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Growing up, I was the new kid quite a bit. The US Army moved my family around several times, once in the middle of a school year. (No, not really fun.)

 

So I know what I'm talking about when it comes to joining new groups.

 

There is a definite process by which "new kids" incorporate themselves into an existing community. 

 

Recently, I came across this study from Wiley , which posits six ways people legitimize their membership in a new online community. Wish I'd known these when I was in fourth grade and trying to fit in!

 

As a community manager, you should be aware of these ways people move from newbie to regular, so that you can facilitate the process each step of the way. Keep in mind that each new member has a different personality, and different reason for participating in the community, so you'll need to be open to all of these concepts.

 

What do I mean by "legitimize?" I mean that the newcomer's post is replied to, and they begin to be seen as "one of us" by the existing members. This is the first step in forming relationships and habits of returning to the community.

 

Six Ways People Legitimize Their Membership In a New Online Community

 

  1. Contextual - new member references older posts within the site to provide context, and shows that he/she is aware of the content that already exists. Facilitate this by offering a "reply with quote" tool or other ways to easily reference existing content.
  2. Testimonial - new member shares personal information with existing members, and tends to use the personal pronoun when posting. Even better if the personal information is also contextual (i.e., relevant to the community). Facilitate this by creating a safe place for self disclosure, and perhaps providing a way for members to introduce themselves in a specific way (rather than asking for a Bio, ask specific questions).
  3. Lurking - member states that he/she has been "lurking" for x amount of time, and thus is aware of the shared history of the other members, relationships, social norms, and context of the community. Facilitate this by displaying member Join dates (which may pre-date their first post by quite a span of time).
  4. Geographical - new member mentions specific place names that are relevant or familiar to the other community members, giving some personal disclosure as well as knowledge of context. This could be especially powerful in a regional community, where a new member can mention neighborhoods or street names and prove that he/she is a local. Facilitate this by offering a way for members to share their geographic location in their profiles. Consider creating a generalized map of members.
  5. Cultural - newcomer uses professional jargon, acronyms, or slang that is relevant to that community, proving that he/she is knowledgeable in that field or culture. Facilitate this by creating tags or categories that group relevant content together (for example, in a medical community, create a HIPAA tag).
  6. External - new member refers to his/her outside social networks, blog pages, websites, or businesses, in order to establish who they are. Existing members can go independently "verify" that the newcomer is in fact who they say they are. Facilitate this by allowing members to use signatures or profile fields to share external information.

 

How does your community move new members toward becoming regular participants? What tools (technological or psychological) are you using to help that process?

 

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I'd love to hear your thoughts here in the comments or come connect with me on Google+ or Twitter.

Marketing Above the Noise is an insightful new book from Linda Popky, award-winning marketing consultant and President of Leverage 2 Market Associates. (Disclosure: I was given a digital copy of the book for review purposes.)

 

matn-cover

As I was reading the book, I was continually struck by how powerful the idea of true community is, when it comes to getting beyond the frenzy/noise of "the next new thing."

 

Many marketers are rushing around from app to app or tactic to tactic, trying desperately to get noticed in the midst of the maelstrom.

 

Popky builds the case for going back to fundamentals in marketing, using concepts that have been successful since caveman days. Stopping the frenzy.

 

These concepts apply to marketing in general, and to building a successful community in specific:

  • Understand your target audience and their needs.
  • Create consistent, focused messaging.
  • Train and empower your employees to deliver on that message. 

You can no longer talk "at" your customers.

 

Conversations are the starting point. Yes, we need to participate and engage with customers. But we also need to provide useful content (not marketing hype) to those engaging in conversations. And we need to show up in the communities where our audiences are gathering online and off.”  Excerpt From: Linda J. Popky. “Marketing Above the Noise.” iBooks.

 

Here are some key ideas for making sure your online community is not "noise": 

  • Offer opportunities to meet in person (conferences, Tweetups, etc.). Shared experiences are one of the most powerful ways to connect people.
  • If you're accepting suggestions or feedback, have a process for doing something with the information. Follow up and let the community know when you've taken action on their ideas.
  • Provide useful answers and information, based on your intimate knowledge of your customers' needs.
  • Forget the idea of "command and control." Give your members/customers a reason to feel pride and ownership in the community.
  • Use the data at your fingertips to focus your community. Take the numbers and apply them; don't just pump out reports every week.
  • Internal engagement is as important as external. Don't let the community be a fiefdom that belongs to one person; get everyone from the CEO to the support staff involved.

Marketing Above the Noise will be very helpful for anyone who is feeling overwhelmed by the social marketing tools and tactics currently available, and wondering where to begin. This well-written guidebook offers a reminder of marketing basics, and then shows a clear path through the noise to business success.

 

 

 

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I'd love to hear your thoughts here in the comments or come connect with me on Google+ or Twitter.

 
 

Brand community managers have a tough job.

 

Defining the purpose of the community, tracking growth, and communicating across company departments, in addition to being a superhero of resources, can be exhausting.

 

The smart team at Feverbee highlighted this recent research paper from the Information Management and Business Review, called The Dynamics of Value Creation in Online Brand Communities: Strategy Map Approach. (Phew, that’s a mouthful.)

 

The paper contains some great insights, so I thought I’d break it down in plain English.

