What makes a community tick (6 tips to make it work)

Creating a community platform is easy, however how to ensure that the target audience you were aiming for is using it. Since it is not an exact science, there is not a how to guide or one size fits all approach. However there are a few things you might want to pay extra attention to increase your changes on success:

  1. Think of the purpose of your community. Is it a place for people to spend a substantial time of their day, or is it just a platform for getting things done? You have to make it clear upfront, since your community management style might differ in each situation. You can read more about this in this article if your community is a restaurant or a supermarket. (tweet this)
  2. Create content. Nothing is more awkward than arriving in a community that is empty.  Therefore you should make sure that there is always a bit of content and more important some activity. Nothing is worse then to have stale content, since what is that telling your new community member… So make sure to have always a bit of activity, even it just a few people. (tweet this)
  3. Don’t structure. Too much. Structure is good, too much structure makes things confusing. If you enter a community which has more than 70 sub communities you don’t know where you should go (unless you are very structure loving person). If you have just one place to go, there is no decision involved, just move over there. So only structure when there is really a need for it, for example when you have +100 messages per day, then you might want to add structure to prevent information overflow. Structure is general is always an issue, and every issue is an opportunity in disguise. (tweet this)
  4. Don’t expect your (future) users to help you. The time of build-and-they-will-come are over, if that time has ever existed in the first place. There is no such thing as a bottom up strategy. You can try to motivate your users to help you, however in the end you have to do it on yourself. You are the one that should lead by example. (tweet this)
  5. If you have a specialised community, don’t settle for the generic 1-9-90 rule from Jakob Nielsen. You activity will be probably a lot higher, so make you sure you are not stopping when you have reach 10% of people who are posting very regular to every now and then. So know what you are activity level should be upfront and don’t stop till you get there. (tweet this)
  6. It is hard work. It might be obvious however many people think success comes overnight, just because they are great on Twitter and manage a Facebook page.  Building a community takes often 6-9 months to get a critical mass and to become a bit more closer to self sustaining. However even then you need community management, you need to be there daily, you need to be the one always providing anybody with answer until there is somebody who will do it for you. Read this story about a homeless women in my local super market and you might understand how important it is to build a loyal community. (tweet this)

What is your tip to make a community tick? Leave a comment, or tell me on Twitter.

The checklist mentality with social media

I guess you know the blog posts such as ‘X ways to get success’, ‘Y ways in growing your Facebook page with 1.000.000 users’ etc etc. There is just always a limited number of ways or a limited number of steps you have to take to get to a certain level of success. Tools such as Klout, Kred and Peerindex  provide an even deeper urge for compliance to lists and algorithms. Since to be credible you need a decent score with those tools, otherwise you are doing social media wrong. If this is the way you measure success of your social media activities, you are destined to fail.

As an addition to these tools and blog posts there are of course some very smart marketing efforts by companies who copy this checklist mentality to create either some smart buzz or to please some clients. Since the easiest way to get attention is to send out a press release that contains some research (whether this research is complete and objective or not). Examples such as these are the Social Business Index from Dachis Group and the Social Media Monitor by Social Embassy. Based on their checklists brands are identified as being successful or as brands that need improvement on social media.

Checklists are just marketing

The ironic part is that whether it is the people behind the blog posts, behind the tools or behind the companies creating this checklist mentality know that it is not about complying with a checklist. However they have created this abstraction so ‘normal people’  can grasp it better and at least know what to do in the first few steps. Though over time they have conveniently forgotten about this fact and don’t mention it anymore. Creating the false illusion that if you score according to a checklist you are doing a great.

Checklists are great for industrial environments and processes, not for social environments. It feeds the internal fear of non-compliance, if you are not complying with the checklist, you are the odd one out. You are the one that fails, you are the one who doesn’t know to do his job. You have to read the manual, you have to comply. Non-compliance is a synonym for failure in some organisations.

If you are forced to follow the checklist mentality for your social media effort just ask the checklist provider: Since when has success become a checklist? If there is an answer that this checklist is the only way to achieve success, make sure your ways part. Since then you are still working in the industrial age and not in the age of social and therefore your real success will be limited even though you might have 100% compliance to the checklist.

Social is a transformation, not a checklist.

Why most social platforms are just as bad as email

Most social media platforms are just email reinvented. It is not better than email (nor is it worse), it is just email with a fancy layout taking advantage of the top of the hype cycle. Anything marked as social could be a solution, especially when the workflow feels identical. Since if the flow feel comfortable it should be an easy change process right? Well if it feels comfortable then you are either lucky to work in a truly social enterprise or you are just implementing something you already have.

