Double Down on Your Community’s CTA

March 21, 2017 Comments Off on Double Down on Your Community’s CTA

Do you think Reddit’s homepage would be better if it was shorter?

What if it was divided into different sections with a featured top 5 list, a place to get involved, a place to search, and a big graphic announcing members can ‘join, share, and connect’ with people like themselves?

Reddit’s homepage works so well because it doubles-down on what the audience most wants to do; browse discussions to find something entertaining.

It’s important to double-down on the most important call to action instead of trying to cater to every possible CTA. Almost every wildly successful community I can think of doubled-down on a single CTA instead of appeal to every possible CTA.

This matters a lot. If (like Reddit) you have the top 25 discussions instead of 5 you are 500% more likely to find a discussion that engages you. This has a HUGE change upon participation habits.

Spend some time browsing the most popular communities and social networking sites. You will usually see the same thing. They found one single CTA that gripped their audience and devoted almost everything towards doing it well.

It turns out, hedging your bets on a community homepage isn’t a great strategy.


The Goal of A Homepage Is To Persuade A Visitor To Take Action

The goal of a homepage is to persuade a visitor to take action (even if that action is reading).

The secret isn’t in the language you use to persuade someone to take that action (although that’s not irrelevant) but determining what causes people to take that action in the first place. The design doesn’t matter if you’re driving people to the wrong action.

This task has to make their lives better. It also has to help you achieve your community goals. This is the critical task you want every visitor to perform.

This call to action (CTA) typically falls into seven common categories.

1)  Share what you’re doing and thinking (Facebook/Twitter/Nextdoor). This works best in social networks where members have cultivated their own following/relationships. It’s less successful in communities with a strong common interest (niche/topic focus), but weaker connections between members. The benefit here is people constantly update what they’re doing to build and maintain their social status.

2)  Share something interesting (Reddit/ProductHunt/Inbound). This works in communities where members have weaker connections but want to build their reputation, gain validation, or get attention. This is excellent when filtering large quantities of information for quality is a problem. It doesn’t work in small sectors with limited sources of information. The major benefit here is people visit every day to be entertained or see new ideas they can use.

3)  Search for solutions / information (ATT / Airbnb etc..). This works in support communities with a lot of repetitive questions with a large potential audience who most critically want a good solution to their problem. You want people to find the answer before they need to ask the question.

4)  Share a problem/get help on a problem you want to solve. This works in new or small communities where getting new questions is more difficult than delivering good answers. This helps drive traffic and activity. It can help people get answers to questions they may ask elsewhere.

5)  Participate in interesting discussions. This works in communities of interest where discussions have no clear purpose beyond getting to know and talk about a topic members enjoy. Most hobbyist communities fall into this category.

6)  Connect/join/subscribe/follow. This works best when you have lots of newcomers (to the topic) visiting the site who need guidance to understand where they belong within the field. You can help guide them to the right group of them. This works best in communities for large subject matters with lots of subgroups

7)  Learn and read information. This works in content-driven sites where activity is based on new information shared from a leader, expert, or established the source. Many news sites fall into this category.

This isn’t an exhaustive list (Kaggle wants people to join and host competitions for example). However, it’s a list you can use to begin testing calls to action to find the best fit. While you can and should) research your audience (interviews, surveys, and observational analysis) to make an educated guess about the best CTA to use, the best feedback will come from testing.

Once you find the right CTA, double down on it. Don’t try to appeal to every possible use case for the community.

Find the single thing your community most wants to do and devote most of the available space, content, and activity towards it.

It’s probably not what you think it is today.

p.s. We’re looking for a few more reviews on our community platform comparison tool, can you share yours?

Switching Online Community Platforms

Replacing your community platform with another might replace your current set of problems with another.

Switching platforms is not a silver bullet to increasing engagement or the end of your technology challenges.

