Tangible incentives have a bad reputation for encouraging the worst behaviors.
This is partly well-deserved. Tangible incentives are great when people had little interest in performing that behavior in the first place, but beyond that, they can cause more problems than they solve.
Tangible incentives (like money) are best used as part of a properly designed system. Three good options here are prize bounties, raffle systems, and tipping.
Prize bounties are when someone sets a reward for the person(s) who provide the best-accepted solution to a challenge. However, if the odds of winning are too low, why participate? It’s best to distribute the prize and offer the chance of random rewards for specific, smaller, activities. LocalMotors’ LaunchForth does this well.
Another option is the raffle system. We use a variation of this in our online community. Each month, people are allocated ‘tickets’ based upon the number of accepted solutions they’ve contributed. At the end of the month, a draw is made and the winner gets the prize. You are more likely to win with more good contributions, but it’s not guaranteed.
The final system is as a tipping system. Each member is given $x per day they can use to tip people who make great contributions. The money expires at the end of the day. Those that don’t tip get less to spend the next time, those that use it get more. Steemit uses a simple tipping system (you can replace money with points, but it’s less effective).
You can figure out the best system for you. Be aware, anytime you create a system with tangible rewards people will try to cheat. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid them entirely. You can get this right.
Two groups, which would you most like to join?
“Join the largest group of design engineers on the web. We have 60,000 members from around the world”
“Join the most exclusive group of design engineers on the web. We only accept 365 members per year, 1 per day”
We spend so much time talking about how many people are participating in our community, attending our events, or joining our webinars without realizing that size isn’t very motivating.
Would you rather stand in a big crowd or be part of a smaller, exclusive, group?
Being small can be a powerful asset too. ‘Who?’ is a more important question than ‘how many?’
If you don’t have the internal support you want, it’s usually because you don’t have a good process for building that support.
Don’t wait until it’s too late, for concerns to rise, or until you need something.
Start building your list. Few things will have as big an impact on your career as maintaining good, clear, relationships with your list.
Begin with everyone who has an interest in engaging customers in your organization.
Your boss is first on the list, but what about her boss and her boss’ boss? What about your close colleagues? What about the people on the IT team? What about PR and sales?
When you’re done, go back and think again.
Most people exclude about half the names that should be on their list.
Marketing will certainly care if you suddenly start acting human and off-brand within the community. Legal will be worried about members talking about illegal activities or posing as brand representatives. Human resources might care if you ask employees to participate openly in the community. Procurement will care how you select the platform you use.
And that’s just the start. Who else might have a vested interest in the community? Even if they don’t know it yet.
Will the video department be concerned with people sharing videos in the community? Will someone responsible for SEO care about thin content created by the community? etc…
By the end of this, you should have a list of up to 30 names.
Your community’s success (and your career progression) depends upon your ability to maintain strong relationships with this list. You can get engagement metrics as high as you like, but without good relationships here, it’s a waste of time.
Set up meetings with each of them, understand their concerns and priorities, and incorporate these into your community efforts.
Don’t wait, get started now.
Work from home all you like, but don’t be surprised when your requests for more resources and attention are ignored.
Whether you like it or not, you’re playing the relationship game.
Your success depends entirely on you being able to build powerful internal relationships.
It’s really hard to do that if you’re going to work from home while the rest of your colleagues are having lunch together.
Whose problems do you think engineering will fix first? What do you think marketing will devote more promotional resources to? What do you think management will pay more attention towards?
Yes, there should be independent criteria for all of the above. But I’ve yet to work with any organization where priorities weren’t heavily influenced by relationships.
And the more you work from home, the harder it is to build and maintain strong relationships. If you’re determined not to work in an office, then work on the road, meeting as many of your members as possible.
Do you want to deflect customers? Send people elsewhere? Stop them from contacting you?
Or do you want to bring them closer? Collaborate with them? And understand their wants and needs better?
How about instead of measuring tickets deflected, you measure insights gains?
How many insights have been implemented into the product/service? How many of them have changed the service or your company in some way?
When this becomes an agreed goal, your actions change. You focus less on speed of response and driving people away and more towards truly understanding your audience, identifying great ideas, developing processes for gathering information, and building relationships with product teams.
Customer support might still be your primary goal, but insights implemented is a great secondary goal.
