Activity Alone Isn’t Enough To Justify An Online Community

Several organisations let go of multiple community staff members (and friends) in the past three weeks.

Each organisation had previously claimed the community was successful and very important to them. So, what gives?

Two things. First, just because your boss or CEO says they believe in the importance of community, doesn’t mean they do. At least not enough. Community activity is often several layers removed from clear value.

It’s no surprise the most thriving categories of branded communities are those closest to clear value (customer service, employee knowledge sharing, and emotional support).

Second there is a difference between a positive ROI and a positive enough ROI. A positive ROI is >0%. But a positive ROI alone isn’t enough when the budget axe falls. You need an ROI that trumps other departments (HR, sales, customer loyalty etc..) or the axe falls upon you.

Community staff are let go because the community isn’t generating value or the value isn’t believed.

Your biggest priority today is to identify and spend time with each stakeholder to identify what they wish to see from the community. What would make your boss’ boss job easier or make her look good? Stay close and communicate with stakeholders every week. Mapping out stakeholder objectives is critical (and will never be on your job description). This process builds stronger, useful, relationships too.

Second, influence the community behavior towards those objectives. Lots of activity and lots of members isn’t enough to justify value anymore. You need to influence the community towards specific behaviors that matter. Directly connect what stakeholders want (innovative ideas, greater retention, self-identifying leads) to behavior members need to perform.

So begin today mapping out stakeholder objectives and directly connect them to member behavior. Make sure stakeholders also make this connection.

Getting internal buy-in isn’t your boss saying the community is doing well. It’s you getting more resources and surviving budget cuts. Harsh, but true.

The Problem With Tracking Just One Metric

August 8, 2016 ,Comments Off on The Problem With Tracking Just One Metric

I once hired a copywriter to increase a client’s newcomer to registered member conversion rate. It was a (expensive) test. The copy he produced was stunning. Big promises, free resources, every psychological technique and inbound marketing technique in existence was incorporated.

The conversion would have shot up, the participation rate would have plummeted. All the free offers in the world wouldn’t get people to participate.

This is the problem with measuring (or being measured by) a single metric. You’re motivated to subvert all the resources available to you to make that metric go up. But these are complex systems we’re working with. Changes in one area affects other areas in unpredictable ways.

If you’re only being measured by registered members, hiring a copywriter to write this sort of copy that decreases the total level of activity is the logical course of action.

If you’re only being measured in total number of posts, it makes sense to say controversial stuff, start fights, initiate wordplay games, and share gossip.

If you’re only being measured by value only, it makes sense to spam members with discounts until they buy etc…

Perhaps we’re all smart enough to stay away from the extremes above, but the logic is still there. In any situation where there is a choice, the choice will favour what’s being measured.

Communities aren’t unique here. If a CEO is measured by the increase in share price each year, they’ll subvert every resource available to them to make that price go up each year (with predictable consequences).

This works for every metric you can think of. Imagine your metric is monthly active users. It makes sense to spend most of your time on having as many unique contacts with as many members as possible to encourage them to visit once. You can build up entire volunteer teams to help you.

The problem is these things work on a curve. Eventually sustained growth requires more than just a numbers game of contacts / members or big promises to newcomers. It requires word of mouth, depth of discussion, taking time to build a strong sense of community etc…

Part of the problem is simplicity. A single metric keeps everything simple for you and your boss. But it’s also just as likely to keep your community from reaching its potential and lead to its own demise.

If you’re managing a community team (or just managing your own community), have the discussion with your boss, colleagues, or even just yourself and set at least four targets.

We’ve found these work well:

1) A growth-related target. This is a target related to the number of new members each month. Use any proxy figure you like (unique new visitors, newly registered members, first-time participants etc…).

2) An activity-related target. This is the total number of posts, posts per active members, average time on site, page views per member or anything that indicates whether members are actively participating.

3) A sentiment-related target. This is a target related to the sense of community, how members feel about the community, or general satisfaction with the community. Polls and surveys work well here.

4) A value-based target. This is a target related to the value the organisation gets from the community. Call deflection, increase in retention rate, time saved etc, any return-based metric.

Setting four targets prevents anyone from subverting the other three to achieve a single aim.

If you prefer to track a single target to measure, feel free…just insist it must be achieved without any major declines in any of the other three.

Stop Being Busy And Achieve Your Branded Community’s Big Wins

June 28, 2016 ,Comments Off on Stop Being Busy And Achieve Your Branded Community’s Big Wins

If you’re doing the same community activities as last year, if the work feels easy and repetitive, or if your growth has flatlined, you’re probably stuck.

Being stuck doesn’t feel great. You lose inspiration and feel burnt out.

You have two choices. You can find a new gig or work on a big win.

A big win is something that has a >10% impact on your community metrics. To achieve a big win, you need to free up your time, stop doing the low-impact tasks, and identify what has the biggest long-term impact for the largest possible number of members.

Step 1) Define This Week’s Goals and Current Activities

The first step is to define this week’s goals and activities.

This shouldn’t take you more than a few minutes.

Create a table with two columns. List your current community goals on the left. Typical community health goals might include:

  • Increase the number of active members.
  • Improve the newcomer to regular conversion rate.
  • Increase the number of posts per active member.
  • Build a stronger sense of community.
  • Improve the quality of discussions.
  • Reduce the number of negative posts.
  • Recruit volunteers to help grow the community.

(as a tip, you shouldn’t have any more than 3 of these at any one time).

Now write down your tasks for the week alongside the relevant goal on the right hand side. These often include:

  • Replying to discussions.
  • Welcoming new members.
  • Creating content/posting updates.
  • Searching for images.
  • Hosting a webinar.
  • Updates on Facebook/Twitter.
  • Collecting data.

If a task doesn’t help you achieve a goal, stop doing it. You should be able to free up 10% of your time in this task alone.

Now estimate how much time you spend on each activity per week. Alternatively, install RescueTime and track it directly.

Let’s imagine you follow this process and achieve something like this:

1 - withholdingtest

This is a snippet of the list rather than the entire list.

Step 2) Run A Withholding Test

Now we run a withholding test to find out how important each of these tasks are.

A withholding test is used by pharmaceutical brands, direct marketers and many others to determine the impact of a variable. It’s simply the process of withholding (stop doing) an activity for a select group of time/people and seeing what happens.

