Communities are living, breathing, evolving structures. That’s why building communities is both exhilarating and frustrating: communities can never be perfected. There will always be more work to do. Building a community therefore involves controlling chaos - managing disparate expectations, refining our work every step of the way, and listening to and evolving alongside our members.
Yet despite the often-chaotic nature of our roles, there are still ways to make our work more organized and effective. Want to control some of the chaos of building communities? The Community Renovation Model will help you do just that.
The blueprint to the 7 key areas of your community
The Community Renovation Model uses the analogy of renovating a home as a helpful framework for your community-building work. When you renovate your home on a budget, you work on one area (or just a few areas) of your home, complete them, and move on to the next area. If you’re lucky, you have a team of builders alongside you who can make quick work of the renovation, but that might not be the case. You may be a DIY builder. Along the way as you renovate, you’ll probably notice tiny flaws and issues to fix. Styles may change. Technology may change. You may have to go back and fix some of your work. It’s certainly never boring.
Building a community is just like this.
To create some order in the complexity of community renovation, the Community Renovation Model organizes community renovations around seven key areas and helps you organize your work toward optimizing each piece individually. The seven key areas are as follows:
1. The foundation
The foundation of the model includes the pieces of your strategy that are essential for the success and direction of all the rest of the work you do. It is represented by everything beneath the ground floor of the home in the Renovation Model. Without a solid foundation, most brand communities struggle to stay focused and organized. Luckily, these foundational pieces are fairly straightforward to create if you’re building from scratch. When renovating your community’s foundation, start with one of these six key foundational areas and begin to optimize from there.
1a. Business Strategy: When we set business strategy, we determine what purpose our community serves for our business. Take, for instance, Square’s seller community, which helps Square sellers get support quickly and effectively from their peers. Community may also serve the purpose of building goodwill and brand equity for your organization, as is the case for many organizations who invest in community for the sake of giving back and creating social change. The SPACE Model from CMX provides a quick blueprint for determining your community’s business value so you don’t have to start from scratch.
1b. Metrics: What metrics will matter for your community? Even if you work on a team that doesn’t ask you to measure your work, you should insist on some baseline for your own reference. For instance, when launching CMX Pro, the CMX team measured the number of quality responses on posts, member growth, and retention of members month-over-month and year-over-year. Here again, a CMX model proves helpful: The CMX Measurement Strategy.
1c. Member Identity: It is critical that you get clear about who your community serves and who the ideal members of your community are. What personas exist within your community? Are there multiple personas or just one core persona?
In the latter case, are you clear about exactly who that person is? For instance, FRÉ Skincare launched an ambassador program, first attempting to cater to anyone who used their product and enjoyed it. Over time, however, they learned that they needed to restrict this definition further to create something meaningful for one core group of members with shared goals.
In some cases, you still need to serve multiple personas, but one set of features and content and programs will not serve them all equally. Take, for example, Wave, who serve several different types of users, but immediately call out these types on their landing page and direct users to resources that fit their needs.
When you’re clear about who you serve, almost everything else strategic falls into place.
1d. Member Pain Points & Goals: Do you really know your members’ needs? Or are you just making assumptions about them? If the latter is the case, it’s time to revisit your assumptions and conduct member research.
1e. Tech Tools: What software stack will you use to get all the data you need and manage your program? Will your current software work as you scale your program? You can renovate your community on the “backend” by making adjustments and automating processes through new tools at any time. For instance, you can integrate your email newsletter system with your platform, like Vanilla with Mailchimp or you can integrate your CRM with your platform. There are infinite ways to automate portions of your work so you can get back to doing the fun stuff.
2. The outer walls of the community
Is it time for you to switch platforms? Maybe yes, maybe no. Once your foundation is strong, you can actually begin to assess if a platform migration is needed. Until you’ve done the foundational work, don’t even attempt to answer this question.
You may either have one platform, as the Best Self Ambassador Program has on Facebook Groups, or you may have many community “homes” via a multisite community or several platforms that you utilize. Either way, if you’re renovating your community, it’s time to take stock of how successful each platform is at meeting member needs and business goals, and then making a strategic decision about how to move forward.
3. The ground floor
Once you understand your platforms’ features, strengths, and limitations, you can then begin to renovate the “ground floor” of your community in any of the following ways.
3a. Welcoming & Onboarding: What is the welcoming and onboarding experience like for your members today? Does it leave a memorable impression? Or is it forgettable or even outright confusing? Would members describe joining your community (in the word’s of one of my clients) as “drinking from a firehose?” How can you instead create experiences that are streamlined and cement understanding of the purpose of the community and its value?
Take a cue from Wave here again. In an experience that mirrors the look and feel of the Wave brand as a whole, they delineate specific areas for specific common user issues, and they have clearly delineated areas for learning how to use the forums themselves:
To learn more about optimizing onboarding specifically, consider utilizing the Commitment Curve model. To learn about how to create a memorable and on-brand experience, I recommend the book The Experience Economy.