 

Bottom line: you need to be co-creating something of value if you want your branded online community to succeed. 

 

The researchers hypothesized four primary drivers of participation: 

  • Learning benefits - product support, guidance, knowledge related features, problem-solving and mentoring
  • Social benefits - friendship, encouragement, social bonds
  • Self-esteem benefits - fame, status, rank, leadership
  • Hedonic benefits - entertainment, gaming, leisure activities

 

So how do brands work together with consumers to create value in a brand community?

 create-value-in-your-branded-community

 

The key to success is to ensure that it’s a two-way street. The brand offers products, benefits, and a platform, and consumers offer innovation, insights, and product co-creation.

 

The researchers describe four different categories of practice that build value:

 

Social Networking - members share their behavior and characteristics, and the brand welcomes them, guides them in learning and connecting with other community members.

 

Brand Community Engagement - the community documents and highlights the personal experiences that members have with the brand’s products. 

 

Impression Management - the community influences the members’ perception of brand activities/events, offers favorable information that can be shared beyond the brand community and evangelized. The community gives a platform for boosting word of mouth, sharing stories, promotional news, and inspiration.

 

Brand Use - the brand shares information about usage of the brand and responds to community needs/requests to customize the product/brand.

 

“To achieve value creation for a brand, the initial phase is to figure out the drivers and connection of customer value within the organization and marketplace.”

 

Learn what creates value for your specific customers.

 

Then you can bake that into your community strategy, and it will benefit your members as well as your brand.

 

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I'd love to hear your thoughts here in the comments or come connect with me on Google+ or Twitter.

 
 

As of today, we have removed support for signing in to Hoop.la, UBB Forum, and QuestionShark via direct Google sign-in. Previously, there were separate sign-in mechanisms for Google and Google+. One of the benefits of the previous Google sign-in implementation was that it used OpenID 2.0, which meant it required zero configuration for community admins.

 

Google has deprecated and will soon be removing all support for OpenID 2.0 sign-ins. As a result of this change, it's now impossible to support the zero configuration option for community admins. In the interest of simplifying the configuration options, we are completely removing the standalone Google sign-in option in favor of supporting Google+ as the only Google-enabled sign-in option.

 

If your site did not have Google sign-ins enabled previously, this change will not impact your community in any way.

 

If your site did have Google sign-ins enabled previously, any members who have used Google to sign-in will be affected. We have sent automated messages to all affected users of your community to let them know about this sign-in change. We made the process as simple as possible in that we included a direct link to set a new account password in this email for users who have not yet set a password on their account.

 

Going forward, if you want to support Google sign-ins on your community, you will simply need to use the Google+ sign-in option. You can find this in your control panel under Social Networks. In order to enable Google+ sign-ins, you will need to register your community with Google's APIs via their developer console.

 

If you have any questions or concerns about any of this, please open a new support topic, and we'll be happy to help you.

 

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In February, we told you about our plans to make Hoop.la, UBB Forum, and QuestionShark completely "responsive".  We are still deep into that project, but I wanted to give you a couple of details so you can start planning for it a bit.

 

We'll be using the Foundation For Sites framework to handle all of the responsiveness.   While you do not need to be an expert on responsive design (or Foundation for that matter) to operate your community site, it will behoove you to be familiar enough with it to make sure that your custom header and footer HTML is also responsive (and uses Foundation's classes) so that you don't have a site that is responsive in every way except for the header and footer than you provide.

 

We'll of course be here to assist you with that transition (and that is also why you will have plenty of time to get your site ready prior to the transition), but if you have some free time, you may want to get acquainted with Foundation.  The better you and your team understand it, the better your site's header and footer will be (from a responsive standpoint).  

 

We also plan to use many of Foundation's built-in CSS classes for things like buttons, labels, and nav menus.  And in general you will find that the CSS used on each page is much clearer and consistent, with more classes in place simply to make it easier for you to customize specific elements of each page.  In fact, each page will have its own unique CSS ID so you can target CSS changes to specific modules or pages.

 

Other notes:

  • We're using Foundation's printer-friendly CSS classes to make ALL pages more printer-friendly.
  • We are decoupling the admin control panel from the main site, from a theme perspective.  This means that you will not be able to change the look and feel of the control panel pages themselves, but this will mean that if you accidentally apply some malformed HTML/CSS to your theme or display settings that prevents pages from loading completely, you will still be able to access your control panel to fix it.  Since the control panel is only for admins anyway, this seemed like a proper tradeoff.
  • We are ditching image icons pretty much entirely, in exchange for icon fonts.  The advantage here is that icons will always be scaled properly to match the size of the corresponding text, which makes everything more visually appealing, no matter what size fonts you use for your theme.  It also means that you can use CSS to change the color (and more) of the icons.  Thus, changing the color of all or particular icons is a snap using CSS, with this approach. We'll be using Font Awesome for our stock icons, but you could use custom CSS to swap in your own custom font icons, if you want.  Thus, there is no loss in flexibility... it's just much easier for you to make stylistic changes to the icons.  Theoretically, pages will load faster, as well, with this approach.

Don't let these details scare you in any way. Everything will still be extremely easy to use (in fact, far easier to customize), but I want to make sure that those that care about nitty-gritty details can stay informed as we progress.