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Managing successful online communities


2019 Year of Community

It's a new year, and a new beginning. And the possibilities are endless for you and your community.

It’s an exciting time to be leading an online community with Invision Community - whether you’re starting out or switching over - and the new year is the perfect opportunity to start anew.

How are you celebrating the new year with your community? What are your community goals for 2019?

To kick off the new year, I’ve outlined guidance for several types of communities, whether you’re just starting out or you’re looking to take your community to the next level.

New Community
Are you a new community or looking to start one? You’re in the best position because you have a blank slate and everything is possible. Invest in a formative experience during your first year of defining your community’s purpose.

  • What are your community’s mission, goals, and objectives?
  • What is your competitive advantage against other similar communities or are you developing a new niche? How are you going to develop content programming, site features, or digital services in support of that advantage?
  • What is your marketing plan to attract new users?
  • Who is your core base of users, and what’s your plan to cultivate your first set of superusers?
  • What is your budget to create a sustainable plan for hosting?

Interest Community
Are you a hobbyist with an established community of passion? Your community is a labor of love for you, and while it can feel like you’re pouring your heart and soul into it on a daily basis, it can be refreshing to take a step back and take stock of your community’s purpose, engagement goals, and how you want to lead in 2019 through fresh eyes.

  • What’s your plan to create more emotionally-driven storytelling in your community? How are you going to deepen your tribal connection to users and between users?
  • How can you incorporate member feedback into your New Year’s resolutions through polls, surveys, and member insights?
  • How are you building a scalable community that leverages automation, staff, and user generated content to achieve your objectives?
  • What are your engagement metrics year over year for 2018, and what is your projection for 2019 metrics like active members, online activity, best answers, and other user targets?
  • How are you going to achieve those engagement metrics through initiatives like new pathways for engagement or enhanced training for staff?

Enterprise
Are you a brand community that’s part of a parent organization? Your organization probably already understands the value of investing in an online community, but rest assured that you’re in good company. In the 50th Anniversary report by the research firm IDC, it’s estimated that 80% of all Fortune 5000 companies will host an online community by 2020.

As a community manager, you’ve probably covered all the basics such as approving your community’s budget for the new year, provided performance reviews of your staff, and mapped out your community strategy to align with organizational goals. Nevertheless, there are always more opportunities to increase your community’s prominence:

  • What new early-stage relationships do you want to cultivate with employees, suppliers, vendors or partners?
  • How can you create more networking touch points between your community and key constituencies to deliver community-driven solutions?
  • How can you present your community’s data to stakeholders in new ways for better insight?
  • How can you vest key stakeholders into community decisions and let them be a rewarding part of the conversation?
  • What growth areas are happening within the organization, and how can you make the community be an integral part of its delivery?

My personal New Year’s resolution is to develop my website into a Community of Excellence. This involves incorporating thought leadership from professional community management resources, making data-driven decisions, and formalizing a growth plan based on best practices. I hope you’ll join me in a year-long journey of community management as we conceptualize, learn, and discuss how to co-build Communities of Excellence.

It’s a new year of endless opportunities to drive new growth and excellence for our members and communities.

What are your community goals for 2019? Share in the comments below or in the exclusive Client Lounge in the Invision Community forums, so we can cheer each other on, check-in periodically, and provide peer mentorship for each other.

Join me in a Year of Community.

- 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).

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12 hours ago, Farook said:

How often do we come across people who work without asking for anything in return.. We have samples like this all over

Ha, so true! There's a theory of 90-9-1 participation inequality in online communities that goes something like this:

90% of all users won't do anything (lurkers)

9% of all users contribute a little

1% of all users contribute most

That's the nature of human participation in online communities and ... That's okay.  It's okay if most users don't participate or contribute.  It doesn't mean they don't feel valued or a part of the community.  There's research that shows Lurkers still feel a bond to the community and enjoy reading, even if they never write anything themselves.  

In terms of asking users for help, there are some interesting insight that might be helpful. 

1. Users actually feel a greater connection to the community the more they participate. There was an article awhile by Matt on gamification and building a "loyalty program," and in a way, you should think of your users' interaction with your community as a loyalty program.  How are you cultivating stronger loyalty and progressing them on a value curve? 

2. Leadership sets the way.  I've discovered that people tend to be followers.  There are very few true Alphas.  We all follow rules for everything ... On the road, social etiquette, workplace professionalism, our life is ruled by rules! So it's hard to ask users to create something truly brand new.  What I do, especially on large projects, is do the first couple of items myself.  It not only shows them what to do, but it breaks the mental barrier of how to do it.  It's small but an important psychological opening.  