3b. Rituals and Milestones: What rituals do you perform in your community? What milestones do you acknowledge? These moments should tie back - either directly or indirectly - to your community’s shared goals and vision. If you have an education community, for instance, what times of year are significant to mark transitions for both students and teachers? What holidays can you celebrate and what holidays or markings of a complete project can you create your own holiday around? Author Charles Vogl discusses the creation of rituals in-depth in his book The Art of Community.
3c. Leadership Programs: If you’re building a community from scratch, leadership programs are a nice-to-have when you launch. You can think of your earliest members as founding members and consider a formal way to acknowledge these members’ early commitment. As you grow, this is one area where renovation is almost always necessary. Leadership programs are necessary for keeping members motivated over the long-term of a community. Xbox’s ambassadors program provides an example of how you might engage your members in spreading brand messages and testing out new products alongside you as you grow.
3d. Content & Programming: Content and programming is a huge portion of the work of building a community. Not only must you plan the content and programming, but also execute or delegate it, and then measure how well it engages your members. There is always room for improvement here.
So how streamlined is your content creation today? Is it actually working to engage your members around the community’s purpose? To begin renovating this part of your community, I recommend the following resources:
- CMX Action Plan: Growing and Measuring Community Engagement (available only inside of CMX Pro Membership)
- CMX’s Content Strategy for Community Professionals ebook: https://cmxhub.com/article/community-content-strategy/
4. The second story of the Renovation Model
The “second story” of the model includes deeper considerations for your community programs. This is the more-advanced but still necessary work that you can focus on as you solidify the parts below it. You can begin to renovate your “second story” in the following areas:
4a. Rewards/Acknowledgement: In past articles, I have written extensively about acknowledgment, rewards, and appreciation. This is a vital component of your community, and again can always benefit from some sort of renovation, whether it’s customer-facing or automating portions of the process for how, when, and who you acknowledge. Acer is doing great work with rewards, which you can read about on the Vanilla blog.
4b. Feedback Channels: Feedback, especially when it is actively solicited by the brand, is an important piece of your community strategy. Allowing members to give feedback at any time, as well as beginning to do regular surveys or cohort analyses of your members can provide invaluable feedback for what areas of your community you should renovate next. It can also provide product feedback that helps you innovate alongside your community.
4c. KPIs: KPIs are concrete indicators that you are reaching your goals. They become the targets that you work toward day-to-day, and so they should not be set lightly or stay the same indefinitely. They can be as simple as the number of attendees increasing by X% at your offline events or reaching an average number of sales per member. They can be complex aggregate measures like service level. KPIs are different from overall metrics, which you can read more about via Grow.com.
5. Attic - internal resources and support
Who do you need to bring into decision-making and influencing your community? Understand all internal stakeholders so you can begin to create a plan to communicate with them proactively. Sometimes the stakeholders for your work are clear and other times they are more chaotic. To begin, map stakeholders using a list like this one from Brain Traffic, which applies as much to community management as it does to content strategy.
6. Roof - legal and trust & safety
The elements that you can renovate on the “roof” of the community are overarching legal and safety-related components. Ideally, you should have a baseline discussion about these components before you launch a community, and these components can naturally shift over time as policy shifts or as new research indicates that changes should be made in how you moderate and care for your community.
7. Outside the boundaries
Even though these final components of your community are not always “owned” by community managers, they are still important to renovate and revisit over time, either on your own or in collaboration with your marketing and possibly even your IT department.
7a. Boundaries: Do you allow anyone and everyone into your community? It turns out, this may restrict who actually wants to be in your community. Boundaries are essential not to exclude people, but rather to make the experience more purposeful, safe, and inclusive for your existing members. To enforce boundaries before people join, you can create an application process or interview potential candidates if you have the time and resources. Creative Mornings, a global meetup group, interviews all of their city leader candidates extensively to ensure that they are motivated to organize the group for the right reasons and that they are committed to the long-term success of their chapter.
7b. Marketing: Finally, if you feel confident and comfortable with the other aspects of the community, it’s time to think about getting the word out and growing. Many people put this step first, but if you want to build an intentional community, this should come very last. Like all the other pieces of the community, this piece often gets continually renovated over time.
The Community Renovation Model offers a useful model to conceptualize your community strategy’s components and bring order to chaos. As you can see, the process of renovation is not linear and requires many educated guesses. What’s important is not getting everything perfect, but rather keeping this model in mind so that you know where you can continually iterate and improve your work. Above all else, I invite you to enjoy the renovation process, as it allows you to learn and constantly mature in your work.
About the Author
Carrie Melissa Jones is a community leader, entrepreneur, and community management consultant who has been involved with online community leadership since the early 2000s. As the founder of Gather Community Consulting, she consults with brands to build and optimize communities around the world.
Want to learn more on how to apply these principles to your online community? Register for the live webinar with Carrie here.