Two years ago, we launched the Strategic Community Management course. So far the course has helped 200+ community professionals to rethink how they approach building their community and achieve phenomenal results.
Today we’re opening registration for the fall semester of the course.
The course will run for six weeks from Sept 17th to October 26th and feature a combination of 6 live lessons, 20+ recorded videos, access to our entire vault of materials, and the same resources we use on our client projects.
The course, updated for this semester, is designed to help you and your team approach your community differently. We want you to stop losing time on tasks that don’t achieve good enough results and double down on the tasks that help you achieve your big wins.
During this course you will learn how to:
- Create a community strategy from scratch (or check and revamp your existing strategy).
- Establish your ‘biggest win’ goals and design a roadmap to get there.
- Build community segments and develop unique journeys to deepen engagement with each of them.
- Design a strategy based upon proven principles from social psychology and principles of motivation to ensure people participate.
- Drastically cut your community tactics to the core few which move the needle on metrics that matter.
- Build community dashboards which measure your specific strategic plan and not generic engagement metrics.
If you’re just getting started, looking to take your community to the next level, or get unstuck from your current quagmire, this course will probably help.
The fee for the course is $675 USD and this includes:
- Access to all of the material mentioned above.
- Updated detailed strategy templates we’ve used for our own clients.
- Our exact interview scripts and questions list for stakeholders to uncover and refine the community goal.
- Our survey templates which help us test, validate, and refine unique member segments.
- The dashboards and measurement templates we use.
- Access to our project plans detailing each stage of building a strategy along with time recommendations and job responsibilities.
- An invitation to our private FeverBee Experts group to share problems privately with a smaller, more dedicated, group of people.
If you want to sign up with your colleagues, we offer group rates for 3+ people.
We hope you can join us, we would love to work with you.
HealthUnlocked had an interesting idea. Let health partners create groups on their platform targeted at specific patients. If it works, they would build a community where groups are managed by partners driven to help their patients achieve their best outcomes.
Alas, I just visited 20 randomly selected groups from the 500+ on HealthUnlocked. At best, they had one or two posts in the past week. The overwhelming majority were dead. If I visited all 500, I suspect I’d find a similar result. The future isn’t looking good for the social network.
The problem is largely a lack of good leaders. The majority of groups seem to have no-one with the community skills to start discussions, welcome members, drive discussions and reach out to those who haven’t participated in a while.
There are plenty of good ways to nurture leaders, but HeathUnlocked doesn’t appear to have taken any of them. When you allow people without the right skill, motivation, or time to manage a community you wind up with lots of dead groups.
If I were in charge, I’d immediately move any groups with >10 posts per week (almost all of them) into an Area51 style nurturing zone and double-down resources on the groups which are working.
I’d demand every organization commit a member of staff or trained volunteer to manage the group, check their processes for guiding people to the group and welcoming them, guide each leader through a training program, and set minimum expectations of participation.
Now members would see the best groups in the community and could choose to help new groups get started.
I sometimes dread posts like these:
But it’s clearly not a good post. If you’re not managing a Facebook group it’s irrelevant and if you are managing a Facebook group there is nothing in the post compelling you to answer. What does he want? Is he trying to sell you something? You would need to post at least twice to be able to help.
These kinds of posts aren’t quite spam, but they’re not useful neither. And every post which isn’t useful makes the community less relevant. Once your community has too many of these posts, the overall quality of the people participating and their contributions declines.
This is where it’s better to maximize for quality rather than engagement. Set standards for new posts. Ensure members provide more context (who are they, what are their goals, what drives them to post this question now) and are more specific (they ask exactly what information they need and provide as much detail as possible).
Just because an item isn’t posted with bad intent doesn’t mean it’s not harmful to the community. You can safely ask these to be removed or updated.
Most people running a community aren’t working from a strategy.
Without a community strategy, you’re letting yourself and your community down.
You’re making it more difficult for others to take you seriously.
You’re making it impossible for your colleagues to know how the community helps them and what help they need to offer in return.
You’re making it impossible for your boss and her boss to know what resources you’ll need and when you will need them.
You’re not accountable to any metrics and can’t prove the success of anything you do.
You’re not leading your community, you’re following it.
You’re not deciding what you need members to do, you’re reacting to what they already do.
