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Managing successful online communities

Matt
 

Guest Blog: How to beat your competition

The Internet is a fierce battleground for users, clicks, attention, and audience.  Competition surrounds your community from all angles and new threats constantly emerge.

The Internet has leveled the playing field for local businesses, solopreneurs, and small organizations which means more people than ever are competing for users.  Online communities are no different, and as companies realize the growing power of communities, you too may face more challenges. 

Online communities are growing faster than ever:

How is your community competing against your competitors?  Is your community growing or stagnating relative to your competitors?   

In this blog post, we identify core concepts of competitive strategy that stretch from traditional theory to unique methods of winning for communities.   

Theory of Competition

The broadly-accepted understanding of competition in the business world rests on the seminal work by Professor Michael Porter, when he mapped out the origins of competitive forces in his 1979 book “How Competitive Forces Shape Strategy.”  Fundamentally, all strategies for Porter distill into two basic options: Build on what you already do, or do something no one else can do.  

You can compete by doing what everyone else is doing but be more efficient, such as offering higher quality content, a better user experience, or having a lower price of member acquisition.  Or, you can expand the pie by forging a new position in the marketplace, such as staking out an untapped niche or developing a unique service.    

What’s your current competitive strategy: be better at what you’re already doing and your competitors, or to do something completely new?  

Emerging Theories

A new strategy on competition is emerging that is just as potent as Porter’s competitive forces. It’s especially relevant for online communities in the digital age: reacting opportunistically to emerging possibilities.  

Discovery-driven planning is the field’s most recent thinking.  It was introduced 20 years ago in works like Tim Luehrman’s “Strategy as a Portfolio of Real Options” that talked about flexibility as a strategy.  The idea was also introduced in the more recent “Stop Making Plans: Start Making Decisions” by Michael Mankins and Richard Steel, which argued for continuous strategic planning cycles.   

Online communities are impacted by – and can seize advantage of – fluctuating factors:

  • Technical advances and digital disruptions 
  • Disruptions in your industry 

The faster you react to market or technological change, the greater your advantage will become over time.  What disruption recently impacted your industry or niche?  How can you capitalize on the opportunity?  

Application to Online Communities

Online communities are at an especially powerful intersection of customers, superusers, industry experts, and brand representatives.  By assembling a broad mix of users, you gain a source of competitive knowledge and crowd wisdom unmatched by traditional businesses.  

  • Market intelligence – Harness the power of crowds by letting your members feed you real-time market intelligence on the industry, market trends, and competitors.  
  • Use technology to your advantage – Become an expert on utilizing your Invision platform as a technological advantage, whether you’re increasing visitor registrations with Post Before Registering, adding in store filters in Commerce, or enabling the application manifest settings for faster access on smartphones.
  • Collaborative ideation – Collaborate with users early in the design process to create services or products that are highly-differentiated.
  • Co-Creation – Channel your user’s expertise, enthusiasm, and product knowledge into co-created content such as tutorials, support answers, industry news, contests, and more.
  •  Brand Ambassadors – Turn your membership’s most passionate users into brand ambassadors to provide outreach and personalized connections.  

Conclusion

Communities are challenged and tested every day by a multitude of competitors that compete for users. Competition is fierce, and as the web continues to proliferate and level the playing field, competition will only get stronger. 

It’s no longer enough to host a general discussion forum.  Successful communities envision a clear competitive strategy.  

Although competition is fierce, there are winners on the Internet who consistently gain market share. 

The winners are those who understand the fundamental drivers of competition: to create sustainable advantages over their competitors, to offer unique services and experiences, and to react opportunistically.  They also leverage all facets of their community for maximum value.      

Join me in 2019 in defining your competitive strategy and becoming a Community of Excellence. 

- Joel R

Joel R is a mystery wrapped inside an enigma. When he's not running his own successful community, he's peppering Invision Community's private Slack channel with his feedback, community management experience and increasingly outrageous demands (everything is true except the last part).

Edited by Matt


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Thanks for posting my blog post.

I want to emphasize the point about reacting opportunistically, and taking advantage of changes that happen in your industry or field.  Part of that requires being aware of what's going on in your industry to begin with.  It's important to apportion part of your time to understanding what's happening to other websites, forums, communities, and brands that are in your space.  You don't have to keep up with everything all the time - but it's important to step away from your own community for a bit to see what everyone else is doing.  

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Another great article Joel! You should have your own column by now. 😁

This is the type of content I love reading about. I love that I can find it here. I love that IPS finds it useful enough to post here.

Being an admin/owner of a board is hard enough. It's time consuming.

The more time you put in the more ROI right?

That's not the case with most admins.

What I recommend...

You don't have to do this alone. It's impossible to know everything that is going on. 

Every board admin has a team. They could be paid or volunteer staff. It doesn't matter.

Start having weekly/monthyly team meetings.

Each team member has their own task. Talk about them ... 

What is the progress? 
What news do you have to share?
How is the project coming along?
Etc.

By doing this..

You will find that you will learn from your staff.
You will find that you are getting things done on time. 
You will start creating new opportunities.
More importantly, you will start reacting opportunistically to changes that you may not have been aware of.

(Yeah, that's often the case for many admins - they didn't know about ABC/XYZ until it's too late.)

For small board admins, ask questions. There is no such thing as a stupid question. 

I've been doing this for 20 years, I still ask stupid questions. I still make mistakes.

I'm still learning.

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15 minutes ago, GTServices said:

This is the type of content I love reading about. I love that I can find it here. I love that IPS finds it useful enough to post here.

I definitely agree that community management is a practice that requires it's own education.  I've become a certified community manager and there are some amazing concepts grounded in social theory, behavioral analysis, and organizational theory that I never would have known if not for those courses.  

I'm hoping IPS might think about offering something like an IPS University as a place of learning for admins who are looking to professionalize their communities.  

37 minutes ago, GTServices said:

You don't have to do this alone. It's impossible to know everything that is going on. 

Every board admin has a team. They could be paid or volunteer staff. It doesn't matter.

Start having weekly/monthyly team meetings.

Each team member has their own task. Talk about them ... 

What is the progress? 
What news do you have to share?
How is the project coming along?
Etc.

Thanks for sharing your best practice! I definitely agree that having a team and being accountable is important to the well functioning of your community and making measured progress.   

More broadly, I think its all about discipline.  For the beginning years of my community, I did everything myself (because I only needed one person).  But you have to be organized and disciplined.  I keep a "website diary" of all the important changes that I made, my thoughts, and links for things I'd like to investigate in the future.  It's helped me so many rimes to go back and see what I was working on.  

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