What happens if we cut the amount of time we spend initiating discussing, replying to discussions, and sending out newsletters by 50%? Does the number of active members/any metric you track also drop by 50%? If not, you can spend less time on that task.

You will usually find there is some negative impact (perhaps a 15% drop). After all, there was a reason you were doing these tasks. But it’s clear it doesn’t justify the amount of time you spend on it. If you cut your time on these tasks by 50% and activity drops by only 15%, you might want to drop the time by 25% and see activity fall by 7.5% for now.

At this stage you usually find that your most time-consuming activities have very little impact upon the level of activity in a community. You should be able to save 25% to 50% of your time using withholding tests alone.

Your goal is to cut out any task which isn’t the best use of your time. You’re going to need this time to focus on your big wins.

Step 3) Automate the repetitive (none-empathy) tasks

Next we look at automating as many of your remaining tasks for the week as possible. Any task that doesn’t require empathy or complex thinking can usually be automated.

For example, most members ask the same few questions. These can be added to an FAQ members receive when they join. You can add messages in the initiate discussion process to suggest they ‘search’ for the answer before asking the question.

Some common targets for automation here would be:

  1. Adding any question that appears 3+ times to an FAQ.
  2. Creating a document/wiki as a beginner’s guide for newcomers to easily find the most common answers to their questions.
  3. Using autoresponders to onboard newcomers to the community.
  4. Using autoresponders to nudge members to participate in relevant discussions.
  5. Automated segmentation into topical groups to contact about relevant activities.
  6. Open-calendar 1 hour sessions for members to book ‘support calls’ to get quick responses.
  7. Automated generation of sales leads from the community.

Ask yourself during every task, is there a way I can avoid ever doing this again?

Set aside one week and determine with each activity you perform if there is a way you can avoid ever doing it again? This should free up another 10% to 15% of your time.

Step 4) Delegate Remaining Empathy Tasks

The final time-saving step is to delegate tasks which require a human touch but aren’t the best use of your time. You should only be doing the work only you can do.

If someone else can do a task at a lower pay grade than you, they should do that task.

You have three groups of people you can delegate tasks to. These are:

  1. Volunteers (unpaid community members).
  2. Colleagues (paid staff, but not directly working on your community)
  3. Paid help (virtual assistants and community team members)

The kinds of tasks you might delegate to each will vary.

 Delegate Group Tasks they can perform How to engage this group
 Volunteers
  • Initiating and replying to discussions.
  • Welcoming new members.
  • Moderation.
  • Publish content.
  • Host webinars.
  • Create high visibility volunteer roles members can apply for.
  • Designate a clear field of responsibility.
  • Share control/power
  • Provide recognition.
  • Include functional tasks with the fun stuff.
 Colleagues
  • Answer product questions.
  • Answer brand-related questions.
  • Solve outstanding problems.
  • Profile colleagues in the community.
  • Host interviews or ‘ask me anything’ sessions with employees related to particular topics/problems.
  • Organize problem-solving question sessions with colleagues over 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  • Post a list of ‘toughest questions’ from members to motivate colleagues to prove their skillset in the community.
Paid support (team members or virtual assistants)
  • Scheduling posts / updates.
  • Researching future posts / content.
  • Finding stock images.
  • Replying to member tech questions using a checklist / FAQ.
  • Collecting data / producing reports.
  • Welcoming newcomers (maybe).
  • Recruit virtual assistants who know a little about the field.
  • If growing a community team, establish clearly unique roles.

Volunteers

Volunteers can perform most of the growth, content, activities, and moderation tasks in the community management framework.

Create high-status volunteer positions that include the kind of tasks that people want to do.
You can include some monotonous tasks too, but you have to also create opportunities for volunteers to do things they will enjoy. These are tasks which will increase their status and where they feel a strong sense of efficacy.

A good volunteer role should include:

  • A specific name (don’t call it a volunteer, give it a powerful name).
  • A clear field of responsibility (what part of the community are they most interested in?).
  • Power elements (give the volunteer unique access to the platform).
  • Recognition elements (provide volunteers with ways to build their reputation).
  • Functional elements (these are the relevant tasks you don’t want to do).

For example, if you manage a surfing community, you might let people apply to be your Surfboard Expert (name). This would be someone whose role is to stimulate and manage all activity related to surfboards within the community (field of responsibility).This might mean being able to initiate discussions, publish content, organize webinars, and remove discussions related to surfboards (power & recognition). They would be listed in a unique area and have the ability to speak on behalf of the group (recognition). Their role would also be to prune the bad surfboard discussions, invite more people to join and talk about surfboards, and schedule regular events (the functional tasks).

Next, engage your colleagues in community activities. You’re not a customer service professional. It shouldn’t be your job to answer every product/service question if others in the company can do it better. If volunteers can’t answer these questions from a checklist, you need your colleagues to help out.

Finally you may have the opportunity to secure paid support to help tackle many of these expanding roles. This might be additional community people to help you expand or virtual assistants (underutilized tool) to take on time-consuming tasks that aren’t the best use of your skills.

With a small amount of training, virtual assistants can perform many of the tasks which require empathy but not your direct involvement.

By this point you should have been able to whittle the number of tasks you perform down to the core few. These should be tasks that have been shown to have a significant impact upon your community that only you can perform.

This should free up most of your time to work towards your big wins.

What Is A Big Win?

A big win changes the behavior of a large amount of members for a long period of time.

A big win is something that boosts your desired metric by more than 10%.

A big win is a one-off activity that has a sustainable, long-term, impact.

Once you’ve managed to generate a sustainable level of activity in any community, you should focus on your big wins.

The problem as we’ve noted is most community professionals work at the bottom left of this table. Your goal is to move towards working at the top right of this diagram.

graph

(this isn’t an exhaustive list)

Four Types Of Big Wins

There are four broad types of big wins:

1) Increasing the level of traffic to the community. This means getting more people to visit the community site for the first time. If this declines, activity gradually dries up. Ultimately getting fresh members is critical to long-term success in a community.

2) Increasing the conversion rates. This means increasing the number of visitors who participate. Most participation ratios hover around 1 in 1000 (first-time visitors to participants). This breaks down to 1 in 100 registering to join and 1 in 10 of those participating. There is huge scope for improvement here.

3) Increasing the levels of participation. This means increasing the level of activity from your current members. This means making your current members more active (without resorting to quick thrills).

