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Managing successful online communities

Matt
 

Guest Blog: How to incorporate new features into your community

Today, we're handing over our blog to long time client and friend to Invision Community, Joel R.

@Joel R is often found hanging out in our community offering his insight and wisdom when he's not harassing the team in Slack.

Over to Joel.

Invision Community releases a variety of blockbuster features in every major update, which usually hits once a year.  You may think those updates are not enough (it’s never enough!), but I wanted to spend some time talking about how to survey and incorporate those features into your community systematically. 

This blog post is not about any specific feature, but more a general and philosophical approach in integrating the newest features.  My goal is to help you get the most out of every new IPS update!      

You may think that many of the features in the updates are easy to assess.  You either want them or don’t.  But it’s not that easy. 


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I was inspired by some recent personal experiences when I found myself revisiting features from 4.2 and earlier.  I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I still had so much to experience and learn from those features, all of which I had previously reviewed when they were initially released.  Invision Community comes packed with rich features, and no community manager is expected to be a master at everything.  But a systematic approach is your best chance at making sure you get the most out of every feature.

To give a personal example, I jumped into Social Media Promotion when it first came out in 4.2.  The new Social Media Promotion offers several powerful tools for social media cross-posting, and I immediately wanted to learn how I could use it to cross-post content to my Facebook and Twitter accounts.  It’s an easy drop-in replacement for services like Hootsuite or Windscribe and allows community managers to drip interesting content to their social media pages for constant advertising and social engagement.

Well, it turns out my Facebook and Twitter reach is nil because I have no followers (wish I was more Internet famous!), so I soon lost interest and dropped Social Media Promotion as a tool.

A couple of months ago, I was assessing my homepage versus other popular websites when I came across a startling realization: I could make a gorgeously visual homepage on par with Instagram using Our Picks – a feature of Social Media Promotion.

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I would intentionally ignore the social media component, but use the other component of Our Picks for a beautiful new homepage.  The context of using Our Picks for a homepage opened my eyes to a whole new way to evaluate Social Media Promotion, and what was once a feature on the back burner is now – literally - the front page of my Invision community.  I love it!   

To help you incorporate new Invision features, I’ve brainstormed 5 strategies on how to make the most out of Invision feature updates.  Each strategy comes with a mini-lesson for an action plan. 

1.    Learn the knowledge, not the feature.
This is my personal motto when Invision Community releases a new feature.  I’m more concerned about the knowledge and broader usage of the feature than implementing the feature itself: What’s the potential scope of the feature?  In what context could the feature be used?  How did Invision Community intend for the future to be used, and what are other ways it can be used?  

I’ve never worried about the technical configuration of the feature.  You enable or disable some settings, and that’s it.  But what’s more important is how the functionality can best be integrated and in what context.  You never know when you might come back to the feature for the next great idea, and you can only do that if you possess the knowledge and application behind the feature.  

Lesson: Try every feature at least once, even if you don’t need it.
    
2.    When at first you don’t succeed, take a nap.
Some things take a while to think about.  Don’t try to cram through all new Invision Community features.  There’s too many to digest in one pass.

Assess the features you’re most interested in one by one, play with each feature until you’re satisfied, test them, find out how they work, and when you get frustrated, take a nap.  Eat some ice cream.  Go jogging.  And revisit in a month.  The bigger the feature, the longer you should think about it.
  
The biggest “aha” moments didn’t come to me right away.  When you try to rush through a feature, you can get rushed results.  Take your time to bounce ideas around your head and try to think through the context of how to best utilize the feature.   

Lesson: For features that you like, set a calendar to revisit after a month.  Then take a nap.  

3.    You’re running the marathon, not a sprint.  
Successful community managers have evolved with the changing needs of our audiences.  While our mission remains the same, the backdrop of user expectations and digital trends has dramatically changed.  

When you implement a feature, you should be evaluating it for both sustainability and longevity.

Is this a sustainable mechanism to keep up with? 
Is this something that I want to continue for the foreseeable future?  

It’s nice to play with new features; every major update is like a Christmas unwrapping of new features.  But you need to prudently pick-and-choose which feature is most appropriate and how it can give you an impact for the long-term.  Sometimes it’s better to do a few things very well than many things not well at all.

Lesson: Ask yourself if you see yourself using the feature 3 years later?

4.    Make it uniquely yours
Invision Community ships with default features ready to use out of the box, but those features are just that: default.  We like to dress up our theme with custom colors, designs, and logos.  You should apply the same flair for customization with your features.

Some features are ready to be customized: reactions, ranks, and group promotion.  Others, however, might take more thinking.  Here are some examples to spark your creativity:

•    Social Sign-in Streamline – are you using the default message, or did you customize it with a unique and clever introduction?  
•    Fluid Forum – did you activate fluid forum and hope it went well?  Or did you use it as an opportunity to re-analyze your entire forum structure for the modern web?  
•    Leaderboard – did you leave it as a Leaderboard, or could it be Genius board for a technology company, or Joyboard for a nonprofit, or Loyaltyboard for a consumer brand?

Lesson: Make the feature uniquely yours.

5.    Talk through your scenario
Every battle-tested community manager knows that the only thing constant is change – whether it’s our forum software, ACP settings, user expectations, and broader digital trends.  It’s important to find a trusted circle of friends and users who can help you steer and implement features.  It may sound great in your head, but other users may look at it very differently. 

On my site, I have a trusted group of users called “Champions.”  In my pre-planning stage, I float my ideas by them as early in the process as possible.  They’ve provided valuable feedback of user expectations with differing perspectives.  I’ve nixed certain features based on their veto, and I’ve tweaked continuously based upon their continuous input.  Talk through your scenario with your trusted friends, and not just with the voices in your own head!    

Community management is such a uniquely rewarding and challenging role because every community demands and needs a different set of features.   Invision makes it easy with regular releases of exciting features, but you also need to make the most out of those features on your own.  Don’t just turn on the next feature: turn on excitement, joy, and community.  

If you notice, I didn’t include a lesson yet in my last strategy when you’re ready to talk about your scenario.  And that’s because it’s the ultimate lesson:

Write the next guest post in the Invision Community Blog and share your own success story in how you adopted a new Invision feature.  We’d love to hear about it.

Thanks Joel!

We love this angle on how to best evaluate the myriad of opportunities the Invision Community software allows.

What is your biggest take-away from Joel's advice?
 

Edited by Matt


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On 8/30/2018 at 10:44 AM, Kirill Gromov said:

Joel to IPS Staff news maker!!!

😍 Thanks for the kind words.  Also, thank you to IPS for letting me be a guest blogger for one day.

I should have tried to join the IPS staff, they're handing out million dollar checks to staff members!! 

On a serious note, I think there are always things to learn for community management, no matter your experience level or years of administration.  There's so much to learn, from socializing concepts and behavioral theory to actual implementation and execution -- and I'm hoping that IPS can become a knowledge community where we can learn, share, and rely on each other. 

Edited by Joel R

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@Matt

I was typing the other day and I made a mistake, I pressed : and typed two letters, then my post field/box was invaded with emojis. I thought it was a cool feature but I have struggled to trigger it since, I know how too now and I have seen the "shortcut" feature on the ACP.

However, I am certain there are things we can learn about the front end that people might not be aware of.


A future idea for this section?

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