You can get a lot of people to join a community and ask for help by catering to their needs.
They have questions and need answers to those questions.
“How do I fix my iPhone?”
“How do I get this software to work?”
“Which tool should I use for this job?”
The problem is once you’ve solved that need there isn’t much reason for members to stick around.
Worse yet, what if your members don’t need anything today? Or tomorrow? Or ever again?
While your members’ needs come and go with the tide, their desires are constant. They desire to feel influential, to be recognised, and build relationships with their peers.
If members aren’t sticking around, it’s not because you’re not satisfying their needs, it’s because they’re not seeing the community as a place which can satisfy their desires.
Members will always desire to feel influential, socially connected, and good at what they do. A big chunk of your strategy should be how you not only satisfy the need, but satiate the desire.
If you’re waiting to be lucky to grow a community (or deepen engagement), you could be waiting a long time.
Sure, people might drift into your community (and fish might swim into a net if you leave it there long enough).
But waiting and hoping is a terrible strategy.
Search traffic is a useful bonus, not a strategy. If you’re hoping your members create content which attracts more people over time, you’re leaving yourself at the mercy of whims and currents beyond your control.
Even if they do swim into your net, they’re just as likely to swim right back out again. (Why would they stay?)
A better approach is to target and expand.
This means target the first group of members you want, satisfy an immediate need. Then take them on a journey to satisfy more desires over time. This is where your journey mapping becomes critical.
Once growth rates slow, target the next group, then the next etc…
Easy to say, harder to do.
It means difficult strategic trade-offs. You need to limit who your community supports at the beginning to maximize the value you offer to members at the end.
Doing this right means mastering a core set of skills.
You need to know how to research, analyze, and identify the clusters of members you have and what they need/desire (as specifically as possible).
You need to know how to prioritise each cluster of your members and then how to cater your technology and communications towards each of them.
You need to know how to design their entire user journey with all of the assets you have available to you today.
Next month we’re going to train a group of community professionals to maximize the level of growth, engagement, and value in a community through these techniques.
If you’re trying a scattergun of different tactics, or waiting to be lucky, this workshop will take you through a different approach to satisfying the needs and desires of your members.
(p.s. If you sign up by the end of this week, I’ll give you access to a module from our training courses for free).
I’ve been consulting for over a decade now and I’m still staggered by the legal issues which can arise.
Bad news, the legal concerns about a community are only going to increase.
- What happens when superusers claim they’ve been treated as underpaid employees and are entitled to compensation?
- What happens when you use an idea posted in the community and the poster wants royalties for those ideas?
- What happens if you’re hacked and a member’s data is posted in the community?
- What happens when an online member conflict becomes an offline member conflict? (did you take reasonable steps to prevent it?)
- What happens if you’ve collected data you shouldn’t have?
- What happens when your most popular member asks for all their contributions to be deleted (especially those which bring in the most traffic?)
- What happens if members share information or advice which isn’t true and other members act on this information? (especially in banking/healthcare)
- What happens when members share illegal/grossly indecent material in private messages you’re not watching?
- What happens if you run a competition and the winner is underage or lives in a country where the competition is perceived as gambling?
- What happens when you find yourself subject to laws in countries where you have no presence but some of your members do?
- What happens when one country demands you host any data about their members within that country? (do you even know where the community data exists?)
- What happens when employees send flirtatious messages to community members (or other staff members) via the community?
- What happens when data/knowledge from a private community leaks into the public sphere?
My experience is the less time people have spent with a lawyer, the more comfortable they are that their terms and conditions and outdated laws will protect them.
Don’t count on it.
It’s hard to tell where the laws on online communities will end up, but we can probably expect them to become more stringent than less.
Be prepared, spend time with a lawyer, and proactively identify and negate the threats in advance.
Plenty of customer communities have been shut down recently because they were deemed too much of a legal liability.
A simple rule here, if you can’t afford a lawyer, you can’t afford a community.
