts (which are recorded and converted into knowledge articles).
- Case studies created by industry veterans in exchange for awards (and rewards).
- Invite-only peer group with senior execs.
- Recommended resources and courses by top experts.
Not all of this can be integrated into a standard knowledge-base section of a community. Instead a ‘success’ community will thrive when it resembles a content-driven site created by a community like UXMastery (below) rather than a traditional forum.
This includes a forum but the focus is on member-driven content and providing a definitive set of resources for anyone interested in the topic.
If you want to build a community that features member-driven content, you might have to completely rethink what your community should look like and how it serves the audience and creators.
Examples and Resources
- The Overflow Newsletter
- The Economist Events
p.s. If you want help to build your community strategy, let us know.
We seem to be doing a lot of community benchmarking at the moment.
Benchmarking is essentially comparing one community to similar communities or best practices.
When it’s done well, benchmarking shines a bright light on how you’re doing today, where you need to improve, and shows the path for your community strategy. It’s great ammunition too for showing the value of your work to others.
Without benchmarks, you don’t have much visibility about the big picture. It’s like running a race with a blindfold on. You have no idea if you’re running in the right direction let alone beating the competition.
Benchmarking helps establish reasonable goals, identify opportunities, and priorities.
Sadly most organizations don’t have anything close to the data they need to build out a decent community strategy.
Three Types of Community Benchmarking
We split benchmarking into three categories. These are:
1) Benchmarking against competitors. This is where we compare a community against an organization’s competitors.
2) Benchmarking against alternatives. This is where we compare the benefit a community offers an audience against anywhere else a member can get that benefit.
3) Benchmarking against ‘best in class’ standards. This is where we begin with the best standards in each category and benchmark a community against them.
For the majority of communities, I’d recommend doing the first two. However, if you’re managing a mature, established, community trying to figure out what to do next, then a ‘best in class’ analysis can be helpful (but we’re not going to cover it here).
What Is Competitor Benchmarking?
Competitor benchmarking is where we draw up a list of an organization’s competitors (or community’s competitors) and compare a community against them.
Competitor benchmarking is critical when you want your community to be seen as a competitive advantage. For example, if your community is better than their community, that’s another reason to use your brand vs. theirs.
This is especially important for companies where a supportive community is a critical added value to the product (e.g. a thriving developer community).
In our experience, we’ve also found ‘beating competitors’ to be the single most persuasive argument for attracting more resources for a community. If you don’t have competitor benchmarks, you can’t say where you are today or where you need to go next.
Use Competitor Benchmarks To Set Realistic Expectations
We also use competitor benchmarking to set realistic expectations.
For example, if it took a competitor 3 years to get 100k registered members, you’re not likely to match that within 1 year. A more realistic target might be:
- Year 1: Attract 10k registrations.
- Year 2: Attract 30k registrations.
- Year 3: Attract 50k registrations.
There are a lot of variables here (are they of similar size etc…?), but you get the idea. You can learn from how other communities developed and set realistic targets.
Competitor benchmarks show where you can improve
Finally, we use competitor benchmarks to identify where a client is and isn’t doing well. You should be able to look at the table and easily see the features where your community is beating the competition vs. where it’s struggling.
This lets you either double down on what makes you stand out or try to compensate for your weaknesses.
Criteria For Competitive Benchmarking
You can come up with any criteria you like. But be mindful that benchmarking a community takes a lot of time and it’s not always easy to compare one type of community to another.
We’ve done some deeper investigative work in the past trying to build up a more detailed community picture than is visible on the surface. This includes interviewing members of the community team, snooping on LinkedIn, browsing their job descriptions etc…to build a picture of their budget, team structure, ROI etc….but it’s time-consuming.
In most cases, we want to evaluate a community without needing to have any unique/special access to it. This means we typically look at things we can find in the public sphere.
This typically includes a combination of:
- Date founded. This helps you set realistic targets (find the oldest post or use archive.org).
- Platform(s). This is the community’s technology stack (use builtwith.com or look at the source code).
- Lifecycle stage. Where are they in the community lifecycle?
- Access. Is the community public or private? Do you need special permissions/approval to participate? This has a big impact on the quantity and quality of participation. Try registering and see what happens.
- No. Registered members. Look at listed registered members or member profile URL numbers to find the highest-end number.
- Search. Do they use the platform search tool or a federated/cognitive search tool? Use builtwith.com or look at the source code. Coveo and SearchUnify are common options.
