The next challenge

In community management, we often reference Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

1280px-Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs

First and foremost, it states, humans focus on the need for food, shelter, safety, etc. (Not much of a surprise there.) It’s only once these are met that they can—and will—move up the hierarchy. We’re never content, us humans. It’s what makes us great, and leads to moon landings and the Mona Lisa and Third Eye Blind’s self-titled album.

I’m lucky enough that I frequently have achieved the “esteem” level of the hierarchy. I feel my work is valuable—I help people connect and accomplish things.

But like many of the lucky people in the first world, I’m always chasing self-actualization. I want my actions to mean something more than a good day’s work, or a promotion, or an award. I want to be changing the world for the better.

I chased this with UserVoice, helping companies treat customers better. I chased this with ZOZI, helping people live more active lives. And I’m very excited about my next attempt: Starting in June, I will be taking the role of Community Lead at Coursera, helping them achieve their lofty goal of providing universal access to the world’s best education. They—soon to be “we”—are truly trying to change the world for the better.

As always, this transition is not without sadness. I’ve learned an incredibly amount at ZOZI from my manager, my coworkers, and my employees. We created some great things—moving our customer satisfaction from sub-80% to 100%, launching the ZOZI Journal—and we’ve helped many people get out in the world. Leaving was not an easy decision, but I believe it was the right one. Regardless, as with UserVoice, I wish the ZOZI team all the best and will be closely following their progress (and using their product).

At Coursera, I am going to be working with some of the most brilliant people of my career on some very juicy challenges. Community is an integral part of Coursera, and they already have some great community programs. I won’t lie; my excitement sits right next to a very talkative fear, sure I won’t accomplish my goals. But truly, isn’t fear the path to self-actualization?

Thank you to everyone who has ever helped me, from my bosses to coworkers to many community managers I’ve interacted with. I’ll need you now more than ever—expect some emails and coffee dates. :) And yes, I will continue to see you at Community Manager Breakfast.

Wish me luck!

-Evan


Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

I’m speaking at CMX Summit East!

Audience at CMX Summit
CMX San Francisco 2014 – I’m in that audience somewhere!

I’m very excited to announce that I’ll be speaking at the fantastic CMX Summit in NYC this month!

This will be the third CMX Summit I’ve attended. I can’t recommend the event enough: This is one of the few places where you can actually learn insightful, proven community management strategies and tactics from the pros. And the smattering of speakers from other fields—like this year’s former nuclear submarine captain—bring useful tools and experiences that make them a perfectly compliment to the community professionals.

I’ll be speaking about the massive importance of measuring the ROI of community management efforts efforts. No matter how scary or difficult you find it, it’s time to make ROI a priority. I’ll walk through the things you need to accomplish this mighty goal, provide some examples, and hopefully leave you with some useful info and a good chunk of courage.

I’ll also be hosting my Community Manager Breakfast in the morning before the official talks start…which should be very different with hundreds of attendees instead of a dozen. :)

Hope to see you there!

 

Events drive retention

The effect that user groups has on sales and retention is undeniable. Over the past five years at Brainshark, we have carefully watched the effects of meeting our customers for these in-person events.

Here are the results:

  1. Within 90 days of the meeting, our customers use the product an average of 15% more.
  2. Renewal rates are 10-15% far higher for customers that participate in the user group program.

From CMX Hub

I am so ecstatic that community professionals are beginning to measure and share numbers like this. I will keep yelling until I go hoarse: Community management is about retention! It’s a hard thing to measure, but it is measurable, as demonstrated here. CEOs are not great at understanding this, and you’ll often get pushed to focus on lead-gen or upselling. These are not the jobs of community, and if you try to build a community while pushing your product, you will face significant challenges. Community management is about retention.

Community Manager Breakfast March Notes – Ambassador Programs

At last month’s Community Manager Breakfast, the group chose to focus on a juicy discussion topic: Ambassador Programs. The fantastic Meredith Black (Who is looking for a community role, FYI!) took notes. Check out the high-level bullet points below, and join us at the next breakfast to get the full experience!

What is an ambassador?

Users who are active, engaged, show up offline, spread the word (evangelists).

How do you build an ambassador program?

