Communities are a means to advance your organization’s objectives. Building a strong, engaged and insightful community is key to maximizing your brand’s potential.
Here are some ways for you to do just that.
Clearly Define the Purpose of the Community
This is important to any project, but it frequently gets left by the wayside over the course of an
implementation timeline. If you don’t know where you’re going, you won’t know how to get there.
Scope creep can be a big problem as various stakeholders start to think of new functions that the community could/should have. It’s better to start with an immediate business problem that you need the community to solve before increasing the scope. Community platforms are powerful and versatile, but using them as a swiss-army knife frequently leads to disarray.
If your employees aren’t sure what the community is for, they won’t know how to use it.
Have a clear mission statement for your community that defines the specific business problems it’s intended to solve. Some examples might include:
This forum has been put in place to...
- “ ...help operations personnel exchange ideas on supply chain problems and inefficiencies”
- “ ...allow marketing to effectively brainstorm and collaborate on programs”
- “...improve our knowledge base by pooling knowledge from our employees”
- “...help communication between our US and Asia branches”
Engage Your Community to Uncover Their Value
Most brands start with this question: “how do we get people to join our online community?” Fair enough.
Savvy community managers who’ve been in the business for more than 15 minutes ask better questions, like this: “how do we engage the people we already have?”
The Answer: the digest. Like the name suggests, a digest is a short summary compilation of the day / week / month’s best content. Its value rests in its promise to deliver a lot in not a lot of time.
Here are a few simple types of digest content you can develop:
- A weekly newsletter
- A bi-weekly blog post
- A monthly Facebook Live roundup
In addition to the intrinsic goodness of providing a low-effort, high-value content piece to your community, here are a few more digestive benefits to consider.
Drive Engagement with Regular Contact
By definition, digest pieces are some of the highest value content you can find — or, at least they should be. A digest takes the swirling mass of material found in your corner of the internet, filters out the garbage and provides a useful summary. By offering your community members a digest, you give them a way to drown out the noise and engage with content that matters most to them.
Promote Top Community Content
On the flip side of engagement, a digest piece attracts attention to some of your most important pieces. This helps capture any stragglers who may have missed your initial post. It also helps shape the overall focus of your community content.
Identify, Recruit and Showcase Power Users
In addition to promoting your own content, a digest allows you to isolate and shine a spotlight on user-generated content. This gives you a valuable incentive to motivate users to generate content.
Gamification as Engagement
Humans are competitive. And since the beginning of recorded time, our passion for creating and playing games has only grown. In fact, humanity’s inclination for games goes so far back that we’ve even evolved circuitry in our brains devoted specifically to playing them!
But here’s the thing with games: while everybody loves playing them, only a select few can intelligently create and implement them. If you gamify your forum, your members will reward you with greater engagement, more referrals and general goodwill and trust. It’s pretty much impossible to gamify social media, because you’re playing someone else’s game on those platforms (no pun intended).
Below are some ways to do this.
Many forum owners use a badge system to incentivize quality and frequent contributions from their members. In a badge system, digital badges are given to members who meet certain criteria around the quality and quantity of their activity on your forum. These badges are typically displayed alongside your member’s avatar or username, to indicate their status in the community to others.
Accomplishment badges, on the other hand, focus on concrete achievements: the number of forum posts published and threads created, consecutive days posting, etc. The number of accomplishment badges you could theoretically have is limited only by your imagination.
Accomplishment badges, like discourse badges, offer a point of pride to their recipients and credentials within your wider forum community. The advantage to accomplishment badges over discourse badges is that they’re totally objective.
Running Members-only Contests
Everybody loves a shot at an alluring prize. So think of something that would appeal to your forum members and promote a niche-relevant contest with a grand prize going to the winner. It goes without saying that the more dynamic you make the competition and the more attractive the prize is, the wider your community involvement will be. So don’t skimp.
If you were so inclined, you could structure the competition around member contributions or user-generated content. The prize could go to whoever creates the best content around a specific theme within a set week.
Live Solo Interviews or AMAs
Although this is not a gamification tactic, it is a great tactic that increases engagement. This one works best for forums or communities with a few noticeable figureheads or leaders at the top. Offering a solo live chat between one of your most active members and an expert is a great game to play with your community.
If your members invest large amounts of time on a forum to begin with, it’s because they tend to be knowledge-driven or conversationally-driven. Offer a live solo interview about your niche and cater to both of these needs.
Members as a Source of Innovation
For generations, developing a new product idea or feature was done in a silo. This is even true of more recent lean enterprises. The product manager undertook most of the work in shaping the product vision, often with little input from other members of the team and customers. Yet, in this top-down approach, isolation hinders the ideation process, limiting the amount of ideas with limited constructive feedback.
In today’s market, ideas come from all levels across the organization - even from the outside. It doesn’t matter whether it’s ideas for new products, features, markets or even business models; creative ideas and innovation develop a competitive advantage in your industry. Businesses that innovate and execute greatly improve their chance to achieve long-term success.
Innovation inside modern companies is incremental and driven by teams on the front lines: those interacting with customers day-to-day.
Good ideas combined with clear direction are what move great businesses forward, and there is no one better to provide good ideas than your customers. Below is an example of how one of Vanilla Forum’s clients used their members’ feedback for innovation:
Patagonia, one of the leading manufacturers of outerwear clothing and outdoor wardrobes, is well known for the quality of its products. In fact, Patagonia is infamously remembered for its 2013 marketing campaign encouraging consumers to buy less from Patagonia. That was easy for the brand to encourage because it confidently guaranteed customer satisfaction thanks to its brand ambassador community of field testers.