This doesn’t mean it doesn’t help. Some of our clients have seen great success switching platforms. But it’s a calculated risk. You need to know the risks and how to navigate them.


  • Members will be upset for 1 to 3 months. They will express this publicly. Prepare both your community and your team to ride this out. Watch what people are doing not what they are saying.
  • Visiting and participation habits will be disrupted. The greater the change, the bigger the disruption. The metrics you’re measured by might drop significantly. Don’t panic. Ignore the sudden spikes or dips immediately after the launch. Wait and see the trends after a few weeks.
  • Your search traffic might decline. Any structural change will affect search rankings of hundreds (or thousands) of content items. This can become a sharp decrease in new visitors to the community. Speak to a technical SEO consultant before you’ve made the shift. New platforms can easily create a lot of thin content.
  • New technology challenges will arise. You might solve one set of challenges to be replaced by many others. Be informed about the likely challenges. Read reviews of Lithium, Jive, Salesforce, Telligent, HigherLogic, and Vanilla etc… to learn what these problems might be. They won’t come up on sales calls.
  • The implementation will take longer and cost more than you anticipate. Prepare for the implementation to take far longer than you expected and for additional costs to arise to fix new bugs. Add a 15% contingency budget. Even the more detailed of plans need revision once they’re live.

Switching platforms often makes sense, just don’t underestimate the total cost of doing it.

p.s. Remember this week to submit your reviews to our online community comparison tool.
p.p.s. Happy to help.

Compare Lithium, Jive, Salesforce, HigherLogic, Vanilla, Discourse (and more)

It’s hard to select and implement a community platform.

You need to know the different platforms, their pricing tiers, comparable features, and know if others liked the platform.

Then you need to see demos of each and negotiate with each. It’s an exhaustive, risky, process.

We’ve spent 5 months pulling together our experiences (and data) into a simple tool that can do this for you. Today, we’re happy to launch our online community platform tool which lets you compare, filter, and read the reviews of the top platforms.

If you want to know what these platforms cost, what features they offer, what community professionals think of each of them, and get quotes, click here.

The tool is entirely free to use – we only ask you to help us out by submitting a review of platforms you’ve used in the past.

Test The Idea Before You Do Deep Development

February 1, 2017 Comments Off on Test The Idea Before You Do Deep Development

Don’t do big development projects without testing the idea manually first.

Want to build a quest/badging system with unique journeys for different members? Do it manually first (yes, reach out to each member with an email when they reach each stage).

You want all the information before you begin development.

Don’t launch a huge ambassador program, try to find some way of recognizing one person for their expertise and seeing how it works.

Don’t build an automation series without manually testing different ideas first.

Don’t revamp your homepage without testing the unique elements for popularity first.

Making changes post-development is expensive, time-intensive, and costs you a lot of internal capital. You need to test every major development before you do it. These insights will inform and drive what you do.

There aren’t many ideas you can’t test manually first.

Aside, 50% of the time you’ll learn that the big development project has no real impact and you can skip it. You’re welcome!


January 17, 2017 Comments Off on [NEW] [UNPROVEN] [TESTED]

Fake news isn’t a behavior problem, it’s a taxonomy problem.

The Onion has been serving up fake news for two decades without (much) complaint.

The problem is when fake news that pretends to be real news.

You can’t build relationships with a proven army of fact-checkers to distinguish what isn’t true. But that’s not the problem for you. Your problem isn’t disproving the negative, but highlighting the positive.

Build a set of categories that help members find the best stuff. Have 5 to 10 respected community members help. Build a set of categories. Begin simply with the following:

  • [NEW] – for genuinely new ideas in the community.
  • [UNPROVEN] – when there isn’t much evidence it succeeds yet.
  • [TESTED] – for when the idea has been tested by members and generally accepted.

Now members can quickly find the latest cutting edge ideas, see what’s tested and has worked, and what’s not proven yet – but might work. You can use more than one tag at a time.

Looking for the good is far more fun and useful than trying to remove the bad.

