More engagement increases loyalty (or retention), at least that’s the myth.
Community has less influence over retention than almost any other benefit.
Price, product, promotion, people, processes and a dozen other factors have a bigger impact.
There are plenty of companies with thriving communities shrinking away when better or cheaper products emerged (Dell, BestBuy, Barnes and Noble etc…)
Part of the problem is the people most likely to join a community are already your most loyal customers. You might move that by a percentage point or two, but it’s extremely hard. Even if you succeed, it’s difficult to prove causation.
I’d look around for another benefit. Advocacy, customer support, ideas implemented, tickets reduced, SEO traffic, generating leads, reduced costs, and almost any other benefit here works better.
Your work becomes far more enjoyable when you’re working towards something you can directly influence and easily prove.
A friend mentioned she had to change her metrics three times as new bosses came and left.
The one time she tried to stick to her guns, she lost half her team.
When a new boss arrives, you often have two options. You can repeatedly try to reinforce the existing value of the community and persuade the new boss to your point of view.
This is great, when it works.
It’s often far easier to shift your new metrics to what the boss needs rather than what you have.
If you don’t, you could easily find yourself unimportant to the broader strategy of the organization. That’s not a good place to be. It’s far better to be flexible and adapt fast when you need to.
The simplest behaviors are often the most effective.
Getting members to write reviews, for example, consistently ranks as one of the highest-impact tasks a member can undertake.
One study shows why:
Results show that users look for simple and quick reviews and content about products in online brand communities (i.e., guides developed by users, comments, artwork and screenshots). However, results also show that users do not guide their purchases based on user-generated content when the process of gaining understanding is more time-consuming (i.e., reading discussions, watching videos) or requires more active involvement (i.e., workshop presence).
Essentially, getting lots of members to submit simple, quick, reviews is a bigger win than getting members to engage in long, detailed, discussions.
It’s a bigger win than members crafting long-form articles like user guides.
The conversation with your boss might be very different if you can show how you’re getting members to create and respond to reviews on multiple sites.
Have a few people track how long they spent asking around and looking for a document (or answer) outside of the community.
You can use a survey if you want broad guesstimations.
Now, look at how long people spend getting answers or finding documents in the community.
What’s the difference in time saved? 10 minutes? An hour? 10 hours?
Once you take the time and effort to answer these two very simple questions, you can start to quantify just how valuable the community is (no. questions/resources found * minutes saved * avg. salary per minute etc…).
If you’re working to prove the value of an internal community, this is a good place to start.
Begin with your current metrics (usually your website or mailing list metrics), don’t guess or make these up.
If you have a mailing list of 20,000 and only 2,000 open your emails, you would be foolish to make a membership projection greater than 2,000.
It’s also unlikely all 2,000 people who open their emails will take the action you want (10% to 20% is more realistic). And only a small percentage of these will continue taking that action (5% to 10%).
This is where a big audience of 20,000 whittles down to a small audience of 40 to 50 members. You can influence the percentages a little, but they’re relatively similar across most communities.
But then you have casual web traffic too.
If web pages in similar locations get 5,000 unique clicks per day, you might assume 1% of them will register and 10% of them might be regulars (yet, that’s 5 new regular members per day).
Thus with a mailing list of 20,000 people and 1,000 visitors to similar pages per day, you might get 400 to 600 members after 3 months (and this allows for some churn).
Getting these projections right is important for three reasons:
1) Enterprise platforms lock clients into 3-year contracts based upon membership projections. Getting these projections right can save you a lot of revenue.
2) Your colleagues or boss might want to see big numbers comparable to existing communities. Push back with existing metrics and conversion rates. Making big projections to get internal support today will always cost you tomorrow.
3) If you want to hit higher targets, you have to change the fundamentals behind these metrics. This usually means investing more time in promotion, hiring a copywriter, improving the search rankings, positioning the community more prominently, or offering a really great reason for members to stay active.
p.s. Useful free resource on getting your best members to perform behaviors that matter.
Maisie is starting a new community role and asks a few common questions:
“How do I get people from different countries, different departments, and different backgrounds to start communicating and sharing with each other?
What platform do I use?
How do I make my message relevant and interesting among the bombardment of emails we get every day?”
These are good questions, but they’re superseded by a far bigger question; what are the results your colleagues expect to see from the community?
Before you even consider any tactical or technical questions, you need to get the goals properly established.
