The Perfect Community Metric – Finding Your North Star

A north star metric is a single metric that represents the success of your community.

Ideally, it’s a single metric all stakeholders can track to see if the community is delivering more value than in the past. If it goes up, you’re doing well. If it goes down, things aren’t going so well.

If you find the right metric, it’s a lot easier to get more support and build more awareness of the community. However, finding the right metric isn’t easy. Every metric has limitations and it’s not easy to find a metric which reflects your organisation’s unique goals and constraints.

In this post, I want to share some of our thinking about finding your north star and finding the perfect metric for your efforts.

 

Why Finding The North Star Is Painfully Difficult

Before we begin, it’s important to be mindful of why this process is painfully difficult. Most previous efforts to find a north star metric suffer from four problems.

1) They don’t reflect value. Many metrics show increases or decreases in activity, but not whether the activity is important or not. This leads to the ‘engagement trap’ problem.

2) Gaming the metrics. Many metrics are easy to game. This undermines the entire value of the metric. Good metrics always need to be accompanied by good judgment (and ethical behaviour).

3) They are driven by external factors. Many metrics change not as a result of community, but as a result of external factors outside of the community team’s control. You shouldn’t be held accountable for metrics you can’t directly influence.

4) They aren’t comparable to other metrics. It’s hard to know if the metric matters if it can’t be compared to any existing metrics. A community-focused metric is great, but how do you compare that to a return on marketing spend?

Be mindful that the challenge isn’t to find a flawless metric. There isn’t one. The challenge is to find out which flaws are acceptable and communicate these well to others.

We will go deeper into each of these flaws and make suggestions about which kinds of metrics might make sense.

Resource: The Tyranny of Metrics
Resource: The Engagement Trap
Resource: Don’t Use Bogus Metrics

 

The Journey Is As Important As The Destination

The process of finding the right north star metric is as important as the metric itself.

You shouldn’t come up with a metric by yourself. That’s a surefire way to set yourself up for endless years of arguing why the metric matters. Instead, you should treat this as a journey of discovery and close collaboration where you listen to the thoughts of others and bring people along on the journey.

Everyone should feel they were involved in finding the final metric. If you don’t do this, you might face a concerted effort of people to unpick the value later.

You can see a typical process to find the north star metric below:

ROI Flowchart Community

At every stage of the process, you need to build greater understanding and keep people informed. This might begin with knowing if a precise dollar value is needed. But that’s far from the end of the journey.

Be mindful that this chart isn’t prescriptive – it’s not designed to cover every possible type of community (non-profits, partners, developers etc…), but it might be a good place to begin investigating the opportunities.

 

PART ONE – FINDING THE DOLLAR VALUE

Is A Precise Dollar Value Required?

The first challenge is to ascertain expectations. Perhaps the most important determination is whether you’re looking for a dollar value return or not.

The method to find a precise dollar value is completely different than if one that has a different goal.

If a dollar value is required, you need to develop and explain a methodology that leads to a precise calculation. The end result is a dollar value return which will likely be compared to other departments to determine if the community merits more investment.

Also, if a dollar value is required, you will need data not just from the community but from whatever systems store the spending and behaviour of customers. You need to combine community data with your CRM data.

If a dollar value is not required, you have more flexibility to design an approach that reflects the unique value of your community. If a dollar value isn’t required, it’s possible to determine value just with community data.

In this approach, you can find a metric that perfectly encapsulates the impact of the community – but might not assign a precise dollar value to the community. This is like the difference between measuring the value of a branding effort vs. a dollar ad spend. The former requires metrics that either show revenue driven by ads or a change in feelings and perceptions (usually acquired by questionnaires).

You begin the process then by answering some critical questions.

These questions include:

  • Who will be looking at the metric?
  • What do they want to know about your community?
  • How will they be using the metric?
  • What will good or bad look like?

Once you’re armed with answers to these questions, you can begin to figure out what kind of metric might make the most sense. Crucially, are people looking for a precise dollar value or a broader sense of impact?

For now, let’s assume a dollar value is required.

Understand The Purpose

The next step is to determine the purpose(s) of the community. We’re not talking about specific goals here, but a broad understanding of why the community exists. This can be singular or there might be multiple reasons. Often the answer is suggested by whichever department the community reports to (which is why shifting departments is such a big deal, the purpose of your community will also change).

Some simple questions to ask here might include:

  • Which department does the community report to (and why?)
  • Who was behind the community’s launch and what was expected?
  • What are the expectations stakeholders have of the community?

If no one seems to know (or seems reluctant to own the decision), it’s often a good idea to host a stakeholder workshop to gain some sense of alignment. This is where you guide members through the process of prioritising what is the best match for a community.

You can see a typical outcome of the process below.

Community Gaining Alignment

You don’t need specific metrics at this stage, but you should have a fairly clear purpose (or set of purposes) to define how the community helps. Is it support? Attract new customers? Retention? Or some other benefit?

Resource: 46 questions for uncovering community goals
Resource: A Framework For Hosting A Successful Workshop To Gain Alignment On Community Goals

The Four Methods Of Finding A Dollar Value

Once we know the purpose, we can start finding the right methodology to calculate community value to a precise dollar value.

You can see the four options below:

4 methods to calculate community value

Each method has some obvious pros and cons. You have to decide between precision or simplicity, correlation or causation.

The former is a question of capabilities, the latter is a question of preferences.

Let’s go a little deeper into each method.

Controlled Experiments

The gold standard is to run an experiment.

However, this rarely happens because experiments usually require:

  • An analyst with experience in running experiments.
  • 3 to 6 months to plan and execute.
  • Removal of access (or not providing access) to a significant percentage of your audience.

If you don’t have the capabilities, resources, and support for this, it won’t be possible to run an experiment. This means you can only determine correlation, not causation. Also, be mindful that an experiment gives you data from a single point in time. If things change, this data might quickly become outdated.

Controlled experiments let you make statements like:

“The community causes members to spend/do [x] more than they otherwise would”

Article: The Real Value Of Your Brand Community

Group Comparison

The second approach is to compare two groups (or more) by a specific condition.

The most common example is to compare spending or retention of members vs. non-members. Statistically, this isn’t too difficult to do. The catch is this provides you with correlation, not causation. This simply indicates there is a relationship between membership and the desired outcome, it doesn’t show which way the relationship goes (i.e. does retention drive engagement or engagement drive retention?).

Nor does it reveal whether there is a confounding variable that influences both variables as you can see below.

confounding varible diagram

This doesn’t make the data redundant (and there are more complex calculations you can do to try and ascertain the unique impact of the community), but overall it’s a useful, interesting, signal.

This lets you make statements like:

“Community members spend/do [x] more than non-members (or comparative group)”

Note: You can (and should) be precise about how you’re comparing groups. For example, you can find groups of people who closely resemble one another before they join a community and then track their spending a year later etc…

Article: What Is A Login, Post, Or Download Worth? An Analysis By FeverBee

 

Surveys and Polls

Surveys are a handy tool which can be used to determine the value of a community. For example, you can ask members about their spending before and after they join the community.

The upsides of using surveys and polls are obvious; they’re easy to set up and analyse the results.

However, surveys suffer from three common problems.

1) Getting enough responses. You usually need around 300 survey responses to have meaningful results. If we assume a 5% survey response rate, you must contact at least 6000 people.

2) Sampling bias. Surveys suffer from a sampling bias. The most active members are also those most likely to respond to survey requests. This means surveys tend to skew towards the happiest and highest-spending members. You need to use a quota system by activity level to gain an accurate picture.

3) Responses are often inaccurate. You can ask members questions like how much they purchase before and after the community (or even track purchases over time), but memories are often fuzzy and the answers might not be accurate (people might also give you the answers they think you want to hear).

This doesn’t mean surveys aren’t useful. For tracking trends over time, they are especially useful. They can also give you a precise value you can easily justify. For example, you can say something like:

“Members tell us they’re spending $343 per year because of the community”

But if you’re going to use them to calculate value just be mindful of the downsides as much as the upsides.

 

Assigning Values To Behaviors

The final approach is to assign values to member behaviours. There are two common ways to achieve this, regression analysis and alternative costs.

