When Amino first launched, it wasn’t possible to share outbound links.
That’s nuts….almost every community lets people share links in increasingly novel ways.
But take a second and think what happens when members can’t share links.
Problems like fake news, job ads, and self-promotional spam disappear. You can start crafting a community for people who want to be there because they love the topic, or love participating, and not because they want to get something out of it.
You start creating a totally unique culture that might really appeal to a key audience segment.
The problem with most of these examples of online communities is they make it seem like the best way to launch a community is to grow an audience and launch a forum.
But forums are just one of many options and Q&A covers only a small percentage of possible discussions. When you gather with your buddies, you’re not constantly asking and answering questions, you’re just riffing on what each other says.
The communities which people are excited to join, the ones which explode to life, are those which find an edge to push – often an edge few people have ever considered (like banning links).
Looking at current trends, it’s easy to identify some interesting edges to explore:
|Mobile||A mobile-only community which aims to connect members on the move who need urgent answers to questions.|
|Reputation||A community where a growing reputation scores gives you access to mentoring groups run by increasingly influential figures within the industry.|
|Reputation||A super secret community where all activity vanishes after 424 hours but reputation points remain forever.|
|Live-streaming||A community for members to live-stream what they’re working on and how to overcome that challenge. Videos are stored and shared.|
|Verification||A community where every member is verified by name and occupation by existing members. Everyone knows who is saying what.|
|Quality||A community where only the highest quality questions and answers are accepted and promoted. Getting an accepted submission is considered a remarkable achievements.|
|Disconnected ecosystem||A community with no links to the rest of the web. No spam, fake news, or self-promotional content.|
|Niches of business professionals||A community which targets the smallest possible niches within their field which need a place to connect with one another.|
|Top leaders||A community to find great leaders within that field and help them build their own tribes based around 3 to 5 subtopics.|
|Creating collections||A community for members to share their best examples/collections/work with one another – with detailed explanations and a place to get direct support.|
|Trending topics / content||A community for members to find out what’s hot in the field right now.|
|Simple events / gatherings||A community to help people organize their own events and regularly meet in person|
|Compare / compete against peers||A community members can compete against one another in competitions to build a reputation for money, respect, and future job opportunities.|
|Points/ICOs / Cryptocurrency||A community where members can tip each other with in-community currency they earn through answering questions and sharing interesting content. They can use this currency to promote their questions above others and have their content featured at the top of the page – or set a bounty for a good answer.|
|Marketplace||A community which helps top experts in that field get paid by the minute for live support to members who seek answers to questions.|
You can come up with plenty of your own, better, ideas I’m sure.
Forums are far from the only option when it comes to building a community. What you gain from reliability and simplicity, you can may easily lose in tediousness and being ‘just another community‘.
If this feels risky, it’s worth noting the risk of having a community which struggles for years to reach a critical mass of activity is probably about the same as the chance your community which explodes to life when you do something innovative, bold, and new.
So be bold and pioneer new, exciting, ideas for your community.
This is one of the most detailed guides we’ve created.
It breaks down each step of the strategic process we cover in our course and hopefully equips you with some ideas to help you think strategically about your community.
About Mayo Clinic Connect
Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit academic medical center, launched Mayo Connect in July 2011 as part of a bigger social media effort.
The community was initially a success (I blogged about it in 2011), but activity later slowed, priorities shifted, and the community soon became a ghost town.
By the time Colleen Young took control in 2015, it was well on its way to the internet scrap heap.
Before joining the course, she had already begun creating discussions, ensuring every post received a response, and helping members connect with one another. This led to an uptick in activity, but it wasn’t sustainable.
There are only so many hours you can work in a week, only so many discussions you can create created (and respond to) and only so many members you can greet.
To get to the next level, Colleen needed to drive not just more participation, but the right kind of participation. She needed a strategy to get her members participating again, rebuild support from her colleagues, and drive the clear results Mayo Clinic needed.
This led to her joining FeverBee’s Strategic Community Management Course.
STEP ONE: ESTABLISHING GOALS
The first week of the course covers community goals.
During this week, Colleen needed to speak to her colleagues and understand their challenges to set her community goals.
Using our interview questions templates, she discovered she wasn’t alone, she had allies who felt patients would be much better at coping and recovering from their condition if they could build relationships with others going through the same challenges as them.
