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A customer community encompasses all open brand-to-
customer and customer interactions. A customer community can
span ma...
 
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Table of Contents
Why a customer communi...
 
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Why a Customer Community?
It’s no secret...
 
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Over time, a customer community becomes ...
 
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Find New Product and Marketing Ideas
The...
 
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Improve Your Brand’s Reputation
Sooner o...
 
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Designing the Community
Ownership
	
  
O...
 
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Community Forum
A forum community can ac...
 
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Be cautious about relying too much on of...
 
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The last, and perhaps most important, is...
 
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Quick Takeaways
ü Social media formats...
 
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Real Community, a Real Home.
People fro...
 
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Build Out an ROI Model Focused on Quant...
 
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Justifying a Community is Simple
	
  
T...
 
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Technology
Technology is, of course, th...
 
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Comment Systems
Comment systems have gr...
 
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happy customers in an attempt to recrui...
 
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Integrating With Other Systems
Your cus...
 
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Suites vs Best-In-Class
When you set ou...
 
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This is not to say choosing a community...
 
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Community Software Customisation
Some b...
 
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Quick Takeaways
Ø There are a variety ...
 
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Community Management
What is Community ...
 
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Community Management Profiles
Community...
 
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Finding the Best Moderators for Your Fo...
 
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that can be misleading is metamodding (...
 
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Being a great community manager isn’t a...
 
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your staff can add to the growing knowl...
 
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Quick Takeaways
Ø Community managers h...
 
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Launching the Community
One of the most...
 
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you’re good at that. I manage a communi...
 
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Ø Outlaw rules lawyering. “But technic...
 
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Parkinson’s Triviality Theory
While the...
 
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A soft launch is a great testing tool, ...
 
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3. Link it. One of your top sources of ...
 
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Attracting and Engaging Members
The mos...
 
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Expertise Attraction
These communities ...
 
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you worry about more intricate strategi...
 
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Using Gamification
Gamification is prec...
 
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and over again to grind out points. For...
 
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regularly, and people aren’t getting bo...
 
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We’ve presented the problem, but where’...
 
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Measuring the Success of Your Community...
 
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Changes in Call Ticket Volume
Deflectin...
 
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much more than the average. Keep an eye...
 
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About Vanilla Forums
More than ever, co...
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The Complete Online Community Playbook by Vanilla Forums

Looking to launch a brand new community or want to take your existing community to the next level? Our Community Playbook packages the deep expertise of community managers and experts spanning business-to-consumer, business-to-business and enthusiast audiences.

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The Complete Online Community Playbook by Vanilla Forums

