…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.
Most people running a community aren’t working from a strategy.
Without a community strategy, you’re letting yourself and your community down.
You’re making it more difficult for others to take you seriously.
You’re making it impossible for your colleagues to know how the community helps them and what help they need to offer in return.
You’re making it impossible for your boss and her boss to know what resources you’ll need and when you will need them.
You’re not accountable to any metrics and can’t prove the success of anything you do.
You’re not leading your community, you’re following it.
You’re not deciding what you need members to do, you’re reacting to what they already do.
You have no idea what motivates your members or how to amplify those motivations.
You resort to using a rising number of tactics instead of narrowing down your tactics to those that matter.
You collect a lot of data without any idea how to use it to improve your results.
Without a good community strategy, you’re not treating your work with the professionalism and thought with which it deserves to be treated.
Next week we’re going to open registrations for the Autumn semester of our Strategic Community Management course.
It’s helped over 200 community professionals create, rebuild, and rethink their community strategies. If your strategy isn’t driving your community forward today, I strongly recommend you consider it.
Work in Progress is one of my favourite new communities. Members can share what they’re working on, get help from others, and be accountable to other members to keep their streaks going (were it not for the membership fee, they would have tens of thousands of members by now).
The community began as a tiny Telegram group with a few friends sharing what they had done or were working on. The accountability part took off and has now morphed into an entire community for people to share what they’re working on. They can earn streaks for posting several days in a row.
Work in Progress serves as an important lesson too about the range of possibilities for building a brand community today. It’s a place where you share your current projects, get help from others, and see projections in motion rather than the completed set.
Three lessons here are important.
First, test any concept in a small group first. If you can’t get the behaviors here, don’t build the community yet.
Second, if you want to enter a very competitive space, another forum-based platform doesn’t cut it. You’re going to need to build your own technology.
Third, communities that produce end results (actions) are better than members simply talking. Once you go beyond discussions as the main goal, you have an infinite number of possibilities for what the community can be.
There is no sector, even technology (by far the most popular sector for building communities) that’s too competitive to build a community. If you can identify the right use case, you can build a community that no-one has even tried to build before.
A recent consultation in a client’s slowly dying community showed members wanted the community to remain exactly as it was.
This makes sense, if they’re participating they’re usually somewhat happy with the community. It’s hard to imagine something better. They might want a few small tweaks, but small tweaks won’t drive the community forward. Worse yet, it won’t change the trajectory of the community’s downward direction.
This is the problem with asking members what they want, they often describe what they already have (with a few minor tweaks)
The problem, of course, is you’re researching the wrong audience. It’s not your (happy) members you need data on, it’s the audience you want to expand into.
If you want to grow beyond your current audience, your research needs to go beyond your current audience. Find the people who have left the community, people in the sector who never joined, and people from related sectors who might be good members.
Uncover their problems, wishes, and concerns. Look specifically for rapidly rising trends. If 1% of members were using a new technology last year and 4% are using it this year, that’s a 400% increase. It might be worth paying attention to that.
If you want incremental improvements, ask your active members what they want.
If you want to increase the number of members who participate, ask inactive (or less active) members what they want.
If you want to expand, ask non-members what they want.
I recently joined a new Facebook group.
The next day, I was welcomed with an @mention alongside 50+ other people. Every reply generated a notification which led to further replies. So far, I’ve received over 100+ notifications. It’s irritating, irrelevant to my problems, and exhausting.
From an engagement perspective, this is a big success. The stats are rocketing up. People are introducing themselves to the group. But, as with all efforts which chase engagement, the costs outweigh the benefits.
The immediate quantity of activity has driven me (and likely many others) from the very group I found interesting in the first place. I’ve already blocked the group from further notifications. From now on, if I want to know what’s happening, I’ll need to remember to visit the group. That’s not likely.
Since the hidden costs (the people who have been driven away by an extreme level of activity) never show up on stats it’s easy to assume it doesn’t exist. It’s a hidden problem.
A big myth of community development is members want to be in super-active hubs of activity. But anyone who has opened an inbox to 150+ emails, seen 300+ notifications in a WhatsApp group, or tried to follow any active Facebook group knows that’s not true.
I recently asked our FeverBee community what they would like to see going forward. The common thread was they didn’t want the site to be more active. They liked they could follow discussions, catch up on contributions, and participate. I doubt they’re alone.
Communities which chase the most activity typically become places filled with the people who have the most free time, the most passion or are most eager to build their reputations. These aren’t usually the best people. It looks good on the all the stats…except the stats which matter.
Members want to be able to follow and easily find the discussion that matters to them. They want the community to be relevant to them. Asking every member to introduce themselves can work when you’re small, but we already know @mention lists can do more harm than good.
A better approach would get them excited about the community. Highlight key members they might want to follow, share the best expertise ever created in the community, and make sure they know the community is a place they go to resolve an immediate problem they have or opportunity they need to pursue.
When you associate your community with quality you get more quality, if you associate it with quantity, you get more quantity. The future lies in the former, not the latter.
Getting good, fast, answers to questions is the backbone of communities, but if you want people to stick around beyond that you need to offer a lot more than good information.
There are things only a community can offer: This includes:
- Feeling a part of a unique and important group of peers.
- Knowing your peers have your back.
- Feeling respected by others.
- Feeling like you make unique, useful, contributions.
- Enjoying the experiences you share together.
- Knowing your group is widely respected by others
- Knowing your skills have progressed because of the group.
If you’re going to go down the information route. Do it. Really do it. Build the biggest and most incredible database for your topic ever. Do your keyword research. Find out what members really want. And completely dominate that sector. Start discussions about it, solicit contributions on those topics, build something new, different, and remarkable.