Document How Every Page Is Used

October 27, 2016 Comments Off on Document How Every Page Is Used

Most communities have far too many pages.

This is bad for the user experience (and bad for SEO).

Take a few minutes during lunch to pick a random page and analyze who is using it and why.

You can do this through your own metrics and augment that data with a survey (either as a pop-up request) or a simple link.

In your data look at:

  • Where did people arrive from?
  • Where did people go next?
  • How long did they spend on the page?
  • Where do they click on the page?
  • What is the value of the page?

In your survey ask what people want on the page and how it can be improved.

You will often discover:

1) You have a niche group of people who want something specific. This might be a unique group of people you can target through unique content, SEO, events, expert webinars etc…

2) You can either improve this page or deliver the information in a better format. Once you know exactly what people want, you can improve the page. It might work better as information in the onboarding of members, as a specific downloadable resource, or simply to prioritize the information better on the page itself.

3) You can close the page down. Often the page might not deliver enough value and you can remove it entirely.

Try this for one obscure page and test your results. The information might create unique opportunities.

Reputation Signals And Resumés

StackOverflow introduces one of the most impressive new community ideas in a while; technical resumés.

Members can now create a story based upon their score and contributions to the community. This lets the top members stand out and gives employers more information.

Not everyone will use it. Most people don’t have a good enough reputation. I suspect though as employers see it more and more often they might start requesting it.

This is such an incredibly useful (and transferable) idea.

The genius is using a reputation score as an asset which offers members something of even greater value (which is the way reputation is supposed to work). Good scores (and extra participation/helping people) can lead to better career prospects.

Perhaps having an entire developer story is beyond your site’s coding ability, but having a single grading, rating, or score that can be easily linked to for employers is definitely an idea that can be used elsewhere.

Hiring an employee is usually a $50k+ decision. If you have two equal candidates but one has solved 134 questions, is a top-10 rated member, and has a solid track record over several years, it’s not really a close contest.

For most of us, this is going to mean figuring out how to include two simple questions.

How many problems have members solved and how difficult were those problems? How can you let members show this off?

The Primary Call To Action

October 17, 2016 Comments Off on The Primary Call To Action

What do you think the BestBuy community wants you to do?


They want you to search for an answer.

What is the primary thing you want most visitors (or members) to do when they visit your community?

  • Search for an answer?
  • Ask a question?
  • Share a tip?
  • Share what they are working on?
  • Connect with people like them?
  • Message someone new?
  • Share a problem?
  • Submit a column?

Put this call to action at the very top of your page.

Leaving Potential On The Table

October 3, 2016 Comments Off on Leaving Potential On The Table

Communication (between members) is the most important part of a community, but it’s not the only part. Don’t stop at a simple forum. Push your technology further.

There are many directions you can go in.

1) Add a blog or main news page. Write about what members are doing. Feature contributions from members. Do roundups of the sector. Highlight what’s going on. This is your local newspaper.

2) Reviews and ratings. Add ratings and reviews of the top product vendors. Let members add their reviews. Host awards for the highest rated.

3) Document / wiki. Document the collective wisdom of the group. Create the definitive database for the sector. Have guides for newcomers, experts, and people tackling the most common problems. This works really well if the community is based around a product.

4) Organize events. Online or offline. Create your own events. Host interviews with experts. Better, let members organize their own events. Let them host their own interviews too.

5) Ratings. Create a reputation system. Make it easier for the top members to stand out.

6) Add courses. Develop learning or training modules people can progress through. This raises the quality of discussion.

Most community platforms enable you to do all of the above. If you are on an open source platform, you can add features when you need them at little cost.

Two common mistakes here. The first is stopping once the forum is going. This leaves a pile of potential on the table. The second is trying to implement all of the above at once (especially from the beginning). You need a lively hub of activity before you can add the above.

Once the forum is going, start pushing your technology a little further.