Colleen’s discussions with colleagues revealed the community goal should be to improve the health and wellbeing of members (not just patients, but the anyone going through what she calls “a health journey” today — this is important).
These discussions also revealed wide differences in the purpose and value perception of the community that Colleen quickly addressed.
Once her goal was established and understand throughout the organization, Colleen began receiving interest from healthcare practitioners eager to recommend the community to their patients too.
They could see the community was valuable because they had told Colleen it was valuable. It’s a lot easier to gain support for a community when you begin with something the organization already supports.
Colleen’s next step would be to turn these goals into specific objectives.
STEP TWO: SETTING OBJECTIVES
Colleen could have done what most people do and try to drive as much engagement as possible. But this is a terrible strategy.
Instead Colleen needed to be clear and specific about the behavior she wanted. She needed objectives.
If goals are what the organization gets from the community, objectives are what members need to do to achieve these goals. They are the beloved key performance indicators (KPIs) of a community.
If members are performing these behaviors often, the community is on the right track. If they’re not, it’s a problem – regardless of how much activity takes place within the community.
Our course forces every participant to translate their goals into very specific behaviors for members.
As the table below shows, there are plenty of behaviors to choose from for almost any goal:
Every tactic and every effort to engage members should be designed to drive the greatest quantity of these behaviors.
Colleen realized her members wouldn’t suddenly begin managing their diseases better or following treatment plans unless they were asked to do something specific.
During the second and third weeks of the course, participants use our scripts and go through the interview process with members.
Through this process Colleen came up with two specific objectives:
- Objective 1: Get members to set their own goals for improving how they manage, cope, or recover from their condition (and report their progress back to the community).
- Objective 2: Get members to use their experience and expertise to answer questions from other members. Experienced members should be sharing their experiences with newcomers in the group.
But did Colleen’s members have the time, talent, and motivation to perform the behaviors they’re asked to do?
It’s a common mistake to treat the community as a vast, homogenous, group with identical needs and motivations.
A key principle of the course is to build unique segments based upon a member’s level of time, talent, and motivation to contribute.
This is where we can thread the needle between what the business needs and what members want.
Using the knowledge covered in the objectives week of the course (week 3) Colleen divided her community by the level of activity.
She then set two unique objectives for her two main groups of members; her super users and her newcomers.
This then enabled her to set two specific objectives below:
(Notice now she’s targeting specific sub-groups of members
to engage in very specific behaviors)
Colleen isn’t asking them to engage or join the conversation, she’s asking them to do very specific things which drive value for both her organization and her members.
Once you boil your objectives down to something this specific, it becomes a lot easier to build out the rest of the strategic plan.
STEP THREE: DEVELOP EMOTIVE-DRIVEN STRATEGIES
Now Colleen needed a strategy to achieve each objective.
Community strategies, like all strategies, sit in the middle between objectives and tactics. They take the behaviors members need to perform and provide the motivation to perform them.
The FeverBee course shows how strategies are about the emotions we need to amplify to move people to action.
Facts can convince people to hold the right kind of beliefs about the community, but emotions persuade people to participate.
It’s at the emotional level where members get the indispensable benefit from being a part of a community.
A good brand community alleviates frustration, helps members feel connected and part of something special, and gives people joy from helping others.
During the course, Colleen needed to identify the precise emotions to amplify to get members to perform the behaviors she needed.
Again using our interview scripts, the emotions wheel, and her own considerable expertise, Colleen determined two key emotions.
The first was pride.
Members felt pride in achieving their goals. She needed to make her members feel proud (or be motivated by the prospect of feeling proud).
But Colleen also realized this would exclude members who fall off the wagon, stop exercising, or give up on their treatment plan.
What happens to the people who most need the support of others?
Colleen created a different audience focused on making members feel accepted if they fail.
Not all strategies need to harness positive emotions.
Negative emotions are as valid as good emotions for a strategy.
Alleviating a sense of frustration, fear, and loneliness is as indispensable as making members feel pride, joy, and a sense of belonging.
Amplifying negative emotions might even be more powerful than amplifying positive emotions.
No-one rushes to the store to buy vitamins.
Emotions like jealousy or fear of losing social standing can drive people to make extraordinary contributions to any community.
Colleen now had her first two strategies, making members feel proud and accepted, but she also needed strategies to get members to answer each other’s questions and share their expertise.
In her interviews, two unique viewpoints kept coming through.
The first was members who had been helped by Mayo Clinic truly wanted to give back and help others who had been in the same situation.