If the platform is not going beyond these features, you are just paying a premium for a new way of emailing:

  • One on one private conversations; the feature to exchange information in a private way, just from one human to another.
  • One to many conversations;  the feature to exchange information by sharing it with a bigger audience of people you know and don’t know.
  • Tracking conversations; the feature to see if a conversation was read by the receiver
  • Making lists of people; the feature to create a list with which you can share information.
  • Get updates; the feature to get updates from people either because they send it you to specifically or because the information is public
  • History; the feature to go through information exchanged in the past
  • Filtering; the feature to filter and store messages in a specific way either when receiving them or after receiving them.
  • Mark as unread; the feature to mark information as not read so you can follow-up later or you can filter it easily for later consumption.
  • Prioritizing; automatic (algorithmic) prioritizing of incoming information on what is important for you and what not.
  • Alerting; the feature to get an alert when something important happens you have to take a look at.
  • Notifying other people; the feature to notify some people of the message you have sent. This notification can be either visible or hidden to other people you communicate with.

What kind of features could make a social enterprise? To be honest, it is more than just features, it is around the design of the platform. It is about how it works, not how it looks like. Social Design is in its most effective form a way for solving problems and discovering new opportunities. It is a process, not a channel not a business model, it is an activity, it is a set of design principles which enable you to make truly social experiences. Experiences that connect, that people want to trust, to which they can relate, in which they want to participate with friends or strangers, to which they want to contribute with their time and efforts and experiences that they can share with others.

It definitely is not recreating email with a social layer, it is creating a fundamental shift in how we interact with each other and our environment. So if your social platforms feels really comfortable that might be a sign that there isn’t a substantial change and just yet another email in disguise. Change is uncomfortable.

Design for slow internet connections first

The last few weeks I have been travelling quite a bit. And besides manic roaming costs, hotels charging more for wifi than they do for the room, extremely slow wifi connections in general, there is something else that was bothering my online activities. It was the complete lack of design of most apps for low-bandwidth (or expensive bandwidth) networks.

When something is just becoming unlimited in your own world, it is hard to imagine that it is scarce in somebody’s other world. It is something that is going for a longer period of time which is also shown in the HTTP archive. And I must say it is concerning, since, with easy changes, you can help people to have easy access in places that have a connectivity challenge.

Things you can do right now:

  • Load important stuff first. I have a couple of apps that first load everything (including the screens after the first screen). For Amazon the case is simple. 100ms faster, means 1% more revenue. Your case might be just as simple: if your app is slow, nobody will use it in the end, they will go for a better performing one.
  • Don’t load everything over and over again. Especially not if it is just decoration. Once every session is just enough.
  • Real time is sexy, though is it really important? Do you really need your app to load new content every minute? Probably not. Most apps don’t require real-time updates, and if it requires real-time updates, most likely only for a small part of your app.
  • Caching: this is not easy, however it is crucial to give your application good performance. Spend time on it. Do not only spend time on caching elements in your application, but also pay attention to HTTP response headers when you are using external sources such as APIs to get your data from.
  • Detect the carrier connection (if any), 3G, GPRS, 4G, most often the SDKs for your app provide you with native APIs which you can use to help the user. However keep in mind that wifi doesn’t mean that it is high-speed internet.
  • Use CDNs. Slowness of connection is not only controlled by low bandwidth, but also by high latency. Such services help to reduce the negative effect of latency.

It shouldn’t be too hard to do this. Just don’t assume that everybody has a high-speed internet connection and that bandwidth is unlimited for everybody.

Twitter is Outsourcing. Pivot or Death roll

There is a lot to do about Twitter’s latest API decisions, though in general it is obvious Twitter is pivoting or doing a death roll. Twitter is not the Twitter we used to know, they’ve changed in a different kind of company. First of all they are not the company for the developer anymore. Maintaining an API is hard work, it’s difficult to make it scale. Therefore they are outsourcing it. Developers are not anymore the core activity for Twitter. Maintaining relations with a lot of developers is hard work and it consumes a lot of time and you don’t earn a lot of money let alone the poor margin you make. Focusing on just a few big clients is easier and the margin is way better.

The Media Company

Second of all Twitter is becoming a media company. It turns itself in a publishing platform and not a platform for developers to play with. That has become clear by Twitter introducing Twitter cards, embedding rich media such a videos and pictures. Also they don’t want you to spent your time outside their platform or watch tweets in a different way than they dictate. That is the main reason for Twitter to cut off the friend finder from Instagram and Tumblr. Since if these services use the social graph of Twitter elsewhere then you might also spent your time elsewhere, which is rather inconvenient for a media company.

