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Creative Commons License photo credit: mauwf

When I was on #CMGRHangout a little over a week ago, I said I would be interested to know if members who post an introduction in our introductions forum were more likely to become active contributors.

My friend Chrispian Burks wrote some database queries for me that allowed me to look at the KarateForums.com database. KarateForums.com is a mature community with a lot of data to play with, so it makes a great example for communities like it – focused, niche interest communities.

You can check out the data below. I decided to look at members with a certain post count or higher and then see what percentage of them posted a thread in the introductions forum. The data isn’t perfect, but it is pretty close.

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swimming in the rain
Creative Commons License photo credit: clarism_4

For many years, I have been celebrating April Fools’ Day on my communities. This year was no different.

On KarateForums.com, we announced that we would begin accepting new posts via postal mail, even releasing a form for people to use. While it was a joke, I can’t say I’d be disappointed if a few members decided to play around and mail in a submission.

A month in advance, I like to start a conversation in the staff forums, share my thoughts and see if any of my staff members have any suggestions. This particular idea came mostly from a brand new member of our team.

Did you do anything for April Fools’ Day? If you did, please let me know in the comments.


#CMGRHangout: Loving Your CommunityLast Friday, I had the pleasure of appearing on My Community Manager’s #CMGRHangout, a weekly Google+ Hangout covering online community management. In honor of Valentine’s Day, the episode was titled “Loving Your Community,” and we focused on how you can show your community members that you appreciate them.

The program is hosted by Jonathan Brewer and Sherrie Rohde, who do a really great job. When they invited me, they asked if there were any other community professionals that I’d like to have on with me. That led to us being joined by David Williams, Sarah Hawk and Sue John. Tim McDonald and Abhishek Rai completed the panel. In all, we had a really solid, veteran group with approximately 50 years of community management experience between us.

To give you an idea of what we talked about, here are the questions that drove the discussion:

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Invo at UXPA Boston
Creative Commons License photo credit: juhansonin

Earlier this week, I wrote about organizing low-key meetups with your community members at conferences and events. This approach is limited, though, because if you are not sponsoring an event, you should really only engage in behaviors that do not compete with the conference and its sponsors, otherwise you risk breaching conference policies or ethical standards.

By sponsoring an event, you open yourself up to a bigger world of opportunities. You are simply allowed to do much more. Each event will vary, but sponsorship has its perks. In how you can interact with attendees, how you can promote your community and how much the conference organizers can help you.

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Creative Commons License photo credit: steevithak

When members of an online community meet face to face, something magical happens. Connections strengthen and bonds are solidified. It helps people appreciate the community even more.

The prospect of organizing an in-person meetup can seem pretty daunting. Is it just a quick hello at a bar or coffee shop? Or is it a bigger event to justify a trip? What city do you host it in? What venue? When? What will people do?  Will you offer food? How much money do you need and where will it come from? What about insurance and legalities? Even if it is a lot of work, there is great value to be had in hosting your own offline event that stands on its own.

But it can also make a lot of sense to do something at a conference that already exists, that is related to your community. For example, if your community is about entertainment, movies or comic books, you could do something at Comic-Con. If it’s about knitting, maybe you go to STITCHES. If golf is the subject of your community, then you might go to the PGA Merchandise Show.

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In my final article of 2013, I reviewed data from member reports of inappropriate posts on my community, outlining the most popular reasons that posts are reported. For my first article of 2014, I thought I’d take a look at how community software platforms can address these issues and make all of our lives a little easier.

Not all automation is good, but I’m a fan of automation that works well without having a negative impact on member experience. I am going to discuss solutions that I feel could fit into this mold, as well as other manual solutions that could be built into software.

Some ideas could be impacted by technical limitations, such as server resources, but I am going to approach this from an ideal perspective. I think about this sort of thing all the time and I wanted to share some ideas freely. Any software vendor reading this, please feel free to take them (though credit is always nice). I do think it would be fun to take a role at a vendor where my job would be to focus on features and functionality, especially on the manager end of the spectrum. Maybe I’ll do that some day.

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Hakone Ropeway @ From Sounzan to Owakudani @ Hakone
Creative Commons License photo credit: *_*

When KarateForums.com hit 500,000 posts, one of the things that we did to celebrate was to conduct a series of interviews with the most influential members in the history of the community. They were taken from various eras. It included members who have been with us for more than 10 years, for 5 years, for 2 years – all different time spans. Some members are still active, some come and go, some left a while ago.

In all, it was 26 different members and these 26 are members who have contributed a lot. They are the ideal members. People who are kind and post great content. They are the members we can never have enough of.

One of the questions that we asked them was: after you found the community, why did you stay? For community managers, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the answers they provided, as it provides an understanding of why people continue to come back and contribute to a community. I am going to include the answers in full, without editing them and identify some of the common themes. Any emphasis is mine.

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coming out
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Being small is generally seen as a bad thing. We want to be bigger, we want to have as many members as possible. But if you are small, while you are small, don’t lose sight of the fact that you are provided with a laser sharp focus on what really matters.

When you only have 3, 5, 10, 15 regularly active members, you have a great opportunity to make sure that they are enjoying the community, that they are appreciated and to see if there is anything that you can do from them. You have the time to do so because they are truly all that you have.

That is how communities grow. 1 by 1. For some it is faster than others, but it is always 1 by 1 and the members that you have now form the foundation for future growth.

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P365x52-281: Westfield Mall
Creative Commons License photo credit: kurafire

With forums especially, you have a crowd who has a distaste for what they feel are low quality forum posts. I don’t want to use the term “low quality” for the posts I am about to describe because they aren’t low quality. Instead, I’ll call them “medium quality.”

You have on-topic posts, off-topic posts, detailed posts and short posts. Where a given contribution intersects with these categorizations will often determine how people judge the quality of it. But, even if a post is considered “low quality” by those who manage forums or by community professionals, that doesn’t mean that members of the community do not receive value from it.

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Tom Butterfly Final
Creative Commons License photo credit: JoshDobson

I recently discussed the benefits of starting a forum instead of buying one, so I wanted to flip that around and talk about the benefits of buying one as opposed to launching a new one. All of the benefits can be summed up with one word: maturity.

An established community is already launched. This means that it can already have a good domain name, a nice design and software that is installed and configured. It is receiving traffic, has a database of members and contributions and active members who are adding more content every day.

One of the benefits to starting a forum instead of buying one is that you can help shape the culture. But if the community already has a great culture, that’s a big benefit. In fact, that is one of the things I look for when considering buy a forum. I don’t want to have any major philosophical differences. I don’t want to buy something that embarrasses me or makes me look bad or isn’t fun for me. If there is a culture match, that’s a great benefit and then I can help further what is already in place.

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