  1. 1.   A customer community encompasses all open brand-to- customer and customer interactions. A customer community can span many websites, technology platforms and company objectives. This playbook focuses primarily on the part of your customer community that is built on your website.     The Community Playbook
  2. 2.   1     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Table of Contents Why a customer community…………………………………………. 2 Designing the community……………………………………………. 6 Creating a business case for your community……………………… 11 Technology considerations………………………………………….. 14 Community management……………………………………………. 22 Launching the community…………………………………………… 29 Attracting & engaging members……………………………………... 35 Measuring success………………………………………………….. 42 About us……………………………………………………………… 45
  3. 3.   2     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Why a Customer Community? It’s no secret that doing business online is the way of the future. Internet adoption is accelerating globally, creating huge new markets, new customers and new opportunities for growth and profit. For savvy businesses, these changes are creating huge opportunities. The Internet allows for instant, unlimited communication and unparalleled social networking, giving customers and businesses a chance to build stronger relationships than they could have imagined before the Internet. Businesses that invest in this communication by building engaged communities are going to dominate the market in coming decades, as their customers keep coming back. As with any emerging field there are a lot of questions about the best practices and strategies to use. This guide is designed to give you all the information you need to get your community started and keep it engaged. Build Strong, Long-Lasting Relationships with Customers Customer communities allow you to give your customers a place to build bonds and share experiences. Give your brand advocates a place to hang out, to talk about their experiences with your product and other interests. They’ll form connections within the community organically, and strengthen their connection with your brand. Customers that feel valued come back, buying more and more often than from brands with which they have no affinity. Everything hinges on the social aspect; it’s what gives customers a reason to return, to give support and to sing your praises to their friends. Reduced Support Costs Through Crowd-Sourced Support   Traditional support is expensive in terms of cash cost and staff resources, and customers hate it. No one wants to spend hours in a queue for telephone support or further hours sifting through pages and pages of documentation. Conversely, you don’t want your staff to be sitting on phone lines or staring at a Twitter page hoping vainly to be there when someone needs them. Brand advocacy requires that when something goes wrong, customers can fix it, fast. They want self-serve tools that they can access online. “ The ideal support workflow is for a customer to Google a question and find a quick answer.”
  4. 4.   3     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Over time, a customer community becomes a constantly evolving and SEO-friendly knowledge base. Your existing brand advocates can add their own opinions, queries and solutions, and the great standards of support create new ones. Crowd sourced support requires minimal intervention and deflects support tickets before they’re even made. Generate New Sales and Leads Your prospective customers no longer buy products blind. They want to know everything about their purchases before they put money down, and they don’t want to get that information from your marketing materials. They need a place to read about the experiences of other customers, and to hear the details of the product that aren’t covered by marketing. They want a place where they can get excited about their prospective ownership. Post-sale, they want a place to enthuse about their purchase, talk about possible upgrades and upsells and continue the cycle for incoming customers. With the right community strategy, brand enthusiasts will create an environment where your products are constantly receiving cheap, reliable marketing. Better still, it’s content that will be trusted by customers because it isn’t explicitly a part of your message, or paid advertising. Get Fast, Honest Feedback on Your Products You might be tempted to stop me on this point and mention that Twitter and Facebook are notorious for their ability to garner honest “feedback”. That’s certainly true, but the signal to noise ratio on those channels is extremely unfavourable. Instead of the constant fire-hose of feedback that you can receive from traditional social media, a customer community allows for a more nuanced approach. Social media feedback is largely either mono-directional (your customer talks to you, you listen) or bi-directional (you talk back). Customer communities allow for an omni- directional approach, where you can see your customers interact with each other and join in the conversation as you see fit. The social bonds that you can build with your customers using a customer community also allow you to temper that feedback with knowledge and experience. You know that customer better than a random Twitter username, you can judge better whether their feedback is useful and valid.
  5. 5.   4     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Find New Product and Marketing Ideas The best people to ask about your product are the customers themselves. That is, after all, the primary thinking behind focus groups. How can a customer community improve on that? By allowing you to see how customers talk about the product to each other, without the pressure of a focus group situation. You have a longer time frame to look out for product problems and improve user experience. Are the problems that a user has with your product the same in the 3rd month of ownership as they were in the first week? Your customer community is also a great place to find inspiration for your marketing. You might think you know what the best features of your product are, but a few months of watching how your customers talk about the way they use your products might open your eyes. When you have thousands of customers talking about your products, they’re going to come up with angles that even the best marketers could never think of on their own. “Social media feedback is largely either mono-directional (your customers talk to you, you listen) or bi-directional (you talk back). Customer communities allow for an omni-directional approach, where you can see your customers interact with each other and join in the conversation as you see fit.”
  6. 6.   5     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Improve Your Brand’s Reputation Sooner or later, every brand takes a knock. A thoughtless tweet, a product recall or an HR problem that goes viral can lead to a nightmare PR scenario. In these situations, a customer community gives you a place to give your side to the community, a place for them to make their frustrations known to you directly and a place for your biggest brand advocates to speak in your defense. While these situations are always a nightmare to deal with, you’re in a much better position to tackle any PR knocks if you’ve put in the time over the years, building strong relationships with your customers. Quick Takeaways What can a customer community do for your business? ü Build strong relationships with your customers ü Drive repeat business ü Deflect support tickets ü Generate more sales leads ü Receive feedback from your users ü Inspire new marketing content
  7. 7.   6     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Designing the Community Ownership   One of the trickiest elements of an emerging field like community is deciding who the community initiative belongs to. Community can serve a lot of roles, and there can be a sense of paralysis in some teams as everyone watched to see which department will take charge. Is it the responsibility of support to implement a forum community to deflect tickets? Is it marketing’s job to implement one as a way to generate more sales? How about operations, or PR? In truth, most businesses would be best served by implementing a dedicated community team, due to the cross-functional nature of most community initiatives. A community team can work with marketing to find new ways to present products to customers, with support to put measures in place to lighten their workload, and public relations to ensure a united front in customer facing communication. A good community team needs to be fully integrated into the business that it’s a part of to achieve the best results. An isolated community team won’t ever be able to fulfil the promise that community initiatives can provide. Finding the Right Community Platform   A good community initiative will span a number of platforms. There’s no one right approach, because your customers will always want to interact with your brand on their own terms. Not every platform is right for every business, but it’s important to be aware of the different options available to you. On-Domain Community Your customer community includes all channels where you and your customers converse. This includes parts of your website (on-domain) and other 3rd party platforms (off-domain) such as social networks like Twitter or media sharing sites like YouTube.
  8. 8.   7     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Community Forum A forum community can act as the town square for your community. It’s where your customers come together to discuss your products, reinforce their buying decision and form social bonds with other fans. It can also be the focal point for community product support, and a way for your business to communicate with customers in a long-form way. There are many benefits to community forums, which we’ll go into in more detail throughout the book. Suffice it to say that a forum offers a great central point around which to build your community. Blogs and Comments   Blogs can be a great way of communicating with your fan base, and letting them know what’s going on with your products and future releases. The related comments let your customers communicate back, but they tend to be a short form, less engaging way to interact. They’re great for customers who just want a quick way to show their enthusiasm or ire, but they tend to be less effective at omni-directional communication, and don’t build the kind of strong social bonds as forum communities. Some communities (Penny Arcade, for example) use a hybrid approach, offering inline comments that are also posted into the forum community. Off-Domain Community This playbook is focused primarily on on-domain communities. As you design your community, you should consider the benefits of interacting with your customers on 3rd party sites: - Social networks (Facebook, Twitter) - Review sites (Yelp, G2App) - Media sharing (YouTube, Pinterest) - 3rd party forums (CruiseCritic.com, Golfwrx.com) & blogs (Gizmodo, CNet) Many high value customers and influencers can be found on 3rd party sites. Consider interacting in these places to: - Provide accurate and valuable information - Recruit on-domain community members - Seek out candid feedback in an environment that is not under corporate control
