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Managing successful online communities


Master your community's lifecycle to increase your growth

“Every success story is a tale of constant adaption, revision and change.” – Richard Branson, billionaire and founder of Virgin Group.

We all seek success with our Invision Communities. For too many of our communities, however, we yearn for success but we don’t plot the correct navigation to get there. We haphazardly pursue our strategies, trying new ideas and hoping one will stick. It’s time to take a step back and assess your goals in context to your growth. It’s important to understand the stages of the community lifecycle, and to strategically match your goals with your growth sequence.

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Alicia Iriberri and Gondy Leroy of Claremont Graduate University surveyed over 1000 publications across multiple disciplines including computer science, information systems, sociology, and management in their seminal 2009 research paper “A Life-Cycle Perspective on Online Community Success.” Their research forms the foundation for most modern community management, and in their paper they write, “The impact each design component has on the success of the online community shifts depending on which life-cycle stage the online community is experiencing.” The right strategy at the right time will maximize the impact.

Every community goes through a community lifecycle of four stages: Inception, Growth, Maturity, and Mitosis.
 

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Setting the wrong objective can not only fail, it can even backfire and destroy goodwill. Here are classic examples of good strategies that go wrong because of poor sequencing:

  • A new community with no activity that builds dozens of new boards
  • A growth community not fostering a unique sense of community
  • A mature community not establishing strong codes of conduct


Architecting a community is very different for the first ten users versus the next thousand users. New priorities come into play, community concerns will shift and strategies need tochange. As a community manager, ensure the strategy is appropriate and reflects your community lifecycle to ensure maximum impact.


Let’s take a look at proper goal settings for each stage of the community lifecycle.


Inception
Inception is the start of your community. You’re bursting with energy, enthusiasm, and big ideas. While your Invision Community is full of potential, your goal is to turn your vision into reality:

  • Members: Focus on nurturing a core team of members. Your goal is to get 10 – 12 superusers to consistently engage and support the community vision.
  • Promotion: Your community won’t contain enough content to attract visitors through search engines, so you’ll have to rely on personal referrals, word-of-mouth, and direct acquaintances.
  • Content: Focus on building expertise on core content areas that will make you stand out. You want to be the best in one subject. You’ll need to generate much of the content programming yourself, which should focus on functional value.
  • Organization: Establish organizational parameters for the community, define the vision with stakeholders, write your Terms of Use, and validate the community concept.
  • Community: The community is heavily centered around the community founder at this stage, so set the right tone and lead through example.


Growth
Growth is where the magic of community happens, balanced against the development of more explicit and formal conduct.

  • Members: Shift your focus from nurturing individual users to creating a workflow that can systematically welcome new members.
  • Promotion: You should be proactive with your self-promotional activities to build community awareness such as email marketing, social media, or mailing lists.
  • Content: Content will now be a mix between self-generated and co-created. You want to highlight community content by others to encourage community expertise. When you create content yourself, you want to start including emotionally-driven questions that connect users.
  • Organization: Measure specific metrics for organization goals, highlight community health and successes, secure funding for ongoing budget and team.
  • Community: A unique sense of community is cultivated at this time with shared experiences and language between members. Members feel excited to be a part of your community’s growth.

        
Maturity
Maturity is when your Invision Community becomes critically acclaimed and well-known in the field. Even though your community looks to be run smoothly, there are still areas to address so your community doesn’t stagnate:

  • Members: There should be a clearly defined process and welcome guide for onboarding new members, an established pipeline that constantly brings on new superusers, and a rewards program that recognizes members for different types of member journeys.
  • Promotion: Your site is well-known, so the search engine traffic and content within your community is enough to bring in new users. You can optimize your SEO at this point.
  • Content: Almost all content is user-created at this point, which means your focus needs to shift to content recognition, organization, and moderation. Highlight the best community content; categorize and properly tag new content so the community stays organized; and scale your moderation to handle the size of your community.
  • Organization: The community is a key part of your organization’s larger success and supports multiple areas of the business. Be a strong internal advocate for the community and align your community with your organization’s new profit areas.
  • Community: Superusers not only have the privilege of creating their own content for the community, but they’ve stepped up as mentors and moderators. Your community has a strong culture that’s reinforced by members.


Mitosis
Mitosis is the stage when your Invision Community grows beyond its original mission, potentially splitting off into new subgroups. Many communities stagnate at this point with falling engagement and plateauing registration, but you’re catching onto the next big trend in your industry to grow into.

  • Members: New member registrations flatlines because you’re tracking with the industry. Your goal is to continue to delight members with new forms of omnichannel engagement like regional meetups, video conferencing, and headline conferences.
  • Promotion: Your community self-generates organic traffic. Your promotion should shift from trying to advertise for yourself to exerting influence with industry partners as a trusted leader in the field.
  • Content: Members can find the most comprehensive set of resource documents and discussion on your community. Your goal is to distill the knowledge into the best tips and guides for newcomers to obtain the most accurate information as quickly as possible. You should also archive areas that no longer receive activity while finding growth topics in your field.
  • Organization: The community is a critical part of all business operations and integrates into all relevant workflows. You should build custom metrics to measure results, help determine new investment decisions, and streamline business efficiencies at the organizational level that benefit the community.
  • Community: Your community becomes an incubator of new sections in a controlled manner for potential spin-off. Superusers control and moderate their own areas of the site like Clubs or Blogs.

