Don’t Take Your Members’ Side Against Your Employers

Consider this story published in The Guardian a few weeks ago.

Screenshots from a private staff community were used to support a national story to attack the company.

A private community isn’t really private at all – it’s just exclusive.

A disgruntled member, cunning hacker, or a curious relative with access to any member’s phone can quickly put messages into the spotlight.

Which is why you never say anything in a private group which would be embarrassing in the public sphere.

Last year, we worked with one community manager who agreed with member statements in an MVP group that their CEO is a clueless idiot.

This might seem like a shortcut to bond with your members, but it does irreparable harm.

Not only can anyone privy to the conversation cause real damage to your career, but it doesn’t help your company or your community efforts if members think your company is being badly led.

The moment you take your members’ side against your employers you have a big problem.

Any private group you join should have a specific purpose and you should enforce that purpose.

Don’t allow discussions privately which you wouldn’t allow publicly (and definitely don’t join in).

If members have complaints, engage with them to resolve them.

If they engage in discussions outside of the groups’ purpose, ask them to take it elsewhere.

Naming The Community

Yes, you can call it the ‘[companyname]’ community.

There’s no major harm in that, but there’s not much benefit in it either.

Would your audience genuinely be proud to say they are in the ‘companyname’ community (and would you?) Maybe, but it’s far less likely than if you had given the community a proper name.

A great name can be more powerful than you imagine.

If you’re naming a community, begin with how your members talk to one another. What words do they use that sound unique? What would a collective of your audience look like and feel like? That’s where you can start fishing for interesting names that resonate.

Yet, a name isn’t just for your members, it’s also for your colleagues. You name all your products (and maybe plenty of your internal projects too).

Come up with a list of potential names, whittle them down to 3 good choices and let senior colleagues have input.

Many organisations have made a mistake in not properly naming their community. You don’t need to repeat their mistake.

Recruiting For Community Roles

The community approach to recruitment is often as obsolete as any other type of recruitment.

We create generic job ads and look for people who:

a) have some community experience and
b) we get along with.

This reflects a lack of strategy (or a failure to use the strategy we do have).

If you have a community strategy, you should have a logical plan which outlines the goals, objectives, strategy, and tactics.

Each of these tactics requires skills to be executed well.

This means you a) have these skills, b) learn these skills or c) recruit someone who has them.

When a strategy doesn’t achieve its goals, it’s often because the tactics were poorly implemented by people who didn’t possess the right skillset.

It’s one thing to say “we need to host in-person meet-ups”. It’s another to find someone who can execute that well. Someone who knows the technology to use, can effectively persuade people to volunteer to run them (and keep them motivated), and provide them with the resources/tools they need etc…

Some more examples:

If you’re looking for someone to run your MVP program, you need someone who is extremely personable, fantastic at building relationships with top-tier customers, and comfortable dealing with big egos.

If you’re planning to move platforms, you need someone with technical expertise who knows how to create a specification, negotiate rates, work with implementing partners, and the process of making a community project succeed.

If you’re launching a community from scratch, you need someone terrific at building and sustaining internal relationships, can guide everyone (and vendors) through the process, and then persuade your audience to engage in a community where nothing exists today.

If you don’t know what your strategy is, you don’t know what tactics to prioritise. If you don’t know which tactics to prioritise, you don’t know what skills you need to recruit for. And if you don’t know the skills, of course, you don’t know who you should be recruiting.

p.s. I recommend our community strategy course.

The Power Of Comparison In A Community

Your members want to know what people like them are doing.

This comes up in almost every survey and interview we do.

Your members want to know how people like them have set-up and used the software.

Your members want to know what people like them are getting paid and how they spend that money.

Your members want to know how they compare to others just like them.

The easier you can make it for members to compare themselves to others, the more they tend to visit the community.

One approach is to do big reports. Once you can collect a few hundred survey responses you can aggregate this data and produce the definitive reports for the sector. StackOverflow do a good job of this, so do our friends at the Community Roundtable.

Another approach is to use profile questions. When people create their profiles, ask questions which relate to the main areas of comparison. What tools/products do they use? What level are they working at? How did they overcome the main challenge your audience faces?

A final approach is to guide people in emails and communications to cornerstone discussions in the areas where members most want to compare themselves to one another. One client, for example, had members who wanted to know how others collected and used their data.

The easier you make it for members to compare themselves to one another, the more people participate.

Find Me Examples/Studies Of [Community]

I get several emails per week from people asking me to hunt down unique examples of communities or academic studies of communities that support their view.

Even if I had the time, I doubt I’d be inclined to do it.

A better approach (and one I’ve taken often) is to find people who are excellent at research and hire them to do it.

Write to a dozen universities/colleges with phd programs, ask if any of their post-graduate students are looking for work, and task them with hunting down what you need.

For a few hundred bucks (aim for $25 to $35 per hour) you could have all the examples and research you need.

p.s. If you just want to stay informed of the latest research, try this.

The Community Runway

Planes don’t magically jump upwards in the air (usually).

They build momentum, raise the nose to a 5-degree pitch, and gradually take flight.

The runway matters as much as the plane.

If the runway is too short or too bumpy, the flight will end in failure.

The same is true for launching a community. It’s tempting to focus on the features of the plane and ignore the runway.

This is your runway of resources, support, and expectations. Is your runway long enough for the community you’re trying to build? The bigger your vision, the longer the runway needs to be.

If your colleagues don’t share the same goals, requirements, and approach to community, with the same understanding and passion as you, you’re going to have a bumpy journey.