Building internal support begins with: “I want to do this thing, will you help me?”
Building an internal alliance begins with: “What are you trying to achieve? How can I help?”
Too many people try to build internal support when they should build internal alliances.
Support is difficult to gain and can quickly evaporate as priorities shift.
If you’re waiting for someone to do you a favour, take a number and get in line. You could be waiting for a while.
It’s a thousand times easier to build an alliance instead. Figure out the goals and concerns of those around you and see how you can incorporate them to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.
The crucial difference is this means you need to change and adapt your vision of what the community should be to accommodate what others want. You can’t fake this or pay lip service. You earn their trust by showing you’ve truly listened and responded to what has been said.
A friend recently spent hours going through the sales team proposal documents for new business and attended one of their sales meetings. He noticed he had some powerful stories that would help illustrate their points. So he asked if they wanted any quotes from top customers or stories to support their key points?
Now the quotes he’s collected from community members feature prominently in sales decks and the stories are used by the entire sales team. In return, the sales team encourage new clients to use his community.
This is an alliance not built around asking someone for support, but by finding ways the community can help existing stakeholders. (p.s. Also, imagine how community members feel knowing their stories are featured so prominently in company material?)
There are countless opportunities all around you today to better understand the people around you and build more alliances. Alliances that begin with what they want, not what you want.
It’s a lot easier to get support if you begin with something they already support.
I spent two weeks in San Francisco interviewing 20+ community professionals from companies big and small. They split into two separate groups.
Group one were largely from the start-up sector. They had a strong level of internal support for the community. The CEO believed community was important and core principles trickled down. Most CEOs in this sector were more worried about sustaining attention than profit. Let’s call these the ‘blind faithers’. They trust the community is essential to relationships and keeping an audience’s attention.
Group two were outside of tech. They struggled to get internal support or understand their community. They are dealing with bosses and CEOs with limited resources and trying to allocate those limited resources to maximize impact. Multiple departments were using all possible means to get the resources they needed (or just wanted). They needed to see the impact of community. Let’s call these the ‘hard evidencers’.
The challenge dealing with a ‘blind faith’ CEO isn’t getting resources, but understanding their vision. This can be difficult when they don’t know themselves. Is it customer support? Innovation? Raving advocates?
Most problems that arose in this group came from not taking the time up early on to truly understand what a community means to them and what they’re working towards. They felt awkward about challenging or helping frame the goal.
The challenge with ‘hard evidence’ CEOs is building up relationships around them (they’re highly influenced by peers), creating case studies of success, and finding ever more ways for the community to deliver more value (being a nimble way to test ideas usually helps).
You already know which type of company you’re working in. So match your actions accordingly.
p.s. I’m speaking at several events in Israel this and next week. Most are private, but you can join this one if you’re in the area.
Sometimes you can get everything else right and stumble at the ask hurdle.
This is the point where you have to ask someone to do something they’re not already doing. Every community effort reaches this point.
This is difficult, especially without an existing relationship.
Most people begin with an email or message along the lines of:
I’m the community manager for WidgetCorp, a community with 3,000 active members of which you are one.
Over the next few months I’m interviewing members of our community to see how we can improve the community.
I would like to interview you and get your feedback.
Let me know your availability. I am available on Tuesday 23rd between 2pm and 6pm, and Thursday 24th between 2.30pm and 5.30pm. Will these times work? If not, suggest times of your own.”
Can you spot the problem? From the very first sentence it feels spammy and impersonal.
It could be one of 50 similar requests you might get this year, all of which you will ignore.
This feels like a minor issue, but we see it consistently undermining the great work so many community managers try to do. Once you’ve ruined that first impression, it takes a LOT more work to bring people around.
Susan Chiu recommended I contact you because you have some experience about [skillset …be specific].
Can I get 10 minutes of your time to get your advice on something we’re working on? It’s for our community which might help a few thousand people.
Any help here would be really useful.”
Notice the difference in tone and messaging? You have a referral, you’re being clear, but you’re talking the way real people talk.
You can adapt any appeal as you see fit, but be sincere. If you’re not sure if your email is sincere, it probably isn’t (not yet anyway). Look to see the messages you respond to in your account and aim to match.
You’re probably getting a lot of product feedback.
So, what should you do with it?