3. Don't over-ask.  I view my user's time and attention and clicks as a gift, not a privilege.  There are plenty of things in their lives that probably deserve more attention than my little community, so any attention they give to me is precious.  I'm always respectful of their time before I ask them to take on a large project.  

4. Nobody cares as much as you, but you can set the tone.  I laughed at your picture because it's so true.  In behavioral economics, there's the dilemma of the principal-agency problem.  Hiring a person to do the job is never as good as doing the job yourself, since they will never care as much as you.  To combat this, I spend a lot of my time talking about how to go about something, the best way of doing it, and the standards that we should have.  It helps establish a common framework of high standards.  I run a private club for my community's superusers.  And all we do is talk about best practices to activate the community ... We talk about how club leaders can more effectively run their clubs, how they can post differently for more engagement, etc.  It sets the tone for my community so that if they DO see a problem, they don't just ignore it, they have a way of getting it resolved -- and I thank them for taking the time to report or fix issues to reinforce the positive behavior.  

You're asking users to overcome their innate laziness and achieve a higher potential.  

You've noticed the problem.  How are you going to spend 2019 to overcoming it? 

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25 minutes ago, Joel R said:

There's a theory of 90-9-1 participation inequality in online communities that goes something like this:

90% of all users won't do anything (lurkers)

9% of all users contribute a little

1% of all users contribute most

Yes, I agree with this. I and one or two others are in that 1%. About 9% participate regularly and meaningfully. The rest lurk and participate from time to time or joined and have never done anything. I see no need to cull inactive members. I have joined forums in the past for whatever reason and never participate yet appreciate being a member on those forums so that I may have the option to participate if/when I choose.

31 minutes ago, Joel R said:

1. Users actually feel a greater connection to the community the more they participate. There was an article awhile by Matt on gamification and building a "loyalty program," and in a way, you should think of your users' interaction with your community as a loyalty program.  How are you cultivating stronger loyalty and progressing them on a value curve?

2. Leadership sets the way.  I've discovered that people tend to be followers.  There are very few true Alphas.  We all follow rules for everything ... On the road, social etiquette, workplace professionalism, our life is ruled by rules! So it's hard to ask users to create something truly brand new.  What I do, especially on large projects, is do the first couple of items myself.  It not only shows them what to do, but it breaks the mental barrier of how to do it.  It's small but an important psychological opening.

I believe in leading by example and have found that users are inspired and participate more when I am active. I am inactive often for complex reasons of my own, but I am not an absentee. I am always available if a member needs help, and I am always watching/monitoring all activity that does take place. This means that even if I am not visibly active I am active behind the scenes.

40 minutes ago, Joel R said:

3. Don't over-ask.  I view my user's time and attention and clicks as a gift, not a privilege.  There are plenty of things in their lives that probably deserve more attention than my little community, so any attention they give to me is precious.  I'm always respectful of their time before I ask them to take on a large project.  

My users are free to participate as much or as little as they choose. I tell them this. At the same time, the same goes for me, and anyone who grumbles about my lack of participation (or anything else) can **** off. His admission fee of $0.00 will be refunded at the door. I couldn't care less about his clicks, and I'm not kissing anyone's ***. I provide an outlet, my forum, for which I have my own vision. Those who find it fits their needs are welcome to use my forum (in accordance with the rules) to fit their own needs and vision even when theirs is not completely in line with my own. I see myself like a trustee of the site; I manage it, I curate its content, and I pay for it month after month, year after year. While I'm excited when someone joins and/or participates meaningfully -- I tell them this! -- I couldn't care less if he prefers to focus his attention elsewhere whether IRL or on the net. Whenever I have had members complain about lack of activity, I tell them to create it; they are the source of the activity. I have found that often the complainers tend to be people who expect from others yet don't give in return. I and others who participate in meaningful ways will not be constrained to serve as sources of narcissistic supply for these members. Then there is the other type of member who joins and hits it hot and heavy expecting others to match his enthusiasm. Again, I am excited by his initial enthusiasm, but I don't expect others to match it, nor do I see the need to do the same. After all, I have plenty of things in my life that "deserve more attention" than some newcomer's expectations. I don't have any guarantee that he will always be there just because he shows up guns blazing. It's entirely possible that that type of new member would happier elsewhere, and that's okay, too. 

All that said, when the forum has been slow and valued members have expressed sincere concern about it, I tell them that the point is to get their content (their writing) out there. It's not only about the number of immediate replies one gets. The number of reads/views counts, too. Someone could read a member's submission a year (or five years) from now and be prompted to reply then. I am in it for the long haul.