DO:

  • Have a strategy and plan
    • (Do you want ambassadors to be pre-beta-testers? Are you looking to recruit? Etc.)
  • ID the ambassadors, then reach out with money/resources/support
  • Show tons of love to early participants
  • Have barriers to entry for selecting ambassadors (see NextDoor)

DON’T:

  • Make too many rules – instead, let the users have some say
  • Build the relationship around money – instead, make it authentic
  • Ramp it up too early – instead, determine ambassador milestones before the call-to-action

How do you develop a sticky ambassador program for a product/service with a 1-time use case? (Example: a site where you research which grad school you want to go to)

Top issues:

  1. Users have unequal experience (novice vs. expert)
  2. Users aren’t motivated/interested to stay engaged
  3. Product/service is hedged by legal/compliance issues

DO:

  • Have tools in place: community blog, great platform, user profiles, following capability
  • Prioritize motivating and retaining key segments that disengage
  • Bucket and grow different segments BEFORE merging them
  • Customize attention to build real relationships
    • Get 1-on-1 = Hangouts, 15-min phone calls scheduled by users, etc
  • Source content from users
  • Research successes in similar programs

DON’T:

  • Expect your community to solve its own problems
  • Force different segments to merge too early
  • Ask for company resources without a plan for ROI, milestones, or metrics
  • Forget to advocate with users for your/company’s needs
  • Hesitate to use exclusivity, if it adds value
  • Use an ambassador program if there are legal/compliance issues – instead, find other ways

February Community Manager Breakfast Notes – Metrics, Offline Community, and more

At February’s San Francisco Community Manager Breakfast, we eschewed the pre-set topic and chose topics as a group. The result was a fantastic, varied conversation with folks from all different experience levels, business types, and focuses. Although you won’t get the full context from the notes – you’ll have to come to breakfast for that – there are some great observations and suggestions below.

A huge thank-you to Meredith Black for taking the notes! If you’re looking to hire someone very intelligent with events skills, check out her LinkedIn!

1. Launching a community from scratch

  • Choosing community focus
    • Test with Minimum Viable Communities – do things as simply as possible (Facebook groups are easy) and see what sticks. Less risk.
    • Consider that you may have more than one community – especially if you’re a two-sided marketplace. Don’t treat them the same.
  • Research
    • Go to Twitter chats, forums where market exists.
    • Hang out, follow, engage in conversations.
    • Note what engages people, where gaps are.
    • Once your community has started, these places can be perfect for sharing about your CMTY organically.

2. Engagement

  • What is a real, loyal CMTY member? Sticky, engaging, and offering value.
  • Do user testing for ways to push interaction.
  • ID the evangelists (Customer Support can be a great source):
    • Figure out how you can help them.
    • Give them responsibility – they want it, and it’ll help you.
  • Personalize:
    • Be the face of the brand: sign social media posts with your name, be the face/voice of the brand.
    • Use a personal email (ie Shannon@monument.com) – if you can’t handle the volume, have the rest of your team help with it.
    • Do the things that aren’t scalable (a la Paul Graham)
      • Phone calls, emails, friendships, 1-on-1 asks

3. Platform

  • Hard to launch a CMTY without a platform/ways for members to communicate.
  • Facebook Groups definitely work – but FB has a tendency to interrupt/pull functionalities. Move off it as soon as you can.
  • Platform suggestions:
    • Mobilize (built by former CMTY mgrs.)
    • Jive (can segment, has gamification)
    • Mighty Bell
    • Discourse
  • Mobile community platforms still pretty rare.
  • When moving a CMTY from one platform to another: do it in buckets, introduce users to forum, measure activity.
  • Moving has risks, challenges, so it’s necessary to get the CMTY more engaged.
  • Platform architecture can be overwhelming – don’t underestimate.

4. Offline CMTY-building

  • Offline is a trend (vs. 4 years ago).
  • Development is the same (set the tone/rules, power-user program, scale it).
  • How do you find your initial members?
    • Relationships are built face-to-face: get out there, tailor, make it personal.
  • Collaborate/empower users so they initiate events for the brand.