We grossly undervalue the importance of a coherent community strategy.
Take some common community questions….
How do I increase engagement?
Why don’t I have support?
What platform should I use?
How should I set-up the platform?
Whom should I hire?
How do I reduce churn?
What should my superuser program look like?
These sound like tactical questions, they’re not. They’re strategic questions.
If you find yourself asking these questions, I’ll bet you don’t have a community strategy in place (at least not a good one). Which means you’re likely to tackle each question individually. It means you’re likely to find yourself bogged down in petty minutia instead of taking your community to where it needs to go.
Not sure what platform you need? Your strategy should tell you exactly what features you need and when you need them in your roadmap.
Not sure how to increase engagement? Your strategy should tell you exactly what members need and desire (and how to satisfy those needs and desires).
Not sure whom to hire? Your strategy tells you what skills you need at each stage of the community journey and the kind of budget you have available.
Not sure how to gain internal support? Your strategy should include a clear list of stakeholders along with their unique needs (remember a strategy is just a worthless word doc until it’s agreed and supported by your stakeholders).
The problem with all of the above questions is no-one can give good advice unless they know what your strategy is. And they can’t know what the strategy is unless you have taken the time to create one.
If you’re finding yourself asking these questions and getting bogged down in minutia, it’s not because you have dozens of tiny tactical problems to solve. It’s because you don’t have a strategy to solve them.
It doesn’t make sense to keep spinning your wheels or put more fuel in the tank when you’re bogged down in the mud. You need a different, strategic, approach.
You’re not seeding activity, you’re seeding social norms.
Is this a place where members come, ask a question, and leave when they get an answer?
Is this a place where members come when they’ve had a hard day and want to share their struggles and get support from someone else?
Is this a community where members can share their successes and others congratulate them?
Is this a community where members proactively welcome each other and build strong relationships that extend outside of the community? If one member is traveling through another member’s town, are they likely to have coffee?
Remember when you’re in the early stages of building a community that you’re not just seeding early activity, you’re seeding the social norms which will help make your community the indispensable asset it deserves to be.
…moving forward without them is a bad idea.
If you can’t unite your colleagues around the value and potential of a community, what makes you think you can persuade your audience?
The same objections they raise will be the same objections your audiences will feel.
Treat persuading colleagues as a testbed for getting the appeal, language, and motivational hook right. You get to test your pitch and see which has the best impact:
- Do you sell the vision and potential of community?
- Do you highlight the risk of not doing it (or a competitor doing it first)?
- Do you make them feel part of an elite, forward-thinking tribe who can pursue opportunities like this?
- Do you highlight the value to their careers? The organization? Or to members?
- Do you focus on this being the first community of its kind or not getting left behind?
There are plenty of approaches to take and ways of telling the story.
Going over someone’s head (or moving forward without them behind you) should always be a last resort, not a first option.
Your engagement skills will only take you so far. If you want to really make the big bucks, you need to invest the time and effort to master persuasion.
p.s. Begin by asking how the community can support them, sketch out ideas in case nothing comes to mind, and collaboratively try to identify opportunities. Think of senior colleagues as expert advisors.
…is in you.
Specifically, investing in the skills and knowledge of the team running the community.
Every community needs a highly trained and highly skilled community professional.
But which skills and knowledge matter most? Should you learn strategy, data analytics, persuasion, habits, community engagement tactics, or dive deep into technology?
This Monday (August 5), I’ll be speaking with CMX Founder David Spinks to answer this (and many other) questions.
We’re going to cover the critical community skills at different stages of the community lifecycle and what you can/can’t learn on the job.
I hope you will join us.
In other news…
- Workshop: Places are beginning to run out for my Maximizing Community Growth, Engagement, and Value workshop at CMXSummit next month. If you’ve mastered the basics and want to move to an advanced level you can sign up here (10% discount with this link). The workshop takes place on Sept 4 in the San Francisco Bay Area (and I’ll be speaking about community strategy at CMX on Sept 6).
