Community isn’t a destination, it’s a state of mind.
That state of mind doesn’t vanish when you close one web page and open another.
If you restrict your definition of community only to places you fully control, the community experience will be worse for your members.
For example, if members have strong personal relationships with your organisation in one channel they don’t want to be treated as complete strangers (or ignored) when they interact with you on another.
To pretend social media isn’t a part of community work when all of your community members use it far more than any other channel is like a public speaker pretending only in-person count when their members spend countless hours watching online videos every week.
If there’s a sure-fire way to condemn our work to irrelevancy, ignoring the largest channels in favour of some purist definition of community would be it. Just look at this graph below:
These two channels should be deeply entwined at any organisation. This cuts both ways too. You want top members answering questions on social media as well as a community hub. You want community members sharing and promoting what you publish on social media channels. They’re far more likely to do that if they know and trust the team creating the content.
Sure, you might have different goals for each channel, but it’s still the same community.
Far better than filling your community with videos, discussions, and content explaining how to use the platform, is selecting a platform that’s intuitive to use in the first place.
And if you are going to share tips on using the platform, do it in one single location – not in a dozen or so sticky threads that push all other content off the page.
But even better than explaining how to use the platform, is explaining how to benefit most from the community. What kind of content and ideas is the community craving?
Who are some of the top members a newcomer should follow?
What’s the best way to build a reputation in the community?
What kinds of insider jokes should a newcomer know and what kind of questions should a newcomer avoid?
What are some books or guides which most members have read?
I’d bet this creates a much better experience for newcomers than explaining how to resize an image or create a poll.
A recent community job ad sought someone with a ‘passion for helping people’.
This seems obvious. If a member has problems, a community manager with a passion for helping people can jump in and help them get answers. It’s picking someone up after they’ve tripped over.
Is that really who we want managing a community?
I think a more precise job advert would’ve read: “A passion for helping people succeed”.
Helping people succeed is different from just helping someone. It’s not a single interaction. It’s building a beneficial relationship over many interactions. It’s learning what people need and helping them satisfy their needs. It’s picking someone off the ground and connecting them with experts who will make sure they don’t trip again.
It may be just one extra word, but it means a lot.
I really loved this simple idea from Coursera.
This feels like an idea we can pinch for communities too (especially superusers).
When members join, invite them to set a goal for themselves. It can be to visit on [x] number of days. Or it can be to achieve a certain rank, learn a specific skill, or read a set number of articles.
Then provide a simple means for members to add those times to their calendars.
I suspect for employee communities and superuser programs, this could be especially effective.
In a recent (non-profit) client project, we’ve been looking for a way to measure the impact of community upon members.
Some aspects, like a sense of community or single-dimensional questions, don’t measure the full benefits of the community.
So we’ve been testing different methods and one has proven interesting; the Quality of Life scale.
The WHO version has different surveys. We’ve taken the 100-question version and reduced it down to a more manageable set of 15 questions. Right now we’re testing members when they join, members who have been members for more than a year, and a comparable set of members who haven’t joined.
I suspect this will be a better method of capturing the wide range of benefits of community participation across many areas.
Babycentre is cleaning up their community.
This is a great idea and more communities should be doing it.
For mature communities, it’s easier to create a better community experience by removing content than creating more content.
It’s also better for attracting more search traffic (removing thin content), making popular content easier to find, and ensuring discussions are kept up to date.
The criteria for removing content is fascinating to read:
“The criteria for deletion depends on several factors, primarily:
Less visited posts with no new comments in the past 3 years.
Groups that, after removal of posts with no activity in the past 3 years, have 1 or no posts remaining.
Private groups with no members.”
Theoretically, you can remove any discussions which attract few visitors and participation. For some, this might mean removing thousands, potentially even millions, of posts over the years.
The problem with doing this is obvious too. It might affect member post-counts, points, rankings, and benefits they’ve earned.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. It just means you need to solve the problem of either ensuring members retain their current rankings or preparing members to lose them.
