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Your Questions Answered on The 2015 State of Community Management Report

Written by Caitlin Struhs | on June 18, 2015 at 9:02 AM


Want to stay on top of the latest community trends and best practices? Guest bloggers Rachel Happe and Jim Storer, co-founders of The Community Roundtable, offered up their community management insights and resources during Higher Logic’s recent webinar, “The 2015 State of Community Management.” This latest report covered the top trends and best-in-class community methods from the past year. 

Check out some of the webinar’s most popular questions, with Rachel and Jim's answers, below:

How can an organization show ROI in the early phases where there is little sharing and engagement? (example: a federal government community with about 300 members)

Early in a community lifecycle, the most important part of generating ROI is understanding the key behaviors that will deliver value, and focusing your community management efforts on encouraging and rewarding those behaviors. Those will likely change as the community matures, and planning programming accordingly can help trigger those behaviors – if increased sharing is a goal, things like starting with a “Question of the Week” can be a relatively comfortable way to build trust and start conversations. Remember to work the back channels to get members you can count on to model behaviors.

Can you give a definition of Stages 2 and 3 from the report, so we can fully understand the differences? What are characteristics of each?

We go into this in more depth in the State of Community Management 2015, but there is no single line – a community might be in Stage Three in strategy but only Stage Two (or Stage One) in policies and governance. But roughly speaking, communities in Stage Two are building out the structures of their community. By the time they can be considered Stage Three, many of those structures are in place, and they are focused more on strengthening the community and making it a more integrated part of their organizations. 

How much can volunteers fill in the gaps if we can't get more employees working on our community?

Volunteers can be powerful parts of your community. Developing advocates is a key piece of community scalability. The key question to ask is one of shared value. You likely already have a good sense of how these volunteers might be able to help you – what are the benefits and rewards they will get from taking a more involved role in the community? Make sure they are getting more value than they contribute with a combination of recognition, access and connections.

What's the difference between a community system and platform?

When we think of platforms, we are focused more on the technical infrastructure upon which you are building your community. The systems of a community are the operational processes you use to manage the community, and those that support a community approach within the larger organization.

What type of "incentives" do you suggest for a community?

At a simple level, think of it as part of the answer to the question “Why should people use the community?” People can be rewarded intrinsically for using the community, by getting better and faster answers to their questions, but you can also reward community engagement by, for example, making community engagement part of performance assessments, or by regularly recognizing those who are contributing most greatly with recognition, information, access or other valued items.

Can you share a successful community roadmap?

Roadmaps are often proprietary planning documents for organizations, and while we have worked with clients to build their own and members have shared their plans inside TheCR Network, they are not often made publicly available. One high level example is in the UBM case study we did a few years ago, where we shared some of their major milestones.

Can you define "advocate" and advocacy programs?

Your advocates are your key community leaders – people who are very engaged, answer a lot of questions and represent the spirit of the community. They are also the community members most likely to play key roles in helping moderate unhelpful behavior and to manage crises in the community. They’re organizational allies, and advocate programs are designed to nurture and foster their continued involvement in and connection with the community. Here’s an easy gut-check definition: Think about the community members you would be most upset to lose if they suddenly vanished. Those are your advocates. Now think about how you’d be able to keep them. That’s the root of your advocacy program.

What is a "multi-tiered" advocacy program? Does it provide varying achievement levels and perks for members?

Multi-tiered can include multiple levels or types of advocates who contribute across multiple dimensions of the community. For example, you might have a program that not only recognizes key customer members, but it also may reward key subject matter experts and give some improved access to executives. The advocacy program likely does not offer the same reward for every advocate type because they all participate for different reasons. There are any number of dimensions successful programs have, and some good case studies out there.

How do we know how many tiers to build?

Advocate programs typically add tiers as the community becomes more mature and grows. However, the number of ultimate tiers varies significantly. One way to evaluate how many advocate groups you might want to address is to define all your key member types and what role each serves – there should likely be an advocate tier for each of those segments.

What are some differentiating factors between best-in-class and average communities?

We have a section on this in the report – the best-in-class communities are those that scored in the top 20 percent overall on the State of Community Management survey. But when we looked more closely, we found they excelled relative to average in three key areas. They are stronger at linking the goals of the community with broader organizational goals. They do a better job of prioritizing the member experience and developing multiple ways for members to get involved. They also invest in their staffs, not just by having full-time community management staff, which is critical, but also by investing in the professional development of those staff members.

Define creators and collaborators within communities - what are the differences?

