October 14, 2013 ↘︎

Managing online communities

Ta-dah!  This week I was lucky enough to get my certification in Lithium Community Management. A number of our clients have shown an interest in online communities recently so we thought what better way to get a deeper understanding of how it’s done than becoming a certified community manager – and now I get to show this shiny new badge on my profile! 


The workshop was run by Lithium’s Chief Community Officer Joe Cothrel, who has worked with some impressive brands to develop and nurture their social communities – SalesForce, Dell and PlayStation to name but a few.

Structured specifically for moderators and community managers, the session focused mostly on the day-to-day management of a community, but there were some interesting scientific models around their recommendations.

Top 3 takeaways from the day

 1. The 90:9:1 rule.

The ruling for online participation was coined by usability superstar Jakob Nielsen and is endorsed by Lithium’s ‘Chief Scientist’ Michael Wu Ph.D. It’s the idea that 90% of visitors to your community are browsers, 9% are likely to register and create content from time to time, but only 1% are likely to actually create regular content.

It just goes to show the sheer volume of traffic (critical mass) that a community needs to generate before it can be a self-serving community. It’s also a great rule of thumb in your digital planning when expectation setting. Be realistic and expect that visitors will have very different reasons for being there.

2. Communities need a solid foundation

Before you can start building on it, a community needs to reach critical mass. In Lithium terms, critical mass means you’re receiving on average 5-10 new posts per forum per day, and that new topics are receiving a first reply within 1000-1200 minutes or sooner.

Building on it – adding things like a ‘knowledge-base’ or building super-user programs – allows you to reward your customers for things such as creating content or helping others.

3. Australian consumers use communities.

I can definitely see how enthusiast brands like Apple and DELL are fertile grounds for community forums, a place where enthusiastic customers help each other and are driven by sheer ‘love of the brand’, but I was actually really surprised to see some of the other brands in this area.

Optus, Vodaphone, Foxtel and CommBank are already experimenting in this space, and Telstra’s Crowdsupport has over 70,000 registered members. It includes an area for community experts that can help you with any aspect of your Android phone and a review section (which makes perfect sense) where members of the community are invited to review a range of products. Telstra are so confident in their community that they’ve created a television ad campaign to launch it.  

Knowing what ‘success’ looks like

During the day I had the pleasure of speaking with a number of community managers.  A common area of  frustration was around gaining business sponsor support, many of them struggle to gain cross-functional cooperation which creates a raft of issues in effectively managing an online community. I think much of this issue relates to community managers knowing how to effectively report back to the business, there is still a struggle to communicate the value of what they do.  Calculating ROI of customer service queries solved via online communities versus traditional customer service channels is one way to do this.

Lots to think about and lots more to learn. But what is clear is that online forums and communities are being sought out more and more by Australian consumers, and this is being taken seriously by some very big Australian brands. 

The content and advice contained in this post may be out of date. Last updated on October 14, 2013.
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