Regression Analysis To Assign Values To Behaviors

Let’s tackle regression (or multiple regression) analyses. This is where you look at how a change in one variable relates to another. So you might look at how changes in independent variables like asking questions, reading articles, and receiving answers affect a dependent variable such as additional sales or revenue.

This study will give you coefficients which let you assign a value to this behaviour. This helps you make statements like “We know members who ask a question spend $4 more”.

However, be mindful of the phrasing above. We’re not claiming asking a question causes the increase in spending. We’re simply asserting members who do this one thing also do this other thing. This is correlation, not causation.

This methodology offers a precise value that helps you estimate the potential value of the community and the key behaviours you might want to encourage more of.

You can see an example of this in our work with The Pragmatic Institute.

How Much Is Community Worth

Alternative Costs

Perhaps a more familiar approach is to look at the comparative cost (i.e. what would it cost to achieve the same result if the community didn’t exist?).

The most common form of this is call deflection. This is how much it would cost to support the same number of customers if the community didn’t exist.

In the standard approach, you calculate the value of a view of an answered question and multiply it by the number of answered questions. This doesn’t mean these cost savings were realised (not many people actually reduce the size of their support team). But it gives a theoretical value to a community.

Other approaches include calculating the cost of acquiring customers, and traffic, or creating the same amount of content if the community didn’t exist. First, you find the baseline cost of the work today. Second, you determine the cost of a single incident of the behaviour happening in the community. Then you multiply this figure by the number of behaviours in the community.

This will you let assert an answer like ‘the community is potentially saving $7.04m per year in deflected tickets’

 

Which Approach Should You Use?

If each approach has significant advantages and disadvantages, how do you determine which is the best approach for you?

This depends upon your organisation. You shouldn’t develop the methodology alone because it might later be picked apart due to inherent flaws. If we know every approach has flaws, it’s good to determine which flaws are already acceptable to your organisation (or department) and select that approach.

This means it’s useful to investigate which methods are used to calculate the value of other activities within that function.

This might include questions such as

  • How are dollar returns calculated for activities within that department today?
  • Do they want to adopt a similar method for calculating community activity?
  • What kind of formula or methodology are they expecting?
  • How will the results be used in the decision-making process?

Find out which methodologies are already in use, and you can adopt a similar methodology to the community.

Once you know the methodology, you can zero in on the specific value metric.

 

Zeroing In On The Metric

It’s not possible to cover every possible metric, but it might help to cover some of the most common approaches below based on the methodology.

PurposeApproachCommon Method(s)
Customer SupportValue AssignmentCall Deflection Method
(No. visitors to accepted solutions * % who state they received the answer * % who would otherwise have contacted support (* % in warranty) * avg. cost per ticket.

Monthly Contact Rate
No. members * (avg. contact rate of non-members - avg. contact rate of members) * avg. cost per contact.
Controlled ExperimentExpose or withhold community from a group

Remove community access from one or more product groups and measure the increase or decrease on customer support tickets.
Customer RetentionPaired GroupsMember vs. non-member retention rate
Avg. annual retention rate of members - avg. the annual retention rate of non-members * no. members * avg. value of a customer.

Trial completion rate
% trial completion of new community members - % trial completion of non-members * avg. value of completing trial (CLV) * no. new community members.
Controlled ExperimentInvite one group, block another
Invite one group of prospects to join the community and hide the community from another. Compare the results after a fixed time frame.
Customer AcquisitionValue AssignmentTrack signups from the community
Calculating the avg. lifetime value of members who joined the community prior to becoming a customer.

Track conversions from the corporate site
Conversion rate of visitors to corporate site * visitors from the community.

Track direct sales
Direct sales of products and upgrades promoted to the community.

Track value of leads
Number of leads sourced from community sources * avg. value of a lead.

The right metric for your community might not be above. The key, however, is to engage with others to calculate the right metric for your organisation.

If you need help here, drop us a line.

 

PART TWO – IMPACT

If the value refers to a dollar return, impact refers to everything which isn’t a dollar return.
Much of the work of the community sits several levels beneath calculable value.

For example, if a salesperson uses the community to gather testimonials, how would you quantify the value of that? You can’t attribute the sale to the community, yet few organisations want to do a test comparing presentations with testimonials as opposed to those without. Yet, you know it has an impact.

If you’re not under pressure to show a dollar value return, you have a lot more flexibility to develop a method that truly reflects the impact of your community.

But be mindful of a potential problem here. The further you drift from a dollar value, the more likely it is people will question your metric. Everyone understands dollars, fewer people understand impact.

The challenge is to strike the balance between metrics that perfectly encapsulate the value of the community and those which will be accepted internally.

As a general rule, the more support there is for the community internally, the more you can design community-specific metrics.

This also serves as a good rule of thumb. The less internal support exists for the community, the more you need to skew the metrics in favour of value over impact.

 

Using Existing Benchmarks

The first step is to find out if there are already metrics which can be used to benchmark the community against.

These might not be dollar-value metrics. Instead, they might refer to things like member sentiment (or change in sentiment). In this case, you might compare a community by the quality of answers provided by members or the quantity of content created.

There isn’t any shortage of potential impact metrics you can use here. So begin by asking a few key questions for whatever department or purpose(s) your community serves. These questions might include:

  • How are results measured?
  • What metrics are important? And why?
  • How are those metrics calculated?
  • Who gets the metrics and what do they do with them?
  • Is the community likely to be compared against them?

Based on the department your community serves, there are some common metrics you might need to use here. These include

  • Net Promoter Score
  • Customer Satisfaction Score
  • Customer Contact Rate
  • Task Completion Rate
  • Product Adoption Rate
  • No. Bugs Resolved.
  • No Features Implemented

If you adopt one of these metrics for your community, be mindful of the context.

There are many areas where a community will naturally have advantages or disadvantages against other programs.

One client, for example, had terrible NPS scores compared with other customer support channels. The problem wasn’t the community experience. The problem was the community had been positioned as the final destination for people who hadn’t been able to solve their problems through any other channel. These are the same people who were already frustrated before they arrived in the community. Often they simply had problems which couldn’t be solved and had nowhere else to express their frustration.

Comparing the NPS scores of someone in a community vs. someone who gets personalised help on a support call doesn’t make sense unless cost is considered in the conclusion. This is why you might want to compare NPS scores/cost of each contact as a metric rather than just NPS scores.

Never take a single benchmark from another program and apply it to the community. Always consider the unique context and ensure this is reflected in your recommendations.

 

Is Engagement The Goal?

If you don’t have existing benchmarks to compare against, you have the option to design a unique metric for the community. The most common example is to use some measure of engagement.

We’ve talked endlessly about the challenge of using engagement metrics to serve as the north star (I wrote an entire book about it).

Put simply, the problem with using engagement is many people simply don’t value engagement. Even those who just want to see a lot of engagement in a community recognise not all engagement is good (if they disagree, try removing the spam filter).

We’ve worked with dozens of clients over the year who just want to see a highly engaged community. They might not know precisely what success looks like, but they know having a huge number of people highly engaged in an ecosystem they control is critically important.

This is where you want to probe a little deeper to find out exactly what they want to see.

  • What is your definition of community?
  • What kind of metrics do you want to see?
  • How will you know if the community is achieving its goals?
  • What does success or failure look like?

You might not need precise metrics here, but you should be able to get to a business question which you can then translate into more precise metrics.

 

Setting Engagement Metrics

If engagement is the goal, the next step is to translate the broad goals you’ve been given in discussions into more specific metrics.

This is where you need to ‘operationalize’ a goal. This can sound far more complicated than it really is. Essentially, you look for metrics which reflect what stakeholders have said they’re trying to achieve.

For example “I want to see a thriving community with thousands of members reflecting our diverse audience and lots of healthy discussions”

In this example, you can see the number of members, diversity of the audience, and quality of discussion matters. So you might begin testing metrics such as

  • No. active members (1+ posts in the past 30 days).
  • % of members from each core audience group.
  • No. responses to questions.

There aren’t any rigid rules about this process so go with what works best for you. Notice how important it is to pay close attention to language. If the person had referred to thousands of ‘happy members’, we would have also incorporated satisfaction score in there too.