5. Offline Metrics

  • Know what the actual company goals are (often, management isn’t sure):
    • Brand recognition/association
    • Member-to-member interaction
    • Retention
    • Goodwill
    • Etc
  • Don’t have ROI measured yet? Provide management/C-suite with tons of general data:
    • Activity level
    • # signups
    • Engagement volume
    • Etc
  • Tell both stories – metrics and personal:
    • Emotional: interviews, feedback, Yelp reviews, etc.
  • Share successes pre-emptively:
    • Data
    • Learnings (shows you’re not just flailing)
    • Roadmap that can be quantified
  • These are the same challenges as for other soft departments (like PR).
  • Tools:
    • Google Analytics
    • Sprout Social
    • CRM
    • Good ol’ spreadsheets

6. CMTY+ (cross-functional integration)

  • Make friends internally and externally – get buy-in of tech team, C-level, support, finance, etc.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel – partner instead.
  • CMTY+Sales:
    • Community can help retain, make repeat sales more likely.
    • Leads are more qualified/shared.
    • Deals close faster.
    • Benefits maybe aren’t apparent through regular CRM data.
  • CMTY+Marketing
    • Leverage current customers for leads to new growth.
    • Track evangelist movements, put in a bucket, use for PR/marketing (collateral, landing page quote, great story, reference for potential investors, etc).

Hope to see you at the next breakfast!

Happy Community Manager Appreciation Day 2015! Let’s grow up.

Happy Community Manager Appreciation Day 2015!

they grow up so fast

It’s amazing to me to be celebrating this for the 6th year. It feels like just yesterday that Jeremiah Owyang created it (Who, incidentally, was my mentor when I stumbled into community management – thank you Jeremiah!).

Anniversaries are always a nice time to look back and look forward, so let’s take stock of our situation.

So far we’ve seen the industry go from nascent to the-hottest-thing-nobody-understands to near-takeover by social media marketers to, finally, an emerging set of values, frameworks, and resources.

The problem is that we still don’t quite know what we are.

Every CM struggles with this. Our jobs are focused on the user – we know that much – whomever that may be. But they can involve forums, events, social media, customer feedback, customer support, user testing, product design, communications, and more.

I’ve talked to talented folks lately who have gotten out of community management partially because they’re unsure what it is and where they fit in it…and it’s a lot easier to have a job where the lines are clear, and it’s a lot easier to tell your boss you’re succeeding when you’ve got one clear goal.

I think there’s a couple steps we need to take to move past this fourth-act crisis.

1. Start showing ROI.

Stop complaining. Stop grumbling. Yes, it’s HARD. (We’re not unique in this, by the way – PR feels the same way.) But ultimately, if we can’t show that there’s inherent value in making customers happy, we can’t advocate for our jobs.

How do we do this? However the hell we can. We need to stop imagining there’s one perfect formula for community ROI – especially since community takes so many forms.

Maybe for you it’s the fact that your cost-efficient meet ups can be paid for if they convert just ONE attendee a year to your platform (as was the case when I was at UserVoice). Maybe it’s calculating whether the lifetime value of people who participate in your community is higher – like Salesforce, which proved that community participants spend more. Maybe it’s showing that NetPromoter score is higher (which should indicate referrals, which means more money) for those who participate in your community efforts. Maybe it’s showing that your community efforts increased open rates, which increased impressions on your product. Maybe it’s showing that feature uptake was more likely when someone participated in the community, like Google AdWords has shown.

There’s something you can measure. It may not be possible for you to have a daily or weekly dollars-spent-to-dollars-earned, but you can prove that you are generating value. (And for the record, it’s not like Marketing really has direct ROI – ever heard the phrase “I know half of my marketing is working; I just don’t know which half”?)

Everything else is gravy. Yes, it’s great to create a good impression of the brand and to have advocates and to have happy customers, but consider that all bonus. Show your ROI, then talk about all that…don’t show the bonus results and assume there is ROI.

2. Build the Community department.

I’ve been arguing this for years, and I will continue to. If there’s a department focused on sales, a department focused on marketing, a department focused on finance…why the hell wouldn’t there be a department focused on customers, arguably our most important asset?

What does this get us? Sure, respect, and pay raises…but also leverage within the company and room to specialize. The conundrum above, where we can’t define our jobs because we all do so many things? To me, that’s indicative of a burgeoning industry and a trade, not a problem. When you look at those many tasks alone, it seems a bit manic. Look at them together? Events, communications, forums, user testing, customer support, social media, product design, and more? Why, that’s a team of community specialists!