4) Increasing the value of the community. This means generating a larger return on investment from the activity generated by the community. This might mean improving the quality of discussions, reducing the costs of managing the community, or aligning activity with clear ROI goals.

Sustainably increasing the level of traffic to the community.

Most people doing community work wait for people to arrive and then try to keep them. The easiest way to improve a community is usually to attract more members.

This must be sustainable. There are many ways to get the numbers up (hosting competitions, rewarding registration, hosting big events), however we need numbers to stay up. This is a long-term game.

There are four methods of doing this.

  1. Search traffic. Get more people to find you via relevant search terms.
  2. Direct traffic. Get more of your existing audience to visit.
  3. Referral traffic. Get traffic from existing large audiences (and members)
  4. Paid traffic. Get more people to visit through paid sources.

Your tactics here will probably fall within the following buckets:

Search Traffic Content
Inbound links
Onsite optimisation
Referral Traffic Guest posts
Interviews
Videos
Links
Direct Traffic Email campaigns
Community awareness
Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
Google+
Other
Paid traffic Social Ads (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube)
Social Ads Search Ads (Google, Yahoo, Bing)
Paid elsewhere (Blogs, paid media buys etc…)

Improving SEO Results

Read the Moz SEO guide first, then read some of the latest advanced material about SEO.

To increase SEO, you usually need to:

  • Improve the site speed and layout.
  • Improve the site’s mobile experience.
  • Revamp your site’s best performing content to better satisfy user intent (and reduce the bounce rate).
  • Write guest posts to attract inbound links.
  • Engage in digital PR to attract key links from major sites.
  • Combine similar discussions into one.
  • Create regular resources from discussions.
  • Help members optimize their discussions (headlines etc)
  • Create newcomer focused content series (a beginner’s guide like that below works well. Include the questions which appear on search most frequently)

This should gradually increase your search traffic. For most communities, this is the best source of newcomers (especially newcomers to the topic).

The majority of your member’s will find you via search. If you can spend time on only one thing to grow your community, this is probably the best use of your time.

Referral Traffic
We cover many of the referral traffic techniques in our Successful Community Management program. These tactics will broadly fall within the following:

  • Writing guest posts for relevant mainstream sites.
  • Interviewing / hosting webinars with popular figures in your field (notably bloggers, journalists, and others who can link to the interview).
  • Creating useful, powerful, video content which links back to your community.

Link outwards to people you wish to link back to you. Occasionally, simply asking for links helps too.

Direct traffic
Direct traffic usually comes from your existing audience and direct invites. Your mailing list is critical here. Most of us begin a community with an existing, large, mailing list and need to convert this audience into active community participants.

Alternatively we might find a large number of people follow us on other sites (social media) and we struggle to convert them into registrants for the community. This requires a process of testing different messages until you find the appeal which is most likely to convert a member into an active community participant.

These appeals might include:

  • A specific problem they want to solve.
  • An idea that might help them get even better at what they do.
  • Exclusivity of joining.
  • The group norm of conforming.
  • Something new about the passion they can learn.
  • A chance to build their reputation.

Social traffic includes all traffic which originates from social channels such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, Pinterest, and others. This isn’t usually a large percentage of your traffic and isn’t worth as much of your time as any of the above methods. The best process here is to share popular community discussions on these sites to drive traffic back to your community efforts and prompting people to share discussions they post on social channels.

Increasing Conversion Rates

This can be divided into three areas:

  1. Improving the number of visitors that click on the registration page.
  2. Improving the number of registration page visitors who become new members.
  3. Improving the number of new members who sign up to become active participants.

Your goal is to try and squeeze a 10% improvement from this process. If you can increase conversion by 3% at each stage, you’re nearly there.

There are several steps you can test to improve each of these:

Visitors to registrations
Registration page visitors to new members
  • Reaffirm the motivation with a quote/case study.
  • Reduce copy required to sign up.
  • Use single sign on.
  • Tweak who the confirmation email appears from.
  • Tweak the confirmation email subject line.
  • Tweak the copy of the confirmation page.
New members to participants
  • Improve the automated messages.
  • Send better direct messages from the community manager.
  • Tweak the welcome / confirmation email.
  • Change the post registration-page.

You can measure each of these in turn to check the number of people that visit, click, and perform the next step.

Your mileage with each test will vary, but the process remains relatively the same.

Increasing the level of participation.

The third big win is to sustainably increase the level of participation from those already actively participating in your community.

This is the process by where you convert participants into regulars and regulars into veterans. This combines self-determination theory with automation.

Specifically you’re looking to:

  • Increase your members’ perceived level of competence within the topic.
  • Increase your members’ perceived level of autonomy within the community.
  • Increase your members’ sense of relatedness to one another.

You can find an overview here.

Increasing sense of competence
  • Creating opportunities to demonstrate skill level.
  • Develop a skill/knowledge training program to increase the skill level.
  • Creating optimal challenges to tackle.
  • Developing recognition systems.
  • Developing achievement systems.
  • Ensuring members feel a sense of progress.
Increasing sense of autonomy
  • Providing choices over their behavior
  • Ensuring they can participate without feeling pressured.
  • Uncovering what members really care about so they can participate authentically.
  • Soliciting opinions of members in how they want to participate.
Increasing sense of relatedness
  • Increasing familiarity with other members.
  • Ensuring members like other members and have close friends in the group.
  • Ensuring members admire the skills and knowledge of other members.
  • Ensuring members connect with the community culture and develop a sense of community.

This works both in your one to one messages as much as any other content.

In your current messages do members feel more competent, autonomous, and better connected to one another? You can perform a touchpoint analysis of every message to check.

Increasing the value of the community.

The final big thing is increasing the value of the community to the organisation.

We covered this last week. This essentially means increasing the retention rates by aligning community behaviors with retention rate activities, increasing the number of customers, improving staff productivity, improving innovation, or making members happier/more informed/better supported (for non-profits).

You can find the full list from last week below:

This is where you would also find activities like improving the quality of discussions or performing tasks more efficiently to reduce costs.

Summary

In short, you want to save as much time on possible on work that you can eliminate, automate, or delegate to others. Then you need to focus on your big wins. These big wins will be things that increase the level of traffic, conversion rates, participation levels, or value from activity by more than 10%.