Develop the potential metrics and check internally if they accurately reflect the business question.

Resource: CMX Indispensable Community Talk.

 

Establishing Community-Driven Impact Score

If engagement isn’t a goal (but you know there aren’t existing benchmarks to use), you have the freedom to come up with a better method. This is where we recommend the Community-Driven Impact Score.

This is a simple process where you ask members what the impact is and multiply this by the no. members represented.

For example

  • On a scale of 0 to 10, to what extent did the community influence your likelihood to renew your subscription?

If you have an average score of 8.8 and 10,000 visitors, that’s a score of 88k. Your job is to make that score go up by increasing the number of visitors or improving the impact of community upon members.

In our minds, this is the purest score which reflects the unique impact of community. However, it requires deep internal support and understanding to be fully utilised.

Resource: Setting Up Community-Driven Impact Score.

 

Next Steps

Begin the process of finding a north star metric with the full process in mind. Once you know the process, you can start guiding others through it and find a metric which works for everyone. This includes

1) Outline the process for your colleagues (and bring everyone along on the journey). There isn’t much point in developing a north-star metric if no one else supports it. Instead, if you bring people with you on the journey of discovery you can ideally land upon a metric which works for everyone. Make sure everyone understands the process of finding your north star.

2) Make sure people understand the limitations of metrics. If you need to calculate the dollar value return, make sure everyone understands the limitations of each approach and try to find how other departments have accepted the trade-off to find the right metric.

3) Use existing methods and benchmarks where possible. If you don’t need to show a dollar value, find out if there are existing benchmarks to compare against and if not you can develop community-specific metrics for your organisation. This might mean tracking some measure of engagement or utilising the Community-Driven Impact score.

4) Repeat this process this when things change. This isn’t a one-time process. As stakeholders and corporate strategies change you will likely need to revive and update the process over time. Renew the effort as often as needed and try to expand the value of the community over time.

If you feel you need expert help to develop this process and gain internal support, contact FeverBee.

 

Resources

Article: The Tyranny of Metrics
Article: The Engagement Trap
Article: Don’t Use Bogus Metrics
Template: The Community ROI Flow-Chart
Template: 46 Questions for Uncovering Community Goals
Template: A Framework For Hosting A Successful Workshop To Gain Alignment On Community Goals
Article: Setting Up Community-Driven Impact Score
Talk: CMX Indispensable Community Talk
Book: The Indispensable Community

Community-Generated Revenue – Maximise Your Community ROI

You might be facing pressure to show your community doesn’t just reduce costs, but directly generates revenue.

In the long term, this pressure may be useful. It’s always a little awkward to ask for more money to support a program designed to reduce costs.

But in the short term, it presents a challenge; how do you generate revenue through community?

This is a question we should welcome and definitively answer. Cost savings are limited by definition. However, there is no cap on the ability to generate more revenue.

Better yet, the more revenue your community generates, the more internal stakeholder support you’re likely to get.

 

How Can Brand Communities Generate Revenue

Brand communities typically generate revenue in three core ways.

These include:

  • Retention (keeping customers you have). Brand communities directly improve the retention rate. This includes improving trial completion rates, increasing the lifetime value of customers, or improving retention of specific niches.
  • Direct sales (selling your members). Communities create opportunities to sell new products to existing members and drive greater product adoption.
  • New customers (attracting new business). Communities attract new customers (and audiences) to the brand’s products and services.

Each method has clear drawbacks. Retention is hard to prove, direct selling can be irritating to members who didn’t ask for it, and it’s not easy to attract customers of rival brands to a community. Yet it’s possible to navigate through each approach and harness the community to show great results.

 

Driving Product Retention Through Community

We all know brand communities can increase customer loyalty (i.e. retention).

But this isn’t achieved simply through members engaging with one another. Often the most engaged members are the most loyal customers, to begin with.

Instead, we have discovered there are very specific mechanisms that increase retention. You can see these below:

How do communities drive ROI

We won’t cover every activity, but retention is achieved when members experience:

  1. Initial success using the products as quickly as possible.
  2. Learning how to get the most value from the products.
  3. Satisfaction with the brand experience.

Each of these, as you can see above, can be influenced by things you directly control.

Here are a few things to consider:

Set Up Groups For Product Newcomers

It’s common to set up a group for newcomers to the community. This isn’t a terrible idea, but it’s not the best idea either. People don’t want to learn about the brand community, they want to learn how to get started with the product. It’s far better to set up groups for people who are new to the product. This is a place where they can be encouraged to ask as many beginner-level questions as possible and get mentored by others.

This works best when you collaborate with sales and success teams who will guide new customers into newcomer groups. If members are on a trial period, it’s critical to guide members into groups where they can experience results as quickly as possible.

You should ask members to frequently share updates and progress, solicit questions on areas which members often don’t understand, and have top community mentors who can provide immediate-hand help to resolve any issues.

Measurement: Track the % of newcomers who complete the trial in a newcomer group compared with those who don’t.

 

Prioritize Questions Of Trialists

You can also improve the retention rate of trialists by prioritizing their questions. This is the audience most likely to give up if they experience frustration. Every hour they have to wait for a response to a problem, their frustration increases.

Set up an automated or manual system to highlight questions from community newcomers (first 30 days) to a superuser group or internal Slack channel. Work with your top members to prioritize responding to these questions and guiding members to provide the best possible responses.

Measurement: Track the satisfaction rate of trialists invited to the community vs. those who aren’t.

 

Build A Library of Great Examples

In our experience, members love seeing great case studies, examples, and breakdowns showing the best (and most innovative) ways to use a product. They use these to guide their own work and get more value from using the product.

Instead of badgering members to share their best advice in wikis (or tribal knowledge base), it’s far, far, better to encourage members to share how they’re using your products and services. Especially if they have a unique approach to it.

A single great case study or breakdown provided by a member of the community is worth dozens of responses. It’s one of the most valuable contributions members can make to your community. You can use a tribal knowledge base tool, interview members, or simply invite members to submit articles for the blog or newsletter.

The key to making this work is ensuring the reward vs. effort equation is in their favour.

Measurement: Regression analysis showing the relationship between article views and retention rate * customer lifetime value.

Resource: How To Get Experts To Contribute To Your Community

 

Upgrade Members Near Renewal Time

If you are managing a community where members renew their subscriptions each year, make sure you provide increased value to members closer to this time.

Create an automated system where a few months before a member’s renewal is due, invite them to a private group of peers to celebrate their one-year anniversary. This should be a group at a more advanced level and ideally where they can find peers to help them with the next stage of their journey.

This provides unique value to members and targets this value at the moment when members might begin considering whether or not to renew their subscriptions.

Measurement: Track the renewal rate of members who receive these notifications vs. those who aren’t.

 

Direct Sales To Community Members

The idea of selling things to community members feels like an anathema to many of us. This is often the result of painful internal discussions where we fight to keep the hounds of salespeople out of our community.

However, if you’re in business, you’re always in sales in some capacity. Don’t shirk from this opportunity, embrace how you can showcase products in a manner which feels authentic to you and your community (e.g through UGC videos, user group meetups, etc). The key is to ensure you’re selling what members truly need and check the sales process adds value to members.

When done well, this is the most direct path to drive immediate value and show the quickest results. You don’t need fancy math to show direct value generated from selling to members.

 

Premium Membership

The easiest option is to charge a fee to be a part of a community (or to access unique areas/features of the community).

The downside of this approach is it immediately limits the size and level of engagement within the community. Yet, it may be possible to create unique user groups, membership tiers, or features that members are happy to pay for. Sometimes this can be wrapped into a broader support package.

You might, for example, pay a small fee for top members to share their best expertise in a private group that only paying members can access. Or offer members unique customisation opportunities to engage in a certain way.

 

Events

Perhaps the most common approach is to charge members a fee to attend community-hosted events and activities. When this is done well, it can be a tremendous revenue driver. You can attract sponsors, new customers, and members paying hundreds, even thousands, of dollars to attend.

The downside is events are cost-heavy. Many community events are loss leaders to attract new customers and build goodwill. While there are great examples of community events being spun into their own business unit, the scale required to make this work (and the variable cost model) makes it a challenge.

 

Courses

A far better match for most organizations is to develop training courses members can take.

