Digest Emails

It’s slightly ironic that the same people who ignore every digest email are often committed to sending as many as possible.

Digests serve a simple purpose – they bring people back to the community. They let people easily scan what’s new in their current flow (checking email) and see if anything strikes their interest.

Ideally, they help form habits too.

You have a big decision with digests. Do you send what’s new, what’s unanswered, or what’s popular?

The problem with sending digests filled with new or unanswered posts is the content might not be engaging or might be too difficult to answer.

The problem with sending digests filled with the most popular content is the people most likely to open the emails are also most likely to have already seen the popular content.

The simple option is to show what’s most popular, new, and unanswered in a single email.

If you can’t do that – it’s usually best to send what’s popular on a weekly to monthly basis (based upon the quantity of content your community creates). Less frequency is usually better.

However, if you can, send two digests. Your top 10% of members get a list of new or unanswered posts – with a challenge to solve them. The rest of your members get to see what’s popular.

Relaunching Our Community Training Program [Launch Feb 24]

We want to raise the skill set of community professionals around the world.

As part of this mission, I’m excited to relaunch our two community training programs; Strategic Community Management and Psychology of Community.

If you want to learn how to scale your community to its full potential, these courses are for you.

These courses will give you the systems, strategies, approach, tactics, and the exact resources/templates we’ve used to help 270+ organisations launch and scale successful communities.
These courses will help you:

  • Develop your community strategy from scratch.
  • Ensure your community delivers maximum value.
  • Align all stakeholders to the common goal.
  • Build a technology roadmap, budget your community, and overcome risks.
  • Give you the exact languages and templates to develop your community.
  • Build member personas and onboarding journeys.
  • Engage members in an advanced, persuasive, way.

Most importantly, these courses will help you scale your community to its full potential.

After training community professionals for almost 9 years, I truly believe every community needs a highly trained professional to thrive – and training is one of the best investments you can ever make in your community.

Signups for Strategic Community Management & Psychology of Community are open now for $750 each.

You can also sign up for both courses for $1100 USD.

See you on the inside.

Soft and Indispensable Skills

Colleen Young has the best hands-on engagement skills I’ve seen.

You can browse down here to see her incessantly great contributions to Mayo Connect.

In almost every single post she clarifies the question, continues the discussion, adds her own knowledge, and invites other people to participate.

She offers empathy, knowledge, and understanding. People don’t just build a relationship with her, they build a relationship with each other too. That’s more valuable than knowledge.

It would be a lot easier to simply answer the question and move on. But Colleen offers something far more valuable.

It’s not easy either. Most community professionals can’t keep this going for a few hundred posts…Colleen has kept it going for 8,000 posts.

And the results speak for themselves:

If you’re looking for great examples of engagement, check out what Colleen’s doing at Mayo Connect.

Three more thoughts:

  1. If you’re recruiting someone, look up their contributions to their current community. Do they display a deep level of empathy, knowledge, and desire to connect members?
  2. If you’re looking for a job, now’s a good idea to start displaying those similar traits.
  3. You and your team should be mastering these skills (as Colleen did) in our Psychology of Community course (relaunching on Feb 24).

(p.s. Read this full case study from The Mayo Clinic)

Latest Question vs. Latest Activity (and best answers)

Showing which questions have a ‘best answer’ or ‘accepted solution’ is a big commitment.

If you aren’t committed to individually marking ‘best answers’ at the end of each day to most questions, don’t display ‘best answer’ on your homepage.

It doesn’t look good if only 1 out of 20 questions seems to have an answer

One of our clients, Geotab, recently launched a new community and is doing this very well. Most questions do receive a best answer within a day and this appears on the homepage.

(click here to see image)

However, as the volume of questions grows this will become more of a challenge.

If 20 questions are posted an hour instead of 5 to 10 per day, each visitor will only see the list of new, unanswered, questions.

  1. You have three solutions here.
  2. You can remove ‘answered’ from being shown on the homepage.
  3. You can increase the speed at which you answer questions (and mark them as best answers).

You display posts by latest activity rather than latest question. Latest activity means older posts with answers are as likely to appear as new posts without.

When you’re just getting started, it makes sense to show the latest questions over latest activity. Once you’ve hit maturity, switch to latest activity and keep working hard to make answers as best/accepted.