It’s Time To Focus On Generating A Positive ROI For Your Online Community

Many community professionals are measured and rewarded by their ability to increase activity.

But the gap between activity and value is wide and growing.

The tasks which best boost activity (e.g. controversial discussions, less challenging interactions, and games/quizzes/events) don’t create more value…they just create more activity. You incur extra costs managing that activity.

Thus increasing activity tends to boosts costs more than value.

If we exclude advertising-supported communities, only a tiny percentage of interactions generate anything resembling value. You can see these in the following table:

Online Communities ROI Table

A table showing the ROI of online communities

You might have a community with millions of members participating in thousands of discussions, but how many of those discussions help you?

It’s probably not many, but we can increase that number.

Increasing Valuable Behaviors

Let’s imagine your goal is customer retention (for example).

What is likely to lead to retention?

Loyalty? Yes, but what causes loyalty? Three things stand out:

1) Perception of brand value compared with competitors. This is when you sincerely believe the company’s products/services are better. To increase this members would need to ask questions in the community and receive good, quick, responses from the brand. They would need to read and accept information about the brand’s products/services. Those are two very specific behaviors (asking questions and reading information)

2) Acceptance and attachment to the brand group identity. This is when you believe in the company’s mission and feel close bonds with other customers. For this to happen members need to make genuine friends and connections with other members. That means personally getting to know other people. Specifically this means introducing themselves to other members, having private discussions, and disclosing personal information about themselves. Again these are 3 specific, distinct, behaviors.

3) Switching costs. If you lose something tangible or intangible by switching, you’re less likely to switch. They would have to answer questions to earn points or status which afford them discounts on the product or credibility among the group.

Now we have 6 very specific behaviors which we can measure and try to encourage to increase retention rates.

  • Ask questions about the products.
  • Read information about the products/services (and mission)
  • Introduce themselves to others.
  • Participate in private discussions.
  • Reveal personal details to others.
  • Answer questions to build credibility.

This doesn’t mean we need to stop members broadly doing what they want.

It does mean we need to focus on also persuading members to perform the behaviors that generate value.

Changing Behavior

There are four key tools to change members behavior.

1) Building social norms around those behaviors.

2) Persuading members of the value of those behaviors.

3) Simplifying the behaviors you want members to make.

4) Better rewarding these behaviors.

Let’s take just one behavior, asking questions about the product.

How can we proactively encourage members to do more of that?

At the moment, members don’t do it for many reasons. They can’t think of questions to ask, they’re worried what others might think of them, or they don’t see the benefit of doing that.

Let’s use the norms, persuading, simplifying, and rewarding framework here:

table 2

These are all relatively simple ideas for just one single behavior you want to encourage. You might do some of these by accident already, but imagine how powerful it would be to deliberately plan activities around these sorts of behaviors.

You could do the same for another behavior, perhaps introducing themselves to others.

table 3

You came come up with far better ideas I’m sure, but the framework should help.

The goal is to be deliberate in getting more members to perform the behaviors which deliver the value you need.

If your goal is activity, that’s easy enough to do. But you will only end up increasing the cost without seeing results. If your goal is value (which it should be) you need to take a different approach.

Look at the table above. Decide the behaviors you need members to perform. Then persuade members (emotively) to perform those behaviors, build social norms around those behaviors, simplify these behaviors, and reward those behaviors.

Members Did {X} More Than Non-Members

Of course they did, your members are your best customers.

If you tell your customers to join a community, those that know and like you best will dominate membership.

If you then compare the spending of community members against non-members you shouldn’t be surprised to discover that members spend more than non-members.

That’s not the ROI of the community, that’s a comparison of your best customers against the rest.

This mistaken formula handily guarantees every community shows a positive ROI, but it’s damaging when exposed.

It’s not whether members do {x} more than non-members that matters. It’s whether that metric’s increased more than non-members since joining the community.

If the average spending of members increased by $50 and non-members by $20 since joining the community, that’s $30 per member which might be attributable to the community.

Multiply this by the number of active members and you might have something.

Not a bullet-proof formula but far more defensible than comparing your best customers with the rest.

Exerting Influence, Establishing Social Norms, And Driving Value

February 17, 2016 Comments Off on Exerting Influence, Establishing Social Norms, And Driving Value

It’s naive to believe that an active community will benefit the host organisation.

It’s more likely the organisation picks up the tab while members reap the rewards.

If those rewards (belonging, support, influence, and exploration) overlap with the organisation’s goals (advocacy, retention, innovation, reduced costs), the organisation benefits. But direct overlaps are rare and there are usually many hops between an organisation’s goals and that of its members.

It’s no different to hosting an open bar, you might generate some goodwill, gain a few good leads and have a slightly more influential voice in the discussion – but there isn’t usually a direct connection to value.

Communities only create value if they establish or change the social norms of their members.

There is a BIG gap between building a community and creating social norms. To cross that gap you have to do what so many people are reluctant to do, exert influence.

Reluctance To Exert Influence

If you don’t exert influence, you’re probably not going to get much value.

You’re already exerting influence too. You have already established what behavior isn’t allowed. We just want to nudge that further along the road.

If you leave the community solely to its own devices, you’re resting your odds of success upon serendipitous luck. And if the community doesn’t generate clear value, it’s usually shut down.

We need to exert influence to establish social norms that benefit the organisation.

How Social Norms Emerge

Social norms emerge from three things:

1. What individual members believe (individual beliefs). This affects what people are likely to do when they initially join the group and how they intend to participate.

2. What members see others doing (observable behavior). This suggests what behavior is appropriate within the group.

3. How others respond to what we do (learned behavior). We pick up on implicit and explicit cues about socially desirable behavior within the group. This helps shape and normalize behavior.

These are your three tools for exerting influence.

Your ability to exert influence falls within recruiting members whose beliefs most closely align with the social norm you’re attempting to create, showcasing the desired behavior to others, and nurturing the social norms you do see emerging.

3 Approaches To Developing Social Norms

This provides you with the three possible tools to developing social norms.

Your use of each depends upon the stage of the community lifecycle. We can put this under three broad approaches, (1) nurturing, (2) foment and foster, (3) establish and enforce.

socialnorms

In a little more depth.

1. Establish and Enforce A Social Norm

I used to work at a private club which explicitly advised against suits and cell-phone use. This was a big draw for a particular group. We were attracted by this norm, embraced this norm and even helped reinforce it. Newcomers would see how other people dressed, would react if they made calls in the venue, and over time embraced the norm as their own.