If this is structured as an on-demand course, you can offer members courses that may be related to your product but not about your products.

You might not even need to create all the content yourself. Some organizations, like CXL (a client), pay top industry professionals a fixed fee and package access to all courses as part of a unique membership tier.

Courses could also be sold individually. You can reach out to three to four relevant industry experts and pay them a fee to create a course. You then sell the course to community members (or with a special discount to members).

 

Affiliate and Partner Sales

Perhaps the least common route in a brand community is affiliate sales.

When you have access to a large audience, there will be plenty of organizations that will pay a fee to reach them. Sometimes this is directly achieved through advertising. But few brands want advertising in their brand community.

But advertising is just one of many approaches. I know one organization in the pharmaceutical sector which generates millions of dollars a year by recruiting community members to participate in focus groups for a partner.

In this approach, you find partners in your industry who would like to reach your audience. You work with them to offer a strong discount (i.e. the unique value to members), and you gain a percentage figure for every product sold. Be mindful that any promotion is limited in frequency and offers tremendous value to members.

If members begin to express dissatisfaction, this approach should be discontinued.

 

Generate Business From The Community

Your brand community can also generate new business.

If the previous section explained how to sell new products to your existing customers, this section describes how to attract new customers to your existing products.

Of the three approaches, this is by far the most popular with organizations in today’s economic climate.

Brand communities can attract new customers in two primary ways. They can attract new leads and increase the likelihood of existing leads becoming customers.

 

Generating Leads

Generating leads is probably the easiest activity to directly show new business.

Theoretically, every registration is a lead. The problem for most brand communities is the majority of members are already customers of the brand.

The challenge is to attract people who aren’t already customers to join and participate. This raises an obvious question (one which many people launching a new community fail to answer); why would someone who doesn’t use our products join our community?

 

1) Create A ‘Thought Leadership’ Zone

A common answer to the question above is to create a community about the topic, not the brand.

In theory, this can work well (and there are plenty of great examples).

In practice, it’s hard to do. Most efforts struggle. Members don’t have the same urgency to engage and participate. And the people who have the best expertise to share often want to do it in channels where they can build a following.

To do this well, it’s important to make sure you recruit experts early and ensure they’re getting what they want from the experience.

Engaging Experts in your communityIn this approach, you can open up a section of the community (or create a distinct area) for industry-focused topics and, as long as you are transparent, you can attract leads through registrations in the community.

Resource: Why You Should Build A Thought Leadership Community

 

2) Create Gated Resources

A simpler approach than creating an entire community to attract leads is to create resources and activities non-customers would be eager to submit their email addresses to access.

In this approach, you can collaborate with your members to create shared resources (or host events). These can then be promoted to non-members through advertising, social media, and other channels. Every registration can theoretically be counted as a lead.

 

3) Lead-Scoring Through Community Behavior

A powerful, but technically complex, approach is to identify leads from community behavior. In this approach, you might identify leads (or, more likely, upsell opportunities), by seeing how members engage in the community.

This can occur through lead scoring. This means specific behavior in the community is assigned a score. When a member achieved a certain score, they’re considered a lead and receive an invite to the next stage of the process.

A less complex version of this is to manually identify leads. For example, if you notice members discussing a problem one of your products can solve, you might flag this to a salesperson. We used to do this in the FeverBee Experts community.

 

4) Drive Traffic To The Website

A final approach is to optimize the community for search and leverage the community to maximize the traffic it drives to your primary company website.

There are plenty of ways you can optimize a community for search. This includes archiving old and duplicate content, optimizing titles for search, and ensuring most questions receive an accepted solution.

If you get to a point where your community is the secondary driver of traffic to your company homepage, you’re in a great position.

Who would want to reduce support for the community if it has a serious negative impact on web traffic?

 

Lead Conversion

Communities can also play a unique role in improving lead conversion. Sometimes it happens naturally. People want to get backchannel feedback or insights on the product/service they want to purchase. The community lets people ask questions and get help from others who have been in their position. In a branded community, they can also see how they will be supported as an admin and/or user of that product.

You can also stimulate improved lead conversion several mechanisms.

 

1) Showing Community Content On Product Pages.

You can use community-generated content on product pages and throughout the company website. This lets you use the natural social proof created by your community within the product pages where they will have maximum impact

Sephora (a client) is a good example of this.

Sephora Product Community

Looks, reviews, and discussions sourced in the community appear on product pages – this directly increases conversion.

Resource: Community Content Creates Trusted Product Pages

 

2) Surfacing Community Data in Presentations.

Having a thriving community should be a powerful reason for a potential customer to select your product over another.

If you have a community of 30k members who answer hundreds of questions a day and your competitors don’t, that’s a major differentiator.

The problem is the community data often isn’t communicated to prospects – at least not in a decisive way. The size and scale of the community should be prominently mentioned in sales materials as a major strategic differentiator and a reason to purchase.

Make sure the sales team is provided with good, useful, data they can use to highlight the unique value of the community. You can find out exactly what statistics might be most impressive and provide them with data and examples which might be a great fit. If you can build a list of great examples (discussions, case studies), this is a huge benefit.

Resource: Competitive Benchmarking

 

3) Testimonials, Reviews, and Case studies.

Your community is a fantastic tool to generate testimonials, reviews, and case studies which can be used in sales material and featured on comparison sites to directly attract more sales.

If you source 50 reviews for a comparison site from your community, it’s likely you will instantly jump to number one within that category. For an enterprise product, this can generate millions of dollars in sales. It’s one of the quickest possible wins.

To make this work, you need to make this part of the community management process. Regularly invite top members to create case studies, share testimonials, and leave reviews on relevant sites.

Make it as easy as possible by creating a template they can use. The more reviews and testimonials you can source from your members, the more leads you’re likely to convert. You can begin by asking your sales team which kind of testimonials would be most impactful and work with top members to do precisely that.

(p.s. make sure you have a large group of community members willing to serve as reference calls for prospects as well).

Resource: How Quickbase Became No. 1 In Their Category

 

4) Community-Recommended Products

If you’re selling multiple products to members, encourage members to share their product stack / recommended products with one another. This is especially useful for retail brands.

Better yet, show related products next to relevant community discussions and track purchases from these discussions. Having a list of community products recommended by members helps reduce the perceived risk and may increase sales.

 

5) Create Product Hubs / Pages Within A Community

You might also consider creating a product hub or page within a community which pulls together community discussions, one-pagers and data-sheets, feature requests/ideas, videos around key products. This is a highlighted, curated, collection of community and company products all within the same place.

 

Create Community-Generated Revenue

Don’t hide from the revenue discussion. If you have a successful brand community, it’s likely already generating revenue or there are a few small changes you can implement to drive tremendous revenue.

Try a variety of things and uncover which works best for your audiences (colleagues and members). Not every activity will hit, but you will be able to find a combination which works to turn your community into a revenue-generating machine. Make sure you track the results and consistently show how much revenue the community is generating.

It’s one thing to say a company should invest more to reduce costs, it’s a lot easier to show a company they should invest more to drive more revenue.

Feel free to contact us for consultancy help. We’ve helped clients generate millions of dollars from their community efforts. We would love to help you too.

 

Resources

Template: How Do Communities Drive ROI?
Guide: Measuring The ROI of Online Communities
Book: The Indispensable Community
Article: The Million Dollar Community Page
Article: How To Get Experts To Contribute To Your Community
Article: Why You Should Build A Thought Leadership Community
Article: How To Get Experts To Contribute To Your Community
Article: Community Content Creates Trusted Product Pages
Article: How Quickbase Became Number 1 In Their Category
Community: The CXL Playbook Community

Designing Your Community Data System – From Basic To Elite

Many of us haven’t really scratched the surface of what’s possible with our data.

If you want to see what’s possible, I recommend you watch this talk if you haven’t already.

You can do far more with your data than you probably realise.

Note: You should also sign up for our workshop on building community data systems on Nov 2.

Yet just knowing what’s possible doesn’t help us achieve our goals. We also need the knowledge to jump from where are today to get to where we need to go. And that destination is a place where we finally have the data (in the manner we need it) to make the right decisions for our community.