- Sydney: I’ll be speaking at Swarm Sydney in Australia taking place from August 20 – 21. If you’re in Australia/Asia and want to attend the only major community event in the region, you can sign up here: https://swarmconference.com.au/.
- Austin. I’ll be speaking at Khoros’ Engage event in Austin from Sept 11 – 12. Tickets available here.
- New coaching program. We’ve recently launched a new community coaching program and want your feedback. I’m recruiting 12 people to complete a free 3-month trial. If you want to join them, email me.
An important part of our work is summarising the entire community in a single value sentence.
Because you only get a sentence to tell your story to members and colleagues alike.
This story defines what makes your community so unique, valuable, and timely that members would be nuts not to be involved.
Your story might imply why the community exists, why it was brought about by you, and what its future might look like.
There’s no shortage of options. For example;
- No-one has brought together the sector’s top experts, until now.
- We’re putting all the best answers in a single place, help us.
- Explore the thrilling cutting edge of the industry.
- A private peer group to support your growth.
- Get expert feedback before you launch your project.
- Test your ideas here, stop wasting time, and stop making mistakes.
- Share your successes, commiserate on your failures.
- Exchange quick tips to grow your business.
- Get serious about your data, a no chit-chat zone.
- We’re going to change the future of [industry].
- Rapid responses to your pressing questions.
It’s tempting to string together every possible benefit hoping one finds the mark.
But that ends up in a muddle where no message stands out.
Focus on a single benefit, the one members can’t live without and make sure all your discussions, events, communications, and activities exemplify that benefit.
It doesn’t make sense to keep a community on life-support.
If, after a year, there’s no activity unless you initiate and start the discussions, create events, and constantly prompt people to participate, it’s time too be honest and admit it’s not working.
It’s tempting to keep trying to generate ever-bigger, temporary, spikes on the community EGK chart. You might believe that if you can just get a big enough spike the community will magically come to life.
Alas, it’s not going to happen (and nor will a technology change fix the problem).
Your problem isn’t technological, it’s perceived value. Members don’t see the value of joining and participating in the community. You need to revamp the concept and try again.
That means tweaking the target audience, the purpose of the community and what happens within the community.
You haven’t failed, you just tested an idea that didn’t work. Now it’s time to move on to the next idea.
The real failure would be to stick with a failing idea.
Customizations can simultaneously make your community unique and costly.
Yet, every customization you add to a community website is also a liability.
It’s something you have to develop and maintain. If it extracts data, you have to worry about its security. If your platform vendor releases an update, your customizations can suddenly break (or find themselves unsupported).
Yet, customizations are also what can make a community unique.
Our work helping develop and design the BecomeAnEx community involved customizations. They weren’t easy but made the community unique and invaluable for members.
Some rules here.
- Only use customizations when it is an absolute, critical, deal-breaker for the success of your community. Bodybuilding.com, for example, has customizations which allow members to share their before/after photos. What is the one (or maybe two) completely game-changing customizations for your audience?
- Show precisely how it looks (literally, sketch out every screen). Before you begin developing anything you should have the idea fully formed and tested with the audience.
- Describe precisely how it works (write every action which takes place – even those behind the scenes). Where is the data entered, how does the event-tracking work, where does the data go, etc? What happens when members delete their profiles? Update their names? Or things change?
- Budget as much for maintenance as development. Treat customizations like mini nuclear reactors. Building them is one thing, but maintaining them in a state of constant updates/flux will cost equally as much. Assume they will take a lot more time and resources than you’re first quoted.
Customizations can help you stand out from the crowd, deliver value no other community can easily match, and ensure you’re supporting members with exactly what they need.
But be aware of the costs. Some companies find they have so many customizations to maintain it’s more effective to develop their own platform.
In 6 weeks time, I’m hosting a different kind of community workshop.
This is a workshop for those of you whom:
- Have been running communities for a year or more and know the basics.