‘General’ Discussion Categories

If you have a ‘general’ discussion category (remember topics are better), you can expect 50% or more of members to use it when asking a question (I’ve seen up to 90% fall into this category).

This is easy for them, but bad for you and SEO.

Instead of trying to think where a question belongs, members simply post everything in the ‘general’ category and shift the burden on you.

If you’re just getting started, having a single ‘general’ category isn’t always a bad idea. But once you’re past your first few hundred discussions, you need to think seriously about structure.

Your list of categories should usually:

  1. Cover all types of questions.
  2. Not overlap with one another.
  3. Not be overwhelmed with activity, nor struggle to sustain activity.
  4. Match existing categories for your knowledge base/documentation.
  5. Be no more than a dozen.

Once you come up with a list of categories, test them. Look at the questions you currently get (or grab a list from your support team) and see if you can easily place every question in a category.

If you need to think about it for five seconds, tweak the category system.

If you still need a catch-all category after this, add a ‘miscellaneous’ category at the bottom of discussions, not a ‘general’ category at the top.


A rising share of high-quality discussions today occurs in small, private, groups.

These are often hosted on WhatsApp, Telegram, Slack or another mobile-friendly channel.

The reasons are obvious.

  1. These apps are ‘in the flow’ of our current habits.
  2. Members get a sense of exclusivity from being accepted as a member.
  3. Every member is vetted and can be removed if they break written (or, more likely, unwritten) rules.
  4. The small group size fosters a deeper sense of trust.
  5. Members can speak openly without fear of their thoughts being leaked across the web.

In a growing number of our client community programs, we find ourselves setting up small off-site groups on WhatsApp just for top members, task-groups, or VIPs.

In fact, we’ve found small, off-site, private, groups on WhatsApp just for VIPs to be the only method that consistently attracts VIPs.

It might not take place on your platform and you might not be able to measure it, but I’d strongly advise giving them a shot.

It’s far better to be the host of your industry’s top figures than hoping for an invite.

Growth vs. Optimisation

Only a fraction of the people with a relevant question will turn to your community for help.

The vast majority go elsewhere.

They turn to their nearest colleague, Facebook friends, or their favourite search engine.

If they don’t find an answer there, they go to the website and look for an email address, a place to file a ticket, or (god forbid) a contact number.

The problem today is we spend far more time optimising what people do once they visit the community instead of getting more people to visit the community by default.

I cringe a little whenever I see someone asking for help fixing their iPhone from Facebook friends instead of Apple’s fantastic community of experts.

The biggest opportunity for growth today isn’t better optimising what people do when they visit your community, but driving more people to visit.

The biggest opportunity for growth today is to persuade your audience, customers, or followers that asking a community of people like themselves is the smart approach for every problem and frustration they have.

This requires more than just a single email announcing the launch of a community.

It requires a clear, ongoing, and persuasive campaign. We’re talking outreach and key messages on every possible channel.

It requires answering the question; how does your community help your members do something they’re already doing even better?

It requires creating a sense of identity about being the kind of person who knows it’s smarter to ask for help from expert peers instead of filing a ticket.

It requires making members feel a sense of duty to highlight questions they have so the person after them can learn as well.

It requires making members feel confident and encouraged to challenge experts with their questions – even if those questions have been asked before or might be relatively simple to answer.

This isn’t a launch campaign, it’s a maturity campaign. This isn’t something you do when you launch, it’s something you keep doing several times a year. The bigger your community is, the more evidence you can use to support your campaign.

The vast majority of your customer base doesn’t know your community exists. What are you going to do to change that?

Jono Bacon, Book Discounts & Upcoming Courses

Last week, Jono Bacon and I went deep on some of the most urgent and pressing issues in the community space today.

If you missed the webinar, you can catch it here (or below)

Buy ‘People Powered’ (with a discount!)

Jono has also provided webinar attendees with a limited-time discount code for his fantastic new book, People Powered: How Communities Can Supercharge Your Business, Brand, and Teams.

Upcoming Courses [Feb 24, 2020]

Next month we will be relaunching our Strategic Community Management and Psychology of Community courses.

These courses are for people who want to take themselves and their communities to the next level. We’re going to breakdown what a great strategy looks like, what the process of creating one looks like, and how to understand and deliver exactly what your members want.