- Identifying who is heavily interested in, and has influence over, the success of the community
- Interviewing this group and understanding what these people deeply care about (hopes and fears)
- Which of these goals can a community best achieve?
- Does everyone understand and support the goals of the community?
The very best goals are specific (e.g. generating leads for the sales team, nurturing advocates to drive awareness, increasing search traffic, reducing time spent searching for documents, building a database of experts people can use for support, keeping our members at the cutting edge of technology etc….).
They don’t need to specify a financial return, but they do need to be something your senior colleagues truly value. If you want more support for your goals, begin with goals your colleagues already support.
These goals will answer most of the other questions you have (if your goal is innovation or collaboration you would use innovation or collaboration platforms)
Don’t think about how to get people to engage, what platform to use, or what messages to send, until you have clear, established, goals.
Spend 80% of your time in that first month, identifying stakeholders, building relationships, understanding what people care about and setting specific targets.
It becomes a lot easier to answer every other question once you really understand what the goals are.
p.s. Last day to sign up for our Strategic Community Management course.
In the past six months, I’ve interviewed dozens of engagement professionals.
Among them are an elite few who came into a new company and steadily gained the resources they needed to build the community they wanted.
Some now have a dozen-strong community team and a seven-figure budget.
All but one of them accomplished this by reversing how we typically approach building communities.
They didn’t get a lot of engagement and try to make people care about it, they found out what people cared about and then supported those goals. They made themselves indispensable to their colleagues.
On October 5th, I’d like you to join me in a Vanilla-sponsored webinar where I’ll explain the processes and tactics they used to achieve this. (Hint: this isn’t about presenting ROI numbers to your boss).
We’ve worked with and trained over a thousand community professionals through our courses today. I guarantee that learning how to get more resources is the easiest and most valuable thing you can change about how you work today.
The webinar is free, click the link below to sign up:
This is the 3rd post in our Strategic Community Management series.
Around 90% of the strategies I’ve reviewed don’t contain any genuine strategy at all. Most contain a bucket list of tactics to spur more engagement.
Most of the problems come when we convert objectives into strategy. There are a few principles to get right here.
Principle 1: You Need One Strategy Per Objective
Each one of your objectives here needs its own strategy.
You would use a different approach to get your top 200 members to send detailed reports from getting regular members to share their biggest frustration. Each audience has different motivations and will feel differently towards whatever you want them to do.
Principle 2: A Strategy Is Not A Strategic Plan
A strategic plan begins with your goals, and then objectives, and then strategy, and then tactics, and then an action plan and then measurement and improvement.
We can break this down.
- The goals are what you get (e.g. reduced support costs).
- The objectives are what you need people to do to achieve your goals (e.g. get people to ask and answer questions in our community).
- The strategy is the emotion you use to get them to do that (e.g. amplify pride in answering questions others can’t and frustration in finally getting your questions resolved).
- The tactics are how you make people feel that emotion (e.g. give members badges and rewards they can be proud of).
- The action plan is when and how you will do it (e.g. Mark will sketch designs for the badges on Thursday) etc…
A strategy is just the middle part of a strategic plan.
This is important. Most ‘strategies’ don’t actually contain the strategy part. They jump straight from the objectives to the tactics. This leads you to test a collection of tactics without any strategy to guide them. There is huge scope to improve your strategy here.
Principle 3: Strategy is About Emotions (not facts)
Strategy is the persuasion part of your work.
Strategy highlights the emotional levers you’re going to pull to get members to do the things you listed in your objectives. A strategy shouldn’t explain what you’re going to do, but what you want members to feel.
Think about all the levers you can pull to get your best members to share detailed reports with product engineers. For example:
- A sense of power (“I can influence the product!”)
- A sense of frustration (“I can finally fix the problem that’s bothering me!”)
- A sense of jealousy (“other people can contribute to reports, why can’t I?”)
- A sense of feeling respected (“I’m one of a few people who can send reports!”)
There are plenty of emotional levers you have access to, the challenge is finding the right one.
Until you can answer why members will do the behavior you outlined in the objective, you shouldn’t even be thinking about tactics.
Most people decide the tactics first and then crowbar in a strategy around them. It doesn’t work that way.
A great strategy makes all your tactics more effective.
Principle 4: Don’t Guess What Emotions Work, Do The Hard Research
Create two lists. On one list add people that perform the behavior already. On the other list add the people that don’t.
