Joel identified the coherence problem.
Unless you’re selling memberships or advertising, maximizing engagement is useless.
Each additional engagement doesn’t yield an additional dollar (or cent).
Worse, it can decrease valuable activity as key contributions and members are lost in the clutter and overwhelm.
Forget commitment curves, engagement ladders, and the like. Only a tiny fraction of members will ever progress through them anyway. Instead, focus on a simple strategic plan.
The Mayo Clinic’s strategic plan, for example, is:
A plan directly connects your goal to the tactics. To clarify:
- The goal is something the organization cares about (the impact you want to make)
- The objectives are what you need (segments) of the audience to do.
- The strategies are why they will do it.
- The tactics are what you do to get them to do it.
We waste far too much of our community’s potential chasing engagement.
This would be a great year to stop chasing engagement.
The Economist used to boast about its limited circulation.
Major newspapers touted their mass readership and did everything to attract more. The Economist bragged it was “not read by millions of people”.
While print media circulations have collapsed this century, The Economist has grown their audience considerably. They did this without clickbait, SEO hacks, advertorials, and any tactic which would irritate their audience.
You don’t need to be bigger than any other community. Being small is a weapon. Being able to slice off a segment of the audience and cater exclusively to their needs is a weapon. Focusing on being better instead of bigger is a weapon.
Being patient is also a weapon. It’s always tempting to replicate engagement hacks you see elsewhere – especially when they seem successful. But it’s a fool’s game. You attract the audiences you don’t want at the expense of the audience you already have.
Far better to be a lighthouse of quality in a sea of mediocrity. Light a beacon to attract exactly the audience you want and no more. A beacon that shows your values, your focus, and your commitment to supporting your members in the best way possible.
The irony, of course, is The Economist today has grown their audience to the millions.
In The Indispensable Community, we saw how brands like DocuSign, Quickbase, HP and many others have generated millions of dollars from their communities by asking for reviews and testimonials.
Almost every marketer knows reviews and testimonials are among the biggest influences on buying habits. But few of us are even asking for them.
You have access to your organization’s best and most passionate customers. Why not invite them to share their story? Would they not want to highlight how successful they have been to others?
Getting a dozen or more happy members to share their success stories is one of the highest impact activities you can undertake. Getting 20+ positive reviews on a site like TrustRadius can turn your company into a market leader and drive millions of dollars in sales each year.
Why are you not doing it?
Note: Okta & HP are FeverBee clients.
The people with the most seniority, expertise, and influence rarely participate in public communities.
This isn’t a tactical problem, this is a strategic problem.
These same people love to talk to each other in exclusive groups, share advice on stage at major events, and give up hours of time to be featured in trade publications.
If you want them to be involved in your community, you need to craft a setting that makes the community an emotive priority.
Academic journals thrive on prestige. Industry events thrive on status. Private gatherings thrive on exclusivity.
You can’t fake this setting. You might only invite the top 30 people to a private group, only feature the very highest status people in media interviews/events, only allow verified experts to submit long-form content. But it has to be real.
Thankfully, a setting is self-reinforcing. Once you have 1 ‘top’ person interviewed, in a private group, or submitting a detailed post it’s easy to get 2, 4, 8 etc…
This is what a great strategy does. It defines the approach you will take to get members to do the things you need them to do.
Too often we either pester the top people or ignore them. A better approach is to engage them strategically. See what they already do and create a better setting for it within your community.
David (below) notes Facebook has begun changing what notifications members see from your Facebook groups.
Downside of building your community in someone else’s yard. Facebook might automatically change your members settings so that they only see highlights from your group, hurting your engagement. pic.twitter.com/TgLaUXuH8M
— David Spinks (@DavidSpinks) December 18, 2018
They didn’t ask you or your members if they could do this. They didn’t present it as two options and let members decide for themselves. They just did it.
It’s going to hurt your group and make it harder to engage people.
If you’re using Facebook groups for any 500+ member community, I suggest you leave now. There are plenty of better options.
We’re usually invited to work on one of three types of community projects:
1) “We have a success and want to make it better”. This is usually when someone wants to overcome a specific challenge, develop a longer-term roadmap, or improve a particular area.
2) “We’re about to launch a community and want to get it right”. This is self-explanatory. Someone needs help to launch the community.
3) “We’ve screwed it up and need help”. Engagement is plummeting, people aren’t participating, and the community is heading towards life support.
I suspect most of you (even if it’s not explicit) are working on one of these three types of communities too.
Each requires an entirely different approach.
