What We Do, What We Believe In, And What We Want

August 7, 2012 Comments Off on What We Do, What We Believe In, And What We Want

We've received about 30 applications for the position of junior community consultant, mostly from people with a social media background. 

It's tough to apply for it. There's no-one else in the world doing it. We rarely talk about it. Aside from The Pillar Summit, we're reluctant to advertise our own services. To clarify a few things, today will be an exception. 

We help organizations develop thriving communities. That usually means one of three things:

1) Getting the community off the ground and running. If an organization wants a community, we take them through a step by step process of getting it going and reaching critical mass of activity. Our approach is based upon proven theory and refined by experience. We provide clear measurements, actions, processes for managing the community and ensuring everything is aligned with best practice (you would be surprised how many organizations make crazy mistakes).

2) Developing an existing community. Some organizations have communities which are struggling, others simply aren't sure what to do next. We diagnose these communities, use proven theory to create a strategy, and work with them in executing it over a 3 – 6 month period. This is intensive, it's data-driven, and usually involves training. The results are good

3) Resolving special issues. Many organizations have specific problems. This might be developing a platform, training a new community manager, converting newcomers into regulars, gaining internal buy-in. We analyze the problem, develop interventions, and improve the conditions.

Our goal is to work with organizations for a short-period and have an impact that continues to pay dividends for years. 

We do corporate training too, but usually under the Pillar Summit banner.

We have some firm beliefs, namely;

1) The process is the key to success. It's not the platform, nor the content, it's the process. Most organizations have no idea how to develop and manage communities. We have a very specific process for working with clients and developing communities in a measurable way. We transfer our knowledge, skills, and resources to our clients. 

2) You must master theory and data. Can you imagine government creating policy by asking a few vocal people passing by? No. Neither should you with a community. Instead you need data. Data tells you where you are now. It explains what is/isn't working. Once you know where you are now, you use proven community theory to identify where the community goes next. Every single line of strategy and action we recommend is based upon data and proven theory. We don't guess or make things up. We get the information we need and then make decisions. 

3) Communities can and should be measured. That includes health, progress, and ROI. We have a clear framework to track progress. It's important. Also, if we increase the return of a community by $1.4m, it's nice to be able to prove it. 

4) The organization has to own it. We don't manage communities on behalf of clients, the client should own this. We don't build platforms neither (though we do have best practice documents and work with clients to develop specs/pick vendors). Ultimately, we don't manage communities for people. Other organizations do, and we wish them well, but it's not something we believe in. 

5) A community isn't social media. Sorry to everyone that applied with a strong social media resume, but we're looking for a community person. 

We're small, tiny even. We hire great minds and train them to be brilliant community consultants. It's tough, intensive, but you quickly become able to diagnose and develop any community.

We're looking for genuine enthusiasm (as evidenced by previous activities), excellent knowledge in collecting and analyzing data (if you've never used a spreadsheet, move on by), great presentation/communication skills, and terrific references. 

The role includes lots of data gathering. Your day might involve dozens of calls gathering qualitative data, producing a thematic analysis, presenting the information, developing  strategies based upon that data etc, consulting with clients and responding to questions, spending time being trained in community theory. 

This is not a community management role. It's not social media. We do very little social media work. It's entirely a very deep level community consultancy position. One of the first in the world. 

If you're interested in joining us, e-mail us

(If you're interested in working with us, e-mail us too!)

Programme of Activities

June 18, 2012 Comments Off on Programme of Activities

Communities that struggle for activity often have no programme of planned activities. 

You can succeed without regularly organizing activities, but it's harder. Activities, typically events, play an important role in communities besides directly stimulating activity. 

Minor events and activities help build momentum. There are plenty of possible events. The challenge is to figure out which events your members want and organize them on a regular basis. 

For example, a community of practice might have a debate around a major question within the topic. An interest community might have a live chat about their best memories/funniest stories involving the topic 

Major events help too. They help build a sense of connection between members. They help communities develop a shared history. They increase the level of contact between members, facilitate stronger relationships, and increase commitment to the community.