Now interview people on each list in person (or on skype) and ask them why they do or don’t perform the behavior.
Ask how performing that behavior makes them feel.
Most people will say what they think at first (“I think it’s great to share knowledge with the engineers”). That doesn’t help, you need to ask them how it made them feel (“Um, well, it made me feel important…like my opinion mattered”).
Keep notes on the specific words they use to describe how they feel about the behavior today. Also, keep a rough sense of the intensity in which they express the emotion.
Principle 5: Look For The ‘Best Performing Cluster’
Not everyone will pinpoint the same emotion. Some will struggle to express the real emotions (like pride, jealousy, fear). So look out for the emotions which either appear the most often for each group or those which are expressed with the most intensity by members. This helps you prioritize the emotions you will use.
It’s an iterative process, but by this point you should be able to have a clear emotion for each objective. For example:
These are just examples, but you get the idea.
Strategies are often very personal to the specific group. For example, fear of being scooped among subject matter experts. By this point, you should have a clear strategy to achieve each of your objectives.
Principle 6: Telling an authentic story (that’s true!)
Your strategy is essentially an authentic (true) story you’re going tell to members through your tactics.
(This is a lesson I learned from my internship with Seth Godin many years ago).
Those tactics must be authentic. Let’s imagine your strategy is to make members feel an exclusive sense of importance. You won’t succeed just by telling members how important they are. You have to genuinely make them important.
You need to give them things that make them important, like a direct line to your engineers (a tactic).
Likewise, you can’t tell members to feel good about sharing their frustrations. You have to create that story where they can easily collaborate to share frustrations and know they will be resolved.
What you do is far more important than what you say.
Your strategy is that story, based upon an emotion, that will guide every tactic you try to execute.
Strategic Community Management Course
If you want to up your strategy game, I welcome you to sign up for FeverBee’s Strategic Community Management course.
It’s the best course we’ve ever created and has great reviews from almost every participant who has ever taken it.
The course will help you
- Set the right goals.
- Win internal support.
- Establish clear objectives (and KPIs).
- Identify the right strategies for your audience(s).
- Select the best tactics.
- Develop your action plan.
- Measure and improve the results.
If you think you can create a better strategy, you should sign up.
The fee for the course is $675 USD and enrollment closes on October 9th (or when all places are taken).
More than a dozen people I’ve interviewed for the new book mentioned having to protect their community from requests from marketing.
At the same time they want marketing to better support the work they’re doing.
Can you see the problem? If you act like a guardian of your community against your company, you can’t expect much support. But if you look to find ways the company offer things your members want, you start to build useful relationships.
If you want marketing on your side, find how you can support their goals.
The easiest is turning members into advocates. There is plenty that members can do to support marketing goals here:
- Leave positive reviews of your product/services on relevant sites.
- Help recruit/advertise jobs.
- Write testimonials or participate in case studies.
- Drive referrals.
- Create and share content about you (photos on instagram, blog posts, etc…).
- Share news and promotions.
Anything that helps plead the case of your organization to outsiders is advocacy.
But you shouldn’t ask all your members to do one of these. Different objectives work better for different members.
Your objectives might ask your top members to do the most time-consuming tasks, your regulars to take a simple action, and lurkers to do anything that will only take a few clicks.
A real-world example from a friend of a video game series I helped out:
Community Strategy Statement
Goal: Drive huge online buzz for each new release of the game during launch month.
1) Get top members (top 100 participants in the past 6 months) to learn how to create short, slick, videos to share on YouTube, Twitch, and other video channels.
2) Get top members (top 100 participants in the past 6 months) to create popular videos featuring the game upon release.
3) Get regular members (avg. 3 to 10 posts per month) to post positive reviews of the game upon release.
4) Get lurkers/low-activity participants to share promotions on social media.
Each objective naturally led into an emotional strategy.
Top members were perfectly willing to learn how to create short videos when we made it exclusive and hired one of the world’s top short video creators for videos to train them.
Regular members were happy to leave positive reviews simply by being asked nicely and thanked graciously. We sensed they wanted to give back to the game.
Lurkers and low-activity members received points for each promotional item they shared on their social channels which could be exchange for in-game currency.