Stepping up to lead departments will grow the number of community-focused jobs and allow people to specialize in what they’re good at and interested in, rather than struggle to do everything. That’s a bright future.


Don’t think you can do it? Sure you can. Companies are waking up to the need for this. There’s plenty of ammo (start here) to send to your boss. (Sign up for that mailing list on the right side of this page and I’ll keep your inbox full of that stuff.) And if we lock down a basic version of the ROI component, we can stand our own next to Marketing and Sales.

Forging a community department will be hard, and it won’t happen right away…but it can’t be any harder than event planning or motivating people to participate or dealing with trolls!

Go forth and find ROI and build the community department. Long live Community Manager Appreciation Day!

How to keep your in-person meetup from being awkward

Hi, I'm awkward

There’s an online publication that I adore. I won’t name them in this article because I love them so much. They’ve built a publication and community around the geeky topics that I hold dear: superheroes & sci-fi (with a dash of fantasy and actual science). I read it religiously, multiple times a day. So when I saw that they were hosting a meetup in San Francisco, I felt like I had to attend.

You may not know that I’m an introvert. But you probably know that many fans of the aforementioned geeky topics are. So I went into the whole thing a little nervous, but also excited at the potential of being welcomed by my people.

Instead, it was an incredibly awkward experience. Although I did have a few nice conversations, I did not suddenly feel like I had reached the geeky promised land.

Why wasn’t this meetup a success? As a geeky community-builder is wont to do, I decided to analyze what made the event so awkward (for me, at least).

Announcement/RSVPs

The event was announced on their site as a regular blog post – no RSVPing or ticket purchase, just the announcement. The normally-busy comments section was surprisingly quiet, mostly people saying “argh, I wish I were in San Francisco”. One or two fellow introverts spoke up and said they were going to try to come. The excitement I’m sure others felt was tamped down by the thought that, perhaps, nobody else was going. An introvert’s nightmare.

Solution: making people RSVP would have helped the organizers estimate attendance (for free events, expect 20-50% of RSVPs to show). Making people RSVP via comment would have started to build confidence about the event. Adding something fun – “leave a comment and your favorite gif if you’re attending” – would have been on-brand for the site and taken that confidence all the way to excitement.

Location

The event took place at a coffee shop/scifi book store. While having the advantages of proximity to public transportation and being on-theme, it was not the best spot for a meetup. Caffeine generally doesn’t help with conversation, and the space was very loud.

Solution: while I don’t think alcohol solves many problems, it is a GREAT social lubricant. Hosting an event for introverts at a place with alcohol would have helped get discussions going. Bars are hard because they can be dark and loud; however, there are tons of spaces (both formal event spaces and private locations) that are booze- and meetup-friendly in the Bay Area.

Layout

I’ve sketched the layout below. There are a multitude of problems with it.

bad meetup layout

First: having any sort of bottleneck makes it awkward for new people to arrive. When you have a more open space, people can assess what’s going on, put their things down, get a drink, find a group to join, etc.

Second: having the Editor, the life of the party, right in the bottleneck forces you to talk to them. Which isn’t bad…except that it’s high-pressure (“Oh my god, she’s the one who started all this!”) and she’s in demand. I started chatting with her and then she quickly got distracted by people she knew arriving. There’s nothing wrong with that…but it meant that I had to stand there and smile politely until I could excuse myself from a conversation I was clearly not part of.

Third: having such a tight space meant it was hard to mingle, so you had choose a group and try to wrangle your way in.

Fourth: having very limited tables and seats meant that they were quickly filled, and new arrivals felt the opposite of welcome. “Welcome, please don’t take a seat because there are none”? Bad form.

Solution: host the event in a more open space. Have one seating area that only fits a few people, so standing and creating malleable groups is necessary. Put the drinks off to the side so newcomers can come in, put things down, get a drink and figure out how to enter the fray. Let the Editor flit around; don’t worry about greeting people, just have clear signage so people know they’re in the right place.

Interests

Turns out, even if you’re all frequenters of a geeky website, you can be into very different things. Some of us (*coughmecough*) were very into the latest comic trades. Some were really into deep, heavy sci-fi (which I appreciate but don’t read very often). Some were just into science. Some were a mix of the above. The result was awkward groping for common topics.