- Level of activity. No. questions per day is a common metric. Either manually count posts for a day or count for a few hours and average over a day (note: some platforms let you use numbers in discussion post URLs so you can work this out).
- Quality of response. Are the responses good and informative or uninformative, unhelpful, responses? Use this benchmarking template.
- Time to first response, response rate, accepted solution rate. If you can’t scrape this data, you can take a random sample of 50 to 100 posts and calculate this for yourself.
- No. groups. Sub-groups are a good indicator of the maturity of a community (but only if they’re active). Manually count these where possible.
- Gamification. Does the community use gamification tools? Are they basic or advanced? I.e. Is the community using the default gamification settings or have they developed advanced, custom, missions/point systems for their audience?
- MVP/Superuser program. How many superusers does the community have? How well documented and detailed is the program?
- CMS. Does the community integrate with a blog/CMS? Is it widely used/kept up to date?
- Knowledge base. Does the community host/use a knowledge base? How widely used it is? Is knowledge kept up to date?
- Social Media. Usually pull metrics Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. This gives you a signal if the community is overperforming or underperforming against other platforms which target similar audiences.
- Events. Does the community host events? How many? What kind etc? How well attended do they seem to be?
This is a typical list, you can often add or remove those which are and aren’t relevant to you. However, it’s a good place to begin.
Example Of Competitor Benchmarks
Let’s use a typical example of competitor benchmarks here:
Now you have the data, it’s important to use it the right way.
Be mindful of the following:
1) Every community lives within its own unique set of circumstances. Some advantageous, others disadvantageous. It’s a lot easier to have 500k members if you have 100 million customers. It’s a lot harder if you have 1 million. It’s often interesting to use a ratio of comparing community engagement (and registrations) to social media followings to see if the ratio is similar to others.
2) Every community has different objectives. Salesforce clearly has a strong community effort – but that doesn’t mean every community should be like Salesforce. You might not want to integrate your community deeply with am LMS. The level of activity for example, often depends upon things you can’t control. So use your judgment and knowledge of your strategy.
The purpose of this process is to give you more insights you can use to build a better community strategy – not provide a set of definitive answers.
If you’re Tableau for example, you might wonder why forum activity is low when so many things are so strong. If you’re ServiceNow, you might start thinking about improving the MVP program and facilitating more events in the community.
If you’re Atlassian, you might start looking at what Tableau does in their superuser program and see what you can improve.
When done well, competitive benchmarking gives you a rich dataset you can use to develop a better community strategy
Data Scraping – Hard To Do, But Tremendously Insightful
Another thing we do for clients (where possible) is scrape data from communities to compare them by size, speed of response, response rate, and accepted solution rate.
This isn’t always possible (Salesforce communities are notoriously painful in this regard). But when it works, the data (as you can see below) is illuminating. It becomes clear, as you can see below, which are the top performers for their size and which need to be improved:
Once you can see data like this, you can find communities of a similar size, on a similar platform, or in a similar sector, and nudge yourself more towards them.
Looking at the above, you can see some obvious areas of improvement:
- UiPath and Dell: Improve the average time to first response.
- eBay, TomTom, and Square: Improve the accepted solution rate
- AWS & ARM: Improve the response rate etc…
Using your competitive benchmarks, you should be able to set yourself realistic targets and get inspiration for what to do next. Knowing industry averages is really useful here.
What Is Alternative Benchmarking?
Alternative benchmarking compares the potential benefits of a community with other places members can go to get those benefits. It’s critical in establishing the unique positioning of your community.
It essentially acknowledges your community isn’t the only game in town.
Sure, people can go to your community to ask questions and get help. But they can also go to Google, browse documentation/knowledge articles, call the customer support line and ask friends. If the goal of your community is to resolve problems, alternative benchmarking recognises that there are plenty of other places people can go to resolve problems.
The same is true with any benefit your community offers your audience. Whether it’s belonging, a chance to explore a topic with like-minded others, or influence – there are plenty of other places members can go to get those things. Why would they visit your community? What is the tremendous unique value your community offers?
For example, if you’re building a community for exports to proactively share advice and expertise (a ‘success’ community), why would your target audience when they can share advice on social media and build their own following? What can your community offer that they don’t?
This is where alternative benchmarking matters.
Criteria For Alternatives Benchmarking
There are plenty of ways to benchmark alternatives. We usually begin by identifying the value a community is trying to offer a community. This usually falls into four categories: support, exploration, influence, and belonging.
