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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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Around the holidays, I like to send handwritten notes to my staff, who are also members of the communities that I manage. You can accomplish more with a handwritten note than you can accomplish in several emails or private messages, just like you can accomplish even more with a face-to-face meeting.

Unless you work at a B2B company where your community is your paying customers, you probably don’t have a mailing address for your most valued contributors. It may not be practical or appropriate to ask them for an address. But what if you could still send them a handwritten note?

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It’s amazing how often I come across people and organizations, big and small, who do not put in a modest effort at going the extra mile. In a sea of mediocre to decent businesses, it isn’t that hard to stand out. It’s about details, pride in your work and follow through.

A few months ago, my parents moved into a new home, which they built for them. It’s a major milestone in their life, one they have worked many years for. This is true for the vast majority of people who build a home. It’s a special thing.

A Gift for My Parents

When the process began, my brothers and I kicked a plan into action. A couple of times a month, my brother would visit the construction site and take some pictures. Over the next 9 months, he visited the house at least 17 times, careful to do so on days where the crew was absent and my parents were not at the house. With the addition of two more shoots after the house was done, he amassed 236 photos.

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There are a lot of companies that make great tools. If your tool is great, your marketing is slick and your call-to-action is amazing, you’ll convince people to sign up. Once you have them, how do you keep them?

The funny thing is that, if your tool sounds amazing and your marketing is convincing, you may have your customers expecting a miracle: a tool that requires no effort whatsoever on their part. When that doesn’t happen, they won’t blame themselves. They’ll blame you. You let them down.

The big challenge isn’t getting them to sign up, it’s ensuring they use the tool correctly, improving their odds of success. For many companies, the answer to this problem is to hire account managers.

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People Move On

Posted by Patrick on October 5th, 2015 in Interacting with Members

The Long GoodbyeCarrie Jones writes about the idea of celebrating the “right kind of churn.” She draws on an example from Alex Hillman’s Coworking Weekly podcast, where Hillman explained that when a company leaves his coworking space to move into their own office, they celebrate the occasion.

They celebrate that the company has reached a level of growth where they require a bigger space to continue that growth. They might be losing a tenant, but they recognize the success of an alumni.

I believe in this. Your community members are a lot like the cast of Saturday Night Live. I’ve never sought to dominate the lives of the people who join the communities that I manage. You don’t collect humans. We’re all alive for a relatively short period of time. During that brief moment, we gravitate in and out of many different groups and communities, based upon where we are in life.

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As online comment sections propagated throughout the web and faced people-related scaling issues, mainstream media sites become a popular example of low quality discourse. Some chose to invest meaningful resources into their comments, but many did not.

In recent years, an assortment of news publishers and noted publications have closed their comment sections. I don’t necessarily see that as a big deal or even a bad thing. There’s an ebb and flow here. Many people rush into tools without enough thought, then wonder why they don’t work. There is an eventual correction as they find its not for them or something shinier attracts their attention.

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Marcus LemonisI’m a big fan of Marcus Lemonis, who helps struggling small businesses on CNBC’s The Profit. I even tweeted recently that I’d love to work for him. I really identify with how he goes about his business, and it reminds of my Dad and the lessons he’s taught me.

One of his mantras is that successful businesses need the three P’s: people, process and product. This is a great, simple way of expressing how to build an enduring company. It’s just as applicable to building a successful online community.

People

Community professionals are not a dime a dozen. There are great ones, bad ones and plenty in between. Some are just starting out, others have been in the field for more than 20 years. Your budget often dictates who you can hire and how long you can keep them.

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You should look at moderation as an opportunity to educate, not criticize. Specifically, the act of removing content and informing a member of a guideline violation. This is a great moment, where you can guide the member to a more fruitful existence in your community.

I don’t see removed content as a strike. I’m not counting to 3 and then kicking you off. Context is everything. Mistakes happen – it’s all about how the member responds. I like to invest in the members who are trying to get better – and get rid of the ones who don’t care.

This is part caring and part process. The caring aspect is mental. It’s the thought that you want to have as many great members as you can and the understanding that there are people who need some help to become that great member. You need that mindset, and you need to surround yourself with people who have it.

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reddit Alienreddit is currently the talk of the online community world. For me, it’s a lot of old lessons coming back to the surface, yet again. Which is why I haven’t written much about it. But I saw a great comment on reddit by Slickdeals chief product officer Bryant Quan. I’m a long term user of Slickdeals, and I found his executive-level perspective to be quite compelling. His thoughts are re-published here, with permission.

I was one of the original founders, former CEO and now the Chief Product Officer, and as such I’ve had the opportunity to put a lot of processes in place, as well as help ask the right questions whenever we do things. Naturally all communities have their nuances and differences, but in the end, it boils down to respect. Respect the community: honor your users and content contributors for the work and effort they do.

Often this results in us taking a tradeoff in what we call “technical debt vs. community debt,” where instead of creating friction for our users, we take on a technical burden instead. For instance, we launched a redesign recently, and instead of forcing everyone over, we maintained a classic version of the website. We told ourselves that we would maintain two versions of the site for the foreseeable future and do our best to improve the redesigned version to the point that it compels people to switch (“lets make it so much better that they willingly switch”).

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