  9. 9.   8     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Be cautious about relying too much on off-domain services to build your community. Not being able to control your own platform and data can cause problems for your community in the future. Social Media vs Community Forums   It’s easy to forget just how long the forum format has been kicking around. When I first started posting on forums, I don’t think the term “social media” had even been invented, and there certainly didn’t seem to be much of a sign that it was going to take over the world in a few years. The social media menu now contains Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram and a dozen other imitators and innovators that my tiny bear mind doesn’t have room to store. In light of this glut of competing mediums, a lot of people might be asking why they should go to the extra trouble of starting a forum. Why not just interact on Twitter, start a Facebook group or Pinterest. The crux of the matter is this: what does the humble forum offer that its competitors don’t? One of the first things that spring to mind is age. Forums have existed for so long that the mechanics are now down to a fine art. There’s a moderation tool for every problem that’s likely to arrive, knowledge of BBCode is widespread and there’s no longer an excuse to use the clunky, slow software that we were stuck with back in the day. It’s a format that people recognise, that’s been hammered out and refined to the point where the unique culture and cadence of forums are familiar and easy to grasp. Unlike say, Facebook, we can rely on the fact that forums aren’t going to reinvent themselves every six months. While forums are far from the hippest and most edgy thing out there, that very fact sets them apart from the rest of the achingly hip social media market. Forums aren’t cool, they don’t need to be cool and that coolness can never be taken away from them. The second is verbosity. Social media is largely associated with short, sharp thoughts and phrases. Twitter is, of course, the pinnacle of this idea. There’s a lot to be said for having a fast way to share those one-liners and brief thoughts, but we’ve all seen things spiral out of control when anyone attempts to use Twitter for anything that approaches an in depth discussion. Forums remain the best way for people to exchange more complicated ideas online. Not just for overbearing political nonsense either. Whether it’s superheroes, video games, music, knitting, hedgehog husbandry… whatever you can think of, there’s a forum that provides real, in-depth discussion of it.
  10. 10.   9     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com The last, and perhaps most important, is community. Not in the boring, technical sense by which we refer to all forums. Comparison of Social Media versus Community Forums Social Media Community Forums Ownership & Control No cost or setup but you don’t control the domain or data. You own the data and control the medium, with the responsibilities that go with that. Awareness & Virality Have billions of users and are a great place to recruit into your community on your domain. You compete with everyone on that domain. You must recruit the audience yourself, but have complete control over the community on your domain. Knowledge Exchange Often favors short form and ephemeral content. Great for in the moment exchanges. Better for back and forth, long term content and building a knowledge base. Organic Reach Organic reach is declining fast. Great ad targeting but expensive to interact people who you have already interacted with. Great SEO for attracting new users, reach is in your control.
  11. 11.   10     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Quick Takeaways ü Social media formats are great, but they can’t fully replace a forum community. ü You own the format, and it’s a format that’s passed the test of time. ü Invest time in your forum community provides better ROI and stronger customer relationships. ü Forum communities have more continuity for your customers, they’ll spend more time and be more loyal long-term.
  12. 12.   11     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Real Community, a Real Home. People from all over the world coming together to talk about things, blow off some steam. I’ve seen countless friendships form on forums, dozens of relationships and even marriages. Is this possible on other forms of social media? Sure, I’m betting it happens all the time. The nature of social media dictates that all forms of said media share the benefits of all the others. Community is where forums really shine though. Facebook and Twitter can be your private Oasis in a sea of private Oases, but a forum puts you together in a shared environment with dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of other people. You all follow the same rules (hopefully), read the same threads, love and hate the same personalities. Other forms of social media allow you to share content better than ever before, but forums allow you to share a culture, a dialogue, a community. They require work, expertise and curation in the way that short-form social media don’t (or at least don’t admit to), but nothing compares to the rewards you’ll see from them. Those rewards are greater than ever. Creating a Business Case for Your Community Community has a lot of benefits, to several departments of your company, but your community initiative has to compete with other budget requests. If you’re going to get what you need from the resource gatekeepers, you’ll need to build a strong business case for why a community is vital. Here are a few points you can hit to make sure your business case is killer: Tie Objectives to Company KPIs A common mistake is to use some of the softer benefits of a community to sell them to decision makers. Elements like improved customer relationships may be a great boon to your brand, but your managers are likely to be looking at the bottom line. The two major driving factors are going to be increasing revenue and decreasing expenses, so focus your case on these. It will vary from business to business, but generating more sales and freeing support resources are common benefits to concentrate on.
  13. 13.   12     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Build Out an ROI Model Focused on Quantifiable Metrics Once you know what elements you need to concentrate on, you can come up with an estimate for the ROI that you expect to see from the community. Some elements to focus on could be: Ø Ticket deflection: What’s your cost to handle a ticket? This will vary depending on the complexity of both your product and the case in hand, but is often somewhere between $1- and $100 Ø New leads: Consider your community as a marketing asset to help prospects, to upsell and to cross sell. Include the added SEO value provided by your community forum Ø Lead conversion rate: Your community can be a place where your prospects validate their decision to buy your products. They can see what kind of community support is available to them, and how much other customers are enjoying your product. Community allows for a strong secondary benefit to a purchase. Not just your product, but the community that comes along with it. Ø Reducing churn: Every business needs repeat custom, so give your users a reason to stay with your product. When customers have strong bonds in the community, they aren’t just leaving your product. They’re leaving a social group, and the relationships they’ve built there. Ø Customer Advocacy: Brand advocates are a powerful force in marketing, and the best way to recruit them is a strong community. Getting these heavy-hitting customers in your corner is a way to ensure that everyone they know will hear about your products, without a penny of extra spending from you
  14. 14.   13     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Justifying a Community is Simple   The business case for your community initiative doesn't need to be complicated. Community is a tried and tested strategy that offers real and measurable benefits to any business. If the business case for your community initiative is tied to these benefits and has simple measures in place to chart its success, the approval of the fiscal gatekeepers is a foregone conclusion. Quick Takeaways Ø Don’t be fuzzy with your community strategy, tie everything to concrete KPIs. Ø Be certain what you want to achieve with a community. If you don’t know where you’re going, you won’t know how to get there. Ø Community has huge benefits. Don’t be shy about your proposal, it’s going to provide huge ROI for your business.
  15. 15.   14     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Technology Technology is, of course, the backbone of community management. Without the technology behind the Internet, community on the kind of scale we’re all used to wouldn’t exist. In this chapter, we’re going to go over some of the technological building blocks that you can use to build your on-domain community. Discussion Forums Discussions forums (also known as message boards, community forums, etc.) have been around in some form since the dawn of the Internet. The technology behind them has developed considerably during that time of course, but the basic form of the medium has remained similar. A user posts a discussion, and other users reply to them. The multidirectional nature of these conversations is what allows for so much flexibility in the medium. There are discussion forums for a huge variety of subjects, with a huge variety of approaches that result in a huge variety of different communities. Plugins and refinements allow for a great deal of customisation, but the familiarity and solidity of the underlying structure are powerful tools in themselves. Forum technology has improved a lot in recent years, and a modern solution has a lot of useful benefits for business communities. Some features to look out for include: Ø Single Sign-On, allowing users to sing up with your existing login system, or their logins from social media Ø Theme control, allowing you to perfectly match your website and branding with your community Ø Customer community specific features like CRM integration, Q&A plugins and data at rest encryption