Which of these four (you can pick more than one) are the primary benefits of the community to an audience?
Next use the table below to go deeper and find out specifically which of these members care more about:
How To Discover What Matters Most
It’s easy to build a list like this above. But you want to know which of these your audience cares about the most.
Surveys tend to be the best way of gathering this data (but if that’s not possible, you can simply ask members). Here’s a client example below:
It’s worth noting that member research isn’t perfect. In my experience reducing effort to get a response is usually what members like the most. But that rarely ranks highly on surveys. Over time you get the hang of these nuances.
As we can see from the above, there are three broad groups of things members want here. Detailed responses, followed by access and speed. Personalisation and responses from experts don’t rank highly.
Example Of Competitor Benchmarks
You can find a (slightly) altered client version of these benchmarks below:
Looking at this it becomes clear the community has a problem in the eyes of members. It doesn’t do anything particularly well. However, by seeing how other platforms are doing we can identify two clear opportunities here. These are:
- The community could aim to improve the speed of response. It won’t compete with the WhatsApp group, but WhatsApp is a tiny group. This is probably the biggest opportunity today.
- The community could improve convenience. No other widely used channel does this extremely well. LinkedIn is hardly a threat and WhatsApp is too small to matter. By making the community more convenient (improving the login/registration process) etc…the community becomes the most convenient place to get support.
Using Benchmarking Data To Shape Strategy
The real magic however is combining the benchmarking data with the data about what members want to figure out exactly what you should be doing next.
You’re looking to answer four questions here.
1) Where should you double-down on what’s going well? (i.e. where is your community relatively strong vs. the competition and where is the level of audience interest high?)
2) Where should you level up? (i.e. Where is your community relatively weak vs. the competition and where is the level of audience interest high?)
3) What should you stop doing? (i.e. Where is your community relatively strong in areas with a low level of audience interest?)
4) What should you avoid doing? (i.e. Where is your community weak in areas where audience interest is weak?)
This might make more sense in a simple chart shown below:
Let’s use (a different client example) to see how this might look in practice.
p.s. It’s also good to have a ‘costly mistakes’ box when a colleague asks you to ‘just create a wiki’.
What Should You Work On Next?
Now we have this rich data, we can help clients create data-driven community strategies with short-term action plans.
This might look something like this.
Objective 1: Improve staff accessibility within the community.
- Activity 1: Create a weekly session for PMs and rotating senior executives to take questions from the community.
- Activity 2: Set a target for % of questions touched by staff. Set a target for staff to engage in an increasing number of questions within the community.
- Activity 3: Create a framework and provide training for staff to engage in any question.
Objective 2: Reduce the effort involved to engage with the community
- Activity 4: Pre-popular question text with common questions and show related search results. This helps answers to show up without members having to ask the question.
- Activity 5: Integrate the community with the product. This means enabling questions to appear alongside the product as members go about using it.
Objective 3: Bring speed of response up to the industry average.
(this is usually around 48 to 72 hours).
- Activity 6: Automatically escalate unanswered questions to a community MVP channel via Zapier after 24 hours. This ensures more members will get a response to the question.
- Activity 7: Automatically escalate unanswered questions to product experts after 48 hours.
Objective 4: Bring the accuracy of responses up to industry average.
- Activity 8: Evaluate accuracy and train. Pull a sample of posts provided by community MVPs each month and check for accuracy. Those with the lowest accuracy are invited to an exclusive training session. If they don’t attend, address the issue directly.
How Frequently Should You Do Benchmarking?
Once a year feels about the right time frame for me.
We have some clients we do benchmarking for on an annual basis.
The great thing about independent benchmarking is you get to see all the improvements you’ve made in the year beyond those which can only be captured in a graph showing engagement or the number of active members.
If you do your benchmarking this year, I’d set a calendar invitation to do it around the same time next year too.
Why It’s Important To Get Your Benchmarking Done
Benchmarking gives you a comprehensive picture of how your community is doing within its environment. It gives you an incredibly rich dataset filled with information you can use to build your strategy and action plans.
We’ve only really scratched the surface in the insights benchmarking can provide you.
Once you’ve got the full dataset, you can do awesome things like:
- Track progress against competitors over several years.
- Run user experience testing against competitor sites and make quick adaptations.
- Set realistic target ranges and achieve them by incorporating the features which have worked elsewhere.
- Spot new competitors and adapt quickly to prevent losing members.