If your colleagues don’t have the same expectations of the community’s journey as you do, you’re not going to achieve results fast enough for them to stay supportive.

It’s very common to communicate too little with your senior colleagues when building a community, it’s far more difficult to communicate too frequently.

In almost every project we’ve worked on, the community team needs to double the amount of time they spend lengthening and smoothing the runway.

How Did They Find You? What Did They Think?

Email the last five people that joined your community.

Ask how they heard about your community.

If they came via search, what terms did they search for?
If they came via a referral, who referred them and why did they trust this person?
If they came via your website, what information were they looking for?

What drove them to sign up and create their first contribution?
Why didn’t they just read?
Was there anything that nearly stopped them from signing up?

What parts of the community mattered most to them? Was there anything they didn’t care about?

It only takes 30 minutes and you might be amazed by the quality of data it yields.

Superusers Don’t Work For Free

Your top members aren’t answering questions for free.

They’re being paid in things they value more than money.

They’re being paid in how it feels when they help others and receive gratitude.

They’re being paid in feeling smarter about the topic and more competent at what they do.

They’re being paid in the relationships they form and finding a sense of identity.

They’re being paid in the reputation they nurture and feeling like they matter.

They’re being paid in feeling important by members and by the brand.

They’re being paid in things money can’t buy.

You don’t encourage superusers by finding tangible rewards with ever-greater value, you encourage superusers by doing whatever it takes to best amplify these feelings.

The most powerful rewards include:

  • Ensuring members thank those who provided the answer to their problem and highlight how much it helped.
  • Providing exclusive training and expertise which makes superusers feel smarter and appreciated.
  • Asking the PR team to promote their work, inviting them to speak at company events, or lead areas of the community (AMAs/Live chats etc..)
  • Gathering superusers together in the same room so they can form strong relationships with fellow superusers.
  • Providing unique access to insider information, attend CEO calls, or have contacts to ask for advice.

Don’t increase the size of a reward, amplify the feelings members want when they help.

Saying Goodbye

If you haven’t visited an old Yahoo group for a while, it might be worth a visit before they close.

Connect with the friends you want to stay in touch with.

Share your life updates and see how others are doing.

Find the most popular discussions and remind yourself of your best memories.

Remind yourself of the person you were when you joined the group and how it changed you.

And say goodbye to the people who may once have been a significant part of your life.

You have until the end of the day.

Three Trends Powering Communities

Three trends are fairly clear I think:

1) Declining Reach.

It’s harder to reach people with a message now than ever. Organic reach has plummeted on social media platforms and Google is keeping more traffic for itself.

Even building an email list isn’t as effective as it used to be. Gmail probably put this email (which you signed up for) in a ‘promotions’ folder outside of your regular inbox and alongside spam.

2) Rising Demands.

Customers are more demanding than ever. This is the ‘buy now, by now’ culture. Customers want quick responses without having to file a ticket or call a customer support line. They expect to be heard, feel influential, and see the impact they’ve made. They expect to be dealt with sympathetically and not robotically. That’s easy to do when you have 100 customers, it’s harder when you have 100,000.

3) Pressure to Scale

Companies are pressured to scale their customer experience efforts (support, success, knowledge etc…) without hiring an army of staff to do it. Silicon Valley has shown the future belongs to companies that can achieve better results with fewer staff.

It makes sense to create a customer community filled with regularly updated expertise which your customers remember and want to visit to solve the problem of declining reach.

It makes sense to create a community where each member can be dealt with empathetically by other members, find immediate answers to their problems, and see their impact within the community and over the company.

It makes sense to create a customer community to scale support to thousands of customers around the world. Each new customer can help the next. Each person who discovers a solution can share it with the next person who needs it.

I don’t see any of these trends slowing down, do you?

You Haven’t Earned Support Yet

I know people who have bounced constantly from one company to the next without ever getting the support they felt the community needed to succeed.

The language they use is telling.

“My boss doesn’t get community”
“The CEO doesn’t understand the benefits of a community”

etc…

It probably feels like a relief to shift the blame to someone else.

But the truth is you haven’t earned their support yet.

You haven’t built relationships with senior leaders, learned what they need, and how best to articulate the benefits to fit their worldview.

You haven’t delivered tangible results yet or you aren’t showing metrics which they care about (or even helped them identify which metrics to care about).

None of this is in your job description, but it’s all part of your job.

If you expect your boss (or her boss) to magically believe in the power of community one day, you’re expecting too much.

This means you need to learn how to build relationships and communicate with senior leaders, you need to learn how to distill the power of a community into an easily-digestible sound-bite which makes the community an immediate priority. You need to learn how to ensure the community isn’t seen as a threat to other colleagues and identify how they can best benefit from a community.

The most powerful work you can do isn’t to build a community for a company, but to prepare a company for a community. That’s a legacy you can be proud of.

Influencing Newcomers

In one of the best studies seen in a while, Nathan Matias shows announcing the community rules increases rule compliance by newcomers by 8%+ and the participation of newcomers by 80%.

“An experiment tested these theories by randomizing announcements of community rules to large-scale online conversations in a science-discussion community with 13 million subscribers. Compared with discussions with no mention of community expectations, displaying the rules increased newcomer rule compliance by >8 percentage points and increased the participation rate of newcomers in discussions by 70% on average. Making community norms visible prevented unruly and harassing conversations by influencing how people behaved within the conversation and also by influencing who chose to join.”

Instead of forcing members to mindlessly tick a code of conduct, email them the clear rules which makes your community unique.