They Didn’t Want To Talk To Each Other

Last year, one community manager in the accountancy sector mentioned their target audience didn’t want to talk to each other.

That’s pretty devastating to discover, but is it true?

If you drop a group of accountants in a room together will they sit alone and avoid eye-contact?

I’d bet they will make small talk and then gradually begin sharing more details and information about themselves and their practice.

A random group of people in any field may not want to talk to each other, but, they do want to chat with friends. They do want help to solve their problems. They do want to feel respected and good at what they do.

A bad community concept often masquerades as resistance to talking to others. It’s rarely the case. It just means you need to change your approach.

If they would talk if they were dropped into the same room then drop them into the same room.

If they would talk to solve their biggest problems, let them know what problems people can solve.

If they would talk if they felt respected or admired, make sure they feel respected and admired.

This isn’t the chicken and the egg, from the very first contact with someone you can invite them to an exclusive event for the top [accountants], learn more about their problems, and let them know how respected they would be in the group.

The solution, like many, is about member psychology.

p.s. Final day to sign up for Psychology of Community.

Avoiding The Biggest Community Problem Because It’s ‘Hard’

Speaking to a community manager last week, she mentioned her biggest problem was proving the value.

Her boss wanted to know what impact engagement had upon customer retention but she didn’t have the numbers.

A snippet from the conversation:

“What have you tried so far?”
“Nothing, it’s not possible”

Nothing…it’s your biggest problem and you’ve done nothing to solve it?

You haven’t spoken to anyone in the field about how they linked engagement to retention?

You haven’t tried the formulas in any of the existing ROI resources?

You haven’t spoken to any data analysts about getting statistically significant data?

You haven’t asked other departments how they prove their value and links to retention?

And how do you even know it’s not possible if you haven’t tried anything?

If it’s your biggest problem, make it a priority and solve it.

No-one taught you how to do it, no platform provides the easy connection, so…do the most wonderful thing we get to do each day…and tackle a new challenge with relish. You might learn a new skill and build a new resource…

Ask around, study data, hire a data analyst if you like (we’re currently working with 3).

Mankind has somehow managed to work out the impact of Facebook on reducing government corruption, rain on retail sales, and boardroom diversity on financial performance..believe me, we can (and do) connect engagement data to customer retention

Always Be Evangelizing

A reminder from Phoebe this week; always be evangelizing.

Gaining internal support doesn’t mean you’ll keep internal support.

Getting the new staff hire or platform you wanted isn’t an indefinite pass to everlasting support from your organization.

Resources are limited and you’re not the only department lobbying for more.

If you slow down while you’re ahead, others will soon catch up.

You’ve got to work hard at this every single day. This means you need to bring a ferocious, infectious, passion for community to every meeting.

It means you need to bring fresh, engaging, and valuable stories from community members at every opportunity.

It means you need to work your ass off to build stronger relationships, educate people on the benefits, and deliver the value they need to see from the community each month.

No, it’s not in your job description. But if you want to keep your job, no wait..if you want to thrive in your job, this is what it takes.

It’s really hard work. Better get started.

Getting More Internal Support

One way is to pull together plenty of facts and hope people are persuaded.

Another way is to understand what different departments perceived as valuable and highlight how the community creates that value.

Here are a few options:

  1. Showing marketing and management teams which questions/discussions get the most visits (use trendlines, not absolute metrics for context). This shows which problems or issues people care most about. If you know a rising number of people are asking a question about integration with your software and another, you might want to work on that.
     
  2. Ensure customer service teams know the most common questions. Anyone working in customer support should be aware of the most common questions being asked and any novel solutions identified by community members. Continually add community questions to the FAQ and user manuals. Update existing questions with answers too.
     
  3. Highlight new popular questions to product teams. Highlight questions which haven’t appeared before but are gaining popularity. This might reveal possible future problems to tackle early on. This is especially useful for fixing bugs early.
     
  4. Show marketing teams terminology members use. Highlight unique terms and phrases community members use to describe problems. Encourage them to use this terminology in their web and marketing copy. This is also useful for product teams working on documentation.
     
  5. Gather demographic data on most active users. This reveals the most likely sneezers you want to work with who will spread your messages. For example, you might want to filter women, 24 to 30 using Mozilla into a unique mailing list to contact and build relationships with.
     