- Invest your time in the areas which have the biggest impact.
- Check and compare ratios of engagement to social media followers to see if your community is performing at the right level.
You can use the framework above and do the benchmarking yourself, or you can get benchmarking done professionally (by firms like FeverBee). But whichever road you go, make sure you get your community benchmarks. You will find them tremendously useful when deciding what you should do next.
If you’ve ever wondered why your community isn’t growing, it’s probably because you’re leaving growth to chance.
It’s common to focus on doing fun, engaging, activities in a community and hope growth takes care of itself. This is a mistake.
The problem is if you don’t get more people to visit the community, no-one new is going to see all the engaging things you’re doing.
This is why the majority of things you do don’t have a big impact on community membership – they don’t get more visitors in the first place.
If you want to radically grow a community, you need to match your engagement efforts with a targeted promotional push.
This post is about the best techniques and channels to do just that.
The Best Channels To Grow Your Community Community
If you want to grow a community, you need to be deliberate about how you do. Simply ‘doing a good job’ doesn’t grow a community.
In our community strategies, we develop a clear plan of growth by identifying the main channels to use and then the specific actions we will take on each of them.
This isn’t a comprehensive list, but the main tools of community growth are usually:
- Search visitors. This is traffic from search engines (Google, Bing, Brave etc..).
- Customer support flow. This is when people are trying to find an answer to their question through support channels and get redirected to your community.
- Homepage placement. This is when the community appears somewhere prominently on the homepage for people browsing around.
- Product integration. This is when the community is a clickable link within the product (or members can simply participate in the community from the product i.e. in-app communities).
- Related articles. This is when the community shows up alongside related articles people are looking at on a company website.
- Newsletter promotion. This is when the organization promotes the community to an audience subscribed to a mailing list.
- Paid social ads. This is when the organization pays to promote the community through ads or promoted posts on social media.
- Social media. This is when you promote the community through the popular channels members use every day.
- Member referrals. This is when members invite others to join the community or share community content on social channels.
- Partnerships and influencers. This is when the community is partnered with another organization (or influencers) and traffic is sent in both directions.
- Direct invitations. This is when the community team sends individual outreach messages inviting people to join.
You can take very deliberate and specific actions to use each of these tools to grow a community.
Which Channel Of Growth Is Best For Your Community?
Not every tool is suitable for growing every type of community. It doesn’t make sense to individually invite people to a support community.
One additional member isn’t worth the effort. Nor does it make sense to promote small peer groups on the community homepage. A flood of traffic will do more harm than good.
You can see a breakdown of the right tool for each type of community here.
Some of this is subjective, but you get a general idea.
For support communities that are usually high-traffic volume, you need tools that can also deliver a high volume of traffic. For smaller communities, you’re working at the micro-level and need the right tools to match.
If you want to grow a community, the first step is to identify which are the right tools for your community.
The Smaller The Community, The More Influence You Have Over Growth
Generally speaking, the smaller the group the more direct influence you have over the level of growth.
If you’re building a support community, your influence is usually somewhat limited. This is because the number of visitors depends upon how many people have the kind of questions support communities are best placed to solve. There are some things you can do to optimize traffic flows, but you’re fundamentally playing within a given set of constraints.
However, if you’re building a small community of peers, your influence is much greater. You often individually invite people to join and you’re responsible for keeping them active.
The bigger the audience you’re dealing with, the more growth depends upon sources of traffic you have less direct influence over. Be mindful of this when you’re given engagement targets.
p.s. The level of influence over direct growth is also the level of influence you have over member retention.
How To Get More Visitors To Your Community
Once you know which tools are best suited to your community, you can start to figure out how to optimize each of them.
This isn’t going to be a comprehensive list, but will cover some of the steps which have given us the most mileage in the past.
1. Community Search Traffic
Search is a black box of conflicting advice, but some general principles seem to work well.
There are several ways to improve your search results. The most common are:
- Removing/archiving old content. Use tools like ScreamingFrog to pull a list of articles/discussions and combine this with criteria to highlight discussions that haven’t received any traffic in the past year. Then remove them from the search index (or the discussion entirely with redirects to category-level topics).
- Match categories/tags to terms that are searched for. Use tools like Ahrefs and customer research to identify what people are searching for and ensure categories/tags are named accordingly (i.e. so they appear in every URL/page for that topic). Also ensure the site configuration is set up to properly complete the title tags, meta descriptions, alt-images text, and h1/h2 tags etc…
- Target specific keywords with resources. Communities are fantastic tools for compiling the best expertise from members into a definitive resource for a particular topic. Once published, you can also help members to share and promote the resources (aside – a definitive guide to tools/settings often seem popular).