There are rules behind good events. You want people to interact with each other around a common theme. You want active participation, not passive learning. 

These events can come from current popular activities. It's good to link everything together. This can then be turned into a clear plan of action.

Events, along with initiating and sustaining discussions and content, is the troika of activity to increase participation in a community. 

If you want more participation, putting together a clear plan of events is a great place to start. 

How To Make Your Community Better (not just bigger)

May 21, 2012 Comments Off on How To Make Your Community Better (not just bigger)

A bigger community isn't a better community. Growth alone wont increase the ROI of the community.

More members reduces the sense of community. Members feel less connection with each other. They visit less frequently. The level of activity per member drops. The ROI declines (despite growth!).

If you want to make your community bigger AND better, you need to juggle three things 1) growth, 2) activity, and 3) sense of community. 

If you have growth + activity, but no sense of community, you have a highly active group that can vanish at any minute. This is typically an audience, not a community. They’re attracted to something temporary. They will be gone soon.

If you have growth + sense of community, then you have a group that knows each other well, but rarely participates. They don’t try to make the group better. There is no pulse that keeps the community going.

If you have activity + sense of community, you have a turnover problem. Over time members will lose interest on the topic but newcomers won’t be coming in to replace them. The community will gradually decline. In truth, it’s common for growth to take care of itself in these situations, but that’s a risky strategy. 

This juggling act is hard. Focusing on one alone is the path to failure. This means you need to be measuring all three. It means you can’t just have a plan to grow the community, without also an idea of how you will sustain activity and maintain a strong sense of community.

Just remember, you can’t focus on just one. You need to balance all three. 

Sign up for The Pillar Summit's Professional Community Management course and learn how to develop and manage a thriving community for your organization. You have 1 day remaining.

Moderation Masterclass

May 14, 2012 Comments Off on Moderation Masterclass

Moderation is a powerful tool to boost participation in your community.

Once people have completed the registration process, you rely upon the troika of moderation, events/activities, and content to sustain high levels of participations.

The communities that struggle to keep people engaged, are failing at one or more of the above tasks. The most common is moderation. 

If you want to learn how to do it right, you can now watch this free lesson from The Pillar Summit's Professional Community Management course:

http://www.pillarsummit.com/moderation (apologies for the first minute, we had a tech glitch).

As a bonus, you can also download the comprehensive reading material for this lesson. 

Sign up for The Pillar Summit's Professional Community Management course and learn how to develop and manage a thriving community for your organization. Registration closes in 7 days.

Free Lesson: How To Convert Newcomers Into Regulars

May 9, 2012 Comments Off on Free Lesson: How To Convert Newcomers Into Regulars

As part of our week-long preview of The Pillar Summit's Professional Community Management course, we've published our first free lesson.

Click here to watch: http://pillarsummit.com/convertingnewcomers/

You can also access the comprehensive reading material to accompany this lesson.

Feel free to share these materials with anyone it might help.

If you like the lesson, we hope you sign up for the course.

The course will greatly improve your community management skills, knowledge, and resources (scripts, templates, calendars, training guides etc). We will teach you how to boost membership, increase participation, optimize a platform and achieve a positive ROI from your community.

Click here to learn more: http://www.pillarsummit.com/registration.

Registration ends on May 21st

More Activity Or More Members?

April 30, 2012 Comments Off on More Activity Or More Members?

This is a strategic decision. Let me try to help you make it.

It's usually better to spend your time trying to get your existing members more engaged. 

You already have their attention. They already participate. The more active they are, the more newcomers are likely to convert into regulars. If they're more active, they're more likely to bring in other contacts.

However, if one of the following is true, you should focus on more members: 

1) Members aren't bringing in others (common when the community is either the first of its kind or members are very isolated.

2) The members are as active as they can be. This is common in smaller communities and communities targeted at doctors, lawyers, teachers, CEOs etc…

3) More activity per member wouldn't increase the ROI.