We’re keeping places limited to 30 people on each course. You can learn more about our courses and sign up here.

Getting A Community Redesign Right

I’ve seen too many community redesigns backfire.

This usually happens when it becomes harder for members to scan the latest activity and find what they need.

In the design phase, it’s easy to overlook the impact of a single extra click. It only takes another second after all. But when it’s a single extra click for members who visit a thousand times a year, that’s a thousand more clicks they need to make.

For example, imagine your members are used to seeing a long list of new discussions when they visit the homepage. But now those discussions are behind seemingly-neat categories. Those extra clicks get annoying fast.

Likewise, if you add a large banner above those discussions, include large category icons members must scroll past, force members to complete their login details more frequently, prevent members replying by email, change how search works, or otherwise interrupt their usual flow, members will be upset.

Part of the problem is there are simply too many things your platform can do.

It’s tempting to try and squeeze them all above the fold. But this always does more harm than good.

The better-designed communities (i.e. DataRobot, Kony, ServiceNow, Atlassian, etc..), aren’t the ones with the most features crammed above the fold.

They’re the ones that appreciate the homepage is for scanning and make it easy to search for content and browse the community without interrupting the scanning.

Even well-intentioned additions (i.e. a pop-up onboarding journey) can frustrate newcomers who want to ask a question right now.

Stop thinking about what you can add to your next community redesign and begin thinking about what you can remove (or hide and downsize).

Connecting With The Ecosystem

You live in an ecosystem where your members might ask a question in your community or on a dozen or more other channels.

It makes far more sense to connect and support that ecosystem than fight it.

The Microsoft Azure community (below) is a great example.

Don’t compete with your customers, support them wherever they will go.

Encourage your members to ask and answer questions on different platforms.

Automatically complete the tags for them to ask questions on each platform.

Assign badges and offer congratulations for members who answer questions on any platform which suits them.

You get far more value from supporting and integrating with your ecosystem than fighting against it. Consider designing a similar homepage for your community.

How Everyone Can Become An Expert

(reminder: Join me for my webinar with Jono Bacon tomorrow)

I’ve been impressed by ServiceNow’s Community recently.

It’s clean, well-designed, and answers a large number of questions every day.

The gamification system is worth exploring. Member profiles clearly feature the latest member achievements.

[click here to view image]

The community also has the best leaderboard system I’ve seen yet. You can easily find the top 10 members by points gained as we see below.

[click here to view image]

But most importantly, you can search the system by points gained in specific topics and forums (and by all-time and the past month). If I want to search for the top expert in a particular topic, I can easily do that and see their overall level.

[click here to view image]

There are several major benefits to this.

1) Every member can reach the top rankings. With so many months and so many topics/forums, every member knows if they make an extra effort they can become the topic expert in at least one part of the product/service.

2) It’s easier to find people who can help. You can get granular and find exactly the person you need to help.

3) You can validate someone’s expertise. Being a ServiceNow expert isn’t as useful as being the top expert in the particular issue you’re facing today. You can check the person giving you the answer.

This creates other opportunities too.

Top experts can get notifications of new or unanswered questions in their particular field of expertise. This gives them the first opportunity to solve them (and the motivation to solve them – scarce time).

You can also give awards and prizes for the top members each month or solicit feedback just from the top experts in each category each month.

Don’t Be A Dumping Ground For Everyone Else’s Content

If you let other departments treat your community like a noticeboard, don’t be surprised when members ignore your community like a noticeboard.

A single job advert alone won’t do too much harm.

But it’s rarely just a single job advert. Soon it’s a single job advert and a product announcement, corporate video, news about the new CEO, press release, and new year’s greeting etc..

The same thing that makes the community seem attractive to other departments (more attention) is the same thing that the community will lose by posting these announcements there.

A better approach is to set standards and adapt each approach for the community.

Instead of a job advert, offer community members $500 if they refer someone you eventually hire. Let them headhunt for you.

Instead of posting a corporate video, host a competition and invite members to create, edit, or critically evaluate your own videos.

Instead of posting news about the new CEO, host a live AMA with the new CEO exclusively for the community.

Instead of a press release, ask members for their opinions on the issues and let them chat with your experts.

Instead of a new year’s greetings, let members come up and share their priorities for the new year.

Whatever you do, don’t let the community become a dumping ground for everyone else’s content.