Fighting Against The Tide Is Tough (a case study)

I recently made a prediction that the new community launched by Athleta will struggle (and probably fail).

It’s (very) possible I’ll be proven wrong in the near future, but it’s worth reflecting upon the trends it’s up against nonetheless.

In short, Athleta (which creates versatile premium performance apparel), has launched a new community for women to chat about mental health, body positivity, and related topics. The goal of the community is to increase loyalty and attract new customers to its loyalty program.

In a big launch, the community acquired 2500+ members (likely through promotion to its loyalty card members) and attracted a handful of posts per day.

From a strategy perspective, we would’ve advised against this kind of community for a few reasons:

1) Member Needs. Do women want a place to talk about health and wellbeing? Almost certainly. Do they want to do it with strangers? Maybe. Do they want to do it in a forum-based community run by a for profit brand? I’m not so sure. I’d suspect the research would suggest the audience is more eager to read and learn about the topic from people they trust rather than openly discuss it with each other. Generating new organic activity will prove challenging.

2) Competition. There is a proliferation of places for women to discuss mental health and wellness today. Many of these are in the flow of the tools people use every day. The community doesn’t seem to have strong enough positioning to pull people to a new platform regularly to participate.

3) Acquisition. A community needs a steady source of new members. The high placement of the community and the loyalty program might provide that. However, I don’t believe it will attract much search traffic – which represents 80%+ of the audience in many brand communities.

4) Value. The current goals (increase loyalty and acquire new people to the loyalty program) are generally not ideal for brand communities. Communities can increase loyalty but it’s almost impossible to separate cause and effect. It’s far more likely only the most loyal customers will participate in this community. This means the community is always going to be a prime candidate to have its budget cut.

However, the one big ‘x’ factor here is whether Athleta can leverage its celebrity sponsorships with people like Simone Biles in powerful ways to drive people to participate in the community. This might drive a surge of activity in the community.

This community serves as a useful test case of whether brand communities should offer members a sense of belonging with loyalty or should satisfy information needs.

My prediction might turn out to be very wrong. So, if anyone wants to play along, we know the median no. posts in similar communities is 166 per day. Let’s check in on August 2nd, 2022 and see how we’re doing

The New Era of Building Communities (free video)

I wrote Build Your Community because I believe a new era of building communities has begun.

Last week, 500+ of you registered for a special webinar in which I defined the five forces driving this new era and the impact they will have upon your community strategy.

If you weren’t able to make it, you can find the video here:

I recommend watching this. These forces will have a bigger impact on some community strategies than others.

Segment Your Community By Category To Get Better Insights

To surface useful community insights you need to dive below surface level metrics.

In one client project, our top-bar navigation survey showed the community maintained an average of a 4.1 (out of 5) helpfulness score.

But that metric alone doesn’t tell us much. To gather useful insights we need to see which parts of the community are more or less popular than others.

We did this by segmenting the community data by category. You can see this chart below:

This chart gives us a wealth of great data. We can see that helpfulness varies a lot by category of discussion. Most importantly, by looking at response rate and time to first response, we can set specific goals and interventions for each category.

Specifically, we set up three clear interventions:

  • Reduce the time to first response in the Product 2 category by assigning virtual agents to support.
  • Increase the response rate in the Product 1 category by surfacing unanswered questions on the homepage.
  • Improve the quality of response in Developer and Partner categories by recruiting experts to answer questions.

You can see the result below:

It took a lot of work, but you can see the targeted interventions had their effect. Product 2 has an improved time to first response, product 1 has a much better response rate, and the community is a little more helpful to partners and developers.

None of this would’ve been possible if we had simply looked at the overall score.

To make really targeted interventions to improve a community, you have to dig beneath the surface. If you need help getting this data, you only have to ask.

Note: Full case study here

Types of Community Strategy

In a webinar session two weeks ago, I asked the audience if they could summarise their strategy in a sentence.

About 75% of people simply restated their goals (i.e. reduce churn, increase loyalty etc..)

Not a single participant could effectively list a clear strategy.

A strategy is the ‘why’ you will achieve your goals (not to be confused with the strategic plan)

A strategy is the unique value you provide your members which they can’t get anywhere else.

A strategy is a statement about what you will prioritise to deliver that unique value.

A strategy is the reason why members will perform the behaviors you want them to perform.

A strategy is how you will deliver better value to your members than any other channel.

You can typically boil this down into a couple of words. Here are some examples:

  • Being the quickest.
  • Least effort to find information.
  • Most reliable/trustworthy.
  • Friendliest.
  • Most exclusive.
  • Most diverse.
  • Comprehensive.
  • Most focused.
  • Targeting beginners.
  • Targeting experts.

These are all very valid strategies which define in a sentence the indispensable value your community provides to members.