 

Benchmark Your Current Data System

If you’re trying to jump from a novice to an expert overnight, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

It’s far better to figure out where you are today and track your progress over time.

community data benchmarks

As you can see above, we benchmark community data skills along the four levels.

To summarise briefly:

  • Basic. Tracking changes in community engagement.
  • Advanced. Tracking what happened and why it happened by using external data.
  • Professional. Evaluating community impact and making data-driven improvements.
  • Elite. Automating the entire process.

These benchmarks themselves are comprised of five attributes:

  • Metrics. Which metrics do you measure grow and expand over time?
  • Extraction. How do you gather the data from different sources?
  • Analysis. Which analyses do you undertake in your community?
  • Summary. How do you summarise and visualise the data?
  • Utility. How do you utilise the data in your strategy?

Before we begin, take a second to benchmark your current level today. You might be farther along in some attributes than others.

If you’re like most people, you’re at the beginner or advanced level. This is good – it means you can make a lot of improvement in a relatively short amount of time!

Resource: Community Data Benchmarks

 

The Basic Level

If you’re relying upon the insights that come up with your community platform, you’re at the basic level.

Almost all of us begin by using our community platforms to track engagement. Yet even within this level, there is a huge variation in the data you have.

The quantity and quality of insights provided by inexpensive tools like Facebook, Circle, and Tribe are very different from those provided by premium enterprise platforms.

Generally speaking, the more you spend the better insights you should have.

At the basic level, you can usually answer the following questions:

  • Is engagement heading in the right direction?
  • Who are the most active members of the community?
  • What are the popular discussions in the community?

Overall, you get a simple snapshot which reflects aggregated data for a given time period in a community. Typically at this level, you’re simply gathering community data and sending screenshots or visuals to colleagues.

However, there are critical insights you won’t have. For example:

  • What’s causing the changes in engagement (and what to optimise for)?
  • Are changing because of your actions or things happening outside of the community?
  • Where are people dropping out of the community journey and why?
  • Is the community having an impact on key business metrics?

As your community expands (or your ambitions expand), not having this data starts to become a bigger and bigger problem.

Sooner or later, you need to move on to a more advanced level of insights.

 

The Advanced Level

The advanced level is when you begin to get serious about community data.

At this level, you’re not just concerned about what happened, you’re concerned about why it happened. The why is what lets you improve your community efforts. This is the foundation stone upon which you build a data-driven community strategy.

e.g. If you know [x] is causing a positive outcome, you probably want to do more of [x]. 

The key difference at this level is you need to combine multiple datasets. You’re still working with aggregated data (i.e. behavior is combined into a metric rather than separated by members), but you need to wrangle a few other sources of data together.

 

Step One: Gather Environment-Level Data

At this stage, gather data on what’s happening outside of the community to see how it impacts things within the community. We could easily write a series of articles about the precise metrics to measure, for now, I’ll recommend our ROI guide and this guide

I would recommend getting monthly time-series data to reveal:

  • No. visitors to the company website. (Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, Amplitude Analytics etc..).
  • No. unique, new, visitors to the company website (Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, Amplitude Analytics etc..)
  • No. search visitors to the company website (Unique visitors – source: Search).
  • No. customers/users (sales data/usage data – usually upon request)
  • No. new customers/product activations (sales data).
  • No. support tickets/customer calls per month (help desk software/customer support software – usually upon request).
  • Any proxy metrics for no. developers, admins, users etc…

Download this data from each source individually. Remember to keep rows as months (use transpose if they’re in the wrong format) and ensure it matches up on a monthly time-series basis stretching back up to 36 months (any longer than this and the data is less relevant).

You can usually download these metrics individually from each source. However, it might take a little effort to clean the data so you can create a single spreadsheet. The spreadsheet should have each attribute above as a column and each month should be a row.

Note: It’s difficult to download monthly time-series data from some platforms (e.g. Adobe Analytics). You might need to download data from each month at a time. This is also true of some community platforms. This is painful and takes a little time – but you only need to do it once (thereafter you’re updating the data each month).

 

Step Two: Setup and/or Collect Qualitative Performance Data

Quantitative data can reveal plenty of useful insights, but it doesn’t show whether members are becoming more or less satisfied with the community. This is why it’s also good to have a measure of member satisfaction you can track over time.

This can be done in three ways.

  1. An annual survey. You can set up an annual survey of up to 10 questions to get an ongoing measure of how members feel about the community. This will go out to all members (ideally using the same questions each year).
  2. A quarterly survey. You can set up a survey which goes out to a rotating sample of members at random. This makes it easier to track data over time but is prone to strong fluctuations if you don’t get 300 responses.
  3. A poll. A poll is an ideal solution to track member satisfaction. This appears to members as a pop-up in the community and asks members to rate their satisfaction, whether they got the answer or the overall impact of the community. These results can be aggregated into a summary score over time. I’d strongly recommend setting up the community-driven impact score system at this level.

You can set this up in your platform toll or using Hotjar, Qualtrics, Typeform, SurveyMonkey, or any other tools which suit your goals.

Ideally, you should combine this data with your community data on a monthly time-series basis.

If you can’t get data monthly (it’s hard to do this for surveys unless you sample a rotating group of members), simply share the annual data each month for now.

 

Step Three: Analysing Community Performance

Once you’ve got your dataset, you should be able to analyse community performance.

You can see the kinds of questions you can answer below (but, be mindful, this isn’t a definitive list).

Question:
What are the trends we need to adapt to?
Data
What content / categories / tags are rising or falling in popularity (use % from normalised baseline).Aggregate group activity by category.
What areas, features, sections of community are rising or falling in popularity?Aggregated visitor data from different sections of the community.
Is there any major shift in locations people are coming from?Google analytics - top 10 locations - 100% bar chart with trendines.
Are the type of users changing (more devs, admins etc..).Member profile data (or synched customer data).
Any specific changes between types of visitors?Google Analytics data on devices, regions, languages etc?

To perform this analysis, you might also use your current variables to create new metrics.

For example, you might create metrics like posts per active member, visitor conversion rate etc…You can find an example of what we often look at in this sheet.

You can now create graphs to help you answer questions like:

  • Is the community doing well in attracting attention and acquiring newcomers? (i.e. attracting the expected number of visitors, newcomers, and questions)
  • Does the community have the right number of superusers / is the quality of superusers good enough? (i.e. are the majority of questions being resolved/answered as the community grows?)
  • Are customers more or less likely to turn to the community for support? (i.e. what is the relationship between support tickets vs. community questions?)

You don’t need to use these questions verbatim. Come up with your own questions if you need them. What you should be able to determine though is how well the community is performing and why.

Note: Be mindful that this is always correlational data. This doesn’t make the data bogus, but it should be treated as a relationship which could be explored further.

 

Step Four: Using the data

If you have the expertise, you can run a regression analysis to show the strength of the relationship numerically. But this isn’t always easy to interpret.

Often simply looking at the data on a chart will help you explain what’s happening. 

It’s good to highlight any significant changes within the organisation which might’ve taken place during this time frame to see how they impacted the community (e.g. new product launches, website redesign, Black Friday etc…). 

You can overlay these with the data itself to see if there was any major impact.

You should be able to tell a compelling story here which explains:

  • What’s happened so far?
  • Why did those things happen? 
  • What’s likely to happen in the future (the forecast function is worth learning)?
  • What should you do more of, less of, and change to improve results?

Resource: Setting Up The Community-Driven Impact Score System.

 

The Professional Level

At the professional level, two things change.

  1. You look at member data. Instead of only tracking outcomes by month, you track outcomes by member. For example, you might see if members who have been invited into a newcomer group had a higher product trial completion rate than those who didn’t.
  2. You integrate databases. Instead of getting a single metric from each source per month (i.e. 16,434 customer calls), you get the list of who made the calls and when. You need to combine data from several databases to show the impact of community.

This lets you do a far deeper analysis to determine what is and isn’t working in your community. You can see exactly which activities (or member attributes) had a meaningful impact and which didn’t.

As this example dataset shows, once you have data at the member level the quality of analyses you can undertake improves considerably.

 

Step 1: Identifying sources of member data. 

Member-level analysis requires you to build a database of individuals where each row (observation) is a member rather than a month. This database needs to combine records from several sources.