  16. 16.   15     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Comment Systems Comment systems have grown into ubiquity over the years, from the most basic blog comments to integration with large ecosystems like Facebook and Instagram. They’re a much simpler and direct form of communication than a full discussion forum, and this has pros and cons. It’s much easier to engage a user into leaving a brief comment than to invest more into a forum discussion, but this is a double-edged sword. “Don’t read the comments” is a common Internet meme, because the quick nature of comment systems often appeals to users who don’t want to contribute much more than noise. Quality communities based solely on comment systems do exist, but they require care, moderation and work. Simply adding comments to your content and forgetting about it will lead to problems down the line. A Hybrid Approach Vanilla comments provide an interesting halfway point between these formats. They can be embedded into any page, just as with standard comments, but the content goes to a specific forum category. This forum can be public or private depending on your needs, but it’s possible for this hybrid system to appear as a simple comments system to the users who prefer that, whilst also existing in your forum community. The forum interface allows for a lot of flexibility with regards to moderation, and can make it easier to form a lasting community than would normally be possible with blog comments. Customer Reviews Many people don’t consider review communities (à la Amazon, TripAdvisor) when they’re thinking about community management, but they have enormous uptake and a large effect on e-commerce. People enjoy sharing their experiences with products, whether positive or negative, and their interactions are in many ways similar to those of comment threads. Customer reviews range from the short and sweet (or not so sweet) to detailed breakdowns by experienced enthusiasts. This will almost always take plays off- domain, and a community manager’s role is purely reactive. They can reach out to
  17. 17.   16     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com happy customers in an attempt to recruit them as brand advocates. Some heavy- hitting reviewers even receive free merchandise from businesses hoping for an extensive (and positive) review. For negative reviews, a community manager can only try to mitigate problems, replying to reviewers where possible with explanations or reaching out with support. Even simply the appearance of attentiveness from a business can be a PR boon, by showing your prospective customers that if they have a bad experience they will receive fast attention and support. Social Listening Social listening for your customer community is easy enough, but off-domain work will require different tools. There are a lot of different options in this space, and some tools you might want to try include: Ø Brandwatch Ø Mention Ø BuzzSumo Ø TalkWalker Alerts Ø SocialMention.com Ø ifttt.com
  18. 18.   17     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Integrating With Other Systems Your customer community doesn’t have to fulfil a specific niche. Integration can allow you to use your community as a hub, feeding into various other technologies to improve your workflow, support and user experience. There are a few different integrations that you should consider: CRM Communities can be a great way of generating leads and cases, but only if you have systems in place to properly escalate them. Software such as Salesforce or SugarCRM help you to manage the leads your community produces. By integrating with these services, you can simply escalate forum content directly into the CRM. Analytics Analytics tools are extremely useful to see what content in your community is providing you with the best results. Which days of the week drive the most traffic, and where are you weak? Use analytics to find out what you’re doing well, how you can improve and what community resources you can mobilise to do so. Ticket Systems There are a number of ways in which a customer community can help with support, but it might be preferable for your business to handle support through an external service such as Zendesk. If that’s the case, integration will allow you to escalate forum comments directly into your ticket system, allowing you to include your forum community into your existing support workflow Code Repository Services like Github are a huge boon for software developers. If your software is in a repo, integrate your forum community into it and allow your community members to contribute to your software by instantly creating tickets.
  19. 19.   18     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Suites vs Best-In-Class When you set out to buy some new software, community forum software for example, you may be faced with the choice of going out and buying a product that best suits your needs versus using something that is offered by an existing vendor. Many software vendors offer a suite of products or features, usually anchored to a primary offering that your company has already purchased. It might tempting to think that going with an existing vendor will be easier and cheaper, but that’s not always the case. Before making a decision, ask yourself the following questions: • How important is my community initiative? If community is strategic for you, a best of breed vendor (a vendor whose primary offering is community) will likely offer you more and better community functionality and services. The vendor will have deeper, more focused expertise in what makes a community successful. • Am I buying a product that is a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none? By spreading themselves too thin, suites may be suitable, but they are far from best in class. Their road maps are strained by too many products, and “must- have” features may be lacking or fall to the back burner as they are not primary components of the suite. • Have you considered TCO (Total Cost Of Ownership)? While the list price to add the community feature to a suite might look appealing, what is the cost of services or customizations if it comes with inferior functionality? What is the cost if the product in the suite does not give your company the desired value over time? Is the Vendor Prioritizing Your Needs or the Needs of Your IT Department? The suites tend to focus their R & D on things that will make the CIO happy, often at the expense of end users. Best of breed generally focuses on building for those that will use your community day-to-day, with the primary objective of making it enjoyable and easy to use. Does the solution support integration to other services? Best of breed products can work with a wide variety of third-party products via APIs or out of the box integrations. Suites vendors often instead focus on integration with the rest of the suite.
  20. 20.   19     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com This is not to say choosing a community forum in a suite does not make sense. Sometimes there actually is a synergy when a community platform is part of a broader offering. Suite versus best of breed can be a tough choice. In the end what matters is selecting a solution that will deliver the desired value. Today, cloud-based delivery and APIs mean that best of breed applications can provide better functionality at a competitive cost and with full integration. Vendor Services No project is blessed with infinite time or resources, and you’re like to have a shortfall somewhere. It might be that your existing staff are overtasked, or there are gaps in the skillset of your team somewhere. Many software vendors offer services to help you fill these gaps. Examples include: Community Management & Moderation Your vendor can supply you with an experienced community manager to help get your community off the ground. They can advise on setup and best practises, and put together a game plan for getting your community off the ground. Moderation, the tricky business of day-to-day forum maintenance, can also be outsourced to great effect. Letting your vendor take care of cleaning up spam and your team can focus other endeavours. Community Management Training It may be that there are members of your staff who are prepared to take charge of your community, but don’t have any experience with managing one. Moderation and community management training is a valuable service in this scenarios, as they can give your staff a chance to hit the ground running with solid best practises to put in place. Nothing can substitute for years of experience, but the right training can ensure that your community team is ready for whatever the community throws at them.
  21. 21.   20     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Community Software Customisation Some businesses have specific needs that off-the-shelf community software can’t fulfil. Your vendor should offer customisation services, providing coding time to tailor the software to your individual needs. Your vendor’s teams can take a lot of heat off of your own coders, and allow the best parts of custom software with the peace-of-mind that comes with SAAS. Data Migration Between Platforms There are many reasons why you might want to upgrade from an out-dated community platform, but this often raises concerns for the existing community. No one likes the idea of losing their accounts, posts and the accumulated history of their community. Your vendor can ensure that all of your data is present and correct on the new software, to ensure a smooth transition for your users. Theming It’s not enough for your community to look like your website, it needs to be indistinguishable from it. That needs theming work, and theming work is time and resource expensive. If your design teams are already tied up, you can ask your vendor to build a theme to your specifications. They’ll have experience building hundreds of themes for clients, and it can take a lot of pressure from your launch when you know that things are in hand.
  22. 22.   21     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Quick Takeaways Ø There are a variety of different technologies in the community space. Figure out what you want, and what the best way to get there is. Ø Leave yourself room to expand. Pick a versatile solution, but focus on building up one aspect at a time. Ø Consider freeing up human resources by outsourcing services to your vendor. They know how to get the most out of their software. Ø Consider how your community software will integrate with your existing systems. Choose software that complements your existing structure and fits into your workflow.
  23. 23.   22     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Community Management What is Community Management? Community management is how you get things done in your community. It’s a complicated and varied field, and different community managers could likely answer this question in dozens of different ways. Many different actions fall under the umbrella of “community management, including: Ø Long-term strategy: Deciding what the goal of the forum is, and how those goals are going to be reached. Ø Culture: Deciding what kind of community should be created, and putting mechanisms in place to get it there. Ø Reaction: Dealing with the occasional crisis or unforeseen problem that arises. Ø Communication: Talking to the community, staff and other stakeholders about problems, ideas, and anything else that might come up in a community’s lifetime. Ø Setting and Enforcing Policy: Deciding the rules that should be followed by users, and how moderators will enforce those rules.
