Start a group too early and you will find yourself trying to build two communities instead of one.
Early-stage communities are fragile.
You need to build up enough participation to reach a critical mass of activity. Launching a new group risks splitting activity into two areas – both of which you now need to grow and support.
It’s common to try and turn a popular topic into a group. This means conversations that would previously have appeared on the landing page now appear in a group. However, the hiding discussion behind an extra click makes the community look a lot less active.
There are three reasons to launch a group in your community.
1) When there is an overwhelming demand for one. Members might want privacy, exclusivity, or a place to have high-signal conversations with a specific group of people. If you’re not sure if this demand exists, it doesn’t.
2) When a topic is overwhelming the community. Sometimes a single topic (or group of members) is/are overwhelming the community landing page. Launching a group makes sense here.
3) When you have a specific goal. This is a risky top-down approach. Far too many communities have dozens, even hundreds, of empty groups that they created for members who were never asking for them. The good examples here are newcomer groups and MVP/Insider groups. I’d be cautious about creating groups outside of this.
As a general rule, you shouldn’t think about launching groups until you have a few hundred active participants in your community. And even then there should be an overwhelming demand for that group.
Remember the relevancy rule.
Visitors should find the majority of discussions in your community relevant to their work.
Don’t spend much time talking about events most people didn’t attend.
Making people feel left out is rarely a good idea.
Do a quick recap and share the videos. That’s it.
A quick 101 reminder. Don’t publish content in a community unless it’s easy to scan.
Your upcoming discussion, blog post, newsletter, or email shouldn’t contain big chunks of text.
The static content on your homepage, about page, or documentation shouldn’t contain big chunks of text either.
Nobody wants to read that (especially on their phone).
Bullet points, images, even videos are great tools, so use them.
Or simply divide big paragraphs into smaller ones and spread them across more sentences.
You will find open rates, click rates, and comprehension rates rise considerably when you make your content easier to read.
p.s. Unrelated, but this is worth a read on community roadmaps.
Keep a growing collection of great contributions posted in your community.
If you see a good question, a great answer, insightful blog post or other great contribution tag it in Evernote (or just copy and paste the line into a doc).
Now drop these examples into your community journey.
In the newcomer guidelines or welcome message, show examples of great questions and what makes them great.
In your documentation for MVPs, highlight great responses posted in the community in the past and what made them great.
Examples like these really help members infer how long questions and answers should be, the level of detail they need to provide, whether to use bullet points, screenshots and video. They can also infer the right tone of voice to adopt.
p.s. This video might also help your member journeys.
I’d guess about half of our clients have wanted to create a community that provides members with a sense of belonging and purpose.
Yet, in almost every survey we’ve undertaken, making friends/a sense of belonging ranks bottom at what members need.
The hard truth is members probably don’t need another social network in their lives to make friends. In my experience, your members probably need a combination of:
- Unbiased reviews and recommendations.
- A quick, easy, method of getting answers to problems.
- Advice, tutorials, and walk-through guides.
- Inspiration and new ideas.
- Learning new trends.
- A place for self-expression and getting validation from others.
This isn’t a comprehensive list, but it’s a useful place to start.
This doesn’t mean some members won’t feel a sense of belonging, but it’s not what draws them to the community nor what keeps them there.
At 8.30am every Sunday (3.30am Eastern time and 12.30am Pacific time), I receive a dozen digests from various community groups I’ve joined (all hosted on Salesforce platform).
I can’t think of a worse time to receive a digest.
This is the problem with using the default platform options. Often the platform provider gave as little thought to the default settings as you have. You need to go through every single setting and make decisions that reflect your strategy.
A digest is probably best sent out on a Monday morning, any lunchtime, or Friday afternoon.
Also, consider the member experience. If a member has joined a dozen groups within a single community, they’re going to get a dozen digests all sent at the same time. Either change the timings or switch the digests off for some groups.
Almost 7 years ago, the CEO of a client told me “he didn’t really care about the value of community, he just wanted a lot of people participating in their community”.
When his company was growing, that worked great.
When the company fell upon hard times, the community was the first thing on the chopping block.
Last week a course participant spoke to her boss about the goals of the community and came back with almost half a dozen items.
Again, doing a bit of everything is great in good times, but it’s terrible in bad times.
To be clear, if you’re not indispensable to a strategic priority right now your job and your community is in imminent danger.
A few things you can do here.
1) Read The Indispensable Community (I wrote this book for times like these).
2) Talk to senior people and determine your community’s true goals (3 is good, 1 might be best).
3) Align everything your community does exclusively to that goal.
Your time is running out.
In every client survey we do, the majority of participants rank in-person events, making friends in the community, or building a reputation as least important.
At the top (almost without fail) is getting good, quick, answers to questions and finding the information they need. Sometimes this also involves reading reviews and getting ideas on what products to buy/services to use etc…
How do we reconcile the idea people don’t want to make friends with the idea that we work in a community?
Accept the majority of your members don’t want to feel a sense of belonging with each other. Don’t push them to make friends or other social activities. Simply help them get the best information they can as quickly as they can.
Yet also recognise there will be a tiny group of members who want more.
