If you want to grow your community, you also need to be prepared for growth.
This is a strategic principle.
You can grow the community by redirecting your customer support area to your community first.
This will probably increase the number of questions you get in the community by 20% to 30%.
Are you prepared for that?
Ok, you have 20+ questions per day and want 40+.
Answering 40 technical questions per day is beyond the level of a single community manager. So what are you going to do?
Recruit top members to answer them (do you have a plan for how to do that?)
Get more staff members involved in answering questions (again, is there a plan for that?)
Hire more staff?
It’s futile to try and drive more growth without having a plan to handle that growth.
She answers almost every question within seconds.
She posts dozens of times a day.
She is in your insider group and gives you plenty of feedback.
On paper, she is your indispensable member.
And now she’s annoyed about something and wants a change.
Be careful here.
The more you treat her as the boss of a community (rather than a volunteer), the more she will behave like the boss of a community.
If the ideas and feedback are good and representative of the community, then act upon them. But don’t act upon them just because she’s your top member.
p.s. it’s often the very top user whose holding back participation from other members by responding to every question before anyone else gets a chance.
If you want to have some fun, study the taxonomy of top communities (well, perhaps not fun, but it’s worth doing).
The taxonomy of a community gets far less attention than it should – but it has a huge impact on the community.
Far too many communities have a terrible structure that hurts the experience for members.
You have several options. You can structure your community by:
- User type (customer, developer, partner, reseller).
- Product categories (product 1, 2, 3).
- Sector (retail, B2B etc..)
- Visiting intent (collaborate, share, get help).
…or a combination of the above?
Most communities try to do a combination of the above.
The Filemaker community goes with Create, Share, Integrate, Report, and Events up to two further levels of subtopics within each:
The HP community, like many in the B2C sector, go with specific product categories:
The Dropbox community goes with visitor intent as the prime navigation method:
Get survey data to determine what members prefer best (or test different approaches). Do they prefer to browse by intent, user type, product type, or some other issue? This is a simple survey question to ask.
A few things to be aware of here.
1) If you’re using Salesforce, be aware it’s a terrible platform for superordinate topic structures. For example, the ‘Many to Many’ topic on Filemaker is under Create > Relationships by navigation, but discussions for Many to Many won’t show up under Relationships or Create unless specifically tagged with those names. Trust me, this is a real pain.
2) Unless topics can be suggested from the content of discussions, know that most members will simply select the default (or easier) one. If there’s a ‘general’ option, they will use it.
3) Most members are too lazy to tag a question with more than one topic unless it’s automatically suggested as an option for them. Apple (below) is a good example of making it easy to tag multiple topics instead of trying to think of the right answer.
As we start our Strategy Course this week, here are a few simple tips to make your strategies more useful and relevant.
1) Go with the tide. Go with current social and technological trends rather than try to fight against them. Better yet, lead the way in the new trend. Clinging to the old is a sure-fire way to condemn your community to failure.
2) Work within constraints. Constraints are useful. Don’t assume you will get more time or resources. Cost every tactic by the time and budget it requires and ensure it’s feasible. Assume each team member has 20 to 30 hours a week outside of meetings to work on the community. Constraints are your friend.
3) Position the community. A community should offer unique indispensable value to the brand and to its members. If there are other options (especially easier options) the community has no purpose. Your audience research should help you to a position to deliver indispensable value.
4) Ruthlessly prune tactics. Almost all of us are trying to execute too many tactics that don’t move the needle. Try to focus on just doing a handful of things extremely well. Tactics that only impact a small number of members and those which are repetitive from week to week are typically first in line to be culled.
5) Present options. If you want more support, present your strategy at first as a series of options you can pursue and get senior executives to decide which option they prefer. Each should clearly outline the costs and trade-offs. Typically you will be asked to do a combination of options – but fight back against that. It’s best to have a clear strategy you’re all in for.
6) Guide people the entire way. Nothing in the final strategy should be a surprise, it’s the summation of the conversations you’ve guided your colleagues through. This is a collaborative process that requires input from your colleagues at every major juncture.
This isn’t a comprehensive list, but if you can tackle the above you’ll be doing better than most.
This weekend, I posted a manifesto on Medium which shares:
- How many members most communities need to be successful.
- The numerous problems with chasing engagement.
- The kind of behaviors you need from your members.
- The type of strategy you might want to adopt.
If you have a spare 8 minutes and you’re looking for an argument to explain to your boss why you should stop measuring engagement, this post might help.
A good rule of thumb is to allocate 10% to 20% of your budget on measuring, evaluating, and communicating the impact of your community.
If your total budget (platform, staff, etc…) is $500k a year, allocating $50k a year to build a world-class system for analysing the community’s results and communicating the next steps isn’t just common sense…it’s a bargain!
That might break down to:
- $10k – Software.
- $30k – Consultancy to setup measurement, analysis, and reporting systems.
- $10k – Misc budget. Designing reports, bringing stakeholders together in-person to report the results.
Spending 1 day a week on analysis and reporting might, in turn, break down to:
- Maintaining the systems for collecting and updating community data.
- Collecting data and updating community reports.
- Developing recommendations based on the data collected.
- Communicating the results to the steering group (both individually to key stakeholders and as a collective).
- Update the strategy based upon the results.
- Designing and publishing community stories.