  24. 24.   23     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Community Management Profiles Community Manager The community manager is an oversight position. They should know everything there is to know about the community, its problems and how to solve them. For product communities, they should have metrics to hit, whether that’s to improve customer support, generate sales or any number of things. For a social community, they should have a clear vision of where they want the community to head, and know how to get there. A community manager is responsible for setting policy, for figuring out how to move the community to a desired outcome and keep it there. There are a number of tools that a CM has at their disposal, but they should primarily be good communicators and strategists. Moderator Moderators are in the trenches. They’re reading posts, answering reports and solving problems day-in and day-out. The importance and difficulty of this shouldn’t be understated. There is absolutely such a thing as a good or bad moderator. Anyone can clean up spam, but a great moderator needs to know when to have a light touch and when to wade into the breach. They need to know how and when to use moderation tools, but more importantly how and when to not use them. A great mod sees problem situations before they arise, and brooks the stream to move problematic conversations to a healthier place. When trouble does arise, a moderator is the one to enforce the rules, protect the user base and occasionally seem like the bad guy. Social Media Manager A social media manager is in charge of more specific duties regarding a company’s social media profiles. They’re the person manning the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts for a given brand. This role requires great communication skills, and the ability to determine what kind of content will engage your readers. They’re going to be in the trenches a lot, dealing with potentially difficult clients and fans, and need to be very conscious of what they say and how their words come across. Many a social media manager has been sunk by a poorly thought out joke.
  25. 25.   24     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Finding the Best Moderators for Your Forum Moderation is a tricky business. Firstly because doing it well requires excellent judgment and social intuition; secondly because being a moderator appeals hugely to people who lack either of those traits. Pick a bad forum anywhere on the Internet and somewhere along the line you’re likely to find moderators who are either apathetic, incompetent, bullies or all of the above. It might seem like the relatively small number of moderators in a given community would limit their influence over the overall culture, but this isn’t the case. While the quality of your user base is notoriously difficult to effect in the short term, over the long term it will be almost entirely determined by the kind of users that continue posting. That factor in turn will be decided by what your rules are and how they are enforced. Smart, socially capable people have better things to do than hang around a community that’s full of trolls they know will never be turfed out. Unless you’re dealing with a community small enough that you can moderate it entirely on your own, these decisions are going to largely be made by your moderating team. The problem, of course, is who to pick. Moderating is frequently a thankless task. Volunteering to be The Man puts a user into a position where they will be frequently attacked or insulted by the trolls in the community and can quickly turn a fun hobby into an unpaid customer service position. The upsides to the position are the ability to take a hand in shaping the community that they care about. An uglier way of expressing that upside is the ability to exert power in that same space. The moderators you want are the ones who are interested in the first upside. The trick is separating them from those that are interested in the second. The best moderators I’ve known were often the ones that needed the most persuading to take the job. Conversely, I have a standing policy that any user who openly expresses a desire to be a moderator should be blacklisted from it. In truth, a more nuanced view is probably wiser. There are a few standard qualities that you should look for. It goes without saying that you should look for active members of the community, as an absentee moderator is at best ineffective and at worst will cause harm as users become frustrated as their questions go unanswered. However, if you have a few outlier users who post far more than other users I would caution against putting them in moderating positions. Users who are spending all day on your forums are likely to lack the kind of social skills required of a moderator and are also likely to quickly burn out and leave the forum. Another commonly looked for trait
  26. 26.   25     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com that can be misleading is metamodding (also known as backseat modding). It’s tempting to look at a user who is showing a keen knowledge of the rules and a willingness to contribute and think they’d make a great mod. In my experience, this keenness can quickly become the kind of overzealousness that bad moderators are made of. So, after all the warnings are dealt with, what should you look for in a moderator? Obviously this will vary depending on the specific needs of your community, but here’s a checklist of good questions to ask yourself when looking at candidates: Ø Have they shown that they understand the rules and appropriate behaviour on a personal level? While reformed trolls can make good mods, it’s a riskier undertaking. Ø Are they already bringing value to the forums? Do they make people laugh, help people out and make people feel welcome? Ø Have they demonstrated a separation from the various cliques and feuds that inevitably erupt in any community? Ø Do you think they’ll work well as part of your existing team? While debate in the mod forum is healthy, personality clashes can cause unfortunate gridlocks and prevent you from getting anything done. Keeping Resource Overhead Low One of the biggest worries for any business starting a community forum is time. They know the benefits of a customer community, but they simply don’t think they have the staff bandwidth to accommodate one. It’s an understandable worry, but it relies on the false assumption that a customer forum requires new, dedicated staff to run. If you have the right processes in place, your existing staff can easily manage your customer community without extra costs. In the event that your forum grows large enough that further staff are required, additional staff can be justified as the ROI of ticket deflection and lead generation make themselves manifest.
  27. 27.   26     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Being a great community manager isn’t about the amount of hours you put in behind the keyboard. It’s about putting the proper systems in place to allow the forum to run smoothly without mindless busywork. Look for community managers who improve up front development in order to enhance efficiency down the line. Crucially, they can then use the time they’ve freed up to concentrate on improving your community in other ways. Here are a few ways a great CM can improve your forum community: Encourage Peer-to-Peer Activity One of the most important things in a support community is ensuring that your users are talking to each other. Another big advantage of these communities is the potential for customers to help solve problems for each other, rather than waiting for your support staff to step in. A great community manager will foster this environment and ensure that users feel valued and rewarded for helping out. They can also ensure that users are able to solve intra-forum problems (such as troublesome or disruptive users) quickly, by bringing problem posts to the attention of staff. Report systems are hugely efficient for this. Rather than having to read every thread and hunt down trolls, CMs and moderators can give users a way to bring troublesome threads to their attention. Not only is this a labour-saver for your staff, it also allows your members to feel like they have a say in how the community is run. Your community manager is key to getting these elements to work effectively. They should ensure that your users are properly onboarded, with well-written and clear guidelines on what does and does not constitute acceptable behaviour. They should set up systems (e.g, gamification) that give users positive feedback for lending a hand. With the right preparation, a CM doesn’t need to spend all their time in the trenches and neither do your support staff. Make it a Team Effort   Having the right staff on board is hands down the most crucial aspect of an effective support community. While the CM should always be ready to take the lead, having other staff share the load helps everybody. Each question that is answered on the community has an amplification effect. Rather than simply answering an email or call,
  28. 28.   27     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com your staff can add to the growing knowledge base of the community and deflect inbound support. Users would always prefer to be able to find an answer to a thorny problem with a Google search rather than a phone call. Your community manager should take the lead in encouraging your staff to pitch in, rather than adding new headcount. You may, of course, want to add dedicated staff in time. Once the community is established, the ROI from deflected support tickets combined with the marketing benefits of a community forum will make extra hires easy to justify. Control Your Community From The Outset   Your community manager should be a steady hand on the tiller in the early days of the community. Without an effective plan, a community forum will meander aimlessly. Is your community dedicated to support, best practises, brand evangelism or all/none of the above? Whatever your goals, they need to be clearly outlined before launch. A great community manager will have put the work in before the starting gun goes off, to ensure that new users know exactly what to expect (and what is expected of them in turn). They’ll ensure that your users are properly on boarded, that the role of the community is well defined and that it doesn’t shift to something else over time. They’ll know how to take your internal mission statement and project that to your customers. Whatever your goals are, they’re responsible for ensuring that the community is working towards them from day one.