These sources might include:

  • The community platform.
  • The customer relationship management system (CRM).
  • The mailing list provider (see who did and didn’t open emails).
  • The learning management system (LMS) (see who completed training courses).
  • The call or help-desk system (see how filed tickets).
  • Social media platforms (community intelligence tools).
  • The event /usergroup hosting software (see who attended events).
  • Etc…

In larger organisations, it’s likely there is already some database which integrates a lot of these things. You might simply be able to add community data to it. The challenge is finding out where it is, who owns it, and in what format it’s in.

It’s also common at this stage to use community intelligence tools like CommonRoom and Orbit to create a more detailed picture of member behaviours from a variety of different channels (i.e. you can learn about member engagements on Reddit, Discord, Slack, and other social media channels).

 

Step 2: Extract and combine the data

Sometimes you get lucky and the platforms you’re using have a connector which lets you easily combine data (and keep it updated). It’s far more common, however, that you will need to pull together the different datasets yourself.

This might be by extracting the data from the available APIs, or it might mean manually downloading and combining the data from each source individually. The challenge is often matching up records of different individuals across platforms. If members don’t use a consistent email address, this becomes tricky (but not impossible) to do.

Even if you get the data, the quality of it might vary considerably. API data can be in the form of raw server logs which you then need to process to be useful.

Another challenge is it’s very likely you will be working with datasets which are too large to process on your personal laptop – so you might need to consider virtual solutions for collecting, processing, and securely storing the data (data security is going to be a critical consideration).

As a general principle, cleaning and transforming the data usually takes 80% of the entire scope of the project.

 

Step 3: Analysing the data

Once you have data on individuals, you can still do some really exciting things.

This includes

  • A sequential analysis to determine the order of member behaviors and community participation (i.e. see what came first).
  • Survival analysis to see how retention rate varies by month and member segment.
  • Analyse superuser performance by accepted solution rate.
  • Segment the community by category and see which areas need more attention.
  • See how product usage varies by community participation and types of participation.
  • Identify attributes which cause members to stay for longer.
  • Identify unique clusters of members by community behaviours and build distinct mailing lists of them.
  • Develop detailed journeys of each member.

You should be able to build a model which predicts the outcomes you want to gain from the community and then gain insights into what you need to do to drive those outcomes.

However, this requires expertise in statistics. If you don’t have expertise in this, we can set up this system for you.

Note: you have to be really, really, precise about the definition of any metric you use here. For example, if you want to know the impact of the community on customer retention. You have to define what metrics best represent each of those terms. Two different people can define the terms in two very different ways and come to different conclusions.

 

Step 4: Summarise data in a custom dashboard

Once you have a clean dataset, you can develop a custom dashboard in Tableau, PowerBI, or any tool you’re familiar with. Again, this requires some technical knowledge. But here we would recommend having colour-coded dashboards which help you make the critical decisions you need to make about your community.

Common metrics here would include:

  • Activity-level metrics (no. posts, active members, newcomer retention, and no. active MVPs).
  • Program-level metrics (% questions with a response, average time to first response, accepted solution rate).
  • Satisfaction-level metrics (from polls/surveys).
  • Impact-level metrics (impact upon customer retention, utilisation, or community-driven impact score etc..)

You should know the primary drivers of these metrics and be able to produce performance-based forecasts.

This dashboard should have pre-determined success/failure metrics which identify whether unique community programs succeeded or not. Those programs which succeeded should be provided with additional resources and those which didn’t succeed should be altered or have fewer resources in the future.

From this, everyone can determine both how the community is doing today and what to focus on next.

Resource: Setting Targets and Building A Community Dashboard

Resource: The Dream Community Dataset

 

The Elite Level

The big difference between professional and elite is the automated data pipeline.

A simple overview of a data pipeline is shown via Newsela below:

(p.s. you should watch the full presentation hosted on the Verint/Telligent Community)

At the elite level, you’re not manually pulling and analysing data. It’s not a monthly task you have to (painfully) endure. Instead, it’s a fully automated pipeline of fresh insights.

Typically, data is extracted via APIs (and direct connectors), cleaned, transformed, and stored within a data warehouse. From there a business intelligence or data visualisation tool is used to explore the data. You can provide different colleagues with different levels of access to the data depending on their needs.

This is infinitely more scalable and it gives you regularly updated data (to the day if needed) which others can explore. For larger communities, it’s beneficial to get real-time insights rather than wait until the end of the month to see what’s happening.

The downside is this is a project which requires significant investment. It requires significant resources, expertise, and time. You also need to account for maintenance costs (data pipelines frequently break when platforms are updated or tweaked ).

Before beginning this journey, you need to carefully consider issues such as data quality, integrity, governance, privacy, and security.

The steps you take might vary, but this is what we would usually recommend:

 

Step 1: Create a steering group to define the outcome

Every process is different, but it’s useful to begin by bringing the right people together to start. I’ve lost track of how many data projects stumble because of issues which weren’t foreseen at the time.

The steering group varies but often includes a combination of:

  • Community team
  • Community vendor
  • Company software engineers
  • Customer loyalty/success
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Legal
  • IT (esp. Data security-minded folks).
  • Data-specific people

Essentially anyone with any sort of influence or interest in data from the sources you’re likely to collect data from should be included in this process. Your primary responsibility at this point is to learn.

Always begin this process by bringing the right stakeholders together to gather requirements, identify issues and challenges, and understand their needs from the data. It’s likely others want to ensure key outcomes are considered too.

 

Step 2: Decide who will be doing the implementation

The next step is to define the right architecture for your data system.

If you don’t have a data engineering background, please don’t try to do this yourself. Selecting the right architecture and technology requires considerable knowledge of the competing options and a deep understanding of your organization’s own needs and requirements.

In the past, we’ve seen a community data pipeline shut down after two months because the organisation’s data technology stack was moving to a different set of tools.

The earliest decision you need to make is whether you have the resources to do this internally or not. This is whether consultancies can help. You need someone to work with your team to define the requirements in architecture and help select the right technology stack.

 

Step 3: Implement the solution

This is a bigger topic than we will cover here. Perhaps the most important difference in this process is you will first import data from a variety of sources into a data warehouse (Snowflake, BigQuery, Redshift, etc…).

In some cases, this might involve writing a custom webhook to import the data and using separate data orchestration tools. You will also need a data analytics tool which integrates with your data warehouse.

We’re not going to cover the process of building the full data pipeline here. There are far better resources than us to learn about data pipelines. 

Be mindful that this is an intensive process – one that often involves considerable trial and error. This will usually take several months to complete. 

 

Step 4: Training stakeholders to use the data

The final step in the journey is to develop a process for persuading and training stakeholders to use the data to support their work. This applies to both your immediate team and to a broader set of community stakeholders. 

This involves both a combination of emotive-driven storytelling and training workshops where you can guide stakeholders through the process of extracting the data they need. 

I’d recommend having three things in place.

  • A simple roadshow deck explaining the remarkable value of using the tool. This should cover the basics of community, the type of insights people can get, and how to explore the data. 
  • A regular workshop (hosted every 3 to 6 months) for stakeholders can attend where you will help them access and explore the community data. This lets them run analyses themselves, address questions and, most importantly, get time on people’s calendars for the community. 
  • A short guide to support colleagues getting set up on the data visualisation platform – included with some basic do’s and don’t’s. At a minimum, stakeholders should know how to run basic queries and explore the data to find useful insights. 

Resource: How Newsela Build Their Data Pipeline

Resource: Fundamentals of Data Engineering

Resource: What Is A Data Pipeline?

 

Next Steps

If you’ve found this guide useful and want to explore it further, I’d strongly recommend attending our community data workshop on November 2nd.

Ultimately, if you want your community taken seriously you have to take your community data seriously.

Community platforms can show you if engagement is heading in the right direction and who the most active members are, but they’re never going to be able to do much more than that. They can’t answer the critical questions you and your colleagues have. They can’t show a meaningful impact caused by the community.

Many of us need to tread beyond our comfort zone to get the data we need. You don’t need to be a technical person, but you do need to know the process and how to advance to each level. You’re also likely to need outside help.

