Don’t Explain How Gamification Systems Work To Your Members

One client’s community members have been gaming the system.

I suspect they research what platform we use, looked at which behaviors are rewarded, and then grouped together to rise rapidly.

If they hadn’t tried to occupy every position on the leaderboard, they might’ve gotten away with it (at least for a while).

Once members know precisely how points are allocated and what behaviors are rewarded they quickly optimise their behavior to match. This isn’t a good thing. If members know being endorsed as a topic expert is worth 20 points they will find 10 buddies to join and endorse them.

Give vague instructions about how the system works rather than specific ones. Focus on the intent of the system rather than the mechanics of it.

i.e. “If you create content that people like you will earn points” is better than “every like on an answer you create is worth 3 points”

“The best way to earn points is to be helpful to other members and build a good reputation amongst your peers” is a lot better than “each answer you give is worth 2 points”.

The other benefit here is it’s a lot easier to tweak and improve the system if members don’t know precisely how it works.

Even if we stumble, we will never stop building a community

Working with Sephora on their community recently, I came across this message in the lobby:


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The line, “Even if we stumble, we will never stop building a community…” probably resonates with you as much as it does with me.

Be honest with your members. Mistakes will be made. People will sometimes get upset. But you’re part of a mission together to achieve something.

Even when you stumble, that mission remains.

In fact, when you stumble, only the mission remains.

The From 100 to 1,000

Once your community has launched and you’ve gotten your first 100 members, it’s time to shift your focus in a few areas.

This typically means:

  • Sustainable source of newcomers. Developing a sustainable source of newcomers is a critical factor. If members only join when you run a promotion or send out an email, that’s not sustainable. You need to make it easy for members to naturally find the community with better placement on the website, in the product/service, and in other channels, they will see it.
  • Nurturing 1 to 3 top members. Reach out to them with a direct email, schedule a call, and ask them if they would like to be more involved, see if they have an asset they can contribute to the community.
  • Making sure every possible question gets a ‘best response’ or ‘accepted solution’. Make sure it’s clear that if members post a question they will get a good, quick, response.
  • Initiating and sustaining conversations. This should be happening naturally pretty fast. But if it doesn’t, you need to be initiating questions and guiding members to answer questions. Tagging in relevant people also helps (but not on every question).

You can do more beyond that, but get these basics in place before expanding beyond this level.

Prepared For Growth?

If you want to grow your community, you also need to be prepared for growth.

This is a strategic principle.

You can grow the community by redirecting your customer support area to your community first.

This will probably increase the number of questions you get in the community by 20% to 30%.

Are you prepared for that?

Ok, you have 20+ questions per day and want 40+.

Answering 40 technical questions per day is beyond the level of a single community manager. So what are you going to do?

Recruit top members to answer them (do you have a plan for how to do that?)
Get more staff members involved in answering questions (again, is there a plan for that?)
Hire more staff?

It’s futile to try and drive more growth without having a plan to handle that growth.

The Top Member Is Not The Boss

She answers almost every question within seconds.

She posts dozens of times a day.

She is in your insider group and gives you plenty of feedback.

On paper, she is your indispensable member.

And now she’s annoyed about something and wants a change.

Be careful here.

The more you treat her as the boss of a community (rather than a volunteer), the more she will behave like the boss of a community.

If the ideas and feedback are good and representative of the community, then act upon them. But don’t act upon them just because she’s your top member.

p.s. it’s often the very top user whose holding back participation from other members by responding to every question before anyone else gets a chance.

The Taxonomy Challenge

If you want to have some fun, study the taxonomy of top communities (well, perhaps not fun, but it’s worth doing).

The taxonomy of a community gets far less attention than it should – but it has a huge impact on the community.

Far too many communities have a terrible structure that hurts the experience for members.

You have several options. You can structure your community by:

  • User type (customer, developer, partner, reseller).
  • Product categories (product 1, 2, 3).
  • Sector (retail, B2B etc..)
  • Visiting intent (collaborate, share, get help).

…or a combination of the above?

Most communities try to do a combination of the above.

The Coveo Community, for example, has three features categories with the option to view all topics (thanks Erik!)

conveo connect community

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The Filemaker community goes with Create, Share, Integrate, Report, and Events up to two further levels of subtopics within each:

filemaker community

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The HP community, like many in the B2C sector, go with specific product categories:

HP Community

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The Dropbox community goes with visitor intent as the prime navigation method:

dropbox navigation

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Get survey data to determine what members prefer best (or test different approaches). Do they prefer to browse by intent, user type, product type, or some other issue? This is a simple survey question to ask.

A few things to be aware of here.

1) If you’re using Salesforce, be aware it’s a terrible platform for superordinate topic structures. For example, the ‘Many to Many’ topic on Filemaker is under Create > Relationships by navigation, but discussions for Many to Many won’t show up under Relationships or Create unless specifically tagged with those names. Trust me, this is a real pain.

2) Unless topics can be suggested from the content of discussions, know that most members will simply select the default (or easier) one. If there’s a ‘general’ option, they will use it.

