Manny Hernandez + Emily Coles: Building Community - Engaging for Change


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Well-managed communities can have a great impact. Learn how to create and grow an online community, and how to engage its members. The session will be informed by nearly one decade of community management experience (things to do and to avoid), with specific examples from, a diabetes social network.

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  • DESCRIPTION: Well-managed communities can have a great impact. Learn how to create and grow an online community, and how to engage its members. The session will be informed by nearly one decade of community management experience (things to do and to avoid), with specific examples from, a diabetes social network.Why online communities matter.A little bit of DHF historyThings to do/avoid when setting up and scaling your community.
  • A nonprofit that seeks to understand, connect and energize the millions of people living with diabetes, through programs such as and the Big Blue Test.Manny is an advocate passionate about empowering people touched by diabetes to become a collective force for change. In 2008, he co-founded Diabetes Hands Foundation, which he continues to head. As a consultant, he helps groups understand and explore an ePatient-centric world. Twitter Handle: @askmanny
  • A nonprofit that seeks to understand, connect and energize the millions of people living with diabetes, through programs such as and the Big Blue Test.Emily manages and develops TuDiabetes (in English) and EsTuDiabetes (in Spanish), two social networks with 50,000 members touched by diabetes and an annual reach of well over 3 million unique visitors. Twitter Handle: @DiabetesHF, @EsDiabetesHFPrior to her work at Diabetes Hands Foundation Emily taught ballroom dance professionally for 6 years, which seemed like a perfect use for her newly-earned Masters in Epidemiology from Stanford University.
  • The two largest social networks we run at Diabetes Hands Foundation are (in English) and (in Spanish). Both launched in 2007.
  • Today, they serve as a home for more than 50,000 registered members and they receive well over 3.5 million unique visitors every year.The coming lessons, do’s and don’ts we will share will largely be from, though there will be a couple of moments we will touch upon lessons learned from EsTuDiabetes as well.
  • Since 2007, we have seen consistent growth in both communities. Here you can see the progression in unique visitors:TUDIABETESNearly 4.7 million unique visitorsHowever, as you know unique visitors are only the tip of the iceberg. Once you have visitors come to your community, the key is engaging them.One way to measure engagement is through taking a look at Returning visitors. In the case of TuDiabetes, this corresponds to 40+ % of visitors, as you can see in the pie chart.
  • Why returning visitors matter? Take a look at the pages/visit and avg. visit duration numbers:* Returning visitors spend over 4x more time on the web site than new visitors.Returning visitors click on 3x more pages on the web site than new visitors.If you compare the total of people that return to the community vs. the total, you notice that most people DON’T return, even with a healthy 40% rate of returning visitors. This is one of the main challenge you face as a Community manager.
  • In the remaining minutes, we will focus on 2 challenges, and offer a few tips on how we’ve addressed them with varying levels of success.
  • In the remaining minutes, we will focus on these 2 challenges, and offer a few tips on how we’ve addressed them with varying levels of success.
  • Let’s talk about challenge #1: how do we get people to come to your community in the first place, i.e. how do you build up your community?We’re not going to focus on how to FIRST start a community, but rather assume that you have an established community around a particular topic and that you want to grow it (and keep members engaged).
  • Our networks run on Ning, which natively provides a box on the top right corner of every page allowing you to sign up (if you are not a member) or sign in (if you previously joined the community).We were experiencing fairly unsatisfactory conversion rates (0.2% to 0.3%). To address this we decided to add a lightbox to the sites. If someone comes to the community (any page) for the first time, they get the lightbox, inviting them to sign up or log in. If the person comes to the community (any page) for the first time since the inception of the lightbox and they are logged in, they don’t get the lightbox.This lightbox only appears once. We were trying not to be invasive/annoying.The imagery we employed in the lightbox speaks to some of our core brand personality attributes: warm, helpful, fresh, youthful, social. The language we used at the bottom “Joining the community is free, easy, and lets you share your questions and experiences.” was literally chosen based on analysis of the responses by current members to the sign-up question “How do you hope to benefit from TuDiabetes?”.Last, the language we employed for the buttons was a tip of the hat to Facebook: Sign Up, Log In (instead of Join, Sign In, etc.)The next slide shows the results we observed…
  • In TuDiabetes, the resulting conversion rate is now 2-3x higher (close to 1%).In EsTuDiabetes, the resulting conversion rate is now 3-4x higher (over 1%).
  • We look at different types of data every week, and every month.I use Google Analytics here as an example, but the truth is that the dashboard of data you need to pay attention to be feed from different places. Two examples of additional places we look at are Member Data we export from Ning once per month (to see things like # of members who have signed into the network in the past 30 days), and Constant Contact reports (to see open rates and clickthrough rates for our monthly e-newsletters).This helps you spot trends and potential issues, such as:-We have identified a slowly downward trend in our traffic from Google searches (God bless Google’s algorithm changes!). We couldn’t have spot this if we didn’t pay attention to trends in Google Analytics Traffic Sources on a monthly basis.-We monitor Content > All Pages more often (weekly) to develop a sense of trending topics and results of content we’ve featured.The next example shows how we used this same approach to try to anticipate a trend in traffic.
  • Feb. 14, 2012, we saw 4x the normal amount of traffic we see on looked closely and discovered something amazing!
  • Digging deeper into Content > All Pages for this period on Google Analytics we discovered an unusual jump in traffic in connection with ONE specific page, that looked like this…
  • “Happy Valentine’s Day! HOORAY for love in all its forms!”This page, which had been around for over a year at the time, had been very nicely indexed by Google, resulting in a very large number of visits on VALENTINE’S DAY!Unfortunately, this page had a fairly high Exit rate: 64% vs. the overall web site average Exit rate (53%), which is to be expected. A lot of organic traffic came to it that was no necessarily expecting to be greeted into a diabetes online community.We wondered, how can we leverage this kind of organic traffic to try to convert some more of them, or at least take the opportunity of having the extra organic traffic translated into more visibility for our work.
  • We tried to harness the SEO value that the page had for this type of search (“FelizDia del Amor y la Amistad”) and created a share-able item that was a little closer to our mission than a flamingo!
  • A lot of the best practices required to keep people engaged may feel like “soft” or more emotion-driven, but the truth is, in a world where so much has become automated, syndicated, and lost its soul, ensuring your community has a heart and soul remains essential to keeping people engaged and choosing to come back. Here are some ways in which we have accomplished this on our communities.
  • It is key to have clearly articulated values to make sure people know what to expect.For example, take the case of a community of nudists. In such a space, you should anticipate seeing nudity and shouldn’t feel offended if faced with it.However, in a family-oriented web site, exposure of body parts would likely not be expected.
  • Here you can see an example of how we articulate the values of the community on TuDiabetes.In particular, there is ONE value that we’ve found to make sense in most cases (almost all types of communities):The value of respect is key to successful communities. As with anything else in human endeavors, there is bound to be disagreement among different people. However, a space where disagreement is allowed to turn into disrespectful arguing and name-calling leads inevitably to unpleasant situations that turn people off and undermine the community.
  • Here is an example of an actual response from someone that was engaged in a heated debated about a topic. Modeling the spirit of our community values, this person replied maintaining her position and agreeing to disagree.
  • This other person couldn’t take reading someone else with a position he disliked. He immediately proceeded to insult the group…In cases where people in the community are not willing to abide by community values, you need to be willing to enforce the rules. Following are some examples of how we enforce the rules on TuDiabetes.
  • Over the course of the past 6 years, we’ve developed a lot of messages we post in reply to specific violations of the rules of engagement in the community.If people continue to violate the rules, after 3 strikes, they are out!
  • Here is an example of a message we would post to someone who is posting in a way that sounds ambiguous, which could be insulting. We try not to assume the person meant to insult, but make it clear that it is hard to tell.
  • Here is an example of a message to a person who seems all too happy engaging in flirting in the community, which is causing some female members to freak out.
  • The message sent to people who are blocked from the community is VERY simple and clear…
  • We are ALL humans, but Community Managers need to put their emotions aside when dealing with the inherent conflicts that are due to arise. Even the “safest” communities (the ones about the potentially non-controversial topics) can erupt in flames if certain topics come up (typically politics and religion). It’s key that community managers keep their emotions out of the discussion and focus on the information at hand.
  • There are a number of ways to keep your emotions out of the discussion in the community:-If you feel you have become compromised, you can enlist the help of others in the team. Ideally, in a larger community, you will not be doing the Community manager job by yourself.-Having clear values, as mentioned earlier, is a great place to start, since you have rules that everyone can see and rules that can be referenced to keep this from getting emotional.-It’s a great idea to read (and read it again once in a while) the great book by Don Miguel Ruiz, “The Four Agreements”… (next slide)
  • Arguably all four agreements are amazing pieces of advice for Community Managers to maintain a healthy space in the community, and keeping sanity!
  • As much as we love reading blogs, Facebook updates and tweets, we like to cuddle with a good ole book. Here are some other titles, all of which we highly recommend: on the topic of Community Management:Buzzing Communities: How to Build Bigger, Better, and More Active Online Communities:* Online Community Management For Dummies: Art of Community: Building the New Age of Participation* Managing Online Forums: Everything You Need to Know to Create and Run Successful Community Discussion Boards* Design to Thrive: Creating Social Networks and Online Communities that Last
  • Any thoughts, questions?
  • Manny Hernandez + Emily Coles: Building Community - Engaging for Change