Setting a social norm gives you the most control. This works best for new groups. It’s hard to force a new social norm from the top-down upon an existing group. Most failed stories about organisational change come from failed top-down efforts to change behavior. Setting the social norm works best when creating a new group and you have either 1) a large amount of pre-existing credibility with the group or 2) you understand deeply what would resonate among the group. For the latter, you need a decade of experience or a lot of in-depth research.

Setting a social norm can work well to splinter fringe members from existing groups to your cause.

2. Foment And Foster Behavior That Spreads

This is where you work with a few close associates (friends, colleagues, or believers in the social norm) to exhibit the new behavior. This only works if they like you and believe in the behavior.

This usually means they have a meaningful input into what this social norm should be and it’s developed by consensus. Your level of control is thus less. You can’t dictate the norm.

A good example would be things like purchases, book reviews, and participation. If on the day you announce an event you have 23 people primed to tweet or share that they plan to attend, this can quickly become a social norm for the group. But you have to get buy-in from those 23 people first. And the best way to get buy in is to ask them what should happen at the event.

They then positively respond to one another and to others who also plan to attend the event.

This works in online communities as much as offline. If you want colleagues sharing more information, it’s a good idea to establish the quality of information you want with a few closer colleagues first and plan out a month of participating positively to the contributions of each other who share that quality of knowledge until it becomes an established social norm.

3. Nurture existing behavior.

Here you look for pre-existing activity which mostly closely resembles the behavior you want to see and give it more attention. That more attention means featuring it, showcasing it, mentioning it to others, writing about it etc…The Heath brothers called this looking for the bright spots.

This works best in large groups with a high volume of activity. You sift through the activity to find the behavior you can nurture. Once you find the behavior you like, you can turn it into a sticky-thread, have senior people respond to it, and link to it from other articles.

You repeat this process as the behavior gradually drifts closer to the social norm you want.

Two key takeaways.

1. If you don’t exert influence, you’re unlikely to extract value. This is fine if you’re hosting the community as a charitable endeavour. But don’t be surprised if your budget (or role) gets cut when money is needed elsewhere. The more you can demonstrate value, the more resources you have to further develop the community.

2. Diagnose your community size and control before exerting influence. Your ability to foster social norms depends largely upon the size and maturity of the community. The more established the group, the less influence you have. If you’re not having much success right now, you’re probably using the wrong strategy.

Good luck.

p.s. We invite you to learn more about Advanced Engagement Methods. This is our 12-week intensive online program which will equip you with the skills, knowledge, and resources you need to drive quality engagement.

Registration closes on Feb 29, learn more here: http://www.feverbee.com/aem

Do Online Communities Change Long-Term Behavior?

Your day to day work might consist of initiating discussions, replying to discussions, and creating content etc…

The desired end result is long-term behavior change. That means new customers, current customers staying for longer and buying more, people collaborating more, or reduced costs (let’s exclude hobbyist communities for now).

Unfortunately the day to day work is many layers removed from the value. Let’s imagine your daily work consists of initiating and responding to discussions, creating content, replying to discussions, and welcoming newcomers.

You probably do that because you believe the following happens:

  1. Your actions create activity.
  2. The activity creates a sense of community.
  3. The sense of community creates new social norms.
  4. Those social norms are valuable behaviors which benefit the organisation.
  5. Those valuable behaviors are sustained over the long-term.

This means the actions we’re taking today are 4 layers removed from value.

 

ValueProblemFINAL.001

There are variations here. Perhaps participating in the community increases the sentiment towards the organisation which in turn increases buying behaviors. However, the broad principles hold.

Building A Community Is Inefficient

If this were an efficient system, where each action directly and efficiently caused the next, the layers between your actions and the desired value wouldn’t matter. Each action you took would cascade into the next level with no wasted energy.

But it’s really not an efficient system at all. Only a small % of activity helps foster a sense of community and there are many other variables which account for a sense of community. These include timing, demographics, the concept of the community, and pure luck…

It’s like this throughout the entire chain above.

Some of your actions will generate activity, some won’t. Some of that activity will just be a blip, some won’t. Some of those activities will help generate a sense of community, some won’t. Sometimes that sense of community will lead to new social norms forming, sometimes (usually) they just adopt the current social norms. Sometimes those new social norms lead to new valuable behaviors, very often you have little control over these behaviors.

And perhaps by the time you’ve achieved this, a new environmental factor has arisen that has made it all worthless. Imagine spending years building a community for Nokia or Blackberry just as the smartphone blew up the business?

So instead of having complete influence over the next level, we have a much reduced level of influence in each step along the way.

For example…

ValueProblemFINAL.002

For example, not all activity helps create a sense of community (think of spam or fights as obvious token examples). I’d also argue anything that doesn’t deepen the sense of membership, give members a growing sense of influence, emotional connection, and fulfil their needs.

Most people participate in communities with complete dissipation looking to resolve an immediate problem. That’s valuable to them, but perhaps not to you.

Further down the chain we can see now all sense of community leads to new social norms, not all social norms are valuable to you and those that are might not be sustained over the long-term. I guessed the percentages and I think these are generous.

This also assumes that ALL your actions actually lead to a long-term boost in activity. We know that’s probably not true. I suspect around 20% do. So we can estimate your efficiency ratio is somewhere between 0.24% to 1.2% (and, I stress, this is being VERY generous with the influence ratios).

This means that up to 99.76% of your time is wasted.

The problem thus becomes that most of the actions we take to build our community have almost no impact on driving valuable long-term behavior change within our audience.

The difference between generating activity and intelligent engagement is the pathway to achieve the result. Generating activity takes the actions to drive the maximum possible level of activity. Intelligent engagement takes the best pathway to achieve that result.

The Multiple Pathways To Success

If you’re trying to change the behavior of any group of people, there are multiple ways to do that.

Building a community is one of many ways to change social norms which is one of many ways to change behavior.

Here are some alternative pathways to the same success:

ValueProblemmultiplepathways

Now we can see that behavior change isn’t just new social norms, but changing personal opinions en-masse and our immediate environment in which we perform the behavior. BJFogg alludes to each of these.

Each of these have long pathways leading back from them and their influence upon the behavior will vary wildly depending upon the audience and the behavior you wish to change. So 30% of the behavior might be driven by personal beliefs, 20% by perceived social norms, and 30% by the environment (with another 20% as random factors).

