What makes a community valuable? There are a lot of combined factors that create value, but a big one is member behavior -- how do people act when they’re in your community? Member interaction can tip the scales of your community in either direction, towards success or catastrophe. If people engage and ask the group questions, the community feels much different than it would if people only checked in occasionally and emailed members privately.
What if your members aren’t doing what you want? Good news is, if your community isn’t very engaged or doesn’t feel sustainable, you can mold member behavior to create the environment you want.
But, as Rachel Happe, Principal and Co-Founder of The Community Roundtable said in her 2015 Super Forum keynote speech, changing behavior isn’t easy. You can’t just tell community members what to do; you may not even know what you want them to do, you just see something isn’t working.
To change behavior, you need data and feedback. It’s like a Fitbit, she said. You want to lose weight, but what behavior do you need to change and by how much? A Fitbit is a powerful tool: it measures your movement, processes data and gives you the feedback you need to change your behavior and accomplish your goal.
So how do you shape member behavior to fit the needs of the community? It’s the same principle as the Fitbit. Decide on a behavior, measure it and create a strategy for change. Communities -- especially large, organic ones -- used to be really hard to accurately measure and track. Then we started building them online, where you can watch the whole process unfold, from beginning to end, in real time. Your community actually has it’s own Fitbit -- it’s dashboard and analytics. Because of virtual communities we now know how networks function and how to measure them better than ever before.
Think back to the Fitbit -- you want to lose 10 pounds, how do you decide how much more to exercise? You need to know your current situation before beginning -- if you can’t see behaviors and are only guessing, then you can’t meaningfully change anything. Let’s say you currently exercise once a week, eat lunch out every day and only get four or five hours of sleep each night. Once you have a clear picture of what’s currently going on, it’ll be easier to figure out what needs work.
First, before you measure anything ask yourself exactly what the community is for -- collaboration? information sharing? networking? Next, ask yourself what ideal behaviors look like for that specific function.
For example, to spur collaboration, you want to build a dense, tightly packed network. Or for information sharing, you want a broad network. Once you have that figured out, you can start tracking what’s currently going on.
All this data tracking comes with a caveat, though. With comprehensive dashboards and tools like Google Analytics, we’re now awash with information. All of it is helpful for something, but very little may be helpful for you at this moment. Keep in mind that even though data is your friend, it can also be your enemy, overwhelming you and clouding what’s actually going on.
That’s why focusing on what matters -- not what is easy -- is key. With a Fitbit, data may show you need to run for a half hour every day and sleep eight hours a night to achieve your goal. A half hour once a week and only four hours of sleep won’t do the trick, even if you use the stairs and eat a salad for lunch. Only look at data that helps you understand that one behavior you’re trying to change; everything else distracts you from your mission. It doesn’t matter that you read a fitness blog or looked up your gym schedule. Choose one behavior you want to learn about, and parse it to choose pieces you can track. Then put your energy towards tracking those -- and only those -- metrics. That way you won’t get stuck in a data quagmire and can act.
Rachel says measuring behaviors boils down to two things: what goes into the community (input) and what comes out of the community (outputs). Going back to the Fitbit analogy, the inputs could be food, exercise, stress and sleep. Outputs are your weight and how you feel. When you change your inputs, eat less, exercise and sleep more, the output changes.
What does that mean for you? In a community, the inputs are often the management and infrastructure that go into running a community. That can be anything from the policies and content to community strategy or culture. The Community Roundtable made this great chart to help you track them and your progress. Everything you put into the community has an effect on what actually happens on the ground with members, which are the outputs. That means your policies, behaviors and other inputs affect how members behave.
To start, this is the behavior you’ve honed in on: members email each other questions privately. You want to prompt members to ask the community questions and start conversations publicly.
Now the question is, why aren’t people asking each other questions in the community? Think about what inputs could be causing this, since that’s what you have control of. People could be uncomfortable because your policies are vague or unwelcoming (input). How do you change that? In this case, Rachel suggested going through their Working Out Loud Framework to start conversations.
Whenever you make a change (input), whether you’re starting conversations differently or changing policies to be more encouraging, track the results (output). Look at how many people share monthly on the community and how many answers or solutions you receive. Each input you change will create a new, measurable output to help you understand what’s happening.
As you begin changing your inputs -- your policies or tone in the community -- watch the outputs, such as member behavior. If you want to increase collaboration, you could even set up an automation rule to remind people to share with the group when they message people individually.
Keep tracking only the metrics you decided were helpful and ignore everything else. Once you see data in the direction you want, then you can begin shifting your focus and start looking at other behaviors -- or even begin tracking your community’s ROI and increase its value.
Rachel has spent the last 20 years helping organizations implement emerging technologies to advance their business strategies. She understands how networked communications environments can transform how people work, their productivity and their personal satisfaction by aligning their passions, skills and relationships.
Rachel co-founded The Community Roundtable to support business leaders developing their community and social business strategies. Clients including SAP, Aetna, BASF, CA, H&R Block, and CSC benefit from Rachel’s ability to make sense of abstract trends and her ability to see the implications that technical and operational decisions can have on people and processes. During her career Rachel has served in analyst, product management, product marketing and executive roles. Find her on Twitter @rhappe and at communityroundtable.com