It's this third one that's interesting. We have evidence that suggests the more engaged members are in a community, the more they will purchase from the brand. But what if you sell a product/service which can only be purchased, say, once a year? More engagement wouldn't necessarily be beneficial.

This is where the utopian nature of communities meets business reality. It's why community managers need to know the ROI of their community. 

This is important because it defines the bulk of your activities. If you're trying to get existing members more engaged you spend your time interacting with existing members. You initiate, sustain and highlight discussions. You write/facilitate great content. You optimize the platform. You spend a lot of time organizing/executing engaging events and activities. You build relationships with top members.

If you're trying to grow the community, then it's different. You establish target segments, cater more to newcomers, optimize the newcomer to regular conversion process, engage in promotional activities (such as securing mentions elsewhere) and make the effort to directly invite people to join.

If more activity per member wouldn't improve the ROI of the community, it might be time to shift the balance of your time towards new members. 

We recently opened registration for The Pillar Summit's Professional Community Management course. This course will change the way you grow, manage and scale thriving online communities. Contact me directly if you're interested in attending.

The Pillar Summit: Summer 2012

April 24, 2012 Comments Off on The Pillar Summit: Summer 2012

We are now accepting registrations for the summer intake of The Pillar Summit’s Professional Community Management course.

You can download a free prospectus here: http://eepurl.com/geSRL

The Pillar Summit is the most advanced community management course of its kind.

Our intensive 18-week online course will change the way you approach community management.

Our goal is to accept good community managers and help them become great community managers.

We drill participants in the skills, knowledge, and experience they need to grow, develop and manage thriving online communities for their organizations.

The course is split into 3 modules of 6weeks.

The new semester begins on May 21st, 2012 and has 20 places available.

The fee for the full course is £5000 GBP and includes:

Module 1) How to Start an Online Community. This module explains the step by step process behind launching a community and reaching a critical mass of activity.

Module 2) Successful Community Management. This covers the process of managing an existing community. We explain the framework, skills, and theory behind developing the community.

Module 3) Advanced Community Strategy. This goes deep into scaling communities, building a community team, different community strategies available, and measurement/ROI.

If you already have a community (or community experience), you can take individual modules to suit your needs at £2300 GBP each.

If you want to find out more, download our free prospectus here:http://eepurl.com/geSRL

We pack as much value into the course as possible. In addition to the weekly live lessons, this course includes:

    • Exclusive community coaching. We individually coach participants how to tackle the issues their community faces.


    • The Pillar Summit’s Community Management Playbook. Learn how to tackle the most community problems communities face.


    • Proven scripts for inviting members to participate, news posts, soliciting volunteers, creating great content etc…


    • Weekly live-discussions. During these discussions we tackle common problems faced by members every week.


    • The Pillar Summit’s case study eBook. We provide participants with an eBook for case studies in successful community management.


    • Template strategy documents, website wireframes, content and action calendars. Drag and drop your activities into our pre-designed documents.


    • Checklists for your community efforts. Ensure you’re following best practices and are undertaking every necessary activity to develop a successful community.


    • The Pillar Summit’s Community Management Bible – This is over 100,000+ words of written material.


    • Access to several community management journals. Access a variety of academic literature to online communities. Especially use for niche industries.


    • Guest speakers from some of the world’s top online communities. Every week, we have a live webinar featuring a community manager of a highly successful online community.


  • Practical assignments. These help you apply the material learnt during the lessons directly to your community efforts.

Download a prospectus to find out about all our additional support and materials for students, or contact us directly if you would like to discuss which modules are suited to you.

Free prospectus link: http://eepurl.com/geSRL.

If you want to register immediately, click here.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Communities, ROI And Misplaced Enthusiasm

April 23, 2012 Comments Off on Communities, ROI And Misplaced Enthusiasm

Many companies benefit from developing communities, but a greater number wont.

They don't have the resources to develop a community, nor sell a product/service that's worth building a community around. 

A few simply wouldn't be able to gain a positive ROI if they did.