The strategy at its very core is the critical decision about the unique value you offer your members. It’s the most important decision you will make. The only thing worse than making the wrong decision is making no decision at all.

p.s. final chance to sign up for today’s webinar; The New Era of Community Building (and what it means for your community strategy)

Push vs. Pull Strategies To Community

The difference between push vs. pull is huge.

It’s the difference between creating a need and satisfying a need.

Push strategies are common in communities of practice and most private groups. You target a group of people who might benefit from engaging with one another and set about persuading them to do it. This work involves a lot of relationship building, outbound promotion, and working at the micro-level to stimulate and sustain the first flickers of activity.

Pull strategies are common in support communities. You have a lot of people with a need they want solved and try to get them to solve that need within your community. If you’ve got thousands of people with product questions, you try to get your community in front of them (typically via search, the homepage, or outbound promotional activities). This work is about scale, quality, and optimization of metrics that matter. It’s about internal relationship building to build the relationships which will make a community flourish.

You don’t get to decide which strategy you’re taking, your audience does.

If your audience isn’t already trying to satisfy an urgent, relevant, need, you need a push strategy. This means a low-budget platform, a heavy dose of relationship building, and fighting for every member.

If members already are trying to satisfy an urgent, relevant, need, you need a pull strategy. This means superuser programs, a premium community platform, and aligning everything to go on day one.

Be very clear from the beginning which approach you’re taking. Everything else hangs upon it.

p.s. It’s an extremely huge shock to go from a community with an abundant source of newcomers to one fighting for every member.

Principles For Better Community Homepage Designs (The Alteryx Case Study)

Community redesigns are always easier from afar.

A couple of years ago, Alteryx had one of the better homepage designs. At a click everyone could get to everywhere they wanted.

The homepage catered to different audiences, different needs, and guided every visitor to anyone they needed to go. The only downside was it buried the latest activity and thus had too many static areas of the community.

A year or two ago, this design was replaced with a new homepage design.

This was much more difficult to navigate and felt amateurish compared with what came before.

Content seemed to float randomly, there was no obvious prioritisation given to different areas, and icons were repeated several times on the same page.

Recently Alteryx have updated this community to a new homepage design.

We can probably all agree it’s a heck of a lot better. It still buries fresh discussions a little too far down for my liking (and it’s mobile version seems a bit suspect), but it does the core things well.

1) It prioritises the key actions. You can tell visitors are first expected to search for information and then either visit the academy, participate in discussions, or browse use cases.

2) It reduces overwhelm by featuring things members should see. The featured content drives members to the key activities taking place in the community at any given moment.

3) Intent-based navigation. The community lets members navigate by use-case based around participate, learn, support, groups & events, and use cases. I’m not always a huge fan of intent-based navigation (compared with navigation by products), but it works well here. The taxonomy is clean and simple.

4) Much easier on the eye. It’s much more aesthetically pleasing than either of the other two homepages. The use of white space works and it feels cleaner.

The homepage redesigns works because it’s seemingly prioritised the needs of members, made crucial trade-offs and (likely) brought in much better designers.

p.s. In my book, Build Your Community, I guide readers through the process of developing an effective community homepage.

p.p.s. You can also get some design support on the book’s resources site.

Spotting Opportunities Early

When another community/tool has grown rapidly and now matches you in size, it’s too late.

The momentum is with them and you have no obvious resources to compete.

This is why it’s useful to frequently scan the ecosystem for potential new opportunities (or threats) you can incorporate early into your community.

This might mean periodically engaging a handful of members with questions like:

  • What new tools are you using recently?
  • Where else are you engaging with other people in this topic?
  • What other groups excite you?
  • What’s new in your industry at the moment?
  • What are you excited about in the sector at the moment?

This doesn’t mean you should overreact to every conceivable threat. But it does mean staying vigilant. Many of the answers might lead nowhere. But a handful can identify value your community should be offering members but isn’t today.

Launching ‘Build Your Community’ Resource

To complement the launch of Build Your Community, we’ve recently launched our resource site:

www.feverbee.com/buildyourcommunity

This site contains dozens of templates, guides, tools, and resources to help you build your community. My plan is to continue curating an expanded list of resources over time.

If you’re looking for surveys to use, benchmarks to follow, methods to analyse your community, this site will definitely help.

Get Your Community Into Your Audiences’ Calendar

A few weeks ago, we hosted a private workshop event for members of a private community.

The community targeted elite members in a highly technical area. While activity had been ok, it wasn’t accelerating to the critical mass point and it was time to adapt our approach.

Alas, due to unforeseen circumstances, we had to reschedule the event at the last minute and reschedule the date for two days later.