1) Successes that can be more successful. These are the most exciting to work on. This is where systematic improvements, training staff, benchmarking (and appropriating good ideas), 1 to 5 year roadmaps, creating better operations structure, building stronger internal relationships, testing ideas and measurement is critical to success. You have some good roadmaps to follow here. The big challenge is narrowing all the options to focus on the ones that matter.
2) Getting started projects. These require a tremendous force of will to take off. You have to define a powerful community concept, get support for it, build close relationships with founding members, start and test early interactions, grow steadily and then decide the requirements for a bigger community platform. Within this, there’s a huge difference between say, launching a support community for a huge existing community and starting an interest community for a brand which can’t drive thousands of people to the community tomorrow. Managing expectations is critical in these projects.
3) Turning around failures. This is by far the hardest work. You can see how we helped Colleen at Mayo Clinic here. This requires diagnosing the problem(s) using the right metrics, undertaking a lot of research of members and deciding if it’s a series of small tweaks or a profound overhaul (usually the latter). A profound overhaul usually means a) a change in staff b) a change in platform or c) a change in concept. The hard part is gaining support for this overhaul and doing it right.
Be clear about what kind of work you’re doing.
One way to reward people who create great videos, provide great advice, and offer referrals is to give them swag, freebies, and special treatment.
A better way is to help them be better at it.
This year, we had a client whose members frequently created videos involving the product.
Instead of rewarding them with badges, points, swag, or even status, we tried something different. We tried rewarding them with an increased sense of competence.
We paid for a video expert to coach the top 20 (combination of online courses and mentoring) to create even better videos.
The quantity and quality of videos they created increased significantly. They worked harder to outdo each other with their contributions.
If we want members to make their full contributions to a community, we need to move away from social exchange theory and towards a deeper understanding of what members want. Those wants are usually to feel a stronger part of a group, to feel in control and respected, and, in this case, to be better at what they do.
Impact can take many forms, but there are generally three key rules:
- Impact is very specific (vague ideas about increasing loyalty don’t cut it).
- Impact is something someone is responsible for.
- Impact is something someone(s) cares a lot about.
Impact isn’t what you think the value of the community is (or what you want it to be), it’s how the community directly helps colleagues achieve their goals.
Some examples of impact might include:
- Bring 50 qualified sales leads sourced from the community to the sales team and you’re having an impact (Eventbrite)
- Get your members to publish 100+ reviews on TrustRadius or G2Crowd for your product and you’re having an impact (Quickbase)
- Provide your PR team or web team with 30+ case studies they can share and feature, and you’re having an impact.
- Help engineers prioritize exactly what needs to be fixed and you’re having an impact.
- Reducing the number of support tickets customer service reps answer or equipping them with the best knowledge from members to answer questions is a big impact.
- Identifying some great recruits for future job roles is a big impact.
- Having members co-create a comprehensive set of documentation and user guides is a big impact.
- Helping newcomers create their first success in using your products and keeping them around is an impact.
This doesn’t mean impact excludes ROI metrics. It means that ROI is just one of many possible (and desirable) impacts of the community. Someone might care about it, but it’s comparatively rare. Worse yet, ROI metrics aren’t persuasive to colleagues.
The secret to having a big impact is two-fold.
1) Deeply understand what your colleagues want. What do they need this week? What about next week? More sales leads, feedback, expertise? Focus on the immediate pain point. What are they struggling with this week?
2) Align your community to that impact. If you want people to create reviews, provide feedback, or anything else you need to persuade them to do it. That works at the emotional level. Creating an identity or incentives around doing it and rewarding them when they do.
The communities which thrive today aren’t the ones which focus on engagement or exclusively on ROI, they’re the ones which drive the most impact for their colleagues.
This is completely the wrong benchmark to use.
First, most people don’t delete their account when they stop participating. This means the older a community becomes, the worse this ratio becomes. It reflects community maturity as much as anything you can control.
Second, it’s too broad to give you any actionable insights. Let’s imagine your number is 20% and you hear the average is 30%. So what? What will you do differently? To get actionable insights you need to look at specific ratios.
Third, it varies tremendously by your community’s topic and type. A customer support community (where most people only visit to get an answer) is going to have a far lower percentage than a lifestyle community where people come to chat. Gaming communities, where new games are released frequently, have higher churn rates as people move on to the next game etc..Comparing yourselves to others on this benchmark is a bad idea.
Instead of wondering what percentage of your members should be active according to others, focus on what’s keeping people active today. I’d track:
- Is traffic to your community going up or down?
- What percentage of visitors register?
- What percentage of registered members participate?
- What percentage of those that participate are still active in 3 months time?
- What is the average number of contributions per month your top 1%, 9%, and 90% of members make?