If we only focus on one strand, our impact is very much limited.

ValueProblemFINAL.004

Let’s imagine you want your internal work team to share more information with one another. If you only build the platform and let people do what they like, you will end up with something like this. Limited participation – most of which is very cynical against the platform.

This means you need to change the opinions of the group to be favourable towards the community first. You need to create social norms at a small scale level. You need to make it easier to document information to and for each other.

But to even do the first of those tasks, you need to build a receptive audience , generate personal credibility, understand the audience’s worldview, craft persuasive messages, and find the right medium to deliver them at regular frequency. That is a lot of work in itself.

If we’re only relying upon social norms i.e. building a community to create advocates, you’re only affecting a fraction of that 30% of influence on behavior and won’t succeed.

A 3-Pronged Approach To Changing Behavior

If we want to change behavior, we have to take a proactive role in influencing the factors which thus influences behavior.

We have to think of ourselves less as community managers and more as behavior specialists – people who are proactively solving the puzzle to change the behavior of the audience. There is far more value in the latter than the former.

Try telling your boss you can build a community for the company’s employees instead of helping employees collaborate better. The difference in perceived value is huge.

This doesn’t mean building a community is doomed. It means building a community in isolation isn’t going to yield great results. The reason why we have so few community ROI success stories isn’t because we don’t know how to measure it, it’s because so few communities generate a positive ROI.

The case studies we have come almost entirely from customer service channels where every activity, by nature, leads to instant value. Which is great, but covers a small % of communities today.

A Broader And More Direct Route

The key then lies in getting smart about how we spend our time to ensuring we’re having the biggest impact upon behavior, not upon our community. The two aren’t the same and we have to choose which we want.

For example, you can spend 20 minutes initiating and replying to new discussions. Or you can setup paid social ads targeting members of your community with persuasive messages from credible people (Facebook Pixel is good for this). Those are serious decisions we get to make every day.

But we can’t just be narrowly focused on our community and assume that simply having a lot of activity within a community will lead to valuable behavior change. In our hearts, I’m sure most of us know this isn’t true.

We have to decide in every task we do is this the most direct route to change the behavior of the audience? This is how we move up the value chain.

For those of you managing communities of large organisations with a team of people already tackling each of the pathways to influence, you can keep doing what you’re doing and optimising in ever more minute-areas of community work. That’s going to be fun.

For those that don’t, it’s time to take advantage of the huge number of tools, knowledge, and resources out there to master the skills that will drive the behavior we need. That’s going to mean admitting to ourselves that a lot of our time and effort is wasted at present. It has a limited long-term impact. It’s going to mean opening ourselves up to the incredible opportunities out there today to drive clear results that benefit both us and our audience.

p.s. We’re launching Advanced Engagement Methods in 3 weeks. This isn’t a cheap freebie course. It’s an intensive course over 3 months to equip you with an advance set of skills to drive long-term behavior change. I hope you will join us.

 

 

 

 

 

Do Expensive Running Shoes Create Great Runners?

October 26, 2015 Comments Off on Do Expensive Running Shoes Create Great Runners?

If every marathon runner wears expensive shoes, would you believe expensive shoes create marathon runners?

Probably not. But if you get everything else (training, nutrition, dedication) right they might help.

This is what happens when we fill a petri dish with success stories and look at it through a microscope. We draw the wrong conclusions.

Likewise, if we look solely at organizations who have built successful communities, we might conclude communities are the future of business.

Yet if every successful example supports this assumption, then every failure (or organization that succeeds without a community) must refute it. And there is a lot more evidence to refute it.

We’re drifting dangerously far from simple logic. If you don’t participate in the communities for 99% of the companies you buy from, why would anyone else?

Where are we going to find an inexhaustible supply of people with unlimited time, attention, and inclination to participate in all the communities we’re telling businesses to create?

Communities don’t create great products, great products create communities.

If you have a great product, then a community can help. It can make customers a little more loyal, a little happier to recommend you, and occasionally give useful feedback. But the effect is similar to expensive footwear on runners – useful, but rarely the critical ingredient in the picture.

Consider too that customer service, discounts, limited education, surveys and focus groups can achieve all the goals above, perhaps quicker.

Ideastorm didn’t help Dell develop the iPad. A thriving community didn’t help Nokia create Android. It didn’t save Best Buy from financial ruin. It hasn’t stopped many hugely popular television shows from being cancelled. It hasn’t stopped dozens of news sites shutting down their comment sections. And, for those supposing we’re returning to a community-way of doing business, it didn’t save your local butcher from big supermarkets neither.

Ultimately, for branded communities, the product trumps community by a long, long way. If the company can’t produce a better value proposition than its competitors, the community won’t help.

We do a disservice to ourselves and others when we overhype the benefits, ignore the failures, and declare ourselves to be the future of business. The problem today isn’t too few organisations are trying to build a community, the problem is too many.

Very few brands in very few sectors excite enough interest to merit a community. And it’s these very few brands we should be focusing on. These are the very organizations where we can do our best work, the kind of work that really matters. It’s here we get to connect people around topics they care about.

The key today isn’t to tell every business they must have a community. We know that’s not true. The key is to figure out which businesses have the potential to have a great community and make sure we’re working for one. That’s going to mean far more skepticism, far more realism, and a lot less hyperbole.

We’re now just 15 days away from our FeverBee SPRINT event. If you want to learn a lot of advanced community skills from 14 world-class experts and ourselves, I hope you will join us at: http://sprint.feverbee.com.

 

Community Metrics: What Matters And What Doesn’t

October 20, 2015 Comments Off on Community Metrics: What Matters And What Doesn’t

A quick reminder, you have just 21 precious, beloved, nerve-wracking days* to decide if you want to learn how to take your community building skills to a world-class level. 

Our workshops have been sold out for months. Our speaker line-up is filled with new voices who will teach you how to drive higher levels of growth and activity.

Book your tickets here: http://sprint.feverbee.com

*unless we sell all the tickets first, in which case you’re doomed to community oblivion.

Why It Doesn’t Really Matter What You Measure

When I was 15, a tyrannical electronics teacher decided we should spend a precious year creating decision trees for airport baggage carousel systems.

