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The 2016 Super Forum Community Expert Panel: Highlights

Written by Caitlin Struhs | on November 28, 2016 at 8:30 AM

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We were honored to host four renowned community thought leaders at this year’s Super Forum. It was a vibrant discussion that included data versus passion in community, engagement as it relates to retention, the state of community management, and influencing community behavior.

Here are some conversation highlights and insightful soundbites from the panelists:

Data and ROI, or Passion?

How should we measure the value and ROI of community? Or should we forget about the numbers and focus on the passion and engagement behind community?

Rachel Happe: “Compounded knowledge instead of replication”

It’s a fallacy that engagement is one thing. I think most people measure engagement by low value: did they click, like, etc.? It’s useful, but it’s low. Get peers to ask and answer questions, rather than a hierarchal process, help desk, or other rigid system.

David Spinks: “Storytelling, salesmanship”

I don’t think anyone has nailed it yet. Why are you measuring ROI? Whenever you measure data, you need to know what decision it’ll help you make. It’s you selling yourself internally to your team, and ROI is one way of doing that. Sell internally and use ROI to accomplish your goals.

Vanessa: “Speed to innovation”

There’s a lot of confusion about ROI in our industry. What’s important is not the specific metric but the competitive advantage it can yield. The greatest outcomes are found in the eyes of the business leaders and financiers. We need to let go of ROI and really think about community outcomes, as they align to help your organization advance.

Richard: “Convinced, but not persuaded”

It doesn’t matter what your ROI is if your boss doesn’t like you. In Valencia, I asked how many people believed climate change was a threat to the planet - then I asked how many took a flight to get there. It’s just one piece of the bigger puzzle. We’ve found most people just look for one metric, but you’ll miss out on all the other benefits.

Does Improved Engagement Mean Improved Retention?

Does anyone disagree with the statement that improved engagement means improved retention? How can we focus on measuring engagement in a way that’s meaningful for our goals?

Rachel: “Where is that geometric compounding value? It’s not growth.”

We looked at membership growth and sentiment with a client - it really turned around when we moderated. Think about associations - there are only so many people. Look at the value of answers and how much the sentiment spreads digitally. That’s not customer satisfaction. In many places, the overall organization hasn’t figured out how satisfaction aligns with revenue. If that’s the case, I encourage you to spend time elsewhere.

Vanessa: “It’s not the ROI - it’s the impact”

We don’t look at ROI in terms of customer satisfaction. ROI is benefits divided by costs. We really focus on business impact. We used a client community to help the business socialize, and did onboarding to help customers feel safe and secure, then measured the migration strategy over time. The importance of business impact: you need a baseline. Hopefully you see a migratory pattern, benchmark current satisfaction over time, then repeat and track that satisfaction.

Richard: “It’s a non-linear relationship”

I disagree that engagement equals more sales and retention. It’s not that simple. Engagement can help, but only certain types. Think multiple regression and analysis: what needs attention? How many contributions do they have to make? What specifically leads to that increase? Once you know it, focus on those specifics. It’s not a perfect model, but it’s the most precise thing we’ve tried.

What Happens with Community Management Next?

Community is arguably everywhere now, so we had to ask the big, flashy question: What does the future hold for community management?

David: “It’s about to become the most important thing we can all be doing”

Community has always been a part of business, and humanity. The reason community management is in the spotlight now is actually not even about community, but the idea of platforms. As an organization (associations know this well), we can create all the value for people, or we can create a platform for people to create value for each other. It’s more scalable. When people feel that deep sense of belonging and identity, they want to help other people and create more value. The skill and passion and ability to bring people together will only get more important and critical for bigger problems.

Every community can be used for good or evil, ethical or not. Sometimes we don’t realize if we’re creating something unethical. Our recent conference had mostly white speakers - we need to put more work into our diversity. What is the ethical standard we can hold every community to? What is the criteria? Let’s have a conversation.

Rachel: “The platform matters” and “The future of all management”

How social media is broken was discussed this year at HubSpot's Inbound conference - social media is architected around the individual. I can spew and curate whatever I want. It’s not a shared space. The platform matters. There’s research to say social media divides but community brings us together. For example, the Wikipedia community has political views moderated, because they all have to work together.

I see community management as the future of all management. It’s like teaching: everyone teaches, and now everyone is digital with their own personal networks. If you’re successful, you will have to do it well. Some people will do it professionally. If you’re offline, you have a network of people you orchestrate around - it’s community management, whether you think of it that way or not.

Richard: “The use of community management as a term is in decline”

Demonstrating value has proved difficult. How many people have [community management] as a job title? Just a couple. Support-based communities are growing in strength, and the future is there. Internal communities are strong, as well as when the community is the product itself.

Vanessa: “Communities are the great silo-breakers and change-makers”

Because of where communities sit, they’re the center of a hub and spoke model. When they’re effective and integrated, they help the whole customer journey, from sales and gathering members to retention and new product design and services. In the future, I envision a world where we no longer use the “c” word - it’s the big “C” of community that helps manage and progress the goals of an organization.

How Can We Positively Influence Community Behavior? Should We Change Lurkers?

One good trait for a community manager is being able to influence behavior within the community. So how should we influence lurkers, if at all?

Vanessa: “Not lurkers - they are active readers”

We did a study in 1994 and asked: What are people doing who log on and never say anything, but always come back? We studied a big batch, and found active readers take data/info from the community and bring it into their meetings and real lives. They just didn’t type a lot. So create a bullseye and decide which activities you want your member segments to do, to achieve certain goals. Then design action-based triggers to move them closer to the center. There will be drop-offs. Go through a social engineering phase to thoughtfully measure your results.

David: “Lurkers are people, too”

People creating content wouldn’t do it if 70 percent of the community wasn’t absorbing and asking for it. For the CMX Facebook group, you got a video on a random Monday [when you joined], of me tagging you and welcoming you to our community. When you tag people, you put a little pressure on them. I’ve done this a hundred times and when I don’t do it, there’s silence. Call them out and put in the time to do stuff that doesn’t scale. Also, do a “Love Your Lurker” week!

Richard: “Converting lurkers into active participants? I wouldn’t bother.”

Lurkers have gotten into a certain habit or level of interest. They usually say they don’t have time or have nothing to share. The biggest win is when people first join. The challenge is to give them something specific to do. Find a scalable way to reach out to every person who joins, and find out based on their background what they can contribute and where. Research your members, interview them, and find out their biggest challenges and how to solve them.

Rachel: “Prompt micro-behavior change”

Complex behavior patterns are learned incrementally (like my daughter attending her gymnastics class). Online it’s easy to prompt - they actually change their views of what’s possible, which then changes their beliefs. Every Monday morning we host the Working Out Loud discussion thread. We’re helping you be productive. Just write three things you’ve got to get done that day. It helps you keep accountable for your goals.

Topics: Community Platforms & Updates, Online Community Management, Engagement, Online Community

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