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There are organizations that host online communities that have been or are now successful that have also been able to get away with not making a full time paid employee responsible for the community. Managing, growing and moderating the community just falls to whatever time other paid people can make available, and to volunteers.

I don’t think anything is wrong with that, necessarily. But what I notice is that when things get stale or activity declines, what happens is that some of these organizations throw a software update at the community. A redesign, new software, a substantial upgrade in feature set – something along those lines.

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Online Community Onboarding

Posted by Patrick on June 30th, 2014 in Community Cultivation

OnboardingI recently asked what I could help you with. Brent Wilson of Whipp Media and Josh Barraza of The Exotic Pet Network both suggested that I discuss community member onboarding. Thank you for the response, Brent and Josh.

Onboarding has typically been used to describe the process of helping new employees at a company to pick up the skills and information they need to become solid contributors to an organization. Even though members aren’t your employees – far from it – the Wikipedia page for onboarding is a really interesting place to start.

Take a look at the onboarding model adapted from Talya Bauer and Berrin Erdogan. Even though it is meant for new employees, one can see how it could be readily applicable to an online community. Drawing from that model and the Wikipedia page, let’s walk through the conclusions that researchers have come to and how they apply to online communities.

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YouTubeFrom September 22, 2012 through August 19, 2013, I hosted Soda Tasting, an online show dedicated to soda reviews and appreciation. In less than a year, I was able to develop a show that was receiving 500 views a day and had more than 1,000 subscribers, trending upward.

I left a show that was growing because I decided to focus my time elsewhere and to hit some new fitness goals. Since I stopped producing the show, it has only continued to grow. I’m kind of surprised by that, but it speaks to the quality of the content and the way I positioned it. One can only imagine where I’d be if I had continued to publish new, quality content.

People complain that there is too much competition on YouTube. That it’s too late. That everyone popular simply got in early. Those are made up obstacles and excuses that don’t give enough credit to the people who are popular on YouTube and the work they have put in.

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On October 15, I received an email from Empire Avenue, letting me know that my account was in danger of being marked inactive. “You are about to lose status, leaderboards and more!” It said my account had not been active for 27 days and, in order to keep my account, I had to login.

I received the same email on November 23, February 3, March 23 and May 13 and June 10. I may have deleted some in between, I don’t remember.

Empire Avenue was once a buzzed about social site and has settled into being a community of people who enjoy the service and the idea of a stock market for online personalities. Which is fine. I’m not active on it. I log into it once in awhile and spend the accumulated currency.

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When there are new tools that we can use to engage with our community, we tend to focus on the great features those tools have, how easy they are for people to use, the cost of them and the value they offer.

One thing that gets lost, but that should always be at the front of our minds, is how the tool separates us from our community. If we wish to stop using the tool, do we have access to the community data? Or can the tool effectively hold us hostage?

If they can hold us hostage, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it, but you just have to be very aware of what you are doing. For example, Facebook and Twitter would fall into that camp of tools. You are engaging with people, but you can’t take your database of Facebook Page likes and do anything off of Facebook with it.

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Comic Book ResourcesComic Book Resources (CBR) is a large, long-running and influential comic book website, featuring news, reviews, blogs and an active community. Created by Jonah Weiland and launched in 1996, the site’s media kit reports that they receive more than 24 million pageviews per month from over 6 million unique visitors.

On Wednesday, Weiland announced that CBR’s current forums would be closing and would remain online for 14 days, in order to allow members to retrieve old content they wanted to save. The old forums have 12.9 million posts, with public discussions going all the way back to 2006. In their place, a new community was launched. None of the old content, nor membership information, was preserved. I learned of this story through Mark Wilkin.

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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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