- Improve the navigation/content architecture. This helps limit orphan pages that aren’t linked to within the site but exist on the site. These should be removed or included within a rebuilt navigation structure. Too many community sites have awful navigation/content architecture.
- Hosting the community on the domain rather than a subdomain. If you can, host the community in a folder (or seemingly in a folder) rather than a subdomain, i.e. it’s better to have brand.com/brand/community than community.brandname.com. This is hard to do without hosting the community yourself.
- Improving the site load speed. Be aware some platforms are remarkably slow to load compared to others. In my experiments, Flarum seems to have the best load speeds (and Salesforce the slowest). If you can’t switch platforms, at least remove every non-essential script/video/image you don’t need on the site (remove annoying pop-ups if you can too).
- Rewrite posts and merge duplicate posts. Make a habit of rewriting post discussion titles for things people actually search for. Also be mindful to merge discussions with duplicate titles (or very similar titles) to create single-comprehensive discussions.
If you need more help with search, contact us and we can undertake an audit with follow-up recommendations.
2. Customer Onboarding And Support Flow
The onboarding flow is how and if a customer learns about the community. Our surveys often reveal many customers don’t know a community exists (aside, I’ve also been in senior exec meetings where participants made the same startling discovery). The support flow is how members go about resolving questions. A change in the positioning or prominence of the community in the support flow can have a big impact upon participation.
The best ways to optimize this include:
- Introduce newcomers into the community (and setting up a place for them). For success and support communities, making newcomers aware of the community in the early documentation and training, and having customer support/success reps telling audiences about the community is key.
- Place the community above the support center (Okta example). Make ‘ask the community’ the default option for people looking for support answers. Position it above the ‘contact us’ option.
- Federated search to retrieve community discussions. Ideally, you want a search tool (Coveo/SearchUnify) that can retrieve information from throughout the support center (both discussions and help articles). This can greatly increase the number of people arriving at the community.
- Reminding callers about community while on hold. I’ve only seen this done once, but a message advising people on hold they can ask questions in the community can add a (small) number of active members.
- Create and communicate the right positioning messages for community vs. support. Make it clear when and how people should use the community. This should appear on your community homepage and be consistent in every other message.
3. Homepage Placement
A lot more people are going to find your community if it’s featured on the main navigation tab than if it’s buried several levels deep. Sometimes this tweak alone can double the amount of traffic a community receives.
At the top level, you want the community in the main navigation tab. If not, you want it featured first in the support tab/help center. If not there, then you’re not going to get much referral traffic.
The SAP Community (below) is a best in class example here:
4. Product Integration
This is more relevant to some products than others. The more integrated the community is with the product itself, the more traffic you’re likely to get. There are some wins here:
- Prominent inclusion in the product. If you can include the community as a simple click from the product itself, this can help. Quickbooks (below) is a good example of this.
- Packaging. It’s relatively rare, but I’ve seen the community featured on packaging for products. “For support, visit community.brand.com”. It’s probably not a big win, but can help.
- In-app community. Some organizations have an in-app community which can be directly integrated with the product so customers/audiences can directly ask questions without having to leave the app. Other times I’ve seen software error messages link to the community where people can get support/ask questions.
5. Related Articles
A major way to drive traffic to a community is to ensure it shows up in more places ‘in the flow’ of where people visit today. A common missed opportunity is connecting the metadata from knowledge articles to community discussions and using it to show related community discussions alongside knowledge articles.
For example, for any knowledge article, you could show related community discussions in the sidebar that members might find useful.
Another option is to include an option to ask a question about any article at the bottom of the article itself. Apple does this well.
6. Newsletter Promotion
You can get bumps in traffic from properly promoting the community within a newsletter which goes out to a majority of customers (or your audience). The newsletter isn’t a suitable option for customer support communities, but it can be useful for success communities (promoting individual items of great community content) and using it to help get user groups and new peer groups quickly to a critical mass of activity.
7. Paid Social Ads
It’s not common for organizations to launch paid social media to promote a community, but it can be useful when an organization doesn’t have a newsletter audience to promote a new community initiative (and has limited time to build an audience).
It’s best used for a small number of success and exclusive peer group communities (the kind that charges a membership fee to make a budget worthwhile). I’ve seen the cost of acquiring a new member range between $4 to $120.