It began simple enough. Is there a bag waiting? Yes. Is there a free spot? Yes. Activate conveyor belt. It looks like this:

electronics1

What do you notice about the above?

The input is really simple.

It’s a light sensor. If it’s blocked there’s baggage there. It’s the decision process that’s hard. Light isn’t the only possible sensor. You can track weight or possibly even sound. But like our growth metrics, you still get the same result.

The same is true with community metrics. There are dozens of variables that correlate pretty well with growth. Unique visitors, sessions, active members and many others will answer the key question, is growth increasing?

Then my teacher’s tyranny grew by making it more complicated. Was the flight delayed? Was the baggage oversized? Are there no free spots? Is there more than one conveyor belt? Is baggage vibrating?

We had to design increasingly complicated systems to handle the outcomes.

What Would You Do If….?

The biggest problem today is we have no idea what to do with that information.

Stop. Seriously, stop what you’re doing for a second and try to answer this question:

If growth is increasing, what would you do differently?

If growth is decreasing, what would you do differently?

If you don’t have a snapshot answer to that it’s because you’re probably tracking metrics to impress your boss rather than to help you build your community.

You’re wasting an incredible opportunity to use data the way it’s supposed to be used – to make better, informed, decisions.

A Simple Growth System

Let’s imagine a really simple growth system.

electronics2

At least now you have some sort of use for the metrics.

But can you spot the problem in our overly simplified system? You can’t spend more time on growth without spending less time on something else. Also, it’s not very specific in WHAT you should do…

Also, you might decide to spend more time on growth if it’s working. You could optimize different channels etc…

A More Complicated Process

Let’s say your activity has declined. You identify that’s because of fewer new visitors. Your data shows you your Google search traffic is declining.

This might be because a) your search ranking has decreased or b) the search terms are less popular. Now you can use the Moz tools to answer that question.

If search ranking has decreased, you might decide to spend less time creating content for 2 weeks and more time analyzing what competitors are doing, publishing guest posts on other sites, optimizing your key pages etc…

If your search terms are less popular, you might use the same tools to identify which terms are most relevant to your sector (research competitors) and create content or discussions to satisfy them.

Two weeks later you can check back to see if that’s improved your growth rates. If it has, you can shift that time back to creating content again.

Don’t Track Any Metric You Don’t Have A Decision Tree For

Don’t track any metric until you know what to do with it.

The critical step is you have the decision tree in place to tackle each possible situation. The better you get as a community professional, the bigger and more complex your decision tree (or trees) become(s).

This is how you do truly terrific data-driven community management. You’ll be FAR more effective if you can design the right decision tree than if you simply track vanity metrics.

A Few Bonus Points

  • Absolute numbers are far less important than absolute trends. Don’t worry if your community has 1000 or 10,000 active members. Worry if the number of active members is rising or declining.
  • Use RescueTime to track and classify your time each week. This will tell you what to spend more or less time on (which is usually the key outcome of this process).
  • Begin with just allocating more time, then figuring out what specifically to do if growth, activity, sense of community, or ROI is rising/falling. That means knowing how to diagnose the source of success/failure and interventions to test to improve each.

A bonus point of this system is it scales well. You can allocate parts to volunteers to work on.

The Best Offer We Can Make

A SPRINT is an explosive burst of speed to make rapid progress in a short amount of time. Our events are designed specifically to get brand new ideas from people doing this work every day.

If you sign up to the event, you’ll receive:

  • Access to 14 world-class speakers, 300 top community professionals, and FeverBee’s great team.
  • Access to a module of our training course.
  • All the videos from our 2014 events (both UK and Europe).
  • All the videos we record from our 2015 event.
  • An invitation to the afterparty – free alcohol!
  • An invite to FeverBee’s own community.

If that’s not enough to tempt you to make the plunge, I really don’t know what is 🙂

Sign up at: http://sprint.feverbee.com.

The ‘Sweet Spot’ Framework

June 9, 2015 Comments Off on The ‘Sweet Spot’ Framework

I'm going to share the second framework we use to guide our client’s work. 

If you haven’t read last week’s post, click here

There’s a sweet spot in the middle of our mix of desires. Those desires are what the brand wants, what communities want, and what individual members want.

Too often we miss the mark. We end up satisfying just two of these. That typically means creating content sites, failed community concepts, or communities that don’t deliver value.

To build a successful branded community, you need to hit the bullseye of this framework:

Sweetspot
Let’s break these overlapping circles down a little. 

 

1) WHAT BRANDS WANT

Brands want one of seven things (even if they’re not sure about it).

You can find these in our ROI framework.

Brands create communities to keep customers for longer, persuade customers to spend more, acquire new customers, increase staff productivity (knowledge sharing/social capital), reduce costs (customer service/marketing), and fulfill the organization’s mission (non-profits).

When an organization creates an internal community, it’s ultimately to improve productivity through reduced duplication costs, better collaboration, better-trained and smarter employees. 

Very often, the real goal is hidden behind the several layers. A brand might want to increase engagement (layer 1), to increase loyalty (layer 2), to increase higher levels of retention (layer 3).

If you only satisfy what the brand wants, you end up doing something very similar to a direct marketing campaign (or just spam).

 

2) WHAT MEMBERS WANT

Members are easier to predict in their needs. These begin with social and non-social needs, then tend to morph into more social needs.

These needs include solving problems they know they have, seizing opportunities they believe exist, pursue interests, enhance their own social standing or enhance their self-concept.

The big danger here is taking a problem you see members often have and building a community around it. That’s a problem because we all live inside our own bubbles.

We fail to realize that while it’s a problem we see a lot of members have, it’s not really a big problem in the context of their lives. Members don’t want to spend their spare time trying to solve it. The best problems relate to our bigger life goals rather than quick fixes.

 

3) WHAT COMMUNITIES OFFER 

Communities exist for a reason. As an entity they want things. Those things relate to their very existence. It’s why we band together into groups in the first place. This fundamentally means protection/survival.

A more accurate and modern interpretation would be lower transaction costs i.e. it’s easier to perform these things in groups. This includes exploration of a topic together, mutual support (indirect reciprocity), great influence over our environment, and a sense of belonging.

 

WHAT HAPPENS IF ONE OF THESE IS MISSING?

If you look at the Venn diagram, it’s clear that the target to hit is quite small. That’s why most communities fail. Here are the three most common areas.