I worry people mix the 19% increase in purchases figure here with a 19% ROI. We can all agree there is a big difference. 

If members purchase 19% more of the product/service, and your service costs $5 a year, that's an extra $0.95 per participating member. A community with 33,000 active members would bring in $31,350. 

This wouldn't cover a community manager's salary, let alone the platform expense, overheads, and other opportunity costs. Worse still, 33,000 active members isnt easy. It's going to take a few years. 

However if your products/service costs $1000 per year, an extra $190 per active member, per year really adds up. A community with 33,000 active members now brings in $6.27m per year. Even with 1,000 active members it's worth doing. 

That 19% figure (one of many) isn't the starting whistle for all companies to develop communities, it's a warning. If your feasible audience size multiplied by the service/product fee wouldn't generate a positive ROI, don't develop a community. 

So let's be optimistic about communities, but not overly so. That helps nobody. 

When Data Disproves Community Building Myths

April 10, 2012 Comments Off on When Data Disproves Community Building Myths

Many of the things believed about community management aren’t true.

They’ve been disproven by data and studies.

For example:

1) Lurkers are unlikely to ever become active members

We recently posted about the value of lurkers and how to use data to ensure lurkers are immediately engaged.

We based that post both from our experiences and proven studies (below). This post upset some community managers. They believed that all members begin as lurkers. As lurkers learn more about the community, they begin participating.

This is the social learning theory of lurking.

It’s one of three theories.

The other two are the personal trait theory (some people are born lurkers regardless of the community) and the other being situational disposition (lurkers will be engaged depending upon what the community does to engage them).

This study by IBM stongly refutes the social learning theory of lurking.

There is no data to support that lurkers will gradually learn more about the community then participate, just a handful of anecdotal stories.

Yet we still have conference talks, engagement models and a huge number of community managers believing this is the case.

Sure, this study is not all-conclusive, but given the choice between relying upon a handful of anecdotal stories or looking at studies, what do you want to use to guide your actions?

2) Game mechanics is only effective when members already know each other

Data can tell you other things. For example, game mechanics is only effective when members already know each other.

Which means it’s only worth adding game mechanics to existing communities with high levels of social capital.

3) Ensure a newcomer’s first contribution gets a good, quick, response

Another study suggests that the quality response to a member’s first contribution is the determing factor in whether a new participant becomes a regular member.

So whenever you see a newcomer with a 1 post next to their name, take special care to give them a quality response (and respond quickly!)

4) A branded community can increase customer sales by 19%, but rarely cultivates advocates

What about ROI? Well there are studies for this too. An interesting study suggests that online communities encourage customers to spend 19% more, but rarely develops advocates.

Using studies like these you can put together a very good idea of the potential ROI for your community.

Even if you disagree with any of these findings, you can use a similar process to see what works in your community.

These are just a handful of studies that refute things we widely believe about our field. There are many more.

Some studies will imply that most community managers jump in to resolve conflicts either too early, or too late. Others will tell you that your community doesn’t have a hope of succeeeding because the strong common interest isn’t relevant enough (and explain how to test it).

And there are many that will tell you what you need to do to get the community off the ground. There are even some cool predictive models you can use.

The point isn’t about the studies, but about the professionalization of our discipline.

The Professionalization Of Community Management

For years, community management has been intuitive, adhoc, and reactive.

In the very near future, this will change.

We have enough data now to know what does/doesn’t work.

Community development is becoming data-driven, proactive, and based upon proven theory from social science.

This is a terrifc thing, it makes our work more reliable. It’s a win for both community managers and their employers. It makes us all better at what we do.

But it’s going to worry people who are bored by data, reactive to their communities and are blissfully ignorant that some of their deeply held beliefs are very wrong. And they should be worried.

Community Objective, Strategy, Strategy, Tactics, And Actions

April 9, 2012 Comments Off on Community Objective, Strategy, Strategy, Tactics, And Actions

There is some confusion about the strategic part of community management.