Twitter is becoming an old traditional media company subsidizing its contents by using advertisements. As a media company you want to grab all the attention you can for as long as you can in the way you want. Since if you are losing eyeballs you are losing money. That is why they outsourced the developer business because it is not core of a traditional media company and by outsourcing it they might even be able to still earn some money on it with a good margin. That is also why there are dictating how you should display tweets because their advertisers like it that way. That is why Twitter sometimes decide in favor of the advertiser instead of in the individual. Since advertisers are paying the bills.

Bankruptcy or API

What Twitter is doing looks like a company either heading to bankruptcy or to an IPO. They are adding focus which is important since no focus automatically leads to waste. They’re looking for ways to make more revenue with a good margin. Now I think the most remarkable thing is that they’re copying an old business model which doesn’t work anymore; the ad-supported web app was already dead a few years ago. Is there such an urgency for money on the short-term that there was no time to create a better business model? Or is Twitter really tired of all those small developers and just want to focus on big companies creating big money for them.

Twitter  leaves the big money on the table. Since they had the opportunity to become infrastructure. Infrastructure is a lot less sexy than a media company. However media companies are easy to be replaced by another media company, infrastructure done right is irreplaceable.

Dear Twitter user, I don’t care about what you think about my tweets

Dear Twitter user,

Thanks for notifying me that there is something ‘wrong’ with:

  1. What I tweet
  2. How I tweet it
  3. When I tweet it

Please be informed that I don’t care about what you think of either of these three things. My tweets are my own, you can follow me, you are not obliged to do so. I promise I won’t be sad if you unfollow me, I would even recommend it. Since if you are so distressed that you need to send out a tweet to complain you might want to think of your blood pressure.

Don’t expect me to explain on why I do things in my way on Twitter, I just do things in the way I like. If you like that, you can subscribe. If  you think my tweets are annoying and you still subscribe, then don’t complain, you are the one pushing the follow button, you are the one reading my tweets, stop complaining, just unfollow. If you like to be annoyed, just stay tuned on my twitter timeline since, according to you, there will be a steady flow of tweets that are completely wrong, just don’t complain.

Just to stress: I don’t care what you think of what I do online. I appreciate the fact that you think you have to guide me, though I would suggest you to spend your time in a different and less annoying way. There is not a good way in using Twitter, there is your way that works for you, just like there is my way that works for me.

Unfollow. Block. Do whatever you want to do. It’s your Twitter timeline anyway.

Communities, crossing the `don’t care`-line and love your haters

Are you running a community and one of your goals is to create more engagement? That is easy, just do something your community will really hates. As soon as you do something like that, there will be small revolt at least. Angry mobs are moving around with pitchforks looking for engagement. . Engagement is an intention of marriage or an intention of war. Engagement is a process, not a goal on itself, however it could give you an indication how involved people are in your community whether they love or hate you.

Hate is a different kind of love

The worst thing that could happen is that people are crossing the don’t care line (see illustration below). Since if people don’t care anymore, they drop off. They won’t remember you and whatever you might do, they just won’t get triggered. People that love you are with you for over some time and the better you are for them, the longer they will love you. However, even your biggest fans will drop off at a certain time.

People who hate you, even though hate might be a very strong word in this case, might be even more passionate than your biggest fans. However they will have less patience and as soon as they have decided to go, they go. You won’t have a second chance with the haters, you have just one time to do it right just before they drop off and go below the don’t care line. Don’t confuse haters with people who do not care, since the reason they hate what you do, is because they love you. Even though they love you in their own particular way.

If you wonder who should “own” social media in your organisation, you miss the point

I was just reading the article ‘Who should “own” social media within an organisation’ by Natalie Cowan on Econsultancy. This article makes some good points on where ownership should be, though it misses the boat completely in the last paragraph:

So despite the obvious (and sometimes compelling) arguments for social media ownership within an organisation sitting with one department or the other (or even an individual), there really is only one person who can own social media for any company, and that’s the customer.

I would say that is the worst thing you can do as an organization. Ownership should be within the organization, especially since an organization has it own values and vision. When applying social as a design element you take those values and vision in account. You might listen to your customers for the details, though you should be stubborn on vision but flexible on the details. Since social media is not about channels, it is about designing a social experience. Channels are controlled and owned by customers (actually big corporations own the channels) the experiences on those channels are a result of your design and if you design well you deliver a great customer experience on those channels.