  29. 29.   28     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Quick Takeaways Ø Community managers handle strategy, while moderators handle the day-to-day operations. Ø Picking moderators is a crucial task, and should be taken seriously. Have a list of criteria based on your community’s needs and recruit based on that. Ø Treat your moderators well. They have a difficult job, and replacing a great moderator is extremely difficult. Ø The most enthusiastic volunteers are often poor choices. Stay away from people who are looking for a power trip. Ø Managing your community doesn’t have to be time-intensive. Use the most effective plugins and train your staff well do minimise your time commitment.
  30. 30.   29     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Launching the Community One of the most nerve-wracking parts of launching a community is the moment where it actually goes online. All your preparations are finally tested, your plans go into action and your users step, blinking, into the glorious light of your new community. A lot can go wrong. Your moderators could become befuddled by the interface, your categories may turn out to be confusing or redundant, your theme might aggravate the eyeballs of your user base. The list of potential hiccups is endless. In this section, we’re going to go over some of the strategies you can put in place to mitigate this. Setting Community Guidelines The first thing I do when I enter a new community is check out their community guidelines. It’s not because I’m worried about breaking rules (I’m well behaved at least 65% of the time), but because what those rules are and how they’re laid out will tell me most of what I need to know about the community itself. I can tell what the community manager thinks about the users, how much effort they put in to the basics of setup, and what kind of community I can expect to see when I start posting. It’s also part of the community that rarely sees any real effort or thought, which I’ve always found strange. It’s the template for how your community acts and behaves, and it should be a high priority for any community manager. The community guidelines of your forum aren’t just boilerplate, simple terms and conditions that you have to have for legal protection. They’re the constitution of your forum. They’re something that, ideally, everyone should read. The vast majority of users actually want to contribute to your community, and they need a way of knowing what’s up. What they absolutely won’t do is read an awful, legalese-style text block. This causes problems for you, because you have to spend more time and resources moderating the community when users don’t know what’s expected of them. Your community guidelines can be many things, but they can’t be boring to read. The less they look like legal terminology, the better. Putting in Effort Upfront Lets Your Community Guidelines Pay Off Long-Term Rather than seeing your community guidelines as a quick piece of writing that you need to get done, see it as an opportunity to let new users what kind of community they can expect. They could be serious, quick and to the point. They could be funny, if
  31. 31.   30     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com you’re good at that. I manage a community for a comedy website, and my community guidelines are hopefully at least amusing enough to get people to keep reading them. There are other issues that come up when writing your guidelines. How are your moderators going to be interacting with the populace? If you encourage a more irreverent, sociable style, that should be reflected in the tone of your guidelines. let your users know what to expect by not only onboarding them to the procedures of your forum, but the atmosphere. Don’t worry about covering every possible option. You can’t. In my second decade of managing communities I’m still constantly amazed by the amount of different ways users find to wiggle around rules and mess up in ways I couldn’t have dreamed of. Trying to cover every possibility also leads you to the aforementioned “legalese” problem. That more you act like a lawyer, the more users will expect you to act like one in your moderation. Instead, figure out the effect you want from a rule, and draft it to cover that effect. Concentrate on the spirit of your rules, rather than detailing every possible scenario. Which Rules Does Your Community Need? Different communities require different community guidelines, and there’s no one-size- fits-all approach. There are a few rules, however, that I think most communities could benefit from: Ø Rules restricting the type of images that a user can post are a great idea. For most communities this will at a minimum include content restrictions. If you want your users to be able to post from work, this is vital. I also recommend restricting the size of images that users can post. In a free-for-all, mobile users are going to avoid your community for the sake of their data plans. Ø Be specific about what kind of tone users should have with each other. Irreverent? Serious? Respectful? Simply saying “no flamewars!” leaves users with a lot of wiggle room to be passive-aggressive to each other. My personal guideline to users is “don’t say anything to someone here that you wouldn’t say to them in a bar if they were much, much bigger than you”. Ø Make it clear to your users what they should do if they have a complaint about a moderator. Leaving them a clear pressure valve prevents that drama from spilling out into the forums. No user should be confused about what to do if they have a problem.
  32. 32.   31     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Ø Outlaw rules lawyering. “But technically…” is something no moderator should ever have to listen to. Users should be more interested in upholding the spirit of the rules than quibbling over the technicalities. Ø “Don’t be a jerk”. This rule doesn’t work on its own, or its the only one you would need. Nevertheless, it should be there. Users should be reminded that above all, they should be treating each other with respect and courtesy. Ø Don’t allow gender, racial or sexuality-based discrimination in your community. Insular, laddish communities are dying fast. The Internet is an open platform, and it’s for everyone. Communities that ignore this rising tide don’t have long to live. Soft Launching Your Community Given how hard it can be to rescue a community once it starts going south, it’s understandable to look for a way to manage that risk. Soft launching can be a good way to do this. In the simplest terms, a soft launch is opening your community to a limited number of users to test and perfect before opening them to the larger community. In software terms, it’s similar to a closed beta. There are a number of advantages to this approach. You could, for instance: Ø Mobilise the most dedicated members of your community in order to find bugs or hiccups in your setup. Ø Test your moderation workflow and ensure that your moderators know their way around the tools in a live setting. Ø Ensure that all your theming is bug free and pleasing to the populace. Another advantage is inherent to this kind of launch: the selection process. Being selected as the first to enter the gates of your forum will provide those dedicated users with the warm fuzzy feeling of being part of an elite group. It’s a great way to kick off the engagement of those users by awarding them a coveted veteran status.
  33. 33.   32     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Parkinson’s Triviality Theory While there’s nothing wrong with a carefully measured dose of elitism, this system is not without its downsides. Notably, you’re likely to run into Parkinson’s Triviality Theory. Put simply, your users will be keen to show themselves as valuable by giving as much feedback as possible. This is all well and good, but it may cause problems when you need to sift through dozens of suggestions to get to the most valuable feedback. In the event that you end up disregarding some (or indeed, most) of their suggestions, you may run into resentment. “Why did you even ask if you weren’t going to take our advice?”. User feedback can be capricious and contradictory, so this approach requires you to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff and do so without angering the users providing it. You may also run into some problems once your community is fully launched. Once the gates are open, how will this Veterans group react to new users? Will they be friendly and welcoming, or feel like their private clubhouse has been invaded? Be very careful about the nature of reward you give to these early users. While giving them a badge, or some special decorative status is all well and good, too much special treatment will leave new users feeling alienated. To the users who most enjoy this kind of gamification, feeling like a status is unachievable for them is a huge turnoff. You should monitor your user base in these early stages to ensure that these groups are rubbing along well together, and that excessive resentment or elitism are not building up. Beware of Perfection Paralysis You should also beware the dreaded Perfection Paralysis. This is a condition that rises when the desire for your community to be perfect before it launches causes you to continually postpone the launch in favour of constantly reiterating and tweaking. An apt analogy would be a musician who works on their song for years in an attempt to make it sound precisely like the music they imagine; the audience will prefer the imperfect version that they can hear to a theoretical piece that only exists in the creator’s head.
  34. 34.   33     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com A soft launch is a great testing tool, and can allow you to feel out the response of your target audience. However, you should have a clear game plan before you go in. Ask yourself the following questions: Ø Who do I want in this early access group? Ø What problems do I want this beta stage to solve? Ø What will the transition to the live community entail? Ø What is my hard deadline for launching the community? Launch Checklist Over the past few years, we’ve witnessed the birth of many great new communities. Some have flourished, some have not. There are a few things that need to get done if you want to give your new community a fighting chance. These things might sound obvious, but we’ve seen companies that had money, resources and traffic fail because they didn’t do them. Getting a community off the ground is all about achieving critical mass. Critical mass occurs when you have a certain threshold of members and more importantly interactions. Here are three things to do to get there: 1. Promote it. You don’t have to hire a PR firm or spend money on ads but you do need to let people know that you’ve launched. Staggering the announcement to your list over several days is often a better strategy than doing a big bang. This gives you time to experiment with content and interact with more members. Also, it’s better to have a trickle of new members into an already active community than a tidal wave of members into an empty community. 2. Be present. If you’re not spending a ton of time in the community, you’re going to see a lot of your early traffic bouncing. Until you hit critical mass, make sure every new members is personally welcomed and that all questions are answers. No discussion should have zero replies. If you’re too busy to do this, hire a part-time community manager or make sure you enlist help from colleagues.