They want to be recognised, they want to have access to you, they want to get to know other members. These are the people where the sense of community aspects really come into play.
These are also the people who will create most of the answers, resources, and information for everyone else.
These are your true community members, the rest are simply visitors.
There’s nothing wrong with either group, just be aware of which group you’re dealing with and what that group needs.
You probably have too many members in your superuser program (or MVP/Insider/Expert program).
This does more harm than good. A major unspoken benefit of the program is its sense of exclusivity.
If you’re in the program, you are in a small unique tribe that gets access to things others don’t. You are superior to others. You have earned something others haven’t earned.
The value of the program is rarely about the benefits, it’s about what the benefits represent (that only a few people get them).
The more people who are a member of the program, the less powerful these benefits are.
Read our work with a client in 2018. We drastically cut the number of superusers in a program and activity skyrocketed.
Better yet, the smaller it is, the better time, attention, and rewards you can give to each member.
Stop adding people to the program and start removing them.
Don’t leave ideation running in the background of the community, drive people to it during fixed time periods.
Many companies are disappointed by the quantity and quality of ideas they receive from members. This is because they launch an ideation tool and leave it running for any members to suggest any idea at any time.
Instead of getting a good set of ideas, they often get something which better resembles a list of complaints (isn’t every complaint also an idea of what to improve?).
A better approach is to run specific ideation campaigns for a short time period.
Take a specific feature every few months and give members only a week to suggest their best ideas. In week two let members vote on which ideas they like best. In week three you select the top 3 ideas for your panel of judges to determine the winner.
You will find you get a lot more ideas and a lot better ideas if you limit when members can suggest ideas and make it more of a competition.
Don’t just leave your ideation tools running in the background.
In about half of the member surveys we do for clients, there is a consensus the community ‘isn’t as good as it used to be’.
This usually has three causes.
The first is revamping the technology to add more clutter and making it difficult for members to find what they want.
If members now have to close pop-up notifications and scroll down past large banners to see fewer full-length posts (instead of just the subject lines), that’s going to do real harm. Don’t do that.
The second is a failure to support the community at the same level. When you launch you might respond to every question quickly, spend plenty of time getting to know members, and respond to every idea. As the community grows, you can’t do that anymore without more resources. Naturally, members become disappointed.
The third is losing top members (often in the insider program) without attracting others to replace them. This happens often when the benefits of the insider program aren’t frequently increased (or, as is often the case) decrease.
The secret then is:
1) Keep the technology as simple and the website uncluttered.
2) Don’t set a standard you can’t maintain and get colleagues to help you engage with members.
3) Gradually increase the benefits to Insiders and the level of access and attention they receive from you.
Communities can adjust to pandemics a lot easier than recessions.
If the pandemic is the earthquake, the coming recession is the tsunami that threatens to wipe out plenty of communities in its path.
The good times are probably over. It’s time to start planning for the significant cuts in the community budget.
This likely means:
- If your vendor contract is up for renewal, anticipate pressure to move to somewhere cheaper.
- No resources for further technical development or customisations. If you have bugs in your platform, you have to live with them.
- Reduction in staff levels managing the community team.
- No budget for community events and activities.
- Members upset at a decline in support or inability to solve their problems.
- Decline in the level of participation.
For example, I’d prepare for three scenarios that might look like as follows:
(remember not to state how the budget cut will be achieved but the impact of that budget cut).
Scenario 1: A budget cut of 25%.
- Reduction of most junior members in the community team.
- Thus no time available to host live events/activities and closing ideation.
- Reduced ability to moderate the community effectively.
- Inviting members to host their own live events for each other.
- Requires a communication plan to prepare members for a reduction in their community experience.
- Inability to do further custom development.
- No training, consultancy, or event attendance.
- No salary rises for the community team this year.
Scenario 2: A budget cut of 50%.
- Reduction of two members of the community team (1 senior, 1 junior)
- No time for events, ideation, updates to the platform, member giveaways, or support the MVP program with free gifts/rewards.
- Sharp decline in the ability to effectively moderate the community.
- A likely 20% to 30% drop in participation from MVPs and thus questions take longer to respond to.
- No ability to fix any technical bugs or do any custom development of the platform.
- Likely preparing to move to an inexpensive platform when the contract is up.
- No training, consultancy, or event attendance.
- No salary rises for the community team this year (and thus likely to lose members of the community team).
Scenario 3: A budget cut of 75%.
- Community team is reduced to a single person who spends the majority of their time doing moderation, replying to posts, and responding to questions about the MVP program.
- Moving to an inexpensive platform at the earliest opportunity (with no budget to migrate posts across).
- Significant drop in the level of participation from MVPs and increased time to get an answer from the community (which in turn might lead to angry members and more members contacting customer support).
- No training, consultancy, or event attendance.
- Likely the remaining staff member will be overwhelmed and soon leave the team to be replaced by someone junior.
None of these scenarios are enjoyable, but if you’re a community strategist these are exactly the kinds of scenarios you should be forecasting and planning for.
It’s easy to do a community strategy when your budget keeps increasing and participation constantly rises. It’s far more difficult (and more valuable) to do it when you expect a budget cut and a sharp drop in activity.
Start planning now.