Begin with the questions you want to answer. You can get a good list of these from speaking with your stakeholders. Refine these questions into specific metrics and start identifying the source of each of these metrics. Be as specific as possible.

Get the environmental data you need and start combining it with community data. Once you can do that, get the member-level data from different databases into a single destination. Now you can consider building an automated system for the whole process.

 

Resources

Brand Communities Change Customer Attitudes – Here’s How You Prove It

It’s possible to prove the value of community by showing how behaviour is changed.

For example, you can show the impact of a community upon retention, call reduction, or some other behavioural metric.

The problem is it’s really damned hard and you’re never going to have a satisfactory result.

The simplest way to show the value of a community isn’t to prove people behave differently – but people think differently.

It’s a lot easier to measure meaningful changes in member attitudes than meaningful changes in member behaviour.

 

Where Does The Real Value Of Community Show Up?

Another way of thinking about this is to consider where the real value of community shows up.

Take the incredible volume of customers you support. Most people measure this using ‘call deflection’. But a growing body of data shows that people are asking questions in several channels at once and they often ask questions in a community they wouldn’t bother calling support for.

It’s not right to measure this in deflection dollars. But where it will show up is in how people feel about using the products. If they get better results, feel more satisfied, or get unstuck quicker – that shows up in their attitudes.

And this is the most direct benefit of a community – it changes member attitudes.

It’s often quite tragic changes in attitudes aren’t measured. Attitudes drive behaviour.

If you can change the attitude, you can change the behaviour.

 

What Attitudes Can We Measure?

Let’s imagine you went to your boss tomorrow and presented real, live, data that showed, that since joining your community, members have significantly improved satisfaction with products and the likelihood to recommend you to others.

Imagine you could show your community really moved the needle in how people feel about you and your brand and future purchase intent? That’s a powerful metric. Imagine the associations they have with your brand have changed in a more positive way?

Or, for the golden ticket, imagine you could show that brand preference has markedly increased vs. any competitors. Now members consider your brand superior on a range of different attributes.

Or, if you’re working for a non-profit, imagine you could definitively prove that a member’s quality of life scores have increased. Perhaps you could also show they now feel they are better prepared to handle whatever circumstance they find themselves in since joining your community?

In more specific terminology, we often use terms like:

  • Member Satisfaction. (CSAT)
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS)
  • Quality of life (non-profits)
  • Brand attitude
  • Brand perception
  • Brand preference

But it all rolls up into the same key measure – attitudes have changed.

This is the kind of data that is a lot easier to get and far harder to ignore.

 

How Do We Measure A Change In Attitudes?

You probably know the common problem with any metric you want to change by now.

You can easily show any community members score higher in almost any metric than non-members. It’s a lot harder to show it’s the community that caused the metric to be higher.

For example, how do you not know it was simply your best and most loyal customers who joined the community in the first place? Establishing any kind of causal relationship which removes the possible presence of confounding variables is difficult.

But these are some relatively simple solutions. They’re not expensive, but they do take time and you need to be careful with setting up the process correctly.

 

Option 1 – The Controlled Trial

The best solution is to do a controlled test. This is hard to do but it’s not impossible. In this approach, you would segment non-participants at random into two groups. You can send an email to one group with an invitation to join the community and track the results against the other group.

Or, better, only enable one group to see/join the community and not the other group.

In practice, however, this is problematic. For starters, it’s damned hard to stop people from seeing the community. You would have to remove it from search results and configure the technology for the community not to appear for a large group of members. Few organizations are keen on that. And even then you might only be measuring the differences in the characteristics of membership of each group.

If you can do a controlled test, great. But if you can’t, I’d suggest a simpler method…

 

Option 2: Gather Data When Members Join

The reason why few can measure the results of the community is they only collect data based on their timeline instead of the members’ timeline.

It’s a little like – ‘hey it’s October! Time to run our survey!

But there’s nothing particularly special about October (or any month of the year) which is especially good to run a survey. In fact, you’re very likely to bias the outcome by limiting your survey to once a month.

This is why it’s far better to measure member behaviour by their tenure. Specifically, a member hits a certain milestone, it’s a good idea to hit them up with a quick survey to measure their attitudes.

The most important of these milestones is when members join! If you get a baseline attitude survey when members join, you can compare it with later surveys and estimate the results. If you ask the same questions again a year later, you get to see the impact of the community.

 

Why It’s Critical To Capture Member Data When They Join

Let me share an example of why capturing member attitudes when they join is so important.

Last year, I worked with a client whose community reported the lowest NPS of any customer support channel. We’re talking deep in the toilet low!

The community team was getting a lot of criticism for the poor performance of the community.

But was it the community’s fault? 

We began doing some exploring. It soon became clear the community was simply attracting the most frustrated members. These were members who had had negative experiences in other channels and were turning to the community as a last resort.

They had the lowest attitude scores before they even joined the community!

The community was still helping these customers. But they often had problems for which there wasn’t a solution. The community helped them realize that. They weren’t happy about it – but at least they could keep looking.

The problem was no one had taken the time to capture members’ attitudes upon joining. They had no idea if the community had improved the results or not.

(aside – and remember here people who have a negative experience tell several times as many as people. Preventing negative word of mouth is a huge benefit).

Now imagine if they had captured the NPS, CSAT, or other scores when members had joined and could compare progress 6 to 12 months later. You can start to get a sense of the impact of the community.

 

Communities Naturally Attract Members Who Like You More

For example, in the graph below, you can see how much the NPS scores vary by each category of members. For example, avg. non-members today, avg. non-members last year, average new members a year ago, avg. new members today. As you can see here.

graph showing how Communities Naturally Attract Members Who Like You More

This is interesting data, but it doesn’t really show the impact of the community. It more likely shows that people with higher NPS scores might be more likely to join a community and those who like the brand most stay in the community for longer.

What we need to know is the difference between non-members and first-year members over the same time frame. This is where the data starts to get interesting, as you can see below.

graph showing difference between non-members and first year members

The NPS varies (remarkably wildly) from one month to the next. But over the course of the year it appears that community members appear to have a higher difference over that same time frame. You can see this here:

graph showing impacts of Community driven change

Sure there is plenty of variability, but there’s a clear trendline here. Community drives a higher NPS score.

It’s worth noting this isn’t 100% conclusive.

You might simply be measuring the people within each cohort who bothered to complete a survey a year later – people who might naturally be more predisposed to completing a survey. However, by using random survey sampling and offering a small incentive, you should be able to overcome much of that.

This is often known as the ‘difference in differences’ approach. You compare groups and track the impact over time as you see below.

Quick caveat here, if you’re working with a tiny community, this might not work for you. You probably can’t get enough responses without offering some substantial incentives. But for any community which has more than a few thousand members, you should be able to undertake a rotating study and show the results.

 

How Do We Measure Results?

Before we measure the results, let’s understand what we’re measuring here. Metrics like Net Promoter Score (NPS) and Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) have been extensively covered before.

Let’s focus on the three lesser-known attitudinal metrics we want to cover. Ones which are real game-changers for organizations.

Brand Perception

I think of Apple as stylish, easy to use, and expensive.

I think of Logitech as basic, functional, and simple.

I think of Google as useful, friendly, and accessible.

You probably have (very) different perceptions of all three.

But we aggregate the results from a large enough group of people and you will soon start to build a great understanding of how people perceive of each brand.

These perceptions matter a lot. They are a leading indicator of future purchase intent, retention, and likelihood to promote the community.

So imagine your community could profoundly change how people perceive your brand.

Imagine if when members joined the community they used terms like confusing, overwhelming, and fiddly. Then a year later they used terms like automated, supportive, and comprehensive.

In less than a year, you can show you have completely changed members’ attitudes about your brand.

This is incredibly valuable data which too few people ever measure.

 

Brand Preference

Perhaps the only thing more valuable than changing perceptions is changing preferences.

Brand preference is where you compare your brand against those of a selected group of direct and indirect competitors and get feedback from your members on how they rate each of you. It’s one of the most common and powerful impacts of community – but few people ever try to measure it!

Imagine you can go to your boss tomorrow and say because of your community, members have now increased preference of your brand against competitors by xx% points. Or perhaps they simply associate your brand with more positive terms than any competitor.