3) Most members are too lazy to tag a question with more than one topic unless it’s automatically suggested as an option for them. Apple (below) is a good example of making it easy to tag multiple topics instead of trying to think of the right answer.

Apple Question

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Community Strategy Improvements

As we start our Strategy Course this week, here are a few simple tips to make your strategies more useful and relevant.

1) Go with the tide. Go with current social and technological trends rather than try to fight against them. Better yet, lead the way in the new trend. Clinging to the old is a sure-fire way to condemn your community to failure.

2) Work within constraints. Constraints are useful. Don’t assume you will get more time or resources. Cost every tactic by the time and budget it requires and ensure it’s feasible. Assume each team member has 20 to 30 hours a week outside of meetings to work on the community. Constraints are your friend.

3) Position the community. A community should offer unique indispensable value to the brand and to its members. If there are other options (especially easier options) the community has no purpose. Your audience research should help you to a position to deliver indispensable value.

4) Ruthlessly prune tactics. Almost all of us are trying to execute too many tactics that don’t move the needle. Try to focus on just doing a handful of things extremely well. Tactics that only impact a small number of members and those which are repetitive from week to week are typically first in line to be culled.

5) Present options. If you want more support, present your strategy at first as a series of options you can pursue and get senior executives to decide which option they prefer. Each should clearly outline the costs and trade-offs. Typically you will be asked to do a combination of options – but fight back against that. It’s best to have a clear strategy you’re all in for.

6) Guide people the entire way. Nothing in the final strategy should be a surprise, it’s the summation of the conversations you’ve guided your colleagues through. This is a collaborative process that requires input from your colleagues at every major juncture.

This isn’t a comprehensive list, but if you can tackle the above you’ll be doing better than most.

Stop Chasing Engagement And Build A Smaller, Less-Engaged, Online Community

This weekend, I posted a manifesto on Medium which shares:

  • How many members most communities need to be successful.
  • The numerous problems with chasing engagement.
  • The kind of behaviors you need from your members.
  • The type of strategy you might want to adopt.

If you have a spare 8 minutes and you’re looking for an argument to explain to your boss why you should stop measuring engagement, this post might help.

Spend 10% – 20% Of Your Resources On Monitoring And Evaluation

A good rule of thumb is to allocate 10% to 20% of your budget on measuring, evaluating, and communicating the impact of your community.

If your total budget (platform, staff, etc…) is $500k a year, allocating $50k a year to build a world-class system for analysing the community’s results and communicating the next steps isn’t just common sense…it’s a bargain!

That might break down to:

  • $10k – Software.
  • $30k – Consultancy to setup measurement, analysis, and reporting systems.
  • $10k – Misc budget. Designing reports, bringing stakeholders together in-person to report the results.

Spending 1 day a week on analysis and reporting might, in turn, break down to:

  • Maintaining the systems for collecting and updating community data.
  • Collecting data and updating community reports.
  • Developing recommendations based on the data collected.
  • Communicating the results to the steering group (both individually to key stakeholders and as a collective).
  • Update the strategy based upon the results.
  • Designing and publishing community stories.

I bet if you did just half of these, you would have far more support for your community and knowledge about your community than you do today.

Just Show The Subject Line

The additional snippet doesn’t help much.

Members can grasp just by looking at the subject line if they are interested (or have the answer to the question).

I much prefer the easy scannability of communities Geotab and FitBit compared with Atlassian or Okta.

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Notice how just the subject titles are displayed – this allows for more posts to be quickly scanned.

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Notice here that just four posts manage to squeeze into the same amount of space. This means fewer people will see activity – which is especially a problem in a community as active and as successful as Atlassian’s.

Some battles are worth fighting, this is one of them.

Community Management Training (last chance to sign up)

Final email of our series today.

And a simple question. Is your community indispensable?

Is it even on track to becoming indispensable?

Our relentless focus in our community course is ensuring you are equipped with all the tools, knowledge, and resources, you need to make your community indispensable to your business and your career.

If you’re not sure if you’re there yet, or unsure if you’re delivering much value, or what to measure, or how to gain support or how to drive more engagement, these courses will help.

No major push today, just a final reminder that this is your last chance to sign up for our two community management courses.

Strategic Community Management ($750 USD)

Psychology of Community ($750 USD)

You can sign up for both for $1100 USD.

I’ll be teaching both courses from Feb 24 to April 3rd.

If you want to make the big leap ahead in your work, develop the best communities you can, and get connected with some of the smartest and most passionate community pros in the space – I hope you will join us.

Change The Context To Drive The Behavior

The easiest way to change the behavior of members is to change the context.

If you want members to share resources, don’t send an email out begging them to share resources, create a competition where each member gets to submit just one great resource others can vote on. Make it time-limited to just one-week.

If you want members to collaborate, try hosting a sprint, hackathon, or other project.

If you want your top members to build relationships at a major conference, pay for them to do a series of escape rooms together.

If you want people to share their problems, find the top VIP you can and invite members to submit their toughest questions for her.

You get the idea. You can’t just change the words in an email and expect the end-result to change much.

Far better to try completely different tactics. Change the context. Ideally, make the behavior more fun, time-limited, and social.