Let's face it, building a community is challenging yet rewarding. How rewarding? Research has shown that customers in communities spend 19% more than customers who aren't in communities.
The most challenging thing about building a community is, of course, getting people to notice it and to participate there. The glut of online destinations, social networks, and the pure amount of data that hurls at us at increasing speeds, means that your community's members have choices when it comes to spending their time online. If you build it, will they come? And once they come, how will you stand out as an enduring destination of choice where meaningful connection and action emerges?
Thinking about all this easily sends one into a death spiral where, by trying to control outcomes, we overcompensate by controlling -- and eventually suffocating the community. Communities are like gardens, which can whither away by applying too much pressure and the wrong amount of water. Instead of controlling every outcome and every activity, the community manager's job is to create a participatory environment -- the conditions where people are motivated to build and grow the community together.
But what creates these environments? What motivates people? It's a bit of an art and a science, rewally. Daniel Pink talks about Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose as drivers of human motivation. Rich Millington in his fantastic FeverBee blog boils it down to three components specific to community participation:
- Are members motivated to participate?
- Do they have the ability to participate?
- Is there a trigger to participate?
With every decision that you make about your community's structure, membership, or activities, think of those three questions. As a result, you will strike the elusive balance between structuring it enough -- to not leave people hanging -- and having the lightest touch possible.
To help guide community managers and translate community design, growth and engagement into a concrete, step-by-step guide, we created a few assets. We see them as belonging to two major buckets:
- The Adoption Guide: Plan, build and launch a community with and for your members
- The Engagement Playbook: Navigate the world of working with your customers, employees and partners
Let's dive in a bit.
- Design Phase: Sets the tone for your whole community. It's OK if you don't have all the answers in the beginning -- it's actually better to go into it without preconceived notions. But you do need to have a strong vision for the value the community will bring to your business and your members. Having a strong vision and really understanding your community will help design a space where people are motivated to contribute. Additionally, implementing the right web and mobile experience will help increase the ability to participate and reduce participation barriers.
- Invest Phase: Align the right resources to create a community that continues to meet member needs. While it's the job of everyone to make sure the community works, there absolutely needs to be someone responsible for its health. I've written quite a bit about what community management is, why to invest in it, and what it takes to be successful. I've even compared community managers to improv artists!
- Build Phase: focus on the importance of starting small and involving the community in the process of building it. Too often, communities are launched with much fanfare and excitement, without asking members what they need. Then, it plateaus when members find themselves in "an empty bar." Avoid this by inviting your members to build the community with you early on. If you have a critical mass of people, content and conversations already in the community, you will show -- not tell -- new members what they can do. This will give them further motivation to participate. Remember: the more that your members are involved as design partners, the more likely they are to defend it, educate others and entice them to participate.
- Grow Phase: Increase awareness of community. Try to connect it to existing events and company initiatives to accelerate adoption. Is there a company conference already happening? Can you link to the community from your homepage? Does your support team send customers there regularly? Thinking through the entire customer experience will make sure that community isn't just a silo with limited impact. Inserting community at relevant touchpoints creates triggers for members to participate. Remember your early community members? They will be happy to invite everyone they know, if they helped build the community.
- Enable Phase: Moving in parallel to the Build and Grow phases, you are constantly welcoming, encouraging and educating new members. The community manager is oftentimes the person paying it forward for everyone else -- but the caveat here is to give it enough breathing room to function without him/her. Developing community champions -- from the ranks of your early members, and new members who show desire and proclivity to lead -- is the number one job of the community manager. As more and more people join in, it's important to help them find their own why and how. Putting champions in charge of enabling their own groups to scale this effort, helping increase motivation and ability of each individual contributor.
Check out the Adoption Guide in full here:
Once your community is off the ground, the work is not over. It's just beginning.
The Engagement Playbook is here to help you navigate conversations and activities that increase engagement and facilitate amazing connections. What is your role in the community as a host? How do you continue to recruit more members, integrate more deeply into the fabric of your business, and prove more value to your company's executives? When is the right time to be authoritative and when do you step back and let the community self-correct and self-manage? What are the right things to measure, and how do you take what you learn and improve your entire company? We explore these questions and much, much more in the Engagement Playbook.