These are our definitions:

  • Creators: Members who have started a discussion, a chat, a blog post or partic­ipated in community leadership activities including content moderation, welcom­ing members or initiating programming
  • Collaborators: Members who collaborate (i.e. create value together - this could be training materials, code/apps, events, product specs, marketing materials, etc.), as well as create content independently

Collaborators not only take part in the community, they actually build community in the way they take part.

How do you assess and communicate value to executives?

Community value can be thought of in a range of ways, from pretty soft values (improved sentiment, loyalty and engagement) to very hard values (ROI). How you define and communicate the value of your community depends on a few things: how the executive in question defines value, how old your community is and what metrics you have available or might obtain. This is a fairly complex topic in that there are a lot of variables at play, but it’s definitely worth investing the time to figure out what works for your organization.

What is online engagement literacy?

Online engagement literacy is the skill of having conversations – even hard or sensitive ones – in online communities. It’s all about how questions are asked, opinions are shared and answers provided. Over time, people who work in online communities and spaces learn how to ask a question more likely to generate engagement, to share opinions in a way that leads to a constructive versus a defensive dialog and answer others’ questions in a way that is supportive instead of condescending – all while using a tone that is personal and accessible. Some people do this naturally, but most people struggle with different elements of communicating for engagement.

In the report, you suggested encouraging good behaviors in your community guidelines - any examples?

Guidelines are meant to be the behaviors you want to encourage and discourage, written in plain English. If you want people to ask questions – say that! If you want them to support and encourage each other, then speak up! Here are a few of our guidelines from TheCR Network:

 Things we will encourage and support

  • Questions. We don't think there is a question that is too dumb. Often the simplest question is the most profound. If there is something you are not getting, ask - you are likely not alone
  • Ideas. Ideas are great things. Sometimes they spark intense conversations and actions. Sometimes they fall flat. You never know until you articulate them. Go for it!
  • Disagreement. Yes, we think that disagreeing - respectfully - is at the heart of what makes a good community. However, that means disagreeing with a statement or idea, not with the person who had it. And, if you are going to disagree it is awfully nice to agree with something else first, e.g. "I agree that X is an issue, but I wouldn't address the problem that way". Disagree but please think about your wording when you do so
  • Participation. Don't see that great blog post about strategy that someone wrote? Think the community needs more case studies? Well don't just stare...make it happen. While we are the hosts of this party, we are by no means the sole arbiters of what gets discussed and presented. If you feel strongly about something, do something about it

What are some of the models you've seen where community is foundational to the business itself?

There are some great examples of businesses and organizations where community is at the core - many that have existed from before the Internet – like associations, conferences, clubs, churches, community foundations and schools. Bringing the community online lowers the transaction costs of what those organizations already were doing well and gives them the ability to reach more people or reach people more regularly. Newer models are organizations like GiffGaff, the Apple iPhone App ecosystem (and others like it), and many of the sharing economy companies – the community model is being used by commercially oriented organizations because when done well, it lowers sales and marketing costs, increases adoption and loyalty and helps provide a more supportive experience for customers.

What are some deeper dives into the data that you might take next year, based on this year's research?

I think we really want to explore some of the ROI and value challenges that communities face, and how the most successful ones are measuring them. We’re also about to launch the next version of our other research platforms, exploring the roles, skills and career paths of community professionals, and there are a number of things we may ask there, in part to take a deeper dive into some of the community management and professional development questions that came out of this survey.

Any quick-start ideas for companies without much brand recognition, but are tasked with building online communities focused on trust?

First, I’d say set expectations appropriately. Trust is earned – it’s a tough “quick win.” But when starting a community with a goal like that, start small and be laser-focused on the behaviors you want to encourage and model them. Then, as you evaluate how you’re doing, everything needs to go back to that core value. Also, be as transparent as possible. Part of being trustworthy is being trusting, too – if as an organization you can’t model the behaviors that you ask from your members, it could be tough sailing.

Is it a best practice to integrate your AMS/CRM with your community?

How important it is depends on your use case and other variables, but there are advantages for being able to integrate your community and business tools, if you ultimately are trying to make community a core tenet of the business. That’s the general theory I’d operate under, although there may well be arguments (cost, complications, lack of technical know-how) that make it the wrong choice for some communities.

Is there a regularly scheduled TweetChat on these topics?

There are some chats out there on community topics – we run one, #ESNChat, which focuses on internal communities. A lot of our discussions go on inside TheCR Network, our own community for community managers, which is a members-only network. You can find more information at www.communityroundtable.com/TheCRNetwork.

Download 2015 State of Community Management Report


Topics: Online Community Management, Volunteer Management, Online Community Software, Customer Advocacy, Online Community

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