  6. Put together focus groups for product teams. Imagine the ability to test ideas and see which proves most popular in a controlled, safe, environment. Make sure the product teams know they can ask questions and get support.
     
  7. Onboarding new staff members. Embed community interactions within the training of new staff members. Highlight how they can ask questions, get feedback, and use real life case studies to figure out how best to work with the community.
     
  8. Highlight potential recruits to HR. Ensure HR know the community is a recruiting tool. Perhaps even give them a list of possible recruits to reach out to when a job becomes available. They can even post it in the community too.

The more value you offer, the more different departments will support the community. Take the time to build the bridges and prove the value.

Only then will you get the support.

What The Promise Of Rising Engagement Numbers Means

As a community grows, the rate of growth naturally slows (no. new members / no. total members (or DAUs)).

You might get lucky in a fast-growing industry (data science etc…), but otherwise, you will at some point hit saturation*.

If you’ve set expectations (and constantly reported) on rapidly rising engagement metrics all this time, what will you do when you naturally go past the peak?

Remember that rising engagement growth is an implicit promise. That promise is future engagement = valuable outcomes. If engagement slows and you can’t see valuable outcomes, you have a problem.

At some point (hopefully today) you will stop talking about engagement metrics. Declare in the next meeting it’s time to focus on value instead. From now on, report leads generated, tickets answered, increase in CSAT scores, ideas generated/implemented etc…

You might not have much scope to increase engagement, but there’s usually plenty of scope to boost all of the above.

Yes, these too will eventually slow. But now your company can see what they get for their money. You might not be able to answer more than 50,000 tickets per month, but 50,000 tickets per month are usually valuable enough to keep funding the community.

Remember all growth of engagement metrics eventually slow. Don’t wait until they do to switch to reporting to valuable outcomes.

* Saturation is the point in the maturity phase of the community lifecycle where those most likely to join your community already have. Now you focus on replenishment (converting newcomers to the topic).

Zero In On The Drop-Off Points

Run a cohort analysis (Google Analytics/Community-Analytics can help) and identify the most common drop-off points.

Be aware that the biggest will always be between week 0 and 1. There are ways to tackle this, but ignore this group for now. This group skews your data too badly.

Look at where the remaining 20% or so of survivors begin to drop-off.

Is it after week 3? 4? 8? 12? Focus on these points. Now interview some members who did drop off at this point and ask them why (the last visit date often works).

You will usually get answers along the lines of:

“I just forgot about the community really”
“I didn’t really see anything I could help with”
“It didn’t quite click with me”
“I became too busy”
“To be honest, I didn’t like feeling dumb”

(all genuine quotes)

You might stumble upon an outlier, but assume these reasons are reflective of broad groups of individuals. Find the ones which appear most often and run a short survey for the drop-outs to answer to find out which resonates most.

Now set up an automated reminder specifically timed to tackle these objections. Don’t use facts at this level, you need emotions. Focus on an amazing story that will surprise or dazzle someone. Highlight an action they can take so they won’t forget about you. Focus on how they can help even if they don’t have an expertise. Focus on someone who was in their position and overcame it – with a convincing case study.

You can have fun with it if you like.

Repeat this for different drop-off points. If you get it right, you should see a small bounce in the retention rates. A small bounce might not seem important, but as with all things retention – it builds up over time.

Everyone Has A Slice Of Expertise, You Need To Get Them To Share It

I received this from Amazon recently.

Do you notice how clever this is? Everyone that has bought the product now has expertise.

By sending out messages (to presumably random customers) to see if they can help answer the question, they’re soliciting a remarkable amount of engagement.

Better, they force you to choose between answering the question or admitting you don’t know.

Too often we focus on high-level expertise and forget that most questions are at the beginner level. Anyone who has recently gone through a similar experience can answer them, you don’t need experts for this.

You just need to give people a small nudge to make them feel their contributions could be useful.

Who Actually Reads The Welcome Message In An Online Community?

Nutanix launched their community last week.

You can read the welcome post below.

Like me, you probably died of boredom halfway through.

Consider who would voluntarily read a welcome post. It’s not the mass of people with a question they need help with. They’re too busy looking for the place to ask the question.