The key lesson is none of this would have been possible if we had continued to act like guardians and shut down any intrusion into the community. Instead we helped marketing achieve their goals and more importantly perhaps, helped our members get more from the community in return.
Don’t act like a gatekeeper, get involved and figure out solutions.
Remember our Strategic Community Management course begins on October 9th. If you want to stop chasing engagement metrics and start driving valuable results, I hope you will join us:
Park and Gabbard have identified one of the most powerful triggers to get experts (or subject matter experts) to share new information; fear of being scooped.
Once you have set the community objectives, you need to decide what emotional levers you’re going to pull to get people to perform the action.
A common mistake here is to focus on the outcome rather than the process.
Yes, there’s a good chance that members of high status want to increase and maintain their high status. That’s not a strategy though, that’s an outcome of the strategy.
A strategy is zeroing in on a specific emotion that drives them. It’s almost always harder to identify this emotion than you might think.
Fear of being scooped is a potential strategy. It’s emotional and it leads into future tactics you might use.
What might amplify the fear of being scooped among top experts?
- News or content about people being scooped.
- Special badges or commendations for experts who get the information first.
- Interviews with members ‘on the cutting edge’ of the field on how they were able to share the information first.
- Tagging important new knowledge shared as [scoops]
If you’re in doubt, you can even ask for examples or times when they have been scooped and what drives their fear. This often leads into the very tactics you can use.
Now instead of trying a Smörgåsbord of tactics related to status, you’ve got a specific emotion you want to amplify to get the outcome that’s valuable.
To really understand community strategy, sign up for our Strategic Community Management course.
This is part 2 of our 6-part series on community strategy (click here to read part one).
If you like the series, consider signing up for our Strategic Community Management course.
Enrolment is now open and the course begins on October 9th, 2017.
This is going to explain the key processes behind establishing community goals and winning internal support.
About half of our clients ask for our help to set the goals for their community. The following might help.
This is a big topic, so I’ve divided it into 9 key principles.
Principle 1: Engagement Should Never Be A Goal
Many of the community and professionals we’ve worked with and trained over the past decade used to make the same mistake. They believed if they could get the engagement metrics high enough, they would finally get the support and respect they needed. They spent their time trying to get more engagement and reporting on engaging metrics.
The brutal truth is the engagement metrics will never be high enough to get you the support you need.
Chasing more engagement is a fools’ game and condemns you to the engagement trap.
Not many people working in communities today have the right goals. Setting the rights goals should be a transformational process for your community and your career. By the end you should be working towards something you know you can achieve, that other people support and that you know is valuable.
Principle 2: Goals Come From Your Stakeholders
Far too many engagement professionals set the goals for their community and then toil endlessly to win support for them. I know one director of community who has spent five years of her career trying to get internal support for her community’s goals.
The key to career success is to reverse this.
Don’t set goals and try to win support for them from colleagues. Find out what your colleagues already support and use these as your goals. It’s a lot easier to swim with the current. If you don’t want to fight every day to get support, begin with goals people already support.
Principle 3: You Don’t Truly Have Support Until You Get More Resources
Ignore what other departments say, you only truly have support when you get more resources you didn’t already have.
Your organization could commit far more to the community than they do today. For example:
- The sales team can drive new prospects and clients towards it.
- The PR team can promote your community.
- The HR team can embed it within newcomer orientation for all employees.
- The content team can test content in the community.
- Engineering or R&D can give community direct feedback into the product.
- The CEO can participate in the community.
- Marketing can give-away free products to top members.
- The web team can feature it more prominently on the website.
Imagine each department as an engine cylinder you need to fire up to support your community. It’s your job to get each department supporting the community with more resources. This is going to require building powerful alliances where you come up with the goods (more on this later).
Principle 4: The Best Goals Come From Extreme Listening
Make a list of your stakeholders (colleagues, your boss, CEO, CFO, CMO, dir. Marketing, HR, IT, and anyone else who might be interested in the community). Interview each of them to understand their priorities. Ask them what they spend their time doing, what they hope to achieve, what they’re afraid of.
Pay careful attention to what they say and how they say it.
What do you they talk about excitedly and what do they sound bored by?
Attend the meetings of other departments too. Learn how they think and what information they prioritize. Almost everyone we interviewed who has won internal support regularly attends the meetings of other teams
Your goals will come from the above information. Remember goals are personal. Most goals will be those which:
- Save time.
- Save money
- Avoid making mistakes/looking bad.