The Nokia community looks great. But, hopefully, you will never need to use it.
The banner takes up far too much space.
If you’re a regular member, you have to scroll past two ‘fold points’ to find questions to answer and see the latest activity. If you visit on mobile, this becomes a real thumb-breaker.
Compare this with the Vertica community below:
It might not be pretty, but members won’t care. Members care whether they can easily see what’s new and engage with other members.
This is one of the easiest communities to use imaginable.
Some battles are worth fighting. This is one of them.
In a couple of days, the SNS community will disappear. It joins a growing number of hosted communities which are vanishing from the web at an alarming rate.
Take a second to read the announcement below (Google translated from Dutch).
A Twitter follower said this was a bad idea, ‘you can’t build a real community on other platforms’.
But the location of the community isn’t the problem. The problem is why does SNS need a community at all? What makes it indispensable?
A quick look at the platform shows it was attracting only 3 to 4 new discussions a day. That’s nowhere near enough to justify the cost of a platform like Insided. It’s not active enough to be of huge value to customers either.
Why would you want to talk to another customer when you can talk to an employee and get your problem solved?
Communities become indispensable when they create value for the member and organisation they can’t get anywhere else.
A community can offer customers the chance to get quicker responses, more empathetic responses, and avoid contacting customer support entirely.
A community is indispensable to the organisation when it lets them massively scale their support efforts without hiring an army of support staff.
And if scale is what indispensable means to your organisation, you need more than a handful of posts a day to do it.
The battle you need to fight isn’t just getting answers to questions, but to drive more people to the community in the first place. That’s an internal battle. A battle where you ensure the organisation becomes ‘community-first’ on all things support. That’s a tedious process of building relationships, persuading colleagues, and ensuring the community gradually handles a growing share of support questions (and your organisation knows it!)
Sadly, in the long-term, either your community becomes indispensable or it becomes a memory.
A question this week, ‘there are similar communities to the one I want to build, how do I make mine unique?’
If you want a community simply for the sake of having a community, you’re going to find it hard. This happens often with individuals, but brands often run into this trouble too. They create a community for an audience that either doesn’t need one or already has one.
If you don’t have any unique change you want to make in the world, if you can’t clearly see why your audience needs another community, if you don’t have something screaming at you to build this community today, you probably shouldn’t build a community.
This is like wanting to write a book without knowing what to write about or wanting to start a business without being sure what you’ll sell.
A community is a slog at times. You need to know the ‘why’ you’re doing these things to stick with it. Without a powerful ‘why’, you’ll give up when the going gets tough.
If you’re not sure how to make your community unique, you probably haven’t spent enough time with your community. You haven’t listened and empathised with their needs. You’ve haven’t connected with the things that motivate them and properly uncovered their frustrations. I’d go back and start there.
Before you even consider changing your technology, spend 10 minutes to watch this video about getting to the root cause.
It might save you a huge amount of time, money, and stress.
p.s. you should probably spend 3x as much time as you do today to define the problem before trying to change things.
Moderators and community managers are in the trenches responding to members every day.
But beyond that, there’s an inverse relationship between career progression and the amount of time you spend engaging directly with members.
I’ve come across one or two senior community folks who don’t engage with members at all anymore (one even thought that was ‘beneath him’ at his level).
Sure, as you rise you need to spend more time dealing with internal challenges, working with vendors and managing a team etc…But if you haven’t engaged directly in the community this week, today would be a good time to make some time and get involved.
The closer you are to members, the closer you can build the kind of community they want. The more you engage directly, the more you can learn about the issues they care about, how they’re likely to respond to ideas, and the right language/tone of voice to use.
Better yet, you don’t want your only insight into the community filtered through the biases of your colleagues. You want that direct insight. You want to be able to ask members for their thoughts and ideas, respond to questions, stay on top of how the community works.
Make time at the start of every day to engage directly in your community. It’s worth it.