They felt joy in helping others (and possibly guilt if they didn’t).
The second was these same members often didn’t feel they had the right level of knowledge and expertise to help one another.
They didn’t feel confident in being able to help other people.
Now Colleen had her strategies:
She would make members feel a sense of pride in their progress, acceptance if they fail, joy in giving back, and feel confident in having useful expertise to share.
Each strategy targeted a different segment of members. Now she needed her tactics.
STEP FOUR: TACTICS
A tactic isn’t designed to get members to do something, but to make members feel something.
It’s these feelings, these emotions, which are the fuel for the behavior we need.
A community which provokes the right emotions is the one which gets members to make the right kind of contributions.
There is no shortage of potentially terrific tactics to engage members.
From funny jokes to live interviews with celebrities, brands have tried everything.
But the real success comes from selecting the tactics which have the biggest possible impact and most help members feel the emotion that drives the right actions.
Almost every brand community manager is trying to do too many things with too little time. Many are trying to execute on over twenty tactics a week.
When one tactic isn’t working, they add another, and another, and another. They divide precious time into smaller chunks while hoping for bigger results.
FeverBee spends considerable time cutting the number of tactics our clients are executing from dozens to just a tiny few (usually 5 to 7).
The results always improve.
It’s always more effective to do a small number of things extraordinarily well than many things badly.
The challenge is knowing what to to do (and, just as important, what not to do).
The fifth week of the course covers the process for picking the biggest impact tactics. This helped guide Colleen to the core few tactics which would have the biggest impact.
Some of these are more subtle than they appear.
For example, she’s made over 4000 posts in the community. A typical post reads:
This post doesn’t seem especially strategic, probably no different from millions of other posts on the web.
But a deeper look shows Colleen is amplifying the emotions she wants members to feel.
By introducing members to another, she’s helping members feel accepted (strategy 2).
By asking a follow-up question, she’s helping them feel confident (strategy 3).
By tagging in other people, she’s making them feel confident they have knowledge to share (strategy 3)
By giving them the opportunity to experience joy in helping others (strategy 4).
Colleen isn’t randomly responding to feel busy, she’s deliberately executing her strategy.
Most of the 4000 posts is part of her strategy to get her members to feel the things she needs them to feel.
Her posts are just one of the core few tactics she’s using today.
Colleen also setup badges and levels to appear on their profiles as members hit each target.
This visible progress helps foster a strong sense of pride. Members can visibly see their progress. It’s a simple, but effective, win for everyone.
Next Colleen wanted members to feel confident and joy in sharing their knowledge and expertise.
She created the Mayo Connect Mentor program.
Each mentor is invited to tell their story and reach out to people whom are struggling.
This program provided members with not only a sense of exclusivity, but also made it easy for members to feel joy in helping other members.
But making it easy for members to share their story is only one side of the challenge, the other was to make them feel confident enough to do this.
For this, Colleen reached for a common tool for community builders, she helped them find their superpower.
A popular concept shared in the course is known as Asset-based Community Development (ABCD).
Instead of looking at a community through the prism of a problem to be solved (e.g. crime), ABCD looks for what attributes members can contribute for the benefit of the group (i.e. members are treated as assets).
Every member has something they can contribute (time, skills, knowledge, resources, passion), Colleen’s work was to help members identify their superpower.
As she explains:
“We have a mentor who is a former journalist, he’s our researcher. Someone else works in customer support, he’s often the person we call upon when someone is having technical difficulties.
Another mentor is particularly insightful and empathetic with people facing mental health issues. All have different assets, not necessarily the reason that brought them to Connect, and now it’s a badge of honour for why they come to Mayo Connect”.
When people identify their superpower, their confidence goes up.
The more confident members feel, the more likely they are to help others and share their own stories and expertise.
Now Colleen can plot her entire strategic plan into a simple template below:
Colleen’s tactics are simple and effective.
They all take place at the micro-level, the very level most brands take for granted.
Every post and update brings the community close to achieving its goals.
In another pair of hands, Mayo Clinic Connect would still be a ghost town.
The best strategies in the world fail without someone like Colleen doing the hard work of forging a community at the most minute levels.
In the past few years, the level of participation has risen exponentially:
The subtle, yet critical, work Colleen does each day is all part of a strategy.
It all ties back to improving how her members feel emotionally and, eventually, a huge impact for her colleagues.