- Achieve superior outcomes/better performance.
- Impress boss/colleagues.
- Feel more important and respected.
- Feel better about the work they do.
(generally in this order)
You should be able to build a clear list of goals, for example:
Principle 5: Avoid The Big, Noble, Goals Trap
Everyone believes that delighting customers, breaking down knowledge silos, and cutting costs are a good idea.
Everyone will agree these are good goals and they want to support it. But few of this group will help you because the goals are too broad and too distant to help you now.
Base your community goals in the day-to-day reality of your audience. What are they working on today? What do they need help with? What are they struggling with?
Principle 6: Use The Stakeholder Matrix To Prioritise Goals
Now prioritise this group by their interest in the community and their influence over it. Adopt the goals of those at the top of the list. For example, above, the goals might be:
- Answer every possible question our best customers have. (stakeholder: boss)
- Identify and resolve possible PR problems before they become major problems. (Boss’ boss)
- Increase reach of promotional messaging. (dir. marketing)
Notice each of these is relevant to goals right now. This is a key part of getting support.
If you can’t tackle all 3 (and 3 is a lot), focus on just the goal for whomever has the highest influence.
This framework will also guide how you interact with each of your stakeholders. You shouldn’t send the same messages to legal as you would to your boss, for example.
Principle 7: Build Stories To Support The Goal
Now you have a goal, you need persuasive stories to establish it. Anytime anyone asks you about the community goal, you should state the persuasive goal and then use a story to illustrate it. This means using Evernote, screenshots, or any system you like as a story capture system.
Your stakeholder framework will show what kind of stories to look out for.
Using the above example, you would capture stories of the top members who were happy they got their elusive questions answered quickly, of potential PR crises avoided, and the number of people your community was able to reach.
Data helps, but it’s only the backdrop to the narrative.
Remember stories have a beginning, middle and an end. Make them fun and interesting. If you don’t have stories of your own, start looking at other comparative communities. Don’t stop until you have at least a dozen great stories. Match each story to your community goals.
Principle 8: You Are Not A Jedi
No combination of words will win you the support of sceptical colleagues. What you bring into the meeting is far more important than what you say in the meeting.
If you want the PR team to promote you, bring them five incredible case studies they can promote.
If you want the sales team to help you, bring them a list of 20 useful leads.
If you want the engineering team you help, bring them valuable feedback they can immediately use. etc…
Success is going to mean building alliances where you have to give support to get support.
Figure out what the community can give to different people and departments within the organization.
Principle 9: Keeping Support Isn’t Binary
Support isn’t binary. People leave and priorities shift.
You need to set aside a big chunk of your time (at least 30%) to building and maintaining internal support.
This means attending meetings, taking colleagues out for a coffee, and finding new ways to bring value to other groups.
Your community goals will guide everything you do in the community.
Your goals determine what platform you select, how you set the platform up, what you ask your members to do, how you motivate them to do it, and what you report internally.
Setting community goals and winning internal support are two parts of the same process.
You should, if you follow these 9 principles, find that you can finally stop trying to fight for support and take a deliberate approach to getting the results you want.
Strategic Community Management
If you found this or the last part of our series useful, please consider signing up for the Strategic Community Management course.
The course will transform how you approach your community, help you escape the engagement trap, and guide you to deliver exactly the kind of results your organization needs.
And the fee is only $675 ($1100 if taken with Psychology of Community).
I think that’s a fair bargain.
You’re not going to spend much time in a place where everyone complains.
This a challenge for customer support communities. People visit, complain, get a response, and leave.
Why would they want to visit the moan zone again?
This is true for functional communities too. If people are only sharing serious (but dull) questions and getting serious (but dull) answers, that’s not a place you would choose to spend much time. You might visit when you have a problem, but that’s about it.
If you want people to choose to spend more time there, you need to make sure people feel better about themselves while being there. Folksy probably does this better than most.
This means focusing on the positives, showing success, having places where members can highlight and celebrate each other’s achievements.
There are limits to this, but even within the most serious of professions, you can change the emotion people associate with the community from one of boredom to at least one of curiosity (as Figure1 have done so well).
Consider carefully what emotion you want people to feel when they visit your community and make sure that’s what you’re projecting. As a rule, people avoid misery and seek out joy.
Use your pinned posts and menu of discussions to make sure it reflects the right emotion.