Here are two statements that seem oxymoronic but actually complement each other:
1) No matter what you do, the majority of your members won’t become more engaged than they are today.
2) It’s possible to double (even triple) the retention rates of your community members.
These are both true because of the huge gap between ‘a majority’ (51%+) and the retention rates most people see in their communities are getting today (5% to 20%).
Last week, I hosted a webinar where we shared the step-by-step process we used to triple a client’s retention rates.
What We Learned From Our Research
The client sold a fairly popular technology product (but wasn’t a SaaS vendor). The company operated in the $750m to $850m revenue per year range and had a community that had been around for a couple of years before we were invited to help.
We spent 5 weeks evaluating the current community and interviewed 26 members of the community, 17 members of staff, and collected 279 survey responses.
- The company had no capacity for major technical changes.
- Members only visited when they had a problem.
- Newcomers didn’t find “any reason” to keep coming back.
- Newcomers weren’t aware of many of the benefits the community offered.
- Superusers felt increasingly ignored.
- Members disliked receiving countless notifications.
As you can see below, member retention rates were poor and had been relatively static for months.
Step One – Reducing The Noise
We began with small optimisations. We know members hated receiving countless automated messages (especially those from the gamification system), so we stopped almost all of them.
Removing automation rules didn’t significantly increase or decrease participation.
Lesson: Automation rules don’t seem to increase participation much at all (probably because most people ignore them)
Step Two – Improving the First Impression
Next we changed the default setting to show the ‘latest posts’ rather than ‘top posts’.
i) Changed default settings to show latest posts
I’ve consistently found when members make a post, they want to see it appear at the top of the page (i.e. not be crowded out by popular posts). We also found in our research most members had already seen the top posts in the community. They wanted fresh questions to answer.
ii) Remove survey pop-up
We removed an irritating survey pop-up asking members to share what they think of the community. Newcomers were being hit with three pop-ups upon visiting, so removing one helped.
Aside, if you want a good non-intrusive example of a pop-up, the UiPath community (a client) is a great example below:
iii) Created a list of suggested questions
Because many newcomers reported not knowing what questions to ask, we created a list of suggested questions, shared examples of good questions, and helped them become as familiar as possible with what a good question looks like.
iv) Send direct messages from the community manager’s name
We replaced the generic messages from [email protected] (which were often ignored or found their way into spam filters) with emails from the community manager’s name.
We wanted members to know the community managers’ name and begin a direct discussion with them. A few months ago, we worked with Shuning at Veracode on this message which is both personal and shares the benefits of community.
v) Repositioned the community (and changed its messaging)
Much of the previous messaging focused on people joining a group of peers like themselves.
Our research showed members wanted quick responses to long-tail questions first (but might join peer groups later).
We changed the messaging from getting personal questions to getting personalised responses to difficult/niche questions. This was reflected in the banner, CTA, etc…
At this point we began to see some noticeable improvement. It’s hard to say which changes had the biggest impact, but the metrics were definitely heading in the right direction.
Step Three: Personalising The Community Experience
i) Created a ‘members to follow’ list
A frequent problem on the Salesforce platform is people were encountering blank feeds as they hadn’t followed any members or topics.
We tackled this in two stages. First, we created a list of members to follow. These were verified experts endorsed by us. The second step was to create a more custom onboarding journey.
ii) Created Personalised Responses To Every Poster
Alongside the onboarding tool, we built out a system to get personalised responses to everyone that contributed a post in the community.
This required the use of a Zapier integration to Slack identifying superusers, moderators, and the community team to members who had made a post more than 30 days ago and not participated since.
We created the standardised framework below to ensure each of them received a response to their discussion.
iii) Newcomer meetings and newcomer groups
We knew newcomers wanted to engage with product managers as they were getting started. So we tried to do this in the community.
This turned out to be too much work for too little reward. So we replicated this with a newcomer group supported by superusers who could answer most of the common questions in the community.
iv) Used Asset-Based Community Development Approach
We tried to find everyone a unique role in the community. We know when members feel they can make unique, useful, contributions to the community, they tend to stick around and participate.
This involved a lot of training and we created a few standardised messages to help as you can see below.
This is the point where we began to see huge impact from our work.
We saw major increases in each of the metrics we were tracking.
This wasn’t a spike either, it was a sustained increase.
Step Four: Support Superusers
i) Created Standard Templates
We began working with superusers in this phase to get them engaged in creating standard templates and responses for responding to most members’ queries.
We used a similar flow-chart to the one above to give every superuser an easy process they can follow to respond to almost any post.