You have no idea what motivates your members or how to amplify those motivations.
You resort to using a rising number of tactics instead of narrowing down your tactics to those that matter.
You collect a lot of data without any idea how to use it to improve your results.
Without a good community strategy, you’re not treating your work with the professionalism and thought with which it deserves to be treated.
Next week we’re going to open registrations for the Autumn semester of our Strategic Community Management course.
It’s helped over 200 community professionals create, rebuild, and rethink their community strategies. If your strategy isn’t driving your community forward today, I strongly recommend you consider it.
Work in Progress is one of my favourite new communities. Members can share what they’re working on, get help from others, and be accountable to other members to keep their streaks going (were it not for the membership fee, they would have tens of thousands of members by now).
The community began as a tiny Telegram group with a few friends sharing what they had done or were working on. The accountability part took off and has now morphed into an entire community for people to share what they’re working on. They can earn streaks for posting several days in a row.
Work in Progress serves as an important lesson too about the range of possibilities for building a brand community today. It’s a place where you share your current projects, get help from others, and see projections in motion rather than the completed set.
Three lessons here are important.
First, test any concept in a small group first. If you can’t get the behaviors here, don’t build the community yet.
Second, if you want to enter a very competitive space, another forum-based platform doesn’t cut it. You’re going to need to build your own technology.
Third, communities that produce end results (actions) are better than members simply talking. Once you go beyond discussions as the main goal, you have an infinite number of possibilities for what the community can be.
There is no sector, even technology (by far the most popular sector for building communities) that’s too competitive to build a community. If you can identify the right use case, you can build a community that no-one has even tried to build before.
A recent consultation in a client’s slowly dying community showed members wanted the community to remain exactly as it was.
This makes sense, if they’re participating they’re usually somewhat happy with the community. It’s hard to imagine something better. They might want a few small tweaks, but small tweaks won’t drive the community forward. Worse yet, it won’t change the trajectory of the community’s downward direction.
This is the problem with asking members what they want, they often describe what they already have (with a few minor tweaks)
The problem, of course, is you’re researching the wrong audience. It’s not your (happy) members you need data on, it’s the audience you want to expand into.
If you want to grow beyond your current audience, your research needs to go beyond your current audience. Find the people who have left the community, people in the sector who never joined, and people from related sectors who might be good members.
Uncover their problems, wishes, and concerns. Look specifically for rapidly rising trends. If 1% of members were using a new technology last year and 4% are using it this year, that’s a 400% increase. It might be worth paying attention to that.
If you want incremental improvements, ask your active members what they want.
If you want to increase the number of members who participate, ask inactive (or less active) members what they want.
If you want to expand, ask non-members what they want.
I recently joined a new Facebook group.
The next day, I was welcomed with an @mention alongside 50+ other people. Every reply generated a notification which led to further replies. So far, I’ve received over 100+ notifications. It’s irritating, irrelevant to my problems, and exhausting.
From an engagement perspective, this is a big success. The stats are rocketing up. People are introducing themselves to the group. But, as with all efforts which chase engagement, the costs outweigh the benefits.
The immediate quantity of activity has driven me (and likely many others) from the very group I found interesting in the first place. I’ve already blocked the group from further notifications. From now on, if I want to know what’s happening, I’ll need to remember to visit the group. That’s not likely.
Since the hidden costs (the people who have been driven away by an extreme level of activity) never show up on stats it’s easy to assume it doesn’t exist. It’s a hidden problem.
A big myth of community development is members want to be in super-active hubs of activity. But anyone who has opened an inbox to 150+ emails, seen 300+ notifications in a WhatsApp group, or tried to follow any active Facebook group knows that’s not true.
I recently asked our FeverBee community what they would like to see going forward. The common thread was they didn’t want the site to be more active. They liked they could follow discussions, catch up on contributions, and participate. I doubt they’re alone.
Communities which chase the most activity typically become places filled with the people who have the most free time, the most passion or are most eager to build their reputations. These aren’t usually the best people. It looks good on the all the stats…except the stats which matter.
Members want to be able to follow and easily find the discussion that matters to them. They want the community to be relevant to them. Asking every member to introduce themselves can work when you’re small, but we already know @mention lists can do more harm than good.
