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As we posted a few months ago, we are in the middle of a major project to make Hoop.la, UBB Forum, and QuestionShark responsive.  Things are going a little slower than we originally projected, but we now have a target date for beginning our beta process.

 

Every single interface is being enhanced and improved to support both responsive design and an improved overall experience.  And we have taken the time to improve our underlying code in the process, as well.  While there are way too many changes to review in one post, I thought it would be cool to go over a few of the upcoming changes you will see when we roll this out.

 

1.  Improved Theme Editor

  

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Customizing the look and feel of your site is much easier in the next version.  The most important change is that we are applying much more consistent nomenclature in our CSS classes, which will make it easier for you to understand how to customize things at the CSS level. But aside from that, the sections of the theme are clearer and easier to understand.    And there are some handy new tools, like the ability to change the opacity of a background color.

 

2. More Visual Blog Content

 

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Our blog interfaces will support a more image-centric approach, allowing you to draw your audience in more easily.

 

3. Creating Content Is Simpler

  

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A big "Create Content" button is available on nearly every page, making it obvious for your users how to add new material to the community.  You don't have to go the forums to start a topic, for instance... start any kind of content anywhere you like.

 

4. Search Integrated in Nav Menu

 

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We are now shooting for the end of August to begin our beta period, when we will bring customers onto our upgrade server so you can start customizing your sites for the new interface.  That beta period will likely last 1-2 months and your actual live sites will not be upgraded to the new version until after the beta period ends, so you will have plenty of time to get ready once we enter that beta period.

 

We're extremely excited about what is coming next.  Hoop.la is already an amazing community platform, but it is being taken to a whole new level with this project.  Thanks for your patience as we go through this process!

 

 

 
 
 
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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.)

 

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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.