It’s the people who have made the unique effort to explore the community. It’s the people more likely to become dedicated, active, members. It’s the people who most love the topic.

What do you need to give these people? The answer is easy.

Give them something to do!

Cut the legalese and patronising requests to behave. Focus on lifting them up.

Give them a challenging problem to solve, invite them to tackle some of the biggest challenges, get them engaged and excited about the journey you’re about to go on together. Highlight some exciting things coming up (which they can sign up for). Tell them what kind of expertise they can acquire to help members etc…See who might be interested in an MVP program etc…etc.

You’re not going to get many better opportunities than the welcome message to set the tone for the most likely active members. Don’t waste it on boring reminders and redundant information.

The Deliberate Pursuit Of Status

Imagine you launched an event for your audience tomorrow.

Call it the “how to increase your status webinar”.

Not many people would attend.

That’s not because they don’t want to boost their status, most people certainly do.

It’s because they know the deliberate pursuit of status undermines its value. It’s socially awkward at best and invites outright mockery at worst. Put simply, no-one respects the person desperately trying to earn their respect.

This is why explicit appeals to status are ineffective. Members might be motivated to boost their status but feel uncomfortable about being seen to do it.

You need to be very subtle here to avoid falling into this trap. Don’t use direct copy or references to increasing status. No-one wants to hang out with that crowd. Look towards language that implies status but is more socially acceptable.

Members who feel awkward about pursuing status would love to be someone the community turns to for advice, be consulted on future changes, and have their opinion sought on topical news stories etc…

Status is a really powerful weapon, we need to be better at wielding it.

Loyalty Makes Bad Community Business

Communities and retention sound like a perfect match.

But they’re not.

It’s hard to influence loyalty with the most direct of channels. Alas, a community is among the least direct channels.

The quality of the product, competitors, price, the reputation of the brand, reviews, other promotional channels, other loyalty schemes all usually have a greater influence on retention than a community.

I’m sure you can point out exceptions, but be aware those are the exceptions.

Most communities with retention/loyalty-based goals from five years ago are gone today. They’ve moved to social media channels, closed down, and laid off their staff.

Instead of loyalty, I’d focus on customer acquisition, gaining powerful insights, saving time and money, reducing costs. A community has far more power and influence here.

A Simple Metric For Measuring Internal Support

A simple way to measure internal support for any organization’s community is to see where the community is featured on the homepage.

If you visit SAP.com (a client), you will see Communities featured on the homepage navigation bar just after Solutions, Support, And Training. The homepage also features contributions from the community.

Visit Oracle.com and you will see the community featured as a navigation tab but it’s smaller and not in the main bar. There are no member contributions in the community featured on the homepage.

Now visit Apple.com. Can you find the community? You first need to click support and scroll down below search, products, popular (support) topics, iTunes/gift card scams, Apple care and warranty, repair and service, counterfeit parts, and then Apple support communities.

All three are great proxies for the priority and value given to the community. If the community is hidden or buried within the homepage, it’s usually not a priority for the business.

This isn’t a side-issue. This directly impacts the level of traffic you receive and thus how successful your community will be. Being featured more prominently on the homepage is one of the very few areas which directly and immediately bend the trend lines in your favour.

Don’t just lobby for more resources and support, lobby for positioning too. The worst thing that can happen is a redesign that gives the community less priority. The best is being featured more prominently.

Target The Emotion To Drive More Activity In Online Communities

A course student wrote this week switching from fact-based appeals to emotion-based appeals increased participation rates from 36% to 46% overnight.

This isn’t a rare outcome.

Don’t lay out a rational argument to explain why people should participate, use emotional arguments. Use (subtle) appeals to increase their status, be recognized, feel smart, be appreciated, have an impact, make a difference etc….

Try reducing their sense of fear, loneliness, and reduce their jealousy.

You will be far more successful if you stop using rational appeals (connect, share, learn etc…) and move towards themes of hope, fear, joy, anger, loneliness, relatedness etc…to engage people.

In truth, the hard part isn’t deciding the emotion. The hard part is figuring out how to translate that emotion to subtle appeals throughout the entire community. Go through your inventory and update your messaging.