Solution: build in a way to break the ice. This could be as simple as a name tag with a few interests (boring, but totally effective). You could also go more fun: have a bunch of stickers that represent different interests (Marvel, DC, Spider-Man, X-Men, Star Trek, Star Wars, NASA, Game of Thrones, etc). Make it a bit of a challenge to assemble your unique set of stickers – fun, but also a great way to immediately know what to talk to someone about.


In the end, running real-world events requires that you really consider human dynamics. Something that might seem acceptable to you, the host, might be a nightmare for your introvert attendee who doesn’t know anyone. A great event doesn’t need to have fancy production values; it needs to be optimized for people to get to know each other and connect on a deeper level. Here’s hoping their next meetup manages this!


Awkward photo courtesy of Laura Barberis.

Sharing economy lessons from Lyft, Yerdle, & more

I recently had the pleasure of attending the San Francisco Community Manager Meetup‘s panel on the sharing economy and writing the official summary post. Here’s an excerpt:

“If there are 19 other drivers posting on the forum, you think ‘Ok, I’m gonna keep driving’.” Super-users were key to helping Lyft scale. Several months into a year in which their goal was launching 70 cities, they had launched exactly one city. They were struggling to find an office space and hiring local employees to work with drivers. Forced to innovate, they thought “what if, instead of having new drivers come into the office, we just have them meet an experienced driver in a parking lot?”

“It was scary,” David admits. “But it worked.” 

Check out the full article at CMX.

“If we make an exception for one customer, we’ll have to make them for everyone”

no parking signNo, you won’t.

What percentage of your customers contact customer support? 1%? 5%? Let’s be crazy-generous and say 10%.

What percentage of those ask for an exception? Maybe 50%.

So that’s 5% of your customers you’re giving an exception to.

Sure, maybe word spreads and now 75% of those contacting customer support are asking for an exception. That’s still only 7.5% of your customers.

Exceptions are possibly the most powerful tool you have in delighting customers. Who doesn’t rave about how a customer service agent bent the rules to do something nice for them? Zappos practically built their entire reputation and PR on bending the rules.

Yes, you need to have some restrictions so you don’t break the bank. But if 7.5% of your customers leave delighted and tell 5 friends each, you’ve just increased your userbase by 37%. Not too shabby.


Photo via Patricia H.

What if you subtracted “women” from that question?

For most* questions, if you replace “women” with “someone” and you get a different answer, there’s something wrong. Either there’s a institutional issue you should address, or you’re being sexist.

Take the case of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who was asked what advice he’d give to women who want a raise (and might be uncomfortable asking). If Nadella was not sexist, he would have two options:

1) Give the same advice he gives to men: meet with your boss, show all the good work you’ve done, and ask.  This advice probably wouldn’t be super-helpful, seeing as women make 78% as much as men, but it would have been ignorant instead of sexist.

2) Acknowledge that there are a lot institutional problems with gender and pay. Talk about how women are often called manipulative or bitchy when they are strong-willed in the workplace, but similar men are considered driven and ambitious. Talk about how that needs to change, and maybe outline some ways that someone powerful like, I don’t know, the CEO of Microsoft, could change things. This also wouldn’t be a super-helpful answer, but it would be honest and definitely not sexist.

By telling women “It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along”, Nadella is being sexist.

You might argue that he doesn’t know about the huge wage gap between men and women. Maybe that’s the case (disappointing if so). But again:  if he thinks women get the same opportunities as men, why would he give them a different answer than he would give men?

As a straight white male, anyone I’ve ever asked for advice on getting a raise has told me to ask. You can find plenty of this advice on the web. You’re generally supposed to gather examples of your great work, do some basic research, and then ask. “It never hurts to ask”, “you’ll never get what you don’t ask for”, etc – this is the stuff I’ve heard many times.

Why didn’t Nadella give this advice? Because he treats women differently. And that’s sexist. Period, full stop.

Let’s hope this is a wake-up call for him. I know it’s a wake-up call to me and many consumers that to not buy any Microsoft products. In the meantime, I’d recommend women avoid applying  to work at Microsoft, unless you want to cross your fingers for your “good karma” to somehow net you a raise.


*I will admit that “My water just broke, what should I do?” should have a different response when coming from a man.