This involved sharing a lot of examples of good and bad. The more examples you can share (and highlight what’s good or bad about them), the better the outcome will be.
ii) Curated the best resources
A common problem facing newcomers was quickly getting up to speed so they don’t have to ask the same repetitive questions over and over again.
If you’ve been in the community a while, you’ve already seen the best resources and participated in the best discussions. But newcomers didn’t have that.
So we created a list of curated resources ‘which every newcomer should read’.
Aside, the Digital Ocean community does this extremely well.
Step Five: Banner Relaunch and Follow-up Messages
i) Redesigned the banner
The previous community banner lacked a clear call to action and didn’t explain what made the community unique. We revamped this to focus on three actions visitors could take right now within links.
This focused specifically on ‘solve problems’, ‘top tips’, and ‘find a group’.
One of my favourite examples of banners was the former CodeAcademy community banner below:
ii) Follow-ups to check progress
Using a Zapier/Slack integration to top members again, we created a list of members for superusers to reach out to after they had been members for 3 months.
Around 65% (it wavered a lot) of FTPs (first-time posters) received a follow-up message after 3 months. If they were still highly engaged, they were invited to join a group of veterans.
iii) Automatically assigned members to roles
Finally, we tested something new (similar to the ABCD approach).
We sent emails to members assigning them to a role within the community (usually something like ‘topic reporter’ or ‘topic facilitator’) based upon their past contributions.
They had a choice about whether or not to accept the role. Acceptance rates varied from 10% to 20% (which is high when emails had an open rate of 20% to 30%.
What Worked And What Didn’t?
In an ideal world, we would make one single intervention at a time and measure the impact of each.
In the consultancy world, we don’t have the time for that. Instead we make a number of changes at once and assess which worked.
However, as you can see below, you can draw your own conclusions about what had the biggest impact.
I suspect the biggest wins were:
- Improving the banner design.
- Sending personalised messages.
- Using the ABCD approach to newcomers can make a unique impact.
- Suggested questions
Improving Retention Rates Isn’t Easy
The best thing you can do is deep research of your target audience (like, really go through the community site with them), embrace best practices in the community design, identify and prioritise the highest impact activities and build from there.
These resources might help:
- Some basic member engagement scripts.
- Personalised response framework.
- Template introduction message.
- 7Summits Onboarding Tool (Salesforce only).
- Download the presentation slides.
- Watch the webinar.
If you want more help increasing retention, I strongly recommend my book, Build Your Community which has lots of advice and examples.
You can also reach out to FeverBee about consultancy support.
In one of my first consultancy projects (over a decade ago!), I interviewed two dozen members. The majority mentioned the community platform was ‘too cluttered’ and difficult to navigate.
My suggestion was to declutter it by “removing stuff”.
You can probably spot the problem. It’s a lot easier to make simple recommendations like this than to really get into the causes and solutions to clutter.
To declutter a community platform you usually need some combination of:
1. Undertake internal interviews to uncover why the site is cluttered in the first place (there’s usually competing internal interests).
2. Gather data on which areas are being clicked and why.
3. Interview members and use tools like hotjar to see how members progress through the community.
4. Use the above to prioritise every aspect/feature of the community.
5. Develop a criteria for which things can be removed and gain support for this criteria.
6. Identify the benefits of decluttering (i.e. what metrics will increase in exchange for the internal/external backlash you will get for removing areas of the community).
If you’re planning to improve your community by removing ‘clutter’, be warned clutter masks a level of complexity you need to dive into to reduce it.
P.s. Quick aside, 90% of the time, a ‘clutter’ problem is really symbolic of a ‘strategy’ problem. Sometimes stakeholders aren’t aligned on the value of the community so try to cater to multiple goals. Other times it’s not clear who the community is for and what each of those segments need.
Over the past decade, the steps we’ve used to increase retention of members have changed significantly. We’re using an entirely different toolbox with our clients now than we did ten (or even five) years ago.
On Jan 12, I’ll be hosting a free live seminar to share a case study in how we used new techniques to triple a client’s retention rates. Some of these steps might validate what you’re already doing. Others, I suspect, will give you new ideas and insights you can use.
- Who: Richard Millington (Founder, FeverBee)
- What: Tripling Member Retention Rates Webinar
- When: January 12, 2022 @ 5pm (UK), Noon (Eastern), 9am (Pacific)
- Where: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_f6TWAN2xQNmR8IiNcpeAtg
What Will You Learn
During this webinar, I’m going to take you step by step through the actions we undertook to achieve the results below.