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Online communities evolve through distinct stages of the community lifecycle. At each stage, the needs and activities of members require different tools, features, and community management. Certain strategies are more impactful when they coincide with the right sequence.


Invision Community makes it easy to get started with a technology platform packed with features that every community manager can start using right away. But how you get to the first ten users, to the first thousand posts, or even to one billion likes will be a journey that’s truly your own.


Share your success story of Invision Community in the comments below. Did you make any rookie mistakes that you wish you knew beforehand? What are some strategies that you’re pursuing right now, and why do you think it’s an impactful decision for this stage of your community’s lifecycle?

We’d love to hear your journey along the community lifecycle.


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Facts!!

Thank you for this Joel.

 

One of our "Rookie Mistakes" back in 2017 was that we tried to have every single app and plugin that the marketplace offered, then try to "cram" it all into One place, not creating "doors" that led into other places to find "More"

Also we were changing Themes way to much and too often

 

Now, we have staff meetings every week, we have each staff member familiar with IPS and it's Powerful Core Features, then they are always going thru the marketplace to research key apps and plugins to make sure they are needed, not needed, and pro's vs con's of having them

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On 4/11/2019 at 5:45 AM, Mr. Fierce God said:

One of our "Rookie Mistakes" back in 2017 was that we tried to have every single app and plugin that the marketplace offered

I think a lot of us overdose on the Marketplace (looking at you @SJ77!!) And I'm guilty if this too (sorry Tier 1 support!!) but I do believe that as long as you have a significant reason for the Marketplace app or plugin then you'll be fine.  

Its one thing to install something like a Member of the Month app where it's a central component of your community activity, versus an app that you think will magically run itself.  And that's where I think a lot of us get into trouble with the big apps or plugins, where we don't invest the time or energy or strategy to make it a central focus.  

On 4/11/2019 at 5:45 AM, Mr. Fierce God said:

creating "doors" that led into other places to find "More"

Great point.  This goes to the new article by @Matt on Primark Cafe where they're creating new experiences.  

You see this with malls in the United States, where instead of the same boring department stores they're inviting more "pop up" stores for unique and changing experiences.  

From my own life, I just spent the weekend shopping at Ikea.  I don't furniture shop at all, but my friend dragged me to the store - and whoa!  For anybody who does not know about Ikea's furniture stores, it's not a store -- it's an experience.  You're eating Swedish meatballs, the kids are in the play area, you're on their walking tour of Swedish ingenuity, you're surrounded by these amazing full room installations of new cabinets and lighting and pillows and furniture that are perfectly curated, and by the end of the day, your life goal is to sell your home, move to Sweden, and rent an 800 square foot economy space just so you can redecorate a multi purpose living / kitchen / bedroom and install one of their crazy lighting fixtures and your life really won't be complete until you do so.  

You still need to offer functional value to your members as a fundamental reason to visit your community.  But layered on top of that functional value is how you want to deliver, present, and delight your users.  Whether that's Instagram-ready visuals, a compelling tour through your site, or Swedish meatballs 🤣, that's the hard part of creating a unique community experience.  

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@Joel R Just to be clear, I don't really have 98% of the marketplace as the rumor @Rhett has started. Maybe only 96% LOL .. I kid.

Hey someone has to keep the 3rd party folks funded!!! I'm an altruist dammit!!!

Realistically I have lately been limiting it to things I really need that my clients depend on. Right now I have 4.4 running  smoothly with a paired back limited set of specialized plugins that are supported very well by the BEST developers we have here. 

However, I have made similar rookie mistakes back in my SMF/phpbb .. specifically phpBB I had so many modifications I ended up basically destroying the site. 😞

I don't want to get too philosophical but there are conflicting interests at play here. From the IPB perspective they need the software to be GENERAL so that it will run well and suit the needs of the widest audience possible. However as a site owner you need the opposite. You need your site to be very unique, targeted and specific. This is how you can best appeal to your niche and win in your market. That can only be achieved with 3rd party plugins.

IPS knows this and have done a VERY good job at making their software (all things considered) bullet proof. It handles the 3rd party stuff in a genius way with specific hooks and deals with the change very well. Clever enable/disable features really help.

Great article Joel!!!! 🙂 🙂

Edited by SJ77

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I always see it as a literal “evolutionary” process. I constantly try out new “mutations”, i.e. features. If they turn out to be beneficial, I might put more work into them and make them more prominent. If they do not work, I scale them back slowly (e.g. by first demoting them in the menus) and remove them eventually. There certainly is a danger in adding too much stuff. Not just in regards to the software conflicts you will get, but also in the way you confuse your users. I even have tons of “display:none” declarations in my theme to hide stock functionality. Often less is more. 

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Good article. I'm going to have to look into the archive feature. I haven't done that but have some old topics that should probably be archived. Made me think of each of my sites and what stage they are at. 

 @Joel R those Swedish meatballs at IKEA are the bomb!  

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