    1. 1. Building Community:Engaging for ChangeManny Hernandez, Emily Coles
    2. 2. Manny HernandezDiabetes AdvocatePresident, Diabetes Hands Foundationwww.DiabetesHandsFoundation.orgSocial Strategy Consultant@askmanny @diabetesHF
    3. 3. Emily ColesHead of CommunitiesDiabetes Hands Foundationwww.DiabetesHandsFoundation.orgProfessional ballroom dance instructor@ecoles74 @diabetesHF
    4. 4. 2007
    5. 5. Today
    6. 6. Unique Visitors
    7. 7. New vs. Returning Visitors
    8. 8. ChallengesGet peopleto cometo yourcommunity
    9. 9. ChallengesKeep peopleengaged afterthey arrive
    11. 11. TIP: Make it easy/fun for people to sign up
    12. 12. Results beyond our wildest dreams!
    13. 13. TIP: Keep an eye on your data!
    14. 14. See what happened Feb. 14, 2012
    16. 16. TIP: Have a clear values statement
    17. 17. An interaction that abides to our values“You are passionately pursuing a cause you feeldeeply about... I dont agree with your stand,but I absolutely applaud your passion...”
    18. 18. An interaction that doesn’t…“That’s the problem with you damn liberals...You sit on your butt and take no for an answer.”
    19. 19. TIP: Enforce the values
    20. 20. Caution re: Tone by Member“… we’ve noticed some of your comments toother members in the community have a tonethat’s difficult to interpret.”
    21. 21. Caution re: Dating in the community“… This community is not intended to be adating network and is not intended to be used tomatch people for relationships.”
    22. 22. Reason for Ban: Spamming“Your account has been deactivated and youwere banned from our community for violatingthe Terms of Use of our site by spamming anumber of our members…”
    23. 23. TIP: Keep (your) emotions out of it
    24. 24. Some ways to do it…• Enlist help from a team• Clear values (see earlier Best Practice)• Read “The Four Agreements”! 
    25. 25. Books