You’re going to learn that the majority of things we tried didn’t work. This probably includes many of the actions you’re taking today.
You’re also going to learn what does work. You will learn what we did and in what order to achieve the results above.
You can sign up here:
In my experience, it’s 10x harder for a brand to build a community about the topic than about the product. This is because you’re trying to create demand rather than satisfy demand. And creating demand is extremely hard.
Some organisations have succeeded here to various degrees (FitBit, Hubspot, and Monday.com spring to mind). But the successes are few and far between.
Yes, given the choice people probably do want to have industry-level discussions.
But (and this is a big but), why would they do it on your community and not Twitter? Why would they not do it on a platform which offers the maximum exposure with the least amount of effort? Why do it in a brand community where people will naturally be suspect of the brand’s motives vs. an independent community created by a passionate amateur?
It’s no surprise that the overwhelming majority of successful industry-related communities are founded by people without being employed by one of the major players in that industry.
This doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it means you have to leverage your unique advantages and tell a very different story.
This might be a story about exclusivity. Perhaps only the top people get to join and participate in your community. But that story limits what the size of your community can be. Perhaps you tell a story about focusing upon a particular niche that is underserved at the moment. But, again, that has natural size limitations.
Or it might be a story about influence and making change within an environment that is being supported, but not led, by the brand. There’s no shortage of stories to tell.
But, trust me, just giving an audience another place to have these kinds of discussions won’t be enough to get them to visit. The competition is far too fierce for that.
See you in the new year.
I have a confession, I only began using Calendly this year.
Before that, my (fab) assistant Clare handled scheduling. The process seemed to work well enough, so I didn’t change it for 6+ years.
But once I switched to Calendly, I realised how cumbersome the previous process had been. I’d connect Clare with the person(s) I wanted to speak with and she would negotiate a time that worked for everyone. The back and forth took time.
Simply sending someone a link with all my (and my colleagues’) available times (which show up in the recipient’s time zone) reduces all this down to a click or two. In hindsight, it’s such an obvious move.
It makes you wonder what obvious moves you might be missing.
I recently recommended exploring a Zapier integration to an acquaintance. She replied, “I don’t have time to explore new tools”.
Understandable perhaps. But keeping your head down and ignoring the technology changes all around you is also a sure-fire way to become a digital dinosaur. Staying abreast of technological developments would appear to be a pretty important part of the community building process.
p.s. Maybe the reason you’re so busy is that you never invest the time to become more efficient?
About five years ago, I began to notice a trend in our follow-up calls with past clients.
About half the clients were executing on the majority of the strategy and half weren’t – one or two had hardly executed any of the strategies they had paid for (and enthusiastically approved).
So what was going on?
The answer was half didn’t have the systems in place to execute a strategy well.
They couldn’t turn the steps listed into the strategy into an immediate action plan (i.e. who will be doing what and when). No one was assigned to execute the tactics listed in the strategy by specific dates. And not only do you need to give the member accountability, but also the training, support, and confidence to ask for help when they need it.
Strategic success only happens when the strategy gets executed. We learned we had to not only complete the strategy but guide the implementation as well. This was such an important insight, in fact, that we made the final lesson of our Strategic Community Management all about execution.
I was reminded again last week just how important great execution is. If you make it a habit, you’ll reap the rewards.
Worrying if a platform migration might affect your search traffic is like worrying if changing schools will affect your childrens’ exam results.
It’s going to have an impact, for sure. But whether it is positive or negative depends entirely on where you move and how you move. The basics of redirects don’t need to be covered here, a few things to look out for though:
1) Ignore the first few weeks’ of data. In the initial months after a month, search data can fluctuate considerably. It often begins much higher (or lower) before reverting to a baseline. It’s that baseline that matters.
2) Category titles matter. If you change the category titles or move to (or from) a platform with URL friendly links (i.e. /topic/discussion-title) to/from one without (i.e. question/0D52J00008kXTjJSAW) expect a big change.
3) Watch out for images. Migrations tend to break images – lots of broken images aren’t good.
4) Watch out for thin content. Some platforms by default create multiple pages to convey information that a previous platform might have used just one. For example, where one platform might have a single profile page, another might have distinct pages for badges, messages, about me all connected to the profile page. This is known as ‘thin content’.
5) Subdomains vs. subfolders. There are differing opinions on this, but if you’re moving a community from a subdomain to a subfolder, you should expect a big impact and tread carefully. Subdomains are generally better for the user experience and organisation, subfolders are often thought to be better for SEO.
Either way, get experienced help and tread carefully.
I’m not a huge fan of using NPS to measure a community.