Each of these are metrics you directly influence, reveal how well you’re doing, and reveal exactly what you need to work on to make changes.
Spend a moment to read this post (really do it).
If you’re a community professional, you’re probably in the top 1% of people by technological savviness.
You’ve participated in many communities, you intuitively get how platforms work, you know what different terms mean, and why certain rules have to be enforced.
You also probably have a big blind spot that hides a large percentage of your audience.
This is an audience, as the post above explains, who don’t quite understand how to participate in the community, who feel it’s like high school when they’re reprimanded for posting in the wrong place and feel frustrated trying to get an answer in the community when there is a perfectly good helpline available.
In our pursuit for ever more efficient processes and better technology, we’re increasingly leaving huge chunks of our audience behind.
At some point, probably around now for most of us, we would get far better results not from improving our processes but from figuring out how to engage the growing number of members in our blind spot.
This year, two clients have had almost 80% of their top users in the older demographic most community professionals completely ignore. Yet the members in this very demographic often have more time, motivation, and expertise than any other. They are the golden members hidden in our blind spots.
The largest opportunity for increasing participation in many communities today is learning how to engage the people who have never really participated in one before instead of fighting for the scraps of attention from the people who participate in many.
Some questions to get you started:
How do you meaningfully reach out and engage people of lesser represented demographics and hook them into the community? (literally, how do you make contact with them?)
How do you help someone who hasn’t participated in a community understand how the technology works without reading long, complicated guides?
How do you ensure enforcing important rules (posting in the right area) doesn’t feel like a reprimand but assisting members to get the best response or be seen by the most people?
How do you make the community feel like a place where someone, like the poster above, wants to hang out and spend time (instead of being forced to by complex customer support services).
Get comfortable recruiting from your blind spot. You might be as amazed as I have been by how much value there is there.
We tried a small experiment two months ago among 23 members of two superuser programs.
One group of members received private, personal, rewards (notes of gratitude, swag, introductions to engineers).
Another received the same but it was in public, i.e. members received @mentions, thanks in the private group channel, swag they were encouraged to photograph themselves with and share with the group, and group introductions to engineers.
The rewards weren’t exactly equal, but the results weren’t even close. The public rewards were far more effective at driving more contributions, increasing positivity of contributions, and anecdotally helping members get along a lot better.
The purpose of the reward in a superuser/MVP program is to make members feel something. It’s so rarely about the reward itself.
The reward is a tactic, the feeling you’re trying to provoke is the strategy.
The most powerful emotions are those which make members feel a part of a unique, exclusive, group. This is a group whose status a member compares favorably with another group (typically normal, regular, members).
This doesn’t mean they see the other group negatively, they just see their own group more favorably.
How you give the reward is more important than the reward itself.
I’m not much of an artist, but from what I’ve (over)heard the skill isn’t so much how you move the pencil, but whether you are able to see the world as it really is.
Much of community work is similar.
It’s about dropping much of our preconceived ideas and personal experiences and being able to see who our members really are.
It’s about understanding their desires, their fears, their frustrations and finding ways to help each of them in the most effective way possible.
I’m often surprised just how few people seem to truly grasp this. Much of what drives a members’ behavior probably isn’t what you imagine.
It’s far less about earning points, getting answers to questions, and being a ‘top member of the community’ and far more about their own emotions (‘I’m frustrated and no-one seems to care’), insecurities (‘I’m worried other people don’t really see me as part of this group’) and ambitions (‘I want my peers to think I’m really good at this’).
Product complaints aren’t just about getting the answer. Any customer support rep can offer that. They are about someone in the community acknowledging and validating the emotional state of frustration the member has been going through.
User tips aren’t just about a member helping others, but about how they are seen by others and whether this makes them seem more part of the group.
Conflicts are less about the issue at hand than fear of losing standing in the eyes of other members of the group (p.s. notice how quickly a conflict fizzles out when you take it private?).
In my experience, some people intuitively understand this. They have an intuitive knack for seeing what members really want, their true desires, and picking up on their insecurities and adjusting their behaviors accordingly.
These are the people who know the real reason you shared that photo on Instagram today wasn’t to capture the moment for posterity but to remind your tribe that you’re still there, to feel connected to them, to have people you care about see you positively.
However, the rest of us need to work on it. We need to drop our rational ideas of how people behave (and preconceived ideas of what motivates them) and work hard to spot the specific underlying emotions members feel. Hint, people rarely act to maximize their own economic potential and instead respond to the emotion they’re feeling in the moment.
Almost anything you want to achieve in a community (changing of behavior, increasing participation, specific contributions) is related to being able to truly understand what really motivates members to do the things they do.