Brand Ambassadors Drive Product Research
Patagonia mandates that all new products are tested in real-life outdoor situations ranging from marathon training to longer-term camping trips. The quality of a Patagonia product can be the critical element in minor concerns such as chafing prevention to the much more critical such as guarantee of safe adventure. Because of this, Patagonia’s product design team relies heavily upon the skills, dedication and rigor of its field testers and ambassadors in its research process to decide if a given product is taken-to-market, iterated upon or not put into production at all.
It’s simple! Here’s how it works. Patagonia’s field test lead provides ambassadors with sample Patagonia products for their in-the-field outdoor activities. Ambassadors use the samples as they go about their activities and provide product feedback via the Patagonia Forum, a private online community, accessible only by dedicated employees and brand ambassadors, where test results are shared in real time.
Ambassadors share photos, videos and feedback commentary on how the product stands up to wear and tear. The Patagonia product design team then uses this information to quickly and efficiently iterate on their work and guarantee product excellence.
Full Circle: Marketing and Sales Teams Benefit Too
Patagonia’s ambassador program is not just critical to the product design team; it impacts everyone. The marketing team uses feedback shared by ambassadors to shape product
positioning, identify shareable stories and create inspired content.
As Walker Fergusson, Patagonia’s field-test lead says, “Everyone from advanced product development to sales benefits from the feedback gathered. It gives everyone the ability to stand behind what they are making and selling.”
Measure Metrics That Matter
If you’re looking to maximize your community’s potential according to your organization’s goal, you need to track the progress of your community until its goals have been reached. Below are a few metrics that could help you monitor the success of your forum.
Active Members Over Time
This is an obvious and crucial metric to cover. How many of your employees are actively using the service? Measure this over a longer timeline, because it’s expected that people will be more active in the beginning phases as they try the tool out.
If you see a drop off in active members over time, it may be because the purpose of the community isn’t clear. If employees don’t understand why or how the community can help to ease their workloads and improve their projects, they’ll probably check out. Guiding employees through the early stages to show them the efficacy of the community helps alleviate this.
Pageviews are often a classic “vanity metric”, but checking the amount of views that particular
discussions in your community are getting can show whether the project has been successful or not.
It’s also important to note what kind of discussions are seeing the most pageviews. Are projects from some departments more viewed than others? Are employees congregating around the more off-topic, chatty discussions rather than the more useful business ones?
Use this metric to find holes in the uptake of your community and learn lessons from the discussions that are most popular.
Average Number of Posts per Active Member Over Time
How often are your active members posting in the community? This is another great metric to apply to a timescale. If there are peaks and troughs in their participation, look at the reasons why this might be the case. Does participation fall off when there are no projects to work on? Are there particular times of the week when the community is busier?
These metrics can help you figure out why the community is being used and see whether that matches up with your community goals. As with the discussion count, a high rate of early adoption followed by a drop-off is a warning sign.
This is perhaps the ultimate metric: how many collaborative projects are occurring in the community? If you see enough successful collaborations to make the project worthwhile, you’re doing something right. If every other metric is solid but you don’t see the kind of collaboration numbers you want, consider how to use your traffic in more productive ways.
Discussions Marked as Answered or Closed
If your employees use the community to ask questions and solve problems, keep an eye on the success rate of these discussions. Take note of the time to respond and time to answer, and consider ways to improve your success rate if these metrics are poor.
There are undoubtedly people in your company who can answer any questions that come up (or at least give input), so if questions are lying fallow for too long, focus on ways to bring a wider variety of employees into the community. Having as many brains available as possible is crucial to make your community a successful knowledge base.
Members Still Not Converting?
If you’ve clearly defined your community and are working on engaging your members and measuring progress, and even provided a platform for feedback that powers your product innovation, yet your conversion rates are still not increasing, here are a few tweaks to make.
How Much Friction is in Your Onboarding Process?
Are you asking for too much, too soon? Do you force community prospects to run a 15-minute gauntlet of questionnaires, platform integrations and other sigh-inducing obstacles?
If so, you may be robbing your onboarding sequence of vital momentum. Simplify the process. Offer members short steps to success. Ask for one thing at a time and allow them to build speed toward the finish line: conversion.
What’s Your Time to First Value?
The most critical phase of your onboarding and/or trial period is that (hopefully) short span of time between sign-up and first value.
From the moment they click that green button to the moment you deliver tangible value, the clock is ticking. The longer it takes to give them the goods, the less likely they are to convert.
How’s Your Email Marketing Strategy?
It’s incredibly common for users to sign up for a trial, use the product once and then never touch it again. Be honest: you’ve done it, too.
One of the best ways to leverage these users is through email marketing during the trial period. If you don’t reach out to your trial users and coach them through the process, you're potentially leaving vast swathes of users disengaged.
Ask Your Community Members Why They Don’t Convert.
It may sound crazy, but simply asking your trial users why they’ve chosen not to pay is a great way to find out what the problem is.
At the end of every trial period, ask for feedback from those who decide not to convert. Be specific, follow-up and continue looking for ways to tweak both your product and the onboarding process for the better.