“Is your community indispensable to your organization? How about to your members?”
Rich asked the packed room these questions. A few people raised their hands, but most looked around with sheepish smiles.
It’s hard to say definitively that your online community is indispensable, or absolutely necessary, to the organization you work for, unless you’re the CEO and you can make those kinds of decisions. But everyone who has a stake in the community wants it to be indispensable.
At this year’s Super Forum, the community expert, author, and Feverbee founder went on to share some ways you can do just that, both to your organization and to your members.
Are You Stuck in the Engagement Trap?
The first way to make your online community indispensable is to get out of what Rich called “the engagement trap.”
What’s the trap? Well, it starts with creating engagement – you have many tools at hand to increase the level of engagement in a discussion, lowering the bar for people to engage. For example, you can use seed questions, send inside invitations, use ambassadors, etc. When you make engagement easier in the first place, people engage, and you’ll build a community with engagement rates through the roof.
And that’s fine, until you’ve got a new boss, a bad financial year, or some other unexpected occurrence. When it comes down to evaluating “indispensability,” and someone questions the real value of all this engagement, it can be hard to prove.
But wait, you’re saying, I thought engagement was the point? And of course, you want engagement in your online community, but here’s the key: the level of engagement you get doesn’t predict the level of success.
So how do you escape the engagement trap, and measure the value your community provides?
Making Your Community Indispensable to Your Organization
Rich presented two ways people commonly try to prove community value, and a third method that he suggests works best, which is this:
To have the biggest impact with your community, become more absolutely necessary to more colleagues over time.
But first, what are the other methods?
Method 1: Metrics-Oriented
Some people focus on proving the value of their community by showing their engagement metrics. For example, you might say, “My engaged members are more [insert value here: valuable, likely to refer us, etc.] than my non-engaged members.”
Rich’s response? That’s circular. Why? For example, the more products you own from a certain brand, the more questions you’ll have, and the more likely you’ll go to the community for help. It doesn’t prove that community members buy more than nonmembers just because they’re engaged.
Method 2: Proving ROI
This is a very common way to measure your community’s impact. You measure what you put in against what you get out, and calculate your return on investment. Rich pointed out that this can be difficult, because so many things can influence retention rate, such as quality, price, or level of competition, which makes it difficult to base your whole community’s value on this one foundation.
Method 3: Measuring Impact
This is Rich’s favorite method, and the one he suggests works best. (The exciting part about community strategy? There’s a huge variety or breadth of recommendations, and you might be able to find your perfect solution using a combination of all three.)
How does it work? Focus on connecting your community’s goals with your organization’s goals. Perhaps your organization is focused on retention – use your community to improve those numbers. Measure your community’s impacts, including things like keeping newcomers around, creating advocacy, finding top members, redirecting people back to the community, sourcing create content, and creating search traffic. These are amazing results you can achieve from having an online community, and they’re results you can connect to your organization’s goals.
Overall, we’re harnessing just a fraction of our communities’ potential. Harness more results with your community by spreading its impact across the organization.
Three Ways to Create Community Impact Across Your Organization
1. Align your community.
Ensure your community is aligned exactly with what people in your organization need. Seek feedback from different departments about their needs. That way, the better your community results will be – you’re achieving what people need.
2. Focus on the right stage of the funnel.
You should find out your executive team’s focus. What stage of the buyer/member’s journey are they looking at? If you’re working to attract prospects, but they’re working to deepen the existing member connection, you need to align this focus. Know what types of discussions your organization needs, in terms of customer insights.
3. Begin with something your colleagues already support.
Do you know your colleagues’ fears and problems, organizationally? For example, do they care most about retention, customer support, more event registration, or something you didn’t expect? Align your roadmap to your hopes and fears, and create your community’s goals based on them.
“Become more absolutely necessary to more colleagues over time and it becomes a lot easier for colleagues to get behind your community.” – Rich Millington
Making Your Community Indispensable to Your Members
Most communities are unnecessary to your members. Many members join, and perhaps make one contribution, but then they disappear and never come back again.
So how do you redefine and convey the value of community to our members?
Try raising the bar for engagement.
If we look back to the engagement trap Rich described, he discussed that the bar to engage is often too low. He advised that we help members make their best contributions, not the easiest.
Pro tip: Focus on removing features that aren’t used, rather than trying to add new features. Of course, a small number of your members might be upset if you remove a feature they like, but it’s better to take away than to add.
How do you go about doing this?
Map what your members can offer to what they’re most likely to participate in.
The key is to help every member make the best contribution to their community with the time, resources, and talent they have today.
If they have skills and experience, get them to collaborate on problem solving.
If they have motivation, get them to share links, volunteer, post tips and tricks.
If they have time, help them get involved in volunteering, creating templates and resources.
If they’re lurkers, help them be the best lurker they can be. What are the best three posts they could read in that particular month?
It’s by mapping these offerings to your members that you make your community indispensable. Another way to look at it is to focus on your learners, newcomers, irregulars, and top members.
If your overall goal is retention, try these tactics:
- Learners: Read the top five weekly posts shared by top members
- Newcomers: Join a mentoring group to get support; update their profile
- Irregulars: Highlight what topics they want to learn about; up-vote content
- Top Members: Become mentors; share beginner level design tips
By matching up your members’ observed behavior with what you want them to do, it helps you know how to allot money, staff time, technology, processes, and so on.
Overall, if you want to avoid the engagement trap and make your community truly indispensable, you need to focus on aligning your community goals with your organizational needs, and your community goals with your member objectives.
If you’re looking for more tips on how to prove your community’s value, check out Rich’s blog and/or his new book, The Indispensable Community.