 

4) CONTENT MARKETING (NO COMMUNITY ELEMENT)

This is what happens when there’s no community element. There’s no reason for members to interact with each other, just with you. As a result, you end up renting attention at increasingly higher costs.

This doesn’t mean that social media and content marketing efforts fail. Many of them are successful. Likewise customer service channels where people can get instant help from each other are great too. But they don’t offer the longevity and scale of a community. Members come to be entertained or resolve a problem, once that problem is solved, the member leaves.

 

5) FAILED CONCEPT (NO MEMBER WANT)

This is nearly as common. The brand creates a community to tackle a problem members don’t really care much about.

I might visit New York often but a community about finding the best places to stay in New York won’t engage me, because it’s just not a big part of my life. 

If you don’t tackle the member want  (problem/opportunity/passion/social improvement) that fits into a broader life goal the community will never get off the ground.

It’s a failed community concept. The majority of failed communities never quite nail this community concept. It never takes off and gains momentum.

  

6) ENTHUSIAST COMMUNITY (NO BRAND WANT)

Enthusiast communities are surprisingly far more numerous and have a far higher success ratio than branded online communities. They succeed because they are founded by people passionate about the topic and cater solely to what members want (untainted by brand wants).

The problem for brands is they deliver no value to them. This is what happens when the brand doesn’t integrate what they do with the community. They don’t use the permission they have to speak with members in a way that makes members more likely to take the actions they want.

For example, if you want members to spread positive WOM, give members exclusive information to spread. If you want members to buy more, give members special discounts/added benefits. If you want members to stay members for longer, give them more access/exclusive hotlines/treat them like insiders the long and more frequently they participate. 

If this doesn’t happen, the community tends to thrive but not benefit the organization at all (which happens far more often than we think it does).

 

7) THE SWEET SPOT

Then in the center we have the sweet spot that combines what members need, what brands want, and what community offer.

This is a community that has a concept based around a want members know they have and nurtures members to explore, influence, and support one another to co-create value with the brand, and uses the permission they have to interact with members in ways that increase value.

Let’s go through an example.

 

PIECING THIS TOGETHER

Cuban Coffee Capsules

Let’s imagine you work for Cuban Coffee Capsules and you want to increase customer retention in a highly competitive environment. That’s a clear goal.

If you talk to your customers, you’ll soon find they really don’t want to spend their spare time talking about coffee. A few aficionados might, but not enough to make it viable. Coffee just isn’t an important enough part of our day. 

Instead you want to find their biggest challenges, their hopes/ambitions, what they enjoy doing, their life goals and build your community around it.  

Here’s a simpler question. Why do people buy/drink coffee? Probably to feel more energized, awake, be more productive, or work for longer.

Any of one these might be a great community concept. No, caffeine won’t be the subject matter – but that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t need to be.

Now you know what members want, you need to satisfy it. One way to go about this would be to produce content about how to feel more alive, awake and energized.

You could recruit experts to share/produce material for you. But that becomes a content site – and the competition for great content is tough.

If anyone produces better content (or you run out of good ideas) you lose the audience. The level of activity will never scale beyond you producing content unless you recruit a lot of volunteer contributors (possible, but difficult) or add a community component to it.

That means making the activities, discussions, and content in the community orientated around mutual support, exploring the topic (promoting their contributions above your own), influence over the field, or creating a sense of belonging.

For Cuban Coffee Capsules, that’s most likely to be a place for members to explore different chemical/non-chemical ways to feel more energized or be more focused/productive.

The final part is to integrate the community with the business needs. If you want members to buy more, give members extra benefits.

For example, special coffee types, discounts on partner products, access to exclusive information (how it’s made etc), opportunities to visit Cuba etc. The more you add value here, the more members purchase.

Now you have a community where members get practical value, with a reason to participate, and you have a several ways to increase purchases. You also get to position yourself as the place that will make people more productive.

 

FINAL THOUGHT

Clearly Cuban Coffee Capsules has it easier than you. They don’t exist. They don’t have to deal with all the internal battles and challenges doing the above entails. But these are exactly the battles we need to fight if communities are going to succeed.

Branded communities aren’t in a healthy place at the moment, but they definitely could be.

Customer Loyalty and ROI

June 5, 2015 Comments Off on Customer Loyalty and ROI

Communities can improve customer loyalty. 

But so can lower prices, spending more to create better products, improved customer service, transparent business practices etc…

The challenge isn't to show that communities increase customer loyalty. 

The challenge is to show that communities are the most cost-effective way to increase customer loyalty. 

Likewise for customer acquisition, knowledge retention, reducing costs etc…

The Most Valuable Community Contributions

May 25, 2015 Comments Off on The Most Valuable Community Contributions

We probably agree not all contributions are equal.

If we're wondering what to promote in a community, here's a simple hierarchy. 

Communitycontributions.001

At the bottom are opinions. Giving an opinion is easy. Everyone can give their opinion at any time on any issue. The majority of blogs are filled with opinions. The ease of giving an opinion reduces their value. Hence why most blogs receive so few readers. We don't tend to remember opinions and anecdotal stories. A community filled with opinions gets tedious fast. 

Just above opinions are personal experiences. When someone discloses their own experiences that becomes both a) a data point, b) a marker for what we should be doing and c) creates a bond between everyone that connected with that experience. 

In the middle layer is support. Support provides instant value. People answer questions and help one another to achieve their goals. Support isn't about providing an opinion to a question. That's easy. Support is about resolving one another's problems.

Near the top we have new perspectives. Most people who think they're giving new perspectives are really giving opinions. A fresh perspective is an idea or approach that no-one has tried before. It's people who go beyond what we already know and share their findings. It's members who will say things the majority disagrees with (for now). 

At the very top is evidence and data. These are the people that synthesise existing data/studies and undertake their own research. It's people that don't write posts filled with opinions, but reference their arguments to verifiable data. Within this category there's good and bad data. For example, studies by community platform vendors and organisations 'proving ROI' is far less valuable than a study by an independent academics.

This category also includes direct first-hand accounts from the source. For example, members in my gaming community years go were arguing the recoil rate of different weapons based upon their experiences. One member called up the developers and got the exact metric of recoil for each weapon. That's more valuable. 

You can also spot the problem. The more valuable contributions take more effort. This is exactly why you want to make a big deal, promote members, and build an engagement plan around getting these types of contributions.