With community member accounts, a confirmed email address is a wonderful thing to have. Yes, you can use it for notifications and to contact the member. But just as important, it’s an account security issue. If the member ever has trouble accessing their account, confirmed contact information might be the only way for you to give them access to it again.

The way this normally works, with online communities, is that a person signs up and is then told to check their email. You send them away from your community, and take them out of the process of onboarding. They are motivated to join your community, but you are holding them back, for that email confirmation. Hopefully, in their inbox, there is a message waiting with a link they can click to activate their account. I say hopefully because, sometimes, these get marked as spam. But if it’s there, if they find it, if they click the link, then they are back to your community with an active account.

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Your Community’s Buddy Bench

Posted by Patrick on April 11th, 2016 in Interacting with Members

An elementary school in Saskatoon, Canada has a green bench in their playground. They call it the buddy bench.

If you can’t find a friend or a group to join, or you’re feeling lonely, you can just sit on the bench. At which point, other kids will see you, and you’ll be talking to someone or playing a game in no time.

“If you can’t find your best friends, and you don’t know where to go play, sit on a buddy bench and somebody will come find you, and they’ll include you in their game,” said six-year-old Matthew to CBC’s Leisha Grebinski.

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GeniusGenius, the popular service best known for its community-sourced explanations of song lyrics, launched in October of 2009. They are powered by user-generated content (UGC), where anyone can simply highlight a passage of text and add an annotation. They have raised at least $56.9 million in funding.

It took them 6 and a half years to add a report abuse button. On March 31, they did so. But only after a member of congress asked them if they would.

For a reputable community-driven site of this scale, that’s unheard of and hard to believe. It casts the service in a bad light and speaks to priorities that run counter to community.

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Why Do Community Professionals Burnout?

Posted by Patrick on March 28th, 2016 in Community Careers

Why do so many online community professionals choose to leave the profession behind? Is there something about the role that makes burnout more common? An acquaintance of mine was pondering this recently. He wasn’t talking about people who are leaving for greener pastures – he was talking about those who have had enough. Here’s what I told him.

First, let’s cast aside the common causes of burnout that apply to pretty much every profession. For example, feeling like your work doesn’t matter, that you are overworked, that you aren’t adequately rewarded. Those are very common issues that can develop, no matter what your career. Instead, let’s focus on what applies to community professionals, disproportionately.

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When a new member enters your community, what should they do first? What will encourage them to contribute and help them feel more comfortable in doing so?

Online community onboarding efforts vary. Frankly, a lot of new members are effectively thrown right into the community. Some communities might go a bit deeper. Perhaps they make a bigger deal out of welcoming people, pointing them to an area where they can introduce themselves. Maybe they make new members click through a guide to the community. Or they prompt them to fill out their profile.

But if the primary goal is to have them contribute to the community, your best move could be to help them make their first post in a no pressure way. Community software vendors could have a big impact here by offering sandbox-like functionality as an option by default.

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I am wary of people who talk about building online communities, social apps, and related services, in an “addictive” or “habit-forming” way, as if these are respectable goals. Speaking for my own personal responsibility, I am not comfortable with it.

If you do a Google search and read about addiction, terms related to it and the stages of it, you might be reminded of what some people have written about how you should build your communities and get people to stay. I find that a little frightening.

You can’t use these words and then feign innocence or say it was just a catchphrase to reel people in. Those who have seen the damage of addiction know otherwise.

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Call deflection is very often used to prove the ROI of community efforts, especially those tied to support. The idea is that, when someone receives an answer to their question in the community, instead of calling you on the phone, you save money because it costs you less to provide that answer. This could also be true for other channels where it might cost you more to offer customer service (email or live chat, for example).

Recently, on the Community Signal podcast, I spoke with Jay Baer, author of a great new customer service book, Hug Your Haters. The book has some really interesting data about how answering complaints in forums boosts advocacy. But another part of the book that caught my eye was when he referred to call deflection as a myth.

“The idea of call deflection used by many large companies to justify the cost of robust social media customer service programs is a myth,” he wrote. “… Customers use of public channels has sky-rocketed, of course, but the growth in the total number of interactions has essentially eliminated the presumed financial advantage of answering customers in less expensive digital places.”

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Community Professionals Quietly Empower Movements

Posted by Patrick on February 29th, 2016 in Thinking

I believe that, behind any powerful movement, you’ll find community professionals. Or, at least, people doing the work. They may not do it for a living, they may just call themselves an organizer, but they do the work.

They aren’t usually the spokespeople for the movement. They aren’t the most visible faces in the community, they may not be the one talking to the media. But without them, the movement would probably crumble.

Groups need organization and management. They need people who work quietly to ensure that their efforts attract the right people for the right reasons; that those people know how to make their voices heard in a way that will be productive and effective. They need someone who will rebuke people who are co-opting their message in a way that makes them look bad.

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Rotten TomatoesBack in October, movie ticket seller Fandango was caught manipulating the star ratings on their website in a dishonest, misleading way. Users rate movies on the service, through a 5 star scale, and an average rating is then displayed to illustrate the sentiment of the average moviegoer. The average rating is always rounded to a half-star.

FiveThirtyEight’s Walt Hickey crunched the numbers and found that, when this rounding occurred, Fandango was always rounding up. A movie rated 4.6 or 4.7 would become a 5, not a 4.5. In 38 cases (out of 437 movies), a rating was actually bumped a full half star or more. In other words, a 4.5 becoming a 5.

Suffice to say, this story gained a lot of traction and it has certainly impacted how people view Fandango and even online movie ratings in general. Fandango blamed technical glitches, and it appears that they have fixed the problem.

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When resources, both free and paid, crop up around an industry, it’s a net positive. It means that there is growth, to the point where businesses can be built around educating, connecting and empowering those who operate in the space – or, perhaps more commonly, those thinking about entering it.

With money, can come hype. Sometimes the people behind a resource might get a little overzealous in how they promote it. Perhaps they make it sound like it is required learning if you want to excel or that, if you don’t partake in it, you are somehow inferior.

In reality, these resources are simply a component, of many, that can help you become a better community professional. Books, college courses, conferences, certifications, memberships, training programs and workshops are simply optional components. They can help you to become great, but you are not great simply because you consume them.

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