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.

The Inverse Impact Of Multiple Goals

Let’s imagine you agree with your boss your community can support multiple goals.

Each goal has 2 to 3 objectives. Each objective requires a strategy. Each strategy takes 1 to 3 tactics to properly execute.

One community manager working alone can probably achieve a decent goal and execute 5 to 6 tactics. But when that becomes multiple goals, 9 objectives, 9 strategies, and 27+ tactics etc…you’re condemned to failure before you begin.

But, wait, it gets worse. More goals mean more time spent planning, strategizing, measuring, explaining, and persuading people internally. That means even less time actually putting in the effort to achieve a goal.

The number of goals should have a direct correlation with the resources made available to you.

If you let your boss or different departments force multiple goals on you without getting any additional resources, you’re doomed. Be careful.

Is He One Of Us?

Spend 30% of your time working internally.

That’s one or two meetings a day. Don’t waste your lunches sitting alone. Reach out to a couple of people a day and meet up with them. You can meet with more than one person at a time if you like.

Don’t ask for help, simply ask questions. What are their goals? What are their challenges? What kind of help do they need? What is their current worldview? What do they hate about their work? What do they love about their work? (tip: end meetings on a positive note by discussing the best parts of their work last).

You don’t need the answers, but you need the questions. You need to take the time to understand each of them. Most importantly, they need to know you took the time to understand them. Ask if you can sit in on their meetings sometimes.

You might be amazed what you will learn.

Building a network of allies throughout the organization isn’t technically difficult, but it takes a lot of time. But the value it provides is immense. The very best people I know in this field spend much of their time doing just this.

If others feel you have taken the time to understand them, they will be more likely to help and support you later. They can give you advice and access to their resources. They will speak positively about you to others. This does far more to get you internal support than ROI metrics.

Most people don’t do this until it’s too late. Or they begin with a request for help. Sorry, no dice.

From your very first day you have to be curious about learning more about the organization you’re in. Reach out to and ask to have a meeting to learn more about what they do. Keep it short and be respectful of their time. The results will come.

We often hear people complain that community managers work in a silo…but whose fault is that?

The Problem With Measuring Satisfaction

If you use a satisfaction feedback score, community managers will only reply to questions when they are sure the answer will be happy.

That’s not in the best interests of the member (or your business).

If you measure engagement metrics, you’ll get more competitions, events, games, and off-topic discussions.

If you measure registrations, you’ll get pop-up boxes, clickbait, and rewards for people when they sign up.

If you measure activity per active member, you’ll get community managers removing the less active members.

If you measure the % of discussions you reply to, community managers will give shorter, repetitive, answers to each question.

And if you use all five, you might just get all five. None of which bodes well for the community.

Always supplement any data metrics with common sense and qualitative data. Use surveys, interviews, and your own observations.

If you use data-driven metrics alone to set targets, assess performance, and give bonuses, you’re setting yourself up for problems.

Going Back Is Never An Option

A cautionary tale for all community professionals.

A group of World of Warcraft (WoW) gamers created a private server running an older version of the game because they didn’t like recent changes. They felt the changes made the game more competitive and less social.

Forgive the (6,000 word) spoiler…the group discovered it was they who had become more competitive and less social.

An interesting trend is most veterans in large online communities believe the group’s glory days were in the past. This was usually at a time when the group was smaller, there was greater familiarity and the quality of discussions was higher.

Most believe changes in the community platform since then have ruined that sense of familiarity and quality of discussions.

And they are usually wrong.

The problem is simple. Any successful small community (high familiarity, a strong sense of community, and high quality of discussions) attracts more people. More people reduces familiarity. Worse yet, newcomers ask more beginner-level (or repetitive) questions which reduce discussion quality.

At the same time, the community professional (you) has to keep upgrading and updating the platform as it grows to deal with a variety of issues. But members confuse cause with correlation.

Simple example. As the community grows you notice the discussion area is overwhelmed by too many discussions. No-one can keep track. You create multiple groups and categories. Yet, members now believe this has destroyed the sense of community and high-quality discussions they used to have. It’s not true of course, it’s just a natural evolution of community growth that requires some adjustment.

Now your members will ask you to go back to the way things used to be. This won’t bring back the glory days but it will bring back the original problem.

Unless you’ve made a rare catastrophic mistake, going back is never an option.

Instead, reach out to 20 or so members to outline your vision going forward. Explain the problems you’re facing and where you need to go. Be bold and forward-looking. You might just get their understanding…or even their support.