This is how we think about it:


1) Objective

 The organization decides the objective. This should fit with the overall strategic goals and mission for the organization. The danger at this stage is the organization doesn't properly connect the objectives to a measurable ROI metric. 

The objective for the community must either increases revenue or reduces costs.

For a community, these objectives will be one of the following.

  • Increase repeat purchases (existing audiences spend more)
  • Increase customer retention
  • Reduce recruitment costs (or hire better staff)
  • Reduce marketing costs
  • Improve R&D
  • Reduce customer service costs (or improve customer service)
  • Develop new revenue opportunities
  • Internal: Improve productivity
  • Internal: Decrease staff turnover
  • Non-profit: Fulfilment of mission*


2) Strategy for the organization

This is the important bit, the strategy to achieve one or more of those objectives is to create a community. The community is the strategy. Developing a successful community is what we do. 

This is where it gets difficult (and the point Venessa alludes to), the strategy for the organization and the strategy for the community are different. The former is to create a community, the latter is to progress the community through the lifecycle

The organization measures the ROI of the community against the objectives it's supposed to achieve. The community manager uses community health metrics. 


3) Strategy for the community

The community manager now diagnoses what stage of the community lifecycle the community is in now, then then plots a course to progress to the next stage.

This is important. By progressing a community through the lifecycle you maximise the potential of that community. You ensure the community grows as big as it can possibly be, it's engaged as members can possibly be, and there is a strong sense of community. It's the latter two that lead to the desired ROI.


4) Tactics

Now we have the strategy, we can develop the tactics. 

We can use a framework here: 

  • Growth
  • Moderation
  • Content
  • Events/Activities
  • Relationship Development
  • User Experience
  • Business Integration

We need to know what the priority is for each of these elements of the community management role. You can see how the time spent on each changes during each phase of the life cycle.  

Specifically, you need to know how you're going to grow the community, what your moderation goals are, what content you're going to create, what events/activities you're going to initiate, who you're going to build relationships with, how you intend to test and optimize the site, and whether you need to better integrate the community with the organization.


5) Action Plan (calendar)

Finally, you take all the actions listed above and place them into an action plan (or a calendar), which highlights what will be accomplished every day. This is important, it forces you to estimate how much time it will take and allocate resources (and make trade-offs) accordingly).


For organizations, their work ends at point 2, for community managers, their work begins at point 3. 

Fake Exclusivity

March 19, 2012 Comments Off on Fake Exclusivity

Launching an exclusive community can be a great idea.

You can target and attract a specific group of people. You can generate an extremely strong sense of community amongst a group of people with a VERY strong common interest. You can build a community that delivers an incredible ROI

It's also an effective positioning tool. When there are established communities for that topic, your new community stands out. 

But, as obvious as it sounds, exclusive communities need to be exclusive. That means they're smaller, much smaller. That's the sacrifice. It has to be difficult to join. You have to have a criteria that members meet. You can't make exceptions for anyone (let alone everyone). 

It also has to make sense within the topic. It makes no sense, for example, for a community about salads to be exclusive. It does make sense for professionals. 

And if you're going to build an exclusive community, try to avoid sentences like this:

And the best part is that membership in this private club is free and open to anyone with a salad bowl, a pair of tongs and a passion for the green stuff.

You can have a private club or an open club, but you can't have both.

The Misunderstood Value Of Lurkers

March 1, 2012 Comments Off on The Misunderstood Value Of Lurkers

The value of lurkers is misunderstood.

Lurkers offer absolutely no benefit to the community. If they don’t participate, how can they offer any benefit? Other members don’t know they exist. When calculating the health of the community, lurkers aren’t included. 

A community with 10 active members and 10,000 lurkers is in considerably worse shape than a community with 50 active members and 0 lurkers.

However, lurkers may offer a benefit to the brand

The ROI of the community with 10,000 lurkers might be much higher. Lurkers may be more likely to purchase from the organization. They may become more loyal. They may be more likely to give feedback and they may tell others about the brand.

Too often we confuse the metrics used to calculate the health of the community with the metrics used to calculate the ROI of a community.