The impact the community has on it users and her colleagues becomes ever more obvious with each passing day.
Today Colleen says she doesn’t “have enough hours of the day to answer all the requests and meet with all the different departments and clinicians who want to get involved with the community now.”
The FeverBee course isn’t just about developing a strategic plan, but about the skills of thinking and behaving strategically to have the biggest possible impact over your community.
In a short time, Colleen has turned Mayo Connect into a buzzing, indispensable, community for the organization and members alike. You can see the the community and check out the results for yourself.
It’s a place, Colleen explains, where members are constantly sharing their own amazing stories:
“When people post their stories of success, like wearing a smaller pant size because of the support of the community, or getting through cancer treatment with less anxiety, it’s incredible”
We created the FeverBee course with people like Colleen in mind.
We wanted to attract people who wanted to treat their work professionally, take their community to the next level, and recognize that chasing meaningless engagement metrics is a fool’s game.
Colleen is just one over almost 200 people who have graduated from the course and seen incredible results from the community.
If you want to join us, click here and sign up.
A client was seeing a steadily declining percentage of new visitors registering join the community.
This isn’t unusual. Most communities have a natural downward curve after they first launch.
In a graph, it will usually look like this.
For most communities (where the community is behind a tab), the registration rate begins at around 2.5% and drops to around 0.25% to 0.5% over 2 to 3 years (with variation when the community is a standalone community).
However, our client’s community was different, it was a mature community in a mature sector which had hit the bottom of the curve several years ago. They hadn’t changed a thing, but the percentage was declining again.
If you don’t fix problems like this, you soon struggle to convert enough new members to replace those you’re losing.
Digging into the new visitors data, it became clear the decline in conversion rate exactly matched the increase in the percentage of visitors visiting on mobile phones. These mobile visitors were 43% less likely to convert.
Sometimes the problem is a simple oversight. For example, I doubt anyone at IGN has noticed just how damaging their banner ad seems on mobile.
This is costing them hundreds of members per day and pushing activity way down the page, but no-one seems to be checking the mobile experience (because most people work on desktops).
And this is the point. If you’re a paid professional in this field, you’re almost certainly working on a desktop most of the time. You see the community through a very different lens than your members do. Most members visiting a community might be doing it via mobile. This changes what the process should look like and your competition becomes the simplicity of rival apps, not rival websites.
In our client’s case (not IGN), the problem was the mobile registration process hadn’t been tweaked in years. It closely resembled the desktop process….only the text was smaller, more fiddly, and featured a pop-up to remove (which meant hitting a tiny small ‘x’ on screen). It’s a really simply fix in hindsight, but you only notice it if you’re constantly checking the mobile experience. t
As the number of mobile visitors rise, it’s important to analyze their traffic separately. This is easy enough to do in Google Analytics. Create a new segment, filter only mobile traffic, and then compare the two side by side. Look specifically at time on site, conversion metrics, and bounce rate to different pages.
This will let you zero in on the big differences and start taking action.
I recently met with a small community management team whom spend around 80% of their time responding to their members’ product questions.
This isn’t community management, it’s customer support.
Your job isn’t to answer question yourself. Every minute you spend responding to a member’s question is a minute you can’t spend getting another member to respond to that same question.
Your job is to get your members (or colleagues) to answer these questions. You need to spend your time creating the right conditions for experts to be identified, nurtured, and provide rapid responses to questions.
Your members will answer questions when the reward for answering a question exceeds the cost of creating an answer.
The best rewards are those which only a community can offer. It’s when members feel a unique sense of joy from helping others, feel like an expert within the field, or a feeling of belonging or rising stature among their peers.
Stop trying to answer every question yourself. Instead begin looking for members who have received answers or contributed posts on the most popular topics and reach out to them. Ask what brings them to the community and test different appeals (helping others, become an expert, build your reputation) and see what clicks best. Then design rewards which help this group achieve those benefits in the most powerful way.
Trust me, it will pay off a lot better over time.
We use a similar project plan we use for most of the clients we work with.
We don’t go through every step with every client, but the process is relatively the same for each.
A typical community strategy usually takes us between 10 to 12 weeks to complete and goes through five stages. These stages are:
- Getting started. Admin, gathering basic information, and tracking progress.
- Setting up the research. Getting access to people, data, resources, and gaining permissions to do the research.
