Richard Millington: Buzzing Communities — Live from the Brands-Only Summit

Coverage of this session by Bridgette Cude of Connect with her by following her on Twitter.

1:30 —'s Erin McDaniel introduces Richard Millington, author of Buzzing Communities: How To Build Bigger, Better, And More Active Online Communities.

1:35 — One of the first campaign's Richard worked on was a campaign for Born HIV Free. It was built to create massive online and social support to fight mother-to-child spread HIV.

1:36 — They built all of the usual social media promotion and created a petition, but in the end, the amount of money they received was below their worst case scenario. Two weeks later, however, Born Free HIV won an award for their campaign.

1:38 — Richard: But let's talk about GoPro: They have the brand that you should envy and copy. They're the brand that understands the importance of social integration and touted as the king of content marketing. So you might think that they're doing incredibly well.

1:39 — But what you find is that GoPro's actual numbers aren't that great. Sales are falling and they're laying off employees.

The reality is, funny, shocking, and silly things get a lot of activity, and we optimize for it. We don't write helpful headlines any more, we write clickbait that gets more clicks, likes, and shares. We're optimizing for social — not for communities.

1:40 — Richard: We're all laboring under this myth: Engagement, in the activity sense, equals value: new customers, collaboration, innovation, etc. But it doesn't. We all know there's some correlation here, but there's nowhere near a direct correlation.

1:41 — Richard: In fact, the highest level of visible engagement equals the lowest level of mental engagement.

1:42 — Richard: We have a choice between driving more activity and driving more behavior change (persuasion, influence, and habits.) How do we drive long-term behavior change?

1:43 — Richard: Most communities look like this: Of all the people who join, only a tiny fraction of them become active members of the community. What that means is that at some point those numbers will plateau: the number of people participating will not continue to climb.

1:44 — Richard: If we stop optimizing and incentivizing people to join and participate and take a mentally engaging approach, our true engagement rates will go up.

1:45 — Richard: People have these three: competence, autonomy, and relativeness.

1:46 — Competence is useful because it's something we can do in every kind of community. If we can participate the skill level and set challenges that match that skill level, earn them recognition for when they do something useful, give them a sense of achievement, then they will participate in a mentally engaged level.

1:47 — Richard: People continue to participate in a group if they feel they can make a meaningful change. When someone joins a community we want to know their experience and expertise. But people are shay about saying what that is for them.

What we do is look them up and see what they're good at, on LinkedIn for example. Then we can define that if there's a discussion that they can make a unique, meaningful contribution to, we'll reach out to them.

Most of us have ways we can highlight people's contribution. Then we can document them.

Documenting advice and contributions is important. It becomes an asset that people will want access to and come back to. Then we turn that person into an expert within their group.

1:47 — Richard: We can give them a blog, invite them to do a Q&A, etc. The more we feel we can act in line with what we enjoy doing without any pressure or coercion, the more we love to do it and the more we'll do it.

1:48 — How we design an autonomy supportive community:

  • We have to measure,
  • recruit volunteers,
  • create automated messages,
  • feel understood,
  • design options,
  • and follow up

1:49 — Richard: Ask questions, listen, and create options for how people can participate. What we want to learn from automated questions is to make sure people feel understood.

Then, we find a specific place where they can participate. But it's not enough to find a place where someone participates just once.

1:51 — Richard shares some things to consider: How often do members reference the past of the community, mention members by name, have inside jokes, etc?

We don't just want to have content about the topic. We find the best content for a community is content about the community. The more we mention people by name, people will call them out by name.

1:52 — Richard: The problem with letting a community manager answer every question directly, even if it's right, is that it makes it pointless for anyone else to participate in the conversation.

1:53 — Richard: We have to ask more clarifying questions, create and find events member of our community can be in, or help them share their own events. Finally, we also try to have some sort of ritual and tradition.

1:55 — Richard: We're not just in the business of driving as much activity as we can, but to drive mental engagement as we can.


Q: Do you allow members of your community to move content to wikis yourself?

A: Richard: We've tried both. It's a disaster when community members try to move things to the wiki themselves. we started with community managers moving the content, then, eventually we've let on some users who submit quality content to add their own.

Q: Is there a difference between large and small, BtoB and BtoC, or tech vs other?

A: Richard: Yes, there's a huge difference. With BtoC, especially at scale, it's harder to apply things if you want to apply to everyone in the same way. Our philosophy is how can we reach as many people as we can with the resources we have? It depends on what your goals are, but it's difficult to find the right platform. BtoB there's usually more of an opportunity to build content that members want to read and be active in.

Q: Can you talk about the diff between using existing communities vs building your own?

A: Richard: It's one of those things where it depends, but we say you should build your own if it's something that people care about. The best online comm aren't about the brand, but their about the community itself. The concept has to be something that people really resonate with. A lot of organizations try to build a community around themselves, but they're not Beyonce.