  35. 35.   34     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com 3. Link it. One of your top sources of new members and traffic will eventually be search engines. A link from your home page or blog will ensure that the community gets crawled by search engines. Good community SEO gives you that positive feedback loop where more content gets you more members and more members gets you more content. Quick Takeaways Ø Having a plan for your launch saves you time and effort in the long run. Ø Community guidelines are important! Put in the effort to ensure your community is on the right track and that members are well on-boarded. Ø Consider whether soft launching suits the needs of your community. It can be a great way to iterate before the public get their hands on things. Ø Have a launch checklist and stick to it to achieve critical mass.
  36. 36.   35     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Attracting and Engaging Members The most nerve-wracking element of any community is the idea that once you’ve built it, no one will show up. The Internet is full of communities that never really took off, and no one wants their project to add to them. How do you guard against it? The key is to create attraction and engagement Attraction Attraction is the reason that someone first visits your community. It doesn’t matter how great your community looks and how great your feature are if no one ever sees them. The type of community that you want to run will make all the difference in terms of how you engage users, but there are a lot of tried and tested strategies that successful communities have used to attract views. These are rarely exclusive, and many communities will use a combination of methods to attract the highest possible user base. Content Attraction These communities use front page content to draw readers into their community. This content then links to the community to invite comment. Once users are signed up, the process of engagement takes over. Examples of communities that use this approach include: Ø Penny Arcade, which uses its hugely popular comic to attract people into its community to comment on the content, discuss forthcoming events and integrate into the larger lifestyle community. Ø T-Nation, which posts instructional articles on bodybuilding to attract users into its forum community, where they can swap advice and experiences. T-Nation then uses this community to advertise their range of bodybuilding supplements.
  37. 37.   36     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Expertise Attraction These communities attract users who are performing searches for specific queries and seeking advice. They take advantage of the excellent SEO of community forums to act as a growing knowledge base. Users then join in the community with their own comments, questions and advice. Examples include: Ø TheBump, a maternity and childcare community with an enormous user base that provide support to each other. Ø Reddit communities often work this way. Their enthusiast sub-communities attract questions from new users, and more experienced users are happy to lend their expertise to build their reputation in the community. Support Attraction These communities are based around products, and they attract users through links from product support pages. These can cross over to a certain degree with expertise communities as the community grows, as the volume of answered questions allows the community to work as a knowledge base. Many brands are integrating this kind of support community, but some examples you might want to check out include: Ø Agilebits, developers of the 1password security software. Ø Pebble, the makers of the Pebble Smartwatch. Ø The Elder Scrolls Online is a popular MMORPG that uses a community forum to provide effective support for a large user base. Engagement Introducing users to your forum is only the beginning. The name of the game is keeping those users engaged. Engagement is all about giving your members a reason to stay involved with the forum. Members are almost always starting from scratch in your community, and need a significant push to stay engaged until they build the social habits and bonds that will keep them in your community. There isn’t any voodoo to user engagement; it’s all about making sure that new users are able to get involved and start having a positive experience in your community as soon as possible. Before
  38. 38.   37     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com you worry about more intricate strategies, go through an audit of your engagement practises and ensure that the following points are in place: Signing Up Should Be Quick and Hassle Free If a new member is signing up, they likely have a purpose in mind. With every minute that goes by between deciding on a course of action and carrying it out, their interest will dwindle. Does your registration require a bunch of tedious and unnecessary form filling? Is it simple for your user to find the links they need? Depending on your community, you may want to consider using social sign-up, allowing users to register quickly and simply using their existing social media accounts. If your main site has its own login, you should absolutely ensure that you have seamless single sign-on installed, so that users can immediately continue using the community without the tedium of registering and signing in again. Members Should Be Able to Find Content Quickly The most common issue I see in failing communities is poorly laid out category structures. Either they have so many categories that I can’t tell where to go for the content I’m interested in, or the category topics themselves are obtuse and unclear. Look at the front page of your community, and ask yourself how it feels to a new user. Pick a purpose and consider how easily you can fulfil that purpose without prior knowledge of the community. You might be surprised at how poor the user experience of the average community can be. Prevent Problem Members From Creating Negative Experiences Every community manager likes to think that they have a handle on trolls, but does your community contain other toxic elements that turn users away? If you make a new account in your community and ask a question (try a dumb one), how do the users react? Don’t just look for insults and swearing, look for passive-aggression, condescension and other negative reactions that could cause a user to turn away from your community.
  39. 39.   38     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Using Gamification Gamification is precisely what it says on the tin: you are giving something (in this case your forum) some of the traits of a game. This might sound trendy, but it’s existed in some form or another in forum communities for years. Consider the ubiquitous “karma” systems that have been in vogue for some time. For those of you who are unfamiliar, these systems allow a user to award another user points (karma being a common name for them) for good posts. Sometimes these systems also allow users to take said karma away. This principle is still seen in the up/down vote system on sites like YouTube. The theory behind these systems is simple. You’re giving your users an extrinsic reward for posting on your forums. Humans are wired to enjoy such systems, and in their absence I’ve even seen forumers use post counts as a way of “keeping score” on the boards. It might sound silly, and in fact it probably is, but accumulating these points in whatever form clearly presses a button somewhere deep in our lizard brains. Anything that presses these buttons is going to increase the engagement of a good number of your users. You only have to look at how obsessed people can be with their number of “likes” on Facebook to see that. So why not implement such a feature in your board right now? Well, as I mentioned there are pitfalls. By extrinsically rewarding behaviour, you put the emphasis on the reward rather than the behaviour itself. For example: if you give the user a thousand point bonus for posting 500 times on your board, some might see this as a simple bonus for contributing. Others will simply spam posts in an attempt to get their bonus. The goal has changed from participating to simply getting the shiny object. It’s been my experience that users who are extremely focused on “winning” are rarely great contributors, and these systems can feed into ugly parts of the human psyche. How do you deal with this problem? By being very careful what behaviours are rewarded by your system. Fortunately, the Reactions system that’s built into Vanilla software is eminently customisable, so you should be able to find a mix of reactions that create the atmosphere you want; and badges make a great reward system for good contributors. Try and avoid any actions that can be “farmed”, or repeated over
  40. 40.   39     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com and over again to grind out points. For this reason, at Penny Arcade I’ve disabled common badge rewards like post counts. Since turning on and off reactions is trivial, think of what kind of actions you want your users to repeat and then build specific reactions to encourage them. For example, of the stock reactions available in our Vanilla install, the two I chose to leave active were the Awesome and Agree buttons. My reasoning (which I’ll admit was largely retroactive) was that it takes a decent amount of effort to craft a post that people will find awesome, and that having a simple way for users to show agreement with a post without posting in the thread would cut down on clutter. It largely worked out well, and the system has been sufficiently popular that we rarely hear complaints from our notoriously picky user base. Once you’ve figured out what kind of stuff you want your users to post, adding a reaction for it is a great way to reward them for doing so. A final word of caution: be wary of negative reactions in the hands of your users. Having simple, one click access to negativity appeals to some of the least pleasant forum dwellers around. You’ll quickly find grudges forming, or users simply downvoting anyone who disagrees with them or goes against the forum consensus. Next to the humble report button, I’ve found this kind of user feedback to be shaky at best, and I eventually won the fight to have the downvote button turned off the Penny Arcade. Simple access to positivity is great. Simple access to passive-aggressive meanness leads to the dark side. And by the dark side, I mean YouTube comments… Identifying and Harnessing Community Evangelists One of the first concerns in the mind of any community manager is activity. The Internet is full of articles on increasing the size of your user base, but an often ignored part of management is what to do with your users once you’ve got them. Newbies over time become regulars, and eventually develop into the much whispered about “veterans”. Everyone knows these guys. They’ve been around forever, have a lot of posts and a reputation either good or ill. Your community is a part of their life, and if you have meetups or other events they’re going to be there. Sounds pretty good huh? I guess that it is. Having veterans around is a sign that your community is on the right track. You have users sticking around and contributing