8. Social Media
If you have an existing audience, social media can help you amplify discussions to a broader audience. This works well in success, advocacy, and peer groups. If you don’t have a big audience, social media can be the best place to look for the first trickle of discussions.
- Promoting good discussions on social media channels. When you have discussions (or content) that are becoming popular in the community, you can boost traffic by also promoting them on social media too. MoneySavingExpert (below) is a good example.
- Finding new members on LinkedIn. Another tactic is to recruit new members directly from social media. LinkedIn and Twitter, for example, provide a great channel to promote the community to new audiences. You can search specifically for the people you want to join and invite them. This works especially well for smaller peer groups. This is where knowing tools like Canva can really help.
- Platform referrals. Sometimes the platform will automatically promote your group/community/content to others on the same platform. Facebook groups are a good example. There might be a way to optimize this with the right name/description, but I haven’t yet worked out how. Reddit is another one where the community facilitates mass cross-promotion of related groups from one to another.
9. Member Referrals
In theory, as a community grows more people talk about it and it grows. In practice, that doesn’t happen as much as you might think. Most people don’t go around recommending communities to each other. However, there are a couple of things you can do to help facilitate referrals.
- Engage members in creating a shared project. If you engage members in creating a shared project, they’re quite likely to share it with others. This works especially well with eBooks, events, and similar activities where members will promote the community to others (aside this post is 13 years old and still relevant).
- Lists or rankings of top members. I hate that this still works in 2022, but creating a list of top community members (or industry influencers) tends to attract a lot of promotion and people on the list sharing it with others. If members can even vote and rank the list, even better.
- Enable member sharing/referrals. Increasing the prominence of shared options (all the usual social channels) can provide a small boost. But most people don’t share community discussions unless something remarkable is happening. For peer groups and user groups, inviting members to invite others (or giving members a fixed number of invites they can use per month) can really help grow a community.
- Create content worth sharing. A final option is perhaps the most obvious, create things worth sharing. As mentioned before, definitive guides to specific topics can attract a lot of attention. Especially when members have played a part in creating it.
- Influencers. The common myth is you need influencers to launch a community. You don’t. But they can be great people to help promote a community once it’s launched. The most common are hosting events featuring influencers, letting influencers curate discussions/have their own ask me anything category for a short-time, hosting panels with influencers or simply paying influencers to answer questions. The more influencers know a community exists, the more likely they will mention it at some point to their audience. This isn’t a big win, but it can help.
- Existing organizations/communities. You should have a clear ecosystem map of related organizations/similar events in your space. You can offer a partnership where you promote them if they promote you. This works especially well for events which don’t have their own community. You can be the community for events. Likewise, you can reach out to large organizations and suggest your community be added as a resource for new/existing employees etc.
11. Direct invitations
Direct invitations are primarily used to get people to join small groups. At the larger side, it doesn’t make sense to send out invitations directly to members. An additional member doesn’t move the needle. Therefore direct invites work best for attracting advocates, launching small groups of peers, and creating a program of superusers (one client fantastically referred to the superuser invites as the ‘Hogwarts letters’).
There are plenty of useful scripts you can use here. However, fundamentally, the name of this game is about customizing the approach to make each recipient feel like they’re being invited to something special based upon their skills, knowledge, or personal attributes. In short, it’s about making the recipient feel as special as possible.
If you’re launching a new group, you can easily find and send messages to numerous people on LinkedIn, Twitter, and other channels who might want to join.
Create A 12-Week Growth Plan
I’ve found it works best to create a ‘12-week sprint’ when it comes to growth. 12 weeks is arbitrary, but the key is to figure out which options make sense to you and then put this into a specific plan for growth.
You can see an example below:
This growth plan is probably too ambitious for 12 weeks, but it shows the full range of activities available. If you’re going to deliberately grow a community, you need a specific plan to do it that everyone can rally around.
Don’t Leave Growth To Chance!
We teach our clients not to let growth happen by chance.
Sure, you might get a surge of new members who happen to stumble upon your community. But you’re going to be far more successful if you deliberately drive a group of new visitors to your community.
You can (and should) develop a deliberate plan of growth (i.e. a 12-week plan), target a couple of channels, and then work hard to optimize each of them.
You have more influence over some of these channels than others. The trick is to figure out which are the best channels for your community and how you can best optimize them. This isn’t a comprehensive list of resources, but it should help.