Yet, amazingly, the event was still a great success. More people showed up and participated in an event than had been active for the past month in the community discussion areas. Better yet, since the event, the level of participation has begun to accelerate to the critical mass point.

There are two powerful takeaways from this.

The first is members who claim not to have the time to participate in a community will participate in an event (especially an exclusive event). In many spaces, events work because they set a fixed, limited, time to visit and participate. We’ve since decided to incorporate regular events as part of the community effort.

(p.s. sending out calendar invites to engage in a community at a particular time seems especially powerful)

The second is the more you can engage members in designing the solutions to the community challenges, the more they tend to take ownership of them (and thus the community).

FeverBee is Hiring A Research Analyst ($500 referral fee)

FeverBee’s mission is to help great companies build thriving communities of customers, employees, and members.

Over the past decade, our clients have included many of the world’s most successful organisations including Apple, Facebook, SAP, Oracle, Google, etc..

The foundation for our successes is deeply understanding both the needs of our clients and their audiences. We spend a vast amount of time reaching our audiences (and their environments) to determine how to develop indispensable communities.

To support our work, we’re now looking to hire a community analyst to join the team.

If you love working with large organisations, diving deep into community data, and helping some complex problems, this role might be for you.

(p.s. If this job isn’t for you but you recommend someone we hire for 3 months, you receive a $500 referral fee).

Objectives

  • Help clients deeply understand the needs and desires of members.

Responsibilities

  • Undertake qualitative and quantitative research of audiences to develop detailed member needs and personas.
  • Gather and analyse macro-level data to identify broader sector trends to effectively position our client’s communities for success.
  • Review existing communities against established benchmarks to identify and prioritise areas of improvement.
  • Develop and improve the systems through which FeverBee gathers, analyses, and uses community data to develop successful community strategies.
  • Present data to clients and other external audiences in compelling and persuasive ways.
  • (potentially) Build measurement frameworks to help clients continue measuring and evaluating the success of their communities.

Skills And Experience

  • Past experience gathering and analyzing qualitative data is critical. You should be comfortable undertaking interviews with a wide range of individuals.
  • Strong analytical skills are essential. Experience as an industry analyst, UX researcher, economist, or statistics might be beneficial.
  • Proficiency with statistics and dataset analytics (using R, SPSS, SAS, or Excel) is a plus. You should be able to run tests of significance on normal and non-normal data.
  • Intermediate data-visualisation skills. You don’t need to be world-class, but the output needs to look polished and something you would happily share with clients.

Location

  • This is a remote position. However, you should be in a time zone that allows for communication with clients in Europe and North America.

How To Apply

  • Send an email to [email protected]. Including your resume/CV can help, but examples of your work would be even better.

Salary

  • £40k to £45k GBP ($54k to $61k USD)

To apply, contact [email protected].

You’re Invited to ‘The New Era Of Community Building Webinar’

I wrote Build Your Community because I believe a new era of building communities has begun.

This new era is defined by five major forces which are already having a huge impact upon your community.

On July 29th, I’m hosting an open webinar which will identify each of these forces, why they’re becoming increasingly important, and how to adapt your strategy to thrive in the new era of community building.

At the end of the webinar I’ll also share some resources you can use to plan your community efforts to thrive in this new era.

Develop Three Different Community Approaches For Three Different Customer Tiers

I’m not an enterprise level customer for most of the software I use.

It wouldn’t take much to turn me into an unprofitable customer either.

If I’m paying $500 a year for a software product and each support call I make costs the company $13 (for example), my value as a customer drops precipitously with each call I make (or ticket I file).

It’s not uncommon for the costs of supporting lower-value customers to exceed the revenue generated by the customer.

This is where organisations increasingly rely upon communities to fill the gaps.

At the top tier (enterprise plans/customers), customers will always expect a support representative on-hand to resolve any problems. The speed and quality of response is often detailed in the contract. But organisations increasingly rely upon communities (notably Q&A discussion forums) to support lower-value customers.

This makes sense. If lower-tier customers can answer each other’s questions, the cost of supporting each new customer approaches zero as time (and activity) increases. This is where a typical Q&A platform approach comes into play.

But this doesn’t mean community approaches are only valid for lower-tier customers. As we can see in the pyramid diagram, community approaches can still provide tremendous value to all tiers. But they have to be catered to each tier.

For example, premium customers may not have traditional support questions to answer, but we’re noticing they still want to connect and learn from each other. But they need you to provide a private, facilitated, space for that to happen.

The sense of privacy and freedom to exchange tips / learn from each other is critical here. Enterprise customers can join this as well, but they also seem to value exclusive meetups and invites to engage directly with key staff.

To simplify, the basic Q&A forum is probably for basic-level customers. Beyond that you may need to create private, facilitated, places to support customers to proactively exchange ideas.