It is not about owning the media, it is about owning the process. Or as Natalie Cowan describes it in her article: creating a seamless customer experience.  Even though Social Design  is most often seen as an end result, or as an activity on Twitter, Facebook ,Pinterest or another social media platform, it is more than that.  Social Design is in its most effective form a way for solving problems and discovering new opportunities. It is a process, not a channel not a business model, it is an activity, it is a set of design principles which enable you to make truly social experiences. Experiences that connect, that people want to trust, to which they can relate, where they want to participate with friends or strangers, to which they want to contribute with their time and efforts and experiences that they can share with others.

So if you are wondering who should own social media in your organisation you are not creating a truly social experience, you are just putting social on top, something next to existing processes and existing experiences. Applying social as a design principle is going beyond ‘being great’ on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. It is a fundamental change in how business are being run, organized and how businesses and their stakeholders interact and think.

Webcare: are you doing it right? Probably not

You only have to ask one question to know if your webcare activities are future proof:

If I would receive ten times the amount of messages for my organisation on social media as I do today, can I then still scale with my current team and technologies?

We have to understand that the current amount of messages on social media about brands, products and services is still relatively low. Just a small percentage of people are using social media as a replacement for their customer service or as an active sales orientation channel. A lot of the activities are still rather private and passive. However quite a significant amount of companies are now starting their webcare activities, which is often a copy of the old-fashioned offline customer service process: single reaction, single response.

By just copying your approach from your traditional call center you might be able to give yourself a nice marketing advantage in the early days of interacting with your customers online. Though in the long run it is a recipe for failure. What if all your customers decide to stop calling your call centers and move over to social media? What will happen then? There is no way to throttle the waiting queues as you can when your customers call your call center.

Therefore your approach has to be different, since the medium is different. A future proof approach consists of three elements:

  1. Customer Communities; It is a misunderstanding that you or your organization has to be the one answering all the questions online. Create or facilitate a customer community in which your stimulate customer self service. If customers help other customers it will make you more scaleable in peak situations.
  2. Social Media Analytics; A customer community will only help you in getting to a certain amount of questions asked online. Therefore you nee to monitor the rest of the Web as well to see if questions arise and even more important to identify certain trends you can act upon more pro actively.
  3. Automation; If customers ask a question they are in search of an answer, if you can provide the answer in a few seconds, they are happy. A lot of questions don’t need an answer provided by a human, so why bother to have human providing standard answers on standard questions.

These three elements will provide you with a more efficient approach, since either work is done by your customers themselves or in some cases the work will be automated. Leaving you with your existing team, that now can start making a difference on the interactions that matter, instead of providing standard answers on standard questions.

Your social media strategy: free wifi; why creating a shareable experience matters

In some cases 95% of marketing budgets are spent on getting customers into a store. When customers finally made it to the store there is often no way to tell their friends what they are experiencing or to lookup some information they needed via their mobile devices. This is not only the case for retail stores. Most venues with a high entertainment value (holiday parks, amusement parks) or venues with a high hospitality level such as hotels or restaurants also don’t offer an easy way to share your experience. All these locations just simply lack connectivity such as a decent phone reception or WiFi.

The reason it is lacking is because of several myths and trends:

  • In hotels there is the worrying trend that the more expensive the hotel is, the more expensive the WiFi is.
  • In stores too many retailers are afraid that people will start comparing prices in store and will ran away.
  • In restaurants people are afraid that guests will be glued to their smartphones and won’t have any attention to the food or their fellow guests.
  • In some amusement parks people are afraid that having their guests share the pictures from the park will result in fewer people visiting the park.

As Ebenezer Scrooge already said: “Bah! Humbug!”. If you spent 95% of your budget on getting people in, why not make sure that when they are in, they can share why they are in and why others should join. Make it easy for them to share the experience. People won’t run out your store because your competitor has goods that are 2 cents cheaper, unless your service is so horrible it will drive them away. In restaurants people pay attention to their food and other people at the table because of the environment they are and a picture of an attraction in an amusement park cannot replace the real life experience.

If you are able to create an experience that people like and are willing to share, people will share it, if you at least make it easy for them to share. Think of offering free WiFi, offer them advice with which app on their mobile phone they could do really great things in sharing, let other people tell your story. Make it worth sharing and make sharing as frictionless as possible. The costs for having such a WiFi connection in place is basically just your marketing costs, since your customers will outmarket your marketing department in the end.