  41. 41.   40     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com regularly, and people aren’t getting bored and trundling off to the next forum that catches their eye. These users come with their own set of drawbacks however, and can represent a different set of management challenges. One of the first is the issue of Entitlement. Entitlement (with a capital letter) is a huge problem across the whole of the Internet, and your community is unlikely to be immune to its horrors. As the Internet has offered people more and more free content, an inevitable side effect is that people have stopped being grateful for it and started feeling Entitled (with a capital letter) to it. It’s unavoidable, and exists in all walks of life. You can’t avoid it completely any more than Vanilla can completely resist my attempts to gradually turn this into a book about Breaking Bad. Community veterans are likely to be the vanguard of Entitlement on your boards. After all, they’ve been around for a long time, they know how stuff is done, why shouldn’t they get some special treatment? The problem is that special treatment in turn builds Entitlement, which will only be mollified by more special treatment. Just as Walter White found that his criminal actions only led to a spiral of further moral compromise, your veterans will see extra perks based on join date or post count as proof of their privileged status and then demand more. They start to see the community as their personal tree house, where they get to decide who does and does not get to be one of the cool kids. “Newbie bashing” is an incredibly common sight on communities across the Internet, and it remains a wretched and cowardly form of bullying. If you allow it because of the fear of alienating your veteran users it won’t be long before you’ve choked off the flow of new users to your community. You won’t see any complaints from the tree house either, just a sudden realization that there are a lot more tumbleweeds around than there used to be.
  42. 42.   41     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com We’ve presented the problem, but where’s the solution? Magnets? Science? Cooking crystal meth in a second-hand RV? The answer is simply vigilance. Be aware of this problem. Be aware that people are going to try and pull up the ladder on new users, and head that behaviour off at the pass. Don’t allow newbie bashing, or any other kind of mindless bullying. Your veterans can and will be your best asset if you’re in this for the long haul, but you don’t need to show your gratitude with special treatment or perks. Show it by doing a damn fine job, day in and day out and making sure that new users are welcomed. Like so many community problems, the main thing you need to handle this problem is the courage to tackle it without worrying about alienating your most frequent users. Quick Takeaways Ø Attracting members is vital. Don’t simply build it and hope people show up, have an attraction plan in place from the start. Ø Engagement is crucial for long-term success. Make sure your sign up is hassle free and that users have reasons to stay. Crucially, make sure they have no reason to leave. Ø Gamification is a powerful motivator, but it needs to be motivating the right behaviour. Consider what behaviour you’re incentivising, don’t simply plug in someone else’s system. Ø Don’t let your veteran members push new members around. Over time, this causes a stagnant culture that will lead to the death of your community. You can use competitions to encourage users to create a great deal
  43. 43.   42     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Measuring the Success of Your Community Once your community is up and running, you’ll need ways to measure your success. It’s important to have concrete parameters for this, to judge how well your community strategy is working. There are a number of different aspects of your community that can be measured to provide a good idea of the health of your community. Surfacing and Curating Community Generated Content Your community can be a fantastic resource for content generation. There are a number ways it can help: Ø Reading what your community has to say about your products, your business and the surrounding culture of it can be a great way to come up with ideas for your own content marketing. Ø Your community can be a great place to recruit fans to write freelance content for your marketing. You can pick the best writers and the most enthusiastic brand advocates and give them an opportunity to be a part of your brand themselves. Community KPIs Questions Answered Simply keeping track of how many enquiries your staff (or diligent community members) are able to answer can be a good indicator of success in your community. The fact that users are interested in your products and their questions are being answered quickly and accurately speaks to the utility they’re receiving from it. Leads Created The one that makes you the best friend of the sales team. Looking at the number of sales leads that have been created is one of the most concrete ways of showing that your community is generating revenue for your business. Adding integration to a service like Salesforce makes it simple to track these statistics.
  44. 44.   43     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com Changes in Call Ticket Volume Deflecting support tickets is one of the primary advantages of a support community, but how do you measure the tickets that you never ended up seeing? Look at the volume of calls that you’re receiving compared to before your community initiative, and then normalise that number to any other external factors that may have affected it. For instance, if the call volume has gone up but your company’s revenue have also increased, you should account for this in your statistics. Time to Resolution For Tickets and Other Issues These are a no-brainer for support communities. If your community is helping you to resolve tickets faster, it’s likely to be paying for itself in terms of resources. As with sales leads, tying your community into dedicated support software such as Zendesk can make it much easier to keep track of this metric. Community Health Measuring the health of your community can be a little trickier than other KPIs, because it can’t be entirely based on numbers. Certainly, there are metrics that can be measured, but it’s important to normalise these against more subjective concerns. There are a lot of busy forum communities on the Internet that get great traffic, but have a poorly managed and toxic userbase. Any community manager who’s ever overseen a crisis can tell you that a thousand new users can be a bad thing, if they’ve only joined to spout abuse and venom at the populace. Clear metrics that you can use include: New Members With that caveats out of the way, new users are generally a good way of measuring the health of your community. They can bring fresh perspective, fresh input and fresh hits for your advertising if you’re so inclined. While this number ticking upwards isn’t always a sign of a healthy community, a community without new members is on the road to stagnation. Active Members Membership count is nice, but it’s just a number. The heart of your community is its active members. You can normally expect to see a group of core members who post
  45. 45.   44     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com much more than the average. Keep an eye on this metric, because these members are the ones you’ll find easiest to convert into the valuable brand advocates that are so vital to the success of your community. Even if other metrics are going up, a lower count of active members means that there may be a hole in the boat somewhere. Content Volume This is an important metric for most communities. How many comments and discussions are your members generating? It’s good to have high numbers, but also for there to be an anchor point between them. For example: if your members are generating a vast number of discussions but few comments, you’re undoubtedly seeing a lot of low quality, unengaging content in your community. Conversely, seeing a vast number of comments in a small number of discussions can mean that you community is stagnating, and members are staying in their own little tree houses. Normalise these statistics against your member activity counts, and the subjective qualities of your board to find out what they really mean. Quick Takeaways Ø KPIs will depend on the goals for your community, but there are a lot of different ways to measure its success. Ø Choose the most suitable metrics, and set realistic targets. Ø Have an action plan in place in case your strategy turns out to be unsuitable for achieving your goals. Ø Ensure that your community is healthy in the long term by keeping an eye on its health metrics as well as business goals.
  46. 46.   45     Contact us: 1-866-845-0815 sales@vanillaforums.com VanillaForums.com About Vanilla Forums More than ever, consumers of content, goods and services want a voice within a community of others who all share a common interest. With so many sites competing for attention, a successful community must be engaging and reward member participation. Vanilla provides a modern community platform to organizations who want to improve customer service, increase advocacy, and strengthen brand loyalty. Vanilla has the features you expect from a modern platform including: complete theme control, a comprehensive reputation system, notifications and single-sign-on. Founded in December 2009, Vanilla started as an open source project. Today, Vanilla's software-as-a-service (cloud) offering helps thousands of companies provide a great community experience to millions of people worldwide. Join the conversation: § Twitter @Vanilla § LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/vanilla-forums-inc § Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vanillaforums § GitHub: https://github.com/vanillaforums

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