- Feel comfortable responding and engaging to members directly.
- Are looking for more advanced skills to take your community to a higher level.
Some Skills Are Too Difficult (Or Too Costly) To Learn By Trial and Error
These are some skills that are difficult to learn on the job.
For example, you can incrementally get better at engaging with members directly but it’s hard to incrementally map out a user journey and know it’s the right one for your audience.
Likewise, you can incrementally get better at building internal support, but it’s hard to get incrementally better at designing your community website to have the biggest impact (you also don’t want to be fumbling around with your community website hoping something works).
Sept 4, 2019 – First Workshop in the Bay Area.
On Sept 4, we’re going to focus on three of the biggest skills you can master to immediately have a big impact on your community’s success.
1) Member Mapping and Designing Effective Journeys.
At the advanced level, you should spend less time focusing on each individual member and far more thinking about the entire picture.
We’re going to explain how to identify member segments, understand what they desire and then configure your tools to ensure each of them makes their best, sustained, level of contributions to your community.
We’re also going to show you how to keep this updated, design decision trees to make changes, and how to expand your community in a sustainable way.
If you don’t have validated member segments, unique approaches to engaging them, nor considered how to configure the tools you have (whether a premium enterprise platform or tools like FB groups/Slack), this will be a game-changer in how you manage your community.
2) Designing Your Community.
Most communities are badly designed, we’re going to help you design the best community site possible (don’t worry, you don’t need a technical background).
This includes what to prioritise, which features are most important, how to customise those features (if you’re using the default settings, you really need this workshop), and help you go through your technology (whatever it may be) and upgrade every aspect using core principles.
Design is such a critical part of our work and gets so little attention.
If you’ve ever felt unsure about whether you’ve set up your community right, whether you could be getting more from your technology, or you’re thinking about moving platform, this will equip you with the expertise you need.
We will even share our default templates for RFPs, feature specifications, and examples of great community designs you can learn from.
3) Building the Roadmap and Prioritising.
Do you know what you will work on next? Are you working on the things which have the biggest impact for the longest amount of time? Or are you putting out fires?
If you’re not sure if you’re working on the biggest impact tasks, we’re going to change that by helping you build out your community roadmap, identify the key steps along the way, and make sure you’re prioritising the tasks which really matter.
Most importantly, your roadmap is going to cover the kind of resources, skills, and expertise you need. By the end, you will know exactly what to work on throughout the year and the resources you need to get there.
Believe me, this is a game-changer in how you approach your work, will stop you becoming bogged down in petty minutiae, and help you stay focused on your big wins.
Sign Up Before Prices Rise
If you’ve been doing this work for a year or so, feel comfortable engaging with members directly, it’s time to step up to the next level.
The workshop takes place the day before CMXSummit, which means you can also attend the conference.
The fee for the workshop is $599 (or $539 if you use this link)
NOTE: Scroll to the bottom and select “Richard’s workshop” from the list.
I really hope you will join us.
Too many communities don’t have a name.
They’re simply ‘community’ (or, worse, “discussions/topics”). It’s like calling your business ‘business’.
Typically these ‘default names’ reflect a lack of strategy. You’re not sure what else to call this thing you’re creating, so why not ‘community’?
It’s not a major problem if you’re building a community on behalf of a brand with whom your audience already shares a strong sense of identity. But the Supreme’s and Harley Davidson’s of this world are few and far between.
It is a bigger problem if, like the majority of us, you’re working for a brand which doesn’t immediately inspire a cult following. The community name is a terrific opportunity to make a clear positioning statement. It’s a chance to indicate who the community is for, what the community is about, and why members should join.
But if you have a strategy you should know what inspires your members, what challenges they overcome, and the kind of identity they hold, it becomes easier to select a name for the community to match.
A name should be entirely unique to you, it should be a symbol that represents a place where members want to go to, and ideally, it should not clash with other obvious connections.
You can’t change the name of the company, but you probably do want to be deliberate over the name of the community.