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Hey @tonyv thanks for sharing! I totally get everything that you're saying because I've been there - some of your emotions were what I was thinking even just this weekend, ha.  

In general, I think users AND admins fall into the "engagement trap." We keep wanting more views, clicks, and reactions.  Some suggestions:

1. Consolidate.  Focus on a few things that your site does very well to sustain a level of activity.  I think having "core activity" is an important part for a community for survive, and that may mean re-focusing or eliminating empty sections.  I see a lot of new sites try to do everything for everybody, which spreads out the activity.  Users get excited over one great experience, not a bunch of mediocre ones.  

I personally have a "rule of 12" for new categories or sections on my board.  There must be 12 users who would use it on a recurring basis for it to make sense.  

2. Users seek  engagement feedback because ... That's the only thing they know to ask about! Really! 

They need to change the paradigm in how they understand or evaluate their posting.  And that means you, as admin, need to change the goalposts.  You must change how theyre rewarded.  

You run a poetry site, right? Here are some examples and how it ties to a totally different reward system:

1. Create a series of poetry challenges where users need to create a different kind of poem (eg. limerick, sonnet, haiku, etc) over one of their existing poems.  The challenge and new knowledge is the reward.  

2. Ask your valued users to host peer reviews.  This can be a roundtable discussion or peer critiques.  Social acceptance and personal improvement is the reward.  

3. Host a community theme for everyone.  This build tribal identity and brings everyone together.  Shared experience is the reward.  

If you notice, not a single one of these goals leads to clicks or reactions or more engagement as the reward.  It's a completely different set of values where members feel accepted, rewarded, and embraced, and challenged.  But you've mapped your tactics to community objectives, and you're able to create a richer and deeper experience for users (regardless of how many views or comments they get!). 

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Thanks @Joel R, for this topic and your thoughtful reply.

6 minutes ago, Joel R said:

Focus on a few things that your site does very well to sustain a level of activity.  I think having "core activity" is an important part for a community for survive

For an obscure subject (poetry), there are a lot of sites with differing functions. I've set mine up as primarily a showcase, though there is a small workshop section which gets some, but little use. My members seem to be happy with the discussion inherent in a showcase structure as opposed to a more critical workshop environment. Conversely there are workshop sites that tell users not to post if they're looking for a showcase, as their sites are for incomplete works for which members supply "critiques."

 

17 minutes ago, Joel R said:

… and that may mean re-focusing or eliminating empty sections.

I like this part. Streamlining is one of my own short-term goals.

 

18 minutes ago, Joel R said:

There must be 12 users who would use it on a recurring basis for it to make sense.  

Excellent way to evaluate whether to pare/consolidate the forums.

 

21 minutes ago, Joel R said:

They need to change the paradigm in how they understand or evaluate their posting.  And that means you, as admin, need to change the goalposts.  You must change how they're rewarded.

Points well taken and good advice. I do appreciate my valuable members very much and don't want to lose them. That means I don't want them getting bored. I know what this means. It means I have to put my own reasons/excuses/laziness aside and work on writing more and being much more active. A worthy resolution that I'm sure would pay off. 💡

 

29 minutes ago, Joel R said:

… Host a community theme for everyone.  This build tribal identity and brings everyone together.  Shared experience is the reward.  

If you notice, not a single one of these goals leads to clicks or reactions or more engagement as the reward.  It's a completely different set of values where members feel accepted, rewarded, and embraced, and challenged.  But you've mapped your tactics to community objectives, and you're able to create a richer and deeper experience for users (regardless of how many views or comments they get!). 

I've considered revealing my own vision for the site in greater depth. This would require an extensive topic of it's own. I've pondered the idea of a Club (rather than a topic) for members where these ideas for the site can be discussed on an ongoing basis.

I do want my members to be happy. I think my most valued members are happy. Some of them post elsewhere on other forums, and they submit their works to online ezines and other publications. I've created a Promotions blog where they can post about their published works. And though several also post elsewhere, they have told me on more than one occasion that my site is their "home." As for the needs of all my members, I've offered on more than occasion to give them anything they may need or desire, so long as it makes sense. If someone needs his own blog, he can have it. One member wanted to compile longer works that had structures that weren't suitable for the main discussion forums, so I gave him his own category/forums where replies are disabled so that he can keep them organized. He can simultaneously post them in the forums where replies are enabled. My point: I do care a lot about the happiness of my valued members, and I know what I have to do. :ph34r: I have to personally be much more active and create much more content to bring new life to my forum. :blush:

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