- Undertaking the research. Interviews, surveys, data analysis, competitors, macro-trends and participating in the community.
- Developing the strategic plan. Developing, testing, and refining the short and long-term strategic plans (sometimes presented as options).
- Building the measurement framework. Developing custom dashboards for our clients.
You can see a small sample below:
You won’t need to progress through every step, but it should give you a clear framework to build your community strategy.
I’ve found the major benefit of this framework is it ensures mutual accountability, lets you plan to avoid the major time-sinks (getting access to data, setting up interviews etc…) and ensures the entire strategy is built upon good data.
Every major success we’ve had has been achieved by following the research.
You can access the project plan for free (click file > download as to save in Google Docs).
As part of our Strategic Community Management course, we’ll teach you how to go through this process gather great data, and think strategically to achieve the best results with your resources.
If you find the project plan useful, you should click here to learn more about the course.
The course begins on Sept 17 and costs $675 USD.
…a big headache.
One retort to Friday’s post is you need a highly engaged community before you can get them to do the behaviors that matter.
This works better in theory than in practice.
It’s extremely hard to get members to start making contributions which require more vulnerability, time, effort, motivation, skill, and knowledge if they’ve gotten used to posting short, simple, comments on latest updates.
It’s hard to change the expectations from your boss/colleagues about what’s worth measuring once they’ve gotten used to seeing engagement metrics going up each month.
Worse yet, you might find there aren’t enough able (or willing) members to make the kinds of contributions you need. By now it’s too late to make a major course correction.
You need to bake the behaviors you want from members into the community from day one (and if it’s already too late, do it from today). Anyone can get people to be engaged almost any place, but it takes a lot more skill to build a community concept designed to help members make their best possible contributions.
Twitter removed the first bundle of bots recently and it’s share price DROPPED by 20%.
It still has the same number of (real) people, just now they have less spam and fake news to contend with.
But investors don’t care. All they see is the number of active Twitter users is down. This does make sense. It’s the same number Twitter has aggressively pushed to justify its value.
Now Twitter is discovering it’s very hard to switch to driving outcomes that matter because investors are used to measuring Twitter by simpler engagement metrics.
This is a classic engagement trap. If you’re measured by engagement metrics, it’s almost impossible to build a community that matters.
You’re probably caught in the engagement trap too. It looks like this:
This is why you should never report engagement metrics to your boss. It might sound like a good idea today, but it will kill you tomorrow. You can’t build a great community when you’re forced to chase metrics that don’t matter.
Crowdsourced competitions are widely misunderstood.
Visit any major crowdsource effort and you will find only a tiny percentage of ideas are ever implemented. Most contributors don’t have the skill, knowledge of your products, or understand your company’s constraints well enough to develop a fully-formed idea.
Worse yet, crowdsourcing efforts are rarely set up to accommodate truly groundbreaking ideas.
Browse the 550+ ideas implemented through Dell’s Ideastorm, is there really a game-changer in the bunch? Most ideas tinkered around the edges of old products. There aren’t any new smartphones, social networks, cryptocurrencies, machine learning, or breakthrough products here.
Crowdsourced ideas often closely resemble a list of customer complaints (isn’t every complaint also an idea of what to improve?)
But the real benefit of crowdsourcing ideas and solutions extends beyond fully-formed ideas. It helps identify amazing talent to hire, new approaches to follow and to confirm or refute your existing thinking. You might not use an idea in its entirety, but you may learn from unique aspects of each idea.
Having a hundred, or even a thousand, fresh pair of eyes give their opinion on a problem more than pays for the relatively tiny fee to attract them in the first place.
You want new customers to find your community as quickly as possible.
This is one of the biggest missed opportunities for communities around products and services.
New members are going to have a lot of questions, face a lot of uncertainty, and are your most likely segment of customers to drop out. Small increases in retention rates have a big increase in profit.
Two approaches work well. First, in the onboarding material, product information, and new customer emails add places where members can ask questions about any challenges they face. Show links to relevant questions in the past, include a top 3 questions about this area in each email and provide a specific category for newcomers to ask questions about their uncertainty.
Even better, invite your new customers from the past month into a new cohort group. Each group is mentored by one of 12 expert members. In these groups, members can ask questions, get advice from mentors, and get to know other people going through the same challenges as them.
After three months, you can have a graduation where they join the rest of the community. Welcome and mention them by name (within reason). You might be surprised how powerful this approach can be.
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.