Recently a few of us from Higher Logic HQ headed up to Brooklyn in order to attend CMX Summit East. CMX is an organization-cum-event series that has sprung up in order to fill the deep-seated craving among community managers for our own community of practice. Though the hipster quotient was high (it was in Williamsburg, after all), the education was anything but. Community management is coming into its own, as an art and as a science.
For those of you who couldn’t make it to this incredible event, I brought back my top nine takeaways from CMX Summit East to share with all of you:
9. Community is, by nature, spontaneous.
“Had we not met.” This was the proposition offered up by Meetup CEO Scott Heiferman: think of one friend that you feel incredibly lucky to have met, and then think of the weird and wonderful circumstances that led to you meeting them. “Had we not met,” life wouldn’t be as sweet, and that’s where community shines. Communities create opportunities to meet new people, learn new things, support one another, and work together on the next big thing. Those opportunities, then, provide the fertile ground for spontaneous connection and collaboration. In other words, the true magic of community happens when you step back and let things happen.
8. Feedback? Write it down!
It might seem obvious, but it’s worth repeating: your most loyal members will be those who feel like they are being listened to. So listen to them! In an emoji-laden presentation, Alex Dao of Vimeo shared her strategies for collecting and organizing user feedback in order to address the community’s pain points and thus improve user experience—this presentation included a very sexy spreadsheet that I am planning on taking advantage of immediately. It’s just like college: nobody ever took too many notes.
7. Instead of trying to change what your members are doing, give them opportunities to do what they are already doing better.
Don Draper will always cheat, Stannis Baratheon will always brood, and your members will always do…whatever it is that they do. The best way to get people to use your community is to make it something so beneficial to their everyday lives that they can’t not use it. That was how Chris Pedregal approached the creation of Socratic, and in return his members solved problems he didn’t even knew he had. Step back and watch what they do when you’re not looking, and then facilitate that.
6. Online communities are really just communities.
Raise your hand if you have a “useless” humanities degree (Me, me!). The community manager of Stack Exchange, Ana Noemi, tickled my inner anthropologist when she drew deep connections between “traditional” communities like Alcoholics Anonymous and online communities. If you want to create a vibrant and enduring online community, you need the same things that all communities need: customs and rituals, shared passions, and a culture of sharing without expecting in return. In other words, the technology is secondary; what community managers are doing is as old as humanity itself.
5. Volunteers matter. A lot.
“Together, we can achieve more than when we think and act alone” were the words concluding the presentation of Kristine Michelsen-Korrea (from Duolingo), which more or less sum up the goal of community and the entire point of what we are doing at Higher Logic. Kristine shared how her team used the laser-focused mission of their organization to create a vibrant, worldwide community of volunteers, who give their language skills to Duolingo. By empowering your members to shape your organization through volunteering, you are turbocharging their sense of engagement and belonging, which in turn creates a stronger community.
4. Some things don't scale.
Do you hold community events? Matthew Brimer, founder of General Assembly and DayBreaker, thinks you should. Meaningful offline experiences between your true believers are an invaluable way to create a robust community core that will naturally spread to the rest of the group. Having held meet ups for both PPA and the online communities I belong to just for fun, I have to agree with him. There are some things, like a face-to-face meeting or a dance party, that just don’t scale. If an event isn’t in your future, take some time tomorrow to get to know your most active members—not as data points, but as people. It’s so worth it.
3. A great leader knows what he or she doesn't know.
The day’s keynote was delivered by David Marquet, author of Turn the Ship Around! A True Story of Turning Followers Into Leaders; he famously took a submarine full of disempowered sailors and turned it into the best-rated sub in the Navy. His secret: instead of giving orders, admit what you don’t know and invite those you work with to think for themselves. Or, in community management terms, listen to your team, create an environment where it is okay to be wrong or unsure, give people opportunities to succeed, and remember: community is “we,” not “they.”
2. Engagement ≠ ROI. Engagement is a path to ROI.
At some point in every community manager’s life, you are brought before the powers that be and asked to demonstrate the ROI of your community. In that moment, the total number of library resources or the percentage of members subscribed to the Daily Digest will not do. Sweating yet? Don’t worry—Evan Hamilton (Coursera) broke it down: you need to measure for retention or acquisition, full stop. In other words, are community users more likely to renew their membership than non-users? Do they spend more? Are they more likely to sign up for new things? These are the numbers that get you the corner office. (Still feel lost when it comes to ROI? My next blog post will cover this topic in depth.)
1. Community is on fleek.
It just is. *drops the mic*