How does your community stack up against all the rest? Are your ‘best practices’ really the best?
Many people in the community industry look forward to the findings in The Community Roundtable’s annual State of Community Management (SOCM) report, which helps guide their community efforts, ensures they keep up on the latest trends and keeps them competitive in the marketplace. This year, The Community Roundtable uncovered incredible insights by surveying more than 300 communities of all types, sizes and ages.While all of the information is valuable, here are three of our favorite takeaways:
1. It’s hard to succeed without strategy
Gone are the days community professionals can just ‘wing it’ with community management. Anyone in the trenches probably knows this already, but the results of the SOCM found that 94 percent of mature communities have an approved strategy. The most successful communities rely on a strong strategy to guide decision-making and initiatives. Without a defined strategy, it’s nearly impossible to create a sustainable, growing community of any kind.
An undefined community is, at its best, a struggling community. Luckily, the SOCM study also found that more communities are taking strategy seriously. Almost all stage three and four communities—the most mature communities—have approved strategies, shared value statements and resourced roadmaps.
Community takeaway: If your community doesn’t already have a cohesive strategy—one that aligns community and business goals—your team should start working on one. Understanding how the community fits within the broader organization will allow its evolution to unfold with purpose. It will also create opportunities for increased resources that can support your community’s management and growth.
2. Quality beats quantity
Many people look at community engagement metrics—such as discussions, replies, etc.—and want those numbers to go up and to the right (growth). The more engagement the better, right?
It turns out that isn’t the case. The Community Roundtable found that more engagement and community interactions don’t necessarily correlate to a healthy community. Instead, the quality—or types of engagement—make the biggest difference when it comes to creating sustainable, valuable engagement for both your organization and for your members.
So how does this look? The Community Roundtable found best-in-class communities didn’t have more engagement than average communities—they had about the same amount of engagement. What set these communities apart was a deeper quality in their engagement. Best-in-class communities saw more member generated content and discussion threads providing substantive answers. So while many best-in-class communities may not have the biggest number of engaged members, the members who are engaged commit a significant amount of time, energy and expertise to the community. This represents high-value engagement versus lower-value engagement, which is when members simply log into the community and browse.
Community takeaway: Think back to your community’s strategy—how are incentives used to encourage members to contribute meaningfully? Make sure there is cohesion between various parts of your organization—from events to programmatic themes—to drive thoughtful content and interaction by and among your members.
3. Structure helps the community thrive
According to the SOCM, anarchy does not breed community. The Community Roundtable revised this part of their survey from previous years, splitting questions and adding more on governance.
As they expected, best-in-class communities were more likely to have specific policies outlining community conduct and defining desirable versus unacceptable behaviors. 67 percent of best-in-class communities had community playbooks while only 37 percent of average communities had any specific guidance for members.
Beyond member behavior, The Community Roundtable wanted to see if communities had policies around other community activities. They found that 75 percent of best-in-class communities also had processes for establishing new communities (as opposed to 48 percent of average communities), 81 percent had regular community audits (as opposed to 44 percent) and 56 percent had approved crisis plans (as opposed to 29 percent).
Overall, the trend seems to be this: preparation is key for community success. Not only does preparation help you plan, but it helps your community ride waves of engagement and perform well during a crisis.
Community takeaway: Does your community have documentation outlining specific behaviors and policies? If not, start working on those guidelines—how do you want your members to behave? Not behave? What happens when crisis hits your community? Being prepared in advance means you are ready to respond in ways that help educate members about the rules of engagement and keeps the community running smoothly and seamlessly.