It’s been a while since I posted an FAQ entry. All the recent activity around iPhone information has reminded me of another one.
So, this FAQ installment is targeted at enterprise communities.
Now that Connect has groups, people are using it more frequently for centralized collaboration, which is exactly what we hoped. Generally, the person spearheading the community has a plan to promote it and drive its adoption. Sometimes, they ask me for my thoughts, hence the question: How do I get people to adopt and use my group/community/whatever?
Usually, the plan involves a mass email or an announcement as the promotional vehicle. Not that this is bad, but people struggle daily with an overwhelming amount of communication. So, this approach alone won’t bring everyone to the party.
There’s typically a centralized message component too, e.g. the One Ring approach. Sagar ran into this when he tried to standardize blogs and Connect status as means of communication with his team. It’s not enough to tell people nicely or otherwise that this new way is the only way and so it shall be.
I’ve run into this in the past myself. Some people don’t react well to edicts, even if they come from on high. I used to wonder what people thought their jobs were if not to follow the instructions of their management.
Anyway, this is where adoption hits a wall. You’ll get adoption from your One Ring announcement, but it won’t be what you hoped. So, now what?
Adoption is tricky, and unfortunately, it’s a key metric for declaring the success or failure of a community.
Failure is a loaded word here because it suggests that there is only a numeric way to judge success. From the WSJ Business Tech Blog cited research from a Deloitte consultant about a month ago. The consultant’s study of more than 100 businesses with online communities showed:
Thirty-five percent of the online communities studied have less than 100 members; less than 25% have more than 1,000 members.
Although the post points out that pageviews and visits are poor ways to determine success, it does cast the communities with small membership as failures. This isn’t fair.
Engagement, although very hard to measure, is a much better way to characterize the success/failure of a community. For example, a community with less than a hundred members sounds like a failure, but a community where 90% of the members login every day and 70% of the members interact daily sounds like a success.
What if we’re talking about the same community?
Engaging your members should be the goal for adoption, not simply getting them to login and browse around, but actually getting them to use the content and interact with the other members.
Another example. Consider Connect’s two largest groups measured by membership; one is for iPhone users, the other is not. Guess which one has more posts and more comments by a large margin?
If you said iPhone, you win. Judging by membership alone, both groups appear to be successful, but when judged by engagement, one is clearly more successful.
So, how do you foster engagement? Designate a community manager whose only job is to engage members in discussion and help them find answers. Finding answers is frequently the best way to expand the community, too, by drawing in new members. If you have a question, but the expert who can answer it isn’t a member, try to bring this person into the community. Bringing in known experts is a win for your community, and it’s an ego boost for the experts.
So, while you foster engagement, find ways to spread the word beyond the email blast. I’ve mentioned the path of least resistance for questions before, and you should use it to your advantage. To answer questions people:
- Ask people nearby and people they know, by email, phone, IM, any means necessary.
- Ask the Interwebs, probably using Google.
- Ask the “official” support people, i.e. you.
- Read your One Ring announcement email.
People are super-busy, and these are the fastest ways to get answers, but how do you leverage them?
For 1, spend time with your circle of friends and acquaintances. Explain the value of your community and get them to join and participate. Ideally, this will trigger a viral spread through the strong ties of your network, bleeding over into the weak ties.
At the very least, your personal relationship with them will help them remember your community, even if they don’t participate or engage others. So, when someone asks them a question (see 1 above), they’ll remember you and your community.
Moving to search (2), if you can blog in the open about your community, do so early and often. Use the SEO of blogs to push your posts on to the first page of search results for the keywords you want. Monitor what keyword searches bring people to your blog too. Use this to tweak your content.
Whereas using email to promote your community borders on spam, you can use search to your benefit without the same icky feelings.
The iPhone is a good example here. People searching for the keywords “oracle iphone” found my blogs posts about my own iPhone experiences on the first page. They commented on the post and emailed me for more information, and now, that community built its membership into a few hundred people, most of them pretty engaged, without much effort from me at all.
So, even if your community is inside a firewall, external blogging can still help.
You’ll also want to augment with internal versions of the same tactics, i.e. an internal blog and SEO on enterprise search. The latter may be tougher to game, but easier to socially engineer. It could be faster to contact the admins of the enteprise search engine to see if they can bolster your the relevancy of your results for the keywords you want.
If you don’t have enterprise search, cozy up to the portal admins and try to get some link real estate for your community.
So, to recap:
- Engagement > membership numbers
- Path of least resistance > reminder emails, edicts
What do you think? There are a lot of experienced community managers (and members) out there, so what would you add or subtract?
Sound off in comments.
Update: Frank points out a tip to increase engagement in comments, one that we’ve known about but have been tardy introducing. You have to make it easy to be engaged in the community; in the consumer space, RSS is the mode of choice, but if you’re fostering an enterprise community, you’ll want email notifications too.
As the chart shows, email is still the main activity people do online every day. Email is very tricky though because of spam concerns and flooded inboxes. You can dodge the spam issues by offering good email digest options. However, since everyone is overwhelmed with email, don’t be surprised if you introduce email subscriptions and your community doesn’t take off like wild fire.
My money says half or more of the people who say they want email subscriptions will turn them off in the first month. Seems like a good idea, but ten years ago, so did the email newsletter. Anyway, you need to do this, but it’s not a magical elixir. You still need to put in the hard work and be patient.
Which reminds me of a final word of advice.
You need it. At least for community building.