A better approach would get them excited about the community. Highlight key members they might want to follow, share the best expertise ever created in the community, and make sure they know the community is a place they go to resolve an immediate problem they have or opportunity they need to pursue.
When you associate your community with quality you get more quality, if you associate it with quantity, you get more quantity. The future lies in the former, not the latter.
Getting good, fast, answers to questions is the backbone of communities, but if you want people to stick around beyond that you need to offer a lot more than good information.
There are things only a community can offer: This includes:
- Feeling a part of a unique and important group of peers.
- Knowing your peers have your back.
- Feeling respected by others.
- Feeling like you make unique, useful, contributions.
- Enjoying the experiences you share together.
- Knowing your group is widely respected by others
- Knowing your skills have progressed because of the group.
If you’re going to go down the information route. Do it. Really do it. Build the biggest and most incredible database for your topic ever. Do your keyword research. Find out what members really want. And completely dominate that sector. Start discussions about it, solicit contributions on those topics, build something new, different, and remarkable.
Bit of a rant today.
As our list of brand online community examples shows, the nature of a brand community has completely changed in the past two decades.
Until recently, brand communities referred to devout superfans of companies like Apple, Jeep, and Harley Davidson gathering together to celebrate their founder, revealing a revolutionary new technology, help one another customize their vehicles, or participate in long journeys with one another. But brand communities today are completely different. They’re less about superfandom, creating warm, fuzzy feelings, and instead about showing a clear, visible, impact.
Making people feel great is nice, but being able to show millions of dollars in costs saved, new customers attracted, or new products launched as a result of the community is what matters. A happy, chatty, community which doesn’t deliver any obvious results is a luxury few companies can afford (and nor should they). It’s not a ridiculous question to ask “what’s the purpose of all this activity?” if the answer isn’t ridiculously obvious.
Fortunately, the potential of brand communities today is bigger than it’s ever been. Almost all brand communities have moved online and can reach far more people than ever before.
They create resources and host discussions read and watched by millions. A useful tip shared over the barbecue at ‘Camp Jeep’ might be heard by a dozen people. A tip posted in the Fitbit community can be read by tens of thousands of people.
Better yet, it can be tested, improved upon, and become common knowledge amongst all. It can drive forward innovation in ways which are scarcely imaginable.
Most members of today’s communities are less likely to be seeking a deep sense of belonging and more likely to be looking for something they need right now. This might be expertise, a place to build their reputation, or a chance to help others and feel good about themselves.
Companies big and small too often lack the ambition for what a community could be and the determination to see it through. As the potential of brand communities has grown, the ambition of their creators has shrunk. It’s a lot easier to launch another Twitter account than to take a group of customers aside and build something special.
Managing a community, and being responsible for a brand’s best and most valuable customers, should be one of the most exciting and important jobs in any business. It should be a job others aspire to and covet. But too often the task of engaging customers online falls to a junior staffer with limited experience and worse prospects.
Too often these staff are forced to chase meaningless measures of engagement rather than forging an indispensable community among their members and their colleagues.
It’s impossible to build an indispensable community when we’re forcing members to choose between clicking ‘like’, ‘share’, or ‘comment’.
A prospective client recently asked: “We know our audience better than you, we can do the research ourselves, why would we need your help?”
It’s a really good (and fair) question. We will never know an audience as well as you. You’ve been working with them for years.
But research isn’t about what you know, it’s about what you don’t know. Better yet, it’s about distinguishing what matters from what doesn’t.
The curse of knowledge is very real here and people tend to repeat the same mistakes. These mistakes usually include (in order):
- Using research to support rather than refute existing ideas. By far the biggest problem is gathering data to support, rather than refute, existing ideas. Science is the process of coming up with a hypothesis and trying to disprove it. I’d estimate around 75% of people sabotage their own audience research trying to support whatever idea they had originally for the community.
- Averaging the answers. This happens when you build a community around the average of responses instead of around a topic a small niche of members are intensely passionate about. This leads to [communities about topic] which struggle to gain traction instead of “Communities for data scientists who want to take data visualization to the next level”. You’re not looking for a community everyone finds acceptable, you’re looking for the thing that lights a spark under a small segment of your audience.