Here’s what not to do. Don’t surprise people in a meeting or a company-wide report with community feedback that is critical of someone’s work. This makes people defensive and creates enemies determined to undermine everything you do (believe me).
The best time to share negative, yet constructive, feedback is in person after you’ve built a relationship.
It’s after asking each person what kind of feedback would help, what format would they like it in, what would really blow them away?
Certainly, share feedback with the wider organization, but make sure you’re letting each person in the room lead with a solution to overcome that feedback. Your job is to make them look good. Use stories about how they figured out a solution to address the issue.
Now your feedback is making them feel smart and innovative. That doesn’t create enemies, it creates allies.
Far too much great information by communities is ignored because we didn’t lay the groundwork for it first.
Pass on community feedback after:
- You’ve built a relationship with the recipient.
- You know when they need the feedback (giving feedback to product teams during an engineering sprint isn’t smart – nor is in the middle of the team meeting).
- You know how they need the feedback (charts, data, stories etc…?)
- You know how they use feedback from elsewhere.
This is one of many small things you can begin doing today to build stronger internal relationships (and your career prospects).
Careful of reporting on metrics you can’t influence.
Customer support communities often fall victim to this. A new product release drives scores of people with problems to ask questions in the community. This is reported in activity or calls deflected.
That’s now the benchmark you’re judged against.
But as the problems are solved in the product, as people become more familiar with the product, both naturally decline.
Now you have to explain why activity has declined in your community.
This is why percentages tend to work better than absolute numbers.
You might not be able to influence the absolute number of visitors, but you can influence a percentage of them to find a solution to their question. You can influence the percentage of questions that have a featured answer. You can influence the speed at which people get a featured answer.
Be careful what benchmarks you set for yourself.
p.s. I’m in San Francisco for the next 2 weeks, send me an email if you would like to meet up.
Better educated members make better customers. But, educating members is extremely hard.
Most don’t have the time to be educated beyond a useful tidbit or answer to their problem. Others don’t have the motivation. (A few might already consider themselves experts).
The challenge isn’t sourcing the knowledge in the first place. It’s easy to find experts and useful solutions in almost any field. The challenge is turning the knowledge into a format the audience can digest.
You can spend weeks on a comprehensive resource which only a tiny percentage of the audience sees.
For example, we wanted members to be better informed about community platforms available.
We can do this via:
- Replying to discussions about the topic.
- Writing short blog posts.
- Highlighting digestible tips each month.
- Developing a series of autoresponder emails.
- Having a live chat with implementation experts.
- Hosting a webinar going through each of the big platforms.
- Creating a wiki/eBook.
- Developing a video training series.
- Building an entire training course.
- Hosting a conference about community platforms.
You will notice the steadily rising level of commitment (and probably smaller audience) at each step. You have to decide which level your new knowledge should live.
The temptation is to go from the easiest, simplest, level through to the more intense. I’ve repeatedly found the opposite works better. Begin with something which requires a lot of commitment and make it exclusive. Perhaps a free training course, but only available to community veterans (scarcity overcomes the motivation problem).
Then turn the training course into a series of short videos followed by a webinar on the topic, a monthly ‘top tips’ on the topic shared by the community, and respond personally. As more people pick up the key elements, they become more likely to reply to other discussions.
If it’s a really big topic, you will also need to change the structure of the community so discussions on the topic appear in a prominent place (ideally above the fold on the homepage). This makes it far more likely the knowledge will spread.
There’s a common mistake to avoid when trying to gain internal support.
The mistake is to go to other departments and tell them how the community can help.
I know, this sounds like exactly what you should be doing.
However, in practice, this kind of unsolicited help is usually taken either as an insult or a threat.
It’s an insult because the person you’re speaking to considers themselves an expert. You’re effectively saying you have an idea for their domain they weren’t haven’t already considered (I know, it sounds petty…we’re only human).
It’s a threat if the community can help them do something they already feel they’re doing well themselves. Get off their toes!
The simplest way around this isn’t to tell them how the community can help, but ask how the community can help. Even if you know the answer, it’s good practice to ask.
Ask them for their advice and input into the community as well. What would they like to see? What advice can they give you? Let them see their ideas flourishing in the community (you didn’t take this job for the credit right?)
Now you’re not a threat and you’re respecting their expertise. Give it a shot.