I bet if you did just half of these, you would have far more support for your community and knowledge about your community than you do today.
The additional snippet doesn’t help much.
Members can grasp just by looking at the subject line if they are interested (or have the answer to the question).
Notice how just the subject titles are displayed – this allows for more posts to be quickly scanned.
Notice here that just four posts manage to squeeze into the same amount of space. This means fewer people will see activity – which is especially a problem in a community as active and as successful as Atlassian’s.
Some battles are worth fighting, this is one of them.
Final email of our series today.
And a simple question. Is your community indispensable?
Is it even on track to becoming indispensable?
Our relentless focus in our community course is ensuring you are equipped with all the tools, knowledge, and resources, you need to make your community indispensable to your business and your career.
If you’re not sure if you’re there yet, or unsure if you’re delivering much value, or what to measure, or how to gain support or how to drive more engagement, these courses will help.
No major push today, just a final reminder that this is your last chance to sign up for our two community management courses.
I’ll be teaching both courses from Feb 24 to April 3rd.
If you want to make the big leap ahead in your work, develop the best communities you can, and get connected with some of the smartest and most passionate community pros in the space – I hope you will join us.
The easiest way to change the behavior of members is to change the context.
If you want members to share resources, don’t send an email out begging them to share resources, create a competition where each member gets to submit just one great resource others can vote on. Make it time-limited to just one-week.
If you want members to collaborate, try hosting a sprint, hackathon, or other project.
If you want your top members to build relationships at a major conference, pay for them to do a series of escape rooms together.
If you want people to share their problems, find the top VIP you can and invite members to submit their toughest questions for her.
You get the idea. You can’t just change the words in an email and expect the end-result to change much.
Far better to try completely different tactics. Change the context. Ideally, make the behavior more fun, time-limited, and social.
Many years ago, I was brought in to save a dying community of teachers.
I was the third consultant brought into the project.
The previous two had undertaken research, made recommendations which failed to reverse the downward trend, and had vanished.
My research quickly revealed precisely what the former two consultants had learned; teachers were too busy to participate in a community!
They were overwhelmed with grading papers, adapting to new edicts from above, responding to student questions, dealing with tricky parents, etc…
The community was never a priority for them!
Their lack of time came up in every single interview and almost every survey response.
Before you scroll down, take a second and think what you would recommend if they were your client.
Seriously, stop and take a second to think what you would recommend.
Would you try to make the platform easier and quicker to use?
Would you try to make the community more fun and engaging?
Would you try to build a small, private, base of community members for mentoring and ensure every interaction was high-value?
If you answered yes to the above, you are recommending precisely what the former two consultants recommended.
None of these recommendations worked!
The solution is staring right at you but you’re probably not seeing it.
It’s easy to listen to members but not truly see what they’re saying.
I made a simple recommendation, if teachers are clearly too busy to participate, make the community a place for teachers to share their time-saving tips.
This is what we call ‘tweaking the concept’.
Nailing the concept is one of the most powerful ways you can drive more activity and participation.
Activity in the teachers’ community exploded and eventually surpassed its peak within six months. We brought in productivity experts, let teachers track how much time they had saved, and highlighted our time-saving idea of the week.
Once we nailed the concept, it became easier to come up with powerful engagement ideas.
Do You Know What Your Members Really Desire?
One of the first things I do in any client project is interview and survey members.
I’m not randomly putting questions together at the last minute, every question guides me closer to finding out what every segment, not just needs, but deeply desires.
Only once that research is done can I create a community concept that deeply connects with what members desire.
If you get the concept right, everything becomes much easier.
The best part of this, is it costs far less than changing technology and the impact is indefinite.
As part of our Psychology of Community course, I’m going to teach you how to undertake this research and build your community concept.
If you have an existing successful community, this can maximize the level of participation.
If you’re about to launch a community, this will ensure your community thrives.
And if you’re struggling, you should refine your concept before tweaking anything else.
This is a set of skills you can use on any community you ever work on.
I hope you will join me, the course begins next week!
You can sign up for Psychology of Community for $750 or sign up for Strategic Community Management too at a combined rate of $1100 USD.
See you on the inside.
You don’t want to flood the community with superusers to answer a trickle of questions.
If all your questions are getting quick responses, you need more questions.
That means promoting the community. You can usually achieve this via ensuring better placement on the website, better integration with your products/services, improving search rankings, social ads, or direct promotion to existing audiences.
If you’re not getting enough good, quick, answers to questions you need more MVPs/motivated top members. But don’t recruit too many and have an army of members with nothing to do.
Brand new communities need 2 to 3, established communities typically need 10 to 15, and mature communities up to 50 to 70. With some exceptions for ‘mega communities’, you need far fewer top members than you think.
The problem is rarely quantity, it’s always the quality of relationships you can build with them. And more people in your MVP program can harm the quality of relationships you build with them.
A quick word of advice if you’re trying to explain the value and concept of community.
Show them, don’t tell them.
Show them another, similar community. Highlight how it works. Highlight the value they get from it. Highlight what will be different about yours.
It seems obvious – but then you might be surprised. It’s hard to grasp a community until people have seen it.
Better yet, show communities at all stages of the lifecycle. What it will look like when it launches, what it looks like at maturity, and beyond.
Here’s a list of examples ready-made just for you: www.feverbee.com/communities.