- Homogenizing the community. This is the act of building a single member profile. This is silly. You have newcomers, experts, part-timers, hardcore advocates, different geographies, and personalities. The research phase should identify the different groups (we usually have 2 to 5) and the core passions, fears, and motivations of each.
- Treating interviews like surveys. If you’re asking all members the same questions without diving deeper into responses, clarifying answers, finding out what they get really excited about and picking up on non-verbal cues, you’re basically running a very inefficient survey. Interviews are about getting to the deep emotional reasons to why people do what they do.
- Bad data analysis. We correlate the time a community manager spends on each activity with the results they’ve achieved from it. Usually, we can cut 75% of activities without any noticeable impact on the community. They can then spend this time working on big wins. Most people collect a lot of data but miss the key correlations/analysis that turns it into actionable insights.
- Not developing and testing options. The end result of this isn’t a big document, but validated steps to pursue. The analysis reveals several options to test, but the process of testing them takes time to get to the right answer. The end result is ideas which have been tested and are ready to go.
- Collect data you don’t need. This happens often in surveys. Organizations try to drop questions in which are interesting but have no obvious influence on how we develop the community.
- Breaking the law. Laws vary by country (especially GDPR in Europe). More than a few organizations have accidentally broken the law in the audience research phase.
You can certainly go through this process without outside help. We’re certainly not cheap and I doubt others doing this work are either. Our rates for this process typically range in the $20k to $35k region for a project that takes around 6 to 8 weeks.
However, this sort of research is the difference between a community which explodes to life and one which struggles to gain traction for years. It can save you hundreds of thousands of dollars, and many years, trying to get it right. It helps you ensure you’re building the best community possible. It’s a community which is almost guaranteed to succeed.
If you do go it alone, treat it internally like a $20k to $35k project. Smart companies know the success of the community doesn’t hinge upon the technology, it depends upon deeply understanding the needs of members. So give it the gravitas it deserves. This process takes time and requires more than just a lone community manager trying to get it done in her non-existent spare time.
Make sure the end result of the research is a powerful community concept which has been tested with the audience and shown to really resonate/drive participation. Don’t launch the community until you’ve validated a powerful concept and proved you can sustain activity on a small scale.
A client’s community members are cynical, extremely cynical. They trash every new idea, criticize every decision, lower the tone of every discussion.
Cynicism is a hard stain to remove.
Cynicism is a self-preservation measure. You can’t be disappointed if you always expect the worse. If you can persuade others to agree with you, you feel validated in your negativity too. Cynicism happens when we’ve been let down, hurt, or feel angry about issues we often struggle to control. When this anger isn’t dealt with it festers and becomes cynicism.
You don’t tackle cynicism with excessive optimism. To a cynic, that’s not a breath of fresh air, it’s an irritating bug needing to be crushed.
You tackle cynicism by providing a place for people to identify and deal with the underlying anger and frustration. This place needs to be non-judgemental, emotions need to be reciprocated, and members need to feel genuinely listened to. Members need to bond closer together as a result of their shared frustration, hurt, and anger.
Once they’ve been listened to and responded to, you can begin to make small promises and keep them. Then you can make larger promises and keep them too. You gradually bond the community into a tighter group through their shared emotions.
The secret to tackling cynicism isn’t optimism, it’s a stronger sense of community. This is a community you can forge by providing members with a mutual sense of trust to speak openly about their anger, fear, and hurt.
…is something you and your team should never have to say.
Our clients don’t see how the community reacts to anything. They already know. They’ve run the idea passed a decent-size group of members, they’ve refined it, they’ve gotten the buy-in from the top members (if they don’t, they don’t launch).
Usually, they’ve persuaded a small group of members (5 to 7) to share it and promote it positively within the community.
Dropping a new concept (platform, project, or anything else) might work well for record artists, but I wouldn’t recommend it for the rest of us. Most people don’t know whether something new is good or bad. They use the first reactions of other members to form their own opinions. Once that opinion has taken hold, it can spread rapidly.
So either don’t surprise members with something new (big changes should always be anticipated) or ensure you have respected community members engaged in the process and lined up to promote it (even better, do both).
It’s tempting to rush the launch of something new, but slow down a little. Get feedback, run the idea past people, and adjust your plans accordingly. Otherwise, the very project you’ve spent countless hours working on can hurt the very community you’re trying to help.