If you can show that 10,000 people have improved their preference for your brand since being in the community, it becomes a no-brainer to try and get as many people engaged in the community as possible.

Aside, the other major benefit of this kind of research is you get a unique insight into how people think and feel about your brand. I’m often amazed that organizations don’t constantly do these kinds of surveys given just how remarkable the results tend to be. You can provide your marketing and PR teams with precisely the terms they need to use and messaging to deploy to achieve the results they want.

Second aside, you can also take this a step further and measure the relationship between brand preference and purchases in the future to see exactly how strong this connection is.

 

The Danger of Measuring Brand Attitudes

Let’s quickly highlight an obvious danger of measuring member attitudes.

The obvious danger is the results might show you member attitudes declined since joining the community. On the surface, this suggests the community is having a negative impact.

This is a risk, but even if it is true, you 100% want to know this!

Once you have this data, you can begin interviewing members and drilling a bit deeper into your data to determine the precise cause.

For example, you might find it’s a specific segment of members having a negative experience.

In one client, when we drilled deeper into the data, we found it was people having issues with one particular product line. They were never likely to the solution they wanted because there wasn’t a feasible solution to the major problems they were raising. They felt they were wasting their time on the community and we were seeing hundreds of questions go unanswered.

We came up with a simple solution. If the community couldn’t help with these kinds of issues, it shouldn’t support these kinds of issues. We directed these questions directly to other support channels and closed down this section. Any time you notice the community is doing more harm than good, you can figure out why and take action.

 

What About Non-Profit Communities?

This might all sound good if you work for a typical business, but what if you’re working for a non-profit? Does any of this apply to you?

I’d argue it applies more to non-profits than any other organization. The only difference is you’re measuring different attitudes. Instead of looking at brand attitudes, you’re looking at more representative metrics such as quality of life, increased capacity, or overall confidence in managing their circumstances.

A Quality of Life Survey, for example, can show the impact of community across a range of well-being factors such as health, relationships, finances, and overall life satisfaction. Sometimes the impact of a community might appear in places you don’t expect.

 

Setting Up The Survey (Or Poll)

You can set up a survey to capture data both before and after someone has joined a community.

Ideally, you want to have the same people participating in surveys each year. A 1-year frame can work.

One way of doing this is offering a small incentive if they participate in the survey when they join and then offering them a larger one if they complete the survey a year later. Another option is simply to compare the average of newcomers vs. veterans and assume nothing else changed during this time period.

 

Questions For All Surveys

You can adapt these to your situation and environment. You may want to ask additional identifier questions about the type of customer or individual so you can drill deeper into the data later. You might ask questions about the type of products purchased, gender, age, location etc…

Typically the key questions should include:

Q. For approximately how long have you been visiting the community?

(This helps you to separate members who have just joined from those who have been around for a while. If you’re triggering the survey by member tenure in the community you can skip this question)

Q. How would you rate your overall satisfaction with [the product/community]?

  • Very unsatisfied // Unsatisfied // Neutral // Satisfied // Very satisfied

(This is a question which can help establish overall satisfaction with the community environment. You can skip it if you’ve got too many questions, but it can help establish if the community is driving an improvement in results)

Q. If you would like to receive [discount/benefit], please enter your email address below

(This is simply a tracking question to be included at the end. It helps you identify who is participating in the survey and match it up to your customer database. Sometimes you don’t need this, but it’s usually useful to be able to follow up with people who took the survey the previous year)

 

Example Questions For Brand-Attitude Surveys

If you’re running a survey on brand attitudes, you might ask a combination of the following questions.

(NPS qs.) Q. On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend [brand] to a friend/colleague?

This is the standard NPS question. 

(brand perception qs) Q. On a scale of 1 to 10, Please rate how well each of the following traits describes our brand.

List of traits here. This might include a mix of attitude and behavioural traits. For example:

  • Value for money.
  • Broadest feature set.
  • Better quality than other brands.
  • Innovative.
  • Caters to my unique needs.
  • Easy to set up and use.
  • Great customer support.
  • Great documentation.
  • The staff seems friendly and supportive.

You can add any set of attributes you like here which people can use to evaluate your brand. Try to be as specific as possible. 

Aside – An alternative approach begins with the attributes you want to learn more about and asks members to select which brand most relates to which attribute. This is useful if you know specific attributes are most important.

Resource: Brand Perception Questions

(brand preference qs) Q. Before purchasing from [brand], which other organizations did you consider?

This is good for knowing who you should be comparing against and you can then program each of these options to appear in the evaluative set to ensure you’re not asking people to compare brands they never considered. 

(brand preference qs) Q. How important or unimportant were the following factors in your decision to purchase from [brand] rather than any other brand?

  • Extremely important
  • Very important
  • Moderately important
  • Slightly important
  • Not at all important
  • No opinion

This question will help you identify the key factors which drove the purchase decision. List the most likely factors here and include a rating scale along the lines of

(brand preference) Q. What (if anything) might make you switch to a competitor? 

You can also suggest possible answers and add an open text box. But it’s generally better to let members complete the answers themselves. 

(brand preference) Q. Which brands would you most associate with the following attributes

  • Value for money.
  • Strong customer support.
  • Comprehensive feature set.
  • Easy to use
  • Etc…

This is the critical question. It’s a direct comparison question where you use the relevant brands provided in the previous answer to populate answers for people to complete. Zero in here on the attributes which you feel best drive purchasing behaviour – you can use the answers from above. 

Resource: Brand Preference Questions

 

Example Questions For Non-Profits

Developing questions for non-profits is a little trickier. Every non-profit supports a different circumstance and ideally, questions should best address that circumstance. This may include:

[non-profits] Q. How would you rate your ‘confidence to handle [circumstance]?

  • Not confident at all
  • Slightly confident
  • Moderately confident
  • Somewhat confident
  • Very confident

This is the simplest question to use. It provides a simple snapshot answer where people can rate their level of confidence on a single scale and you can track results over time. You should be able to see precisely the impact of the community. 

[non-profits] Q. How would you rate [quality of life, mental health, physical health, social life etc..] over the past 4 weeks?

  • Poor
  • Fair
  • Good
  • Very good
  • Excellent

You can repeat this question with several variations above to capture the full impact of the community across a range of factors. This lets you identify where the community has shown results in areas where you might otherwise not expect. You can go further to deploy a full quality of life survey using the resource below. 

Resource: Quality of Life Questions

Resource: Writing Survey Questions

 

Next Steps

Behaviour is primarily driven by attitudes. Your community shapes and influences those attitudes in a major way. You’ve probably had countless interactions which you know have had a major impact on your audience – and you probably haven’t tracked the outcome of those interactions.

Notice we use the word ‘track’ rather than ‘measure’ here. Measuring gives you a snapshot of today. That’s interesting, but not very helpful. Tracking attitudes over time will help you understand and prove the impact of your community.

Imagine how powerful it is to have results like this to share with colleagues:

However, if you want this to work you have to set up the data properly. You have to prepare the dataset today for the results you want to show tomorrow (or 6 to 12 months from now).

When execs are against the community, they often dismiss the ROI data which can be complicated and prone to all sorts of attribution issues. However, it’s harder to dismiss attitude data – especially when it’s been properly collected and analysed

Here are some simple next steps

  1. Decide which attitudes you’re going to track.
  2. Setup the survey questions and test the survey on a small audience.
  3. Setup the survey to trigger members based upon tenure (time in or no. visits to the community).
  4. Automatically pull the data into a visualisation tool (Tableau, Looker, PowerBI etc..)
  5. Drill into the results to determine which segments/factors most impact the results.

 

Let FeverBee Calculate Your Attitude Change Score

All of the above takes a lot of effort to set up and ensure the data is collected properly. This is where FeverBee can take care of the process for you. We’ve worked with plenty of clients to measure and analyse the impact of their communities.

We can take on the entire process and simply provide you with the data you need to prove the value of your community.

If you want help, drop us a line.

 

Key Takeaways

  1. It’s easier to measure meaningful changes in attitudes than behavior.
  2. Track attitudes over time – especially when people join.
  3. Brand perception, brand preference, and quality of life are valuable data points to have.

 

Resources

 

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.