NPS is a (rather simple) tool to measure advocacy. But most communities aren’t designed for advocacy. It also has some rather obvious problems for some companies. It’s affected by too many variables outside of the community team’s control.
I prefer optimising for two related metrics.
What brought you to the community? (drop-down list)
Were you able to complete your task? (yes/no)
If not, why not? (open comment box)
I’ve found this data infinitely more useful than any NPS measure.
You can also combine this with a CSAT score:
How satisfied were you with your community experience today? (1 to 5)
By combining this data you can start to see which topics and areas need the most improvement. It gives you both a standardized score you can work to improve each month and specific instructions of what to improve.
If you’re still stuck for what to measure, this would be a good place to start.
The majority of automation rule systems I’ve seen are an exercise in wishful thinking. They assume members are far, far, more interested in the community than they are (and don’t receive dozens, even hundreds, of emails per day).
More critically, they assume:
- Members want to go through a journey (and not just get information and leave).
- Members open emails they receive.
- Members read the emails they open.
- Members click the link to take action based upon the emails they’ve received.
- Members take the desired action after they’ve clicked on the call to action
- And members remember the emails they’ve received.
Looking at a couple of onboarding journeys at the moment, the click-through rate of a single email seems to vary between 0.5% and 3%. The odds of anyone successfully completing a 5+ email onboarding series are minuscule. Put simply, they’re not worth the time.
A better approach is to begin by mapping out the current journey (or journies) most members have (here’s an example). Now systematically go through each phase of that journey and look to optimise it stage by stage. The things that have the biggest impact are often in the areas you least expect.
In my experience, the biggest wins are in places like:
- Improving the technical SEO of the site.
- Reducing information required on the registration form (while adding affirmation messages).
- Ensuring members receive a fantastic response to their first post.
- Quickly ensuring newcomers find the most useful content in the community after joining.
It’s far better to improve the experience members are currently having than persuading them to have a different experience.
A while back, a concierge of my apartment building was caught breaking into a neighbour’s apartment and rummaging through their possessions.
It’s easy to take necessary disciplinary measures against the individual and consider the matter settled.
It’s far more effective to look at the system which enabled this to happen. Once you look at the system, you can begin to notice how the standards have steadily fallen when enabling this to happen. This includes:
- Salaries of staff members not keeping pace with inflation. This both encourages theft and high-rates of churn.
- Failing to replace staff members quick enough leading to stressed out staff.
- Deteriorating relationships between staff and residents (due to the above two factors).
- Shortcuts were increasingly taken to save time (notably with spare keys being kept in the mailroom accessible by all staff instead of locked in a safe accessible only by the building manager).
- Not undertaking a proper background check on staff.
- Failing to properly follow-up on past concerns by residents of missing valuables.
Sure, it was the rogue concierge who committed the crime, but it was a slow erosion of high standards which created the environment for this to happen. Simply recruiting a new staff member doesn’t solve the underlying problem.
This happens in communities too. A major ‘blow-up’ is rarely the result of a single unexpected incident. It’s almost always the result of standards that have declined rapidly over time. These standards often begin with recruiting but continue with how members are engaged, treated, and concerns acted upon.
It’s easy to dismiss the minor things, like grumbles from members about how they’re treated. But these are usually the first warning signs that your standards are slipping. Better to deal with it now than later.
I really admire AWS re:Skill.
The site looks great, it functions well and it’s great if you want to get support to learn AWS.
It’s also entirely built and managed by the AWS user-group community.
The site is a testament to the power of supporting a community to do what they want to do. We all preach the importance of letting the community lead the way (and handing over control to the community). But it’s far, far, harder to actually do it. At some point, members will want to do something you disagree with.
So perhaps it’s best to decide what’s more important. Would you prefer to have members stepping up to lead and creating amazing resources for one another – even though it will cause issues from time to time?
Or…would you rather none of the above?
There are multiple occasions where you have the opportunity to build multiple types of communities.
You might be launching a pilot program and trying to decide what topic to launch first.
You might be considering expansion to new languages and feel unsure which language to pick first.
You might be considering launching a new group and deciding which group to target first.
There are two major considerations here. The first is whether you have strong support for this already (i.e. are you fully resourced for a new community/group?) or do you have to prove results to get the resources (90% of the time it’s the latter).
If you have the support you want, target the biggest win. If you don’t, target the quickest win.
For the quickest win, refer back to this model here.
Find the group which has the combest combination of:
a) The biggest-sized audience.
b) The audience with plenty of existing questions/problems to solve.
c) Has limited competition for members to solve those problems today.