Originally written for Commsor in April 2022
It’s understandable that we, as Community Managers, may believe we know what’s best for the communities we manage. After all, we’re navigating them day in and out, working behind the scenes yet racing to the front of the house to facilitate Zooms, webinars, and AMAs. We’re creating the events, challenges, and inspirational conversations and… members are attending! We know what they want, and it seems to be working.
The truth is that we can create ample opportunities to nurture belonging, camaraderie, understanding and, most importantly, engagement, but only our members can determine what works and what doesn’t for them. So imagine — what if we asked our community members their preferences? Community management is all about active listening, testing, and adjusting for the data, and community data doesn’t equate only to numbers and percentages. It can also include a mountain of less obvious things like sentiment or responses to survey questions.
Fortunately, we have myriad opportunities to learn from and with our members to make our collective space one that serves each of us best. Here are the five ways to get feedback from your community:
1. Quality Surveying ‘Quality’ in this case means spending adequate time on each question you’re posing and determining its worth for your bottom line. Ask yourself: ‘What do I absolutely need to know, and will this question get me there?’ If you want Net Promoter Scores (NPS), format your question for a linear scale from one to 10. If you want to know why threaded conversations aren’t happening, pose an open-ended question about how members prefer to communicate. Steer clear of ‘yes/no’ questions as much as you can, unless you’re looking for comparison metrics. Yes/no questioning is tough because, although it’s the most convenient for your member, it’s difficult for you to discern any valuable insights.
👉 Actionable Tip If you must include yes/no questions, I suggest adding an open-ended follow up question, such as ‘can you explain your thinking behind your previous response’ (and make it mandatory). You want to glean as much valuable information from your responders as possible.
Some great options for grabbing solid insights from the community include (but certainly aren’t limited to):
Polling apps within your forum, such as Polly
Straight up forms, such as Google Forms, Airtable, or Typeform
Surveying tools with innate analytics, such as SurveyMonkey or Typeform (again)
2. Interviewing community members Conducting interviews can be time consuming, but it’s also highly valuable because of the breadth of personalized information you can get in a private, one-on-one setting. Interviewing can be done in many ways, but the best outcomes for me have been through process driven systems.
👉 Actionable Tip Here’s my process [that I usually view with an internal slide deck]:
Set up the first few slides to include the typical: who, what, where, when, why, how strategy. Nothing grandiose, keep it simple!
Following those, I add the ‘problem we’re trying to solve’ alongside my hypothesis or, what I think I will find out.
The next few slides will include my target audience personas.
I follow this up with my plan for reaching out to members, e.g. will I do an A/B test through email and social media outreach?
Then I add a list of up to 12 questions I plan to ask, as well as one sentence as to why this question relates to the hypothesis.
I link this out to a simple Google Sheet to capture information — even better if it’s connected to that original survey!
It’s all wrapped up with a slide on takeaways from the interviews.
Sometimes I create a separate document for long-form notes and errant yet relevant thoughts. Write it all down — you never know what might end up being useful later, even if you don’t think it is in the moment.
There are many things that are typically at play when you interview members, like the fact that your members are receiving intrinsic value by being asked to share their opinions, that their voice is being heard in a format beyond the text-based forum, or that they receive high touch engagement with you. These are more ethereal in nature, but these visceral aspects within the community can increase NPS, lessen churn, and potentially spur ideas and collaboration.
Beyond those things, interviewing members gives you a chance to see more of the community through member-eyes vs. manager-eyes. I know several CMs at larger companies even offer one or two hours each month and allow members to book themselves in 15-minute slots to simply chat with the CM and be heard! It’s time consuming, but the value driven by this kind of high touch engagement can be written in pages.
In a medical student community I oversaw, we wanted to figure out why students would choose our program over others, on a global scale. We set out with a slide deck replete with a hypothesis, process of operation, check ins, and Key Performance Indicators for survey responses and interviews completed. Over two months, we learned more about the expectations of incoming members than we anticipated and recognized the places where we’d previously filled in the blanks instead of having concrete information.
3. Live Town Hall These can be tricky if you’re uncomfortable with uncomfortable situations or de-escalation, but they offer community members the opportunity to share their experiences with management, moderators, administrators, and other members in a live and interactive format. Members feel heard and possibly gain solidarity with each other. You facilitate and learn massively about where you had wins, and where you could course correct within the community. It’s important to create a culture of transparency where members feel safe voicing their opinions. Reassure them that you’re here to listen, not judge — and make it clear that members are expected to observe your community guidelines or code of conduct and be respectful to everyone in the community while sharing live feedback.
4. Calculations Numbers don’t lie, and it’s great to have a solid and repeatable foundation of numbered metrics to create a story around. Track the community metrics that are important to your business goals — these include metrics such as NPS, event attendees, registrants, clicks, unsubscribes, monthly active users, conversions, and so on. You can collect these metrics through surveys, data from your event and newsletter platforms, or your community platform or operating system.
👉 Actionable Tip A greater CM than me once suggested that if I struggled to understand the numbered data I had, I was to literally write out a story about my findings. Upon reading it after, the data might make more sense in a format that feels more familiar — food for thought!
5. Observing the goings-on in your community platform In the digital space, this is as simple as being present in your community and as complex as reading between the lines to find patterns. When I was a Program Leader for a group on Remote Year, it became starkly clear that, by month four of 12, members were starting to fall off the honeymoon phase and finding themselves in the reality of what we were doing and for how long. My partner and I recognized that, although everyone in the group seemed to be doing lots of things and living on the edges of their seats, the overall vibe was way down compared to when we started. On finding out that many members were starting to feel homesick, we set out to curate a few events over two months to bring pieces of home to them.