Sleepio – how to keep your community members engaged for longer – by Claire

My first time attending the Online Communities Meetup organised by Laura Willoughby and, while I’m a bit of a newbie to using social media for anything other than mild narcism, the night was both eye opening and self affirming – I’m not totally at a lose end! I think we also made some kind of meetup record too – with 2/3rds of the people who clicked attending actually showing up!

So, it’s with a packed out room that Helena, the Happiness Officer at the digital medicine company Big Health (creators of Sleepio), shared her learnings about motivations of community members and how to foster them, backed by research and experience. For almost 3 years now, she has been co-managing and managing the Sleepio website Community – an anonymous online space where people going through the Sleepio program can connect with each other or seek advice from Sleepio experts.

Since the release of their iPhone app, Helena has learnt some tough lessons about community engagement – specifically about how intrinsic motivation works to keep people engaged in online communities and what you shouldn’t do if you want to keep it intact for the long term. During Helena’s talk she introduced me to Amy Jo Kim (is it a social media faux pas that I had no idea who she was?) and it’s actually changed my life as a Community Manager. Helena spoke about membership life cycles, and catering for each of these users at different stages as well as understanding who they are. What are the motives behind user participation in social communities? Understanding why users participate can lead us to understand further how to engage users and increase their participation in online communities. Before anything, we must first learn a bit more about our users.

Membership life cycle for online communities

On the Sleepio platform, Helena broke down these phases into three parts: First time user, lurker, engaged member. Amy Jo Kim suggests 5 phases of a user’s lifecycle within a community:

  1. Peripheral (i.e. Lurker) – An outsider, not participating but we know they are listening to conversations
  2. Inbound (i.e. Novice) – New user, beginning to invest in the community, on his way to full participation
  3. Insider (i.e. Regular) – Committed participator, member of the community
  4. Boundary (i.e. Leader) – A member greeting newcomers, creating interactions and content, as well as encouraging/sustaining participation
  5. Outbound (i.e. Elder)  – About to leave the community.

We spoke a lot about ‘Super Users’ and how they fit into the lifecycles as engaging new or lurker users, and nurturing those relationships, a role which then plays into the longevity and the passing on of community ethos. For example, inviting people to be greeters by offering them memberships in return.

Main Take Aways:

  • Speak to your users regularly.Online, offline, smoke signals…. Be human.
  • Figure out the intrinsic motivation of users.  Importantly, do not ask them what they want, but what they need as this will generate completely different responses. Many online platforms generate add on based on what users need which then just sit there idle as they weren’t actually needed.
  • Do your user research.  Why do members stay engaged within the online community? What is their intrinsic motivation? Understanding users intrinsic motivation through self actualisation and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, as well as the importance of the dual relationship between helping ourselves and helping others.
  • Once you’ve figured out the need. Ask – “how can the community address that need”?
  • Keep it Simple. Participating in the community should be simple for the user. The simpler it is, the higher the participation rate will be.
  • Stay watchful.  Do not break the feedback loop.
  • Triggers Use as many triggers as possible to nurture through intrinsic invitation.
  • Create Reactive Content.

Claire Tunnacliffe – Community Manager – Club Soda


How customer and user forums can help build your business

Thanks to Chris for sharing at our latest meetup how his jobs forum has grown into Wikijobs today.

Just like everything in life, it is never good to compare your fledgling start-up with a company that has been building over 7 years. But by delving a little deeper you find the problems, dilemmas and hard work are just the same for everyone at the beginning.

How it began:

In 2007 Wikijobs started their forum – and like every community they had to build members quickly. After all no one wants to be the first at the party.

So a combination of posting themselves and linking their community on other sites helped them build a user base quickly, “Build bridges into your site so it is no longer an Island”.

Here are the 3 key pieces of advice that came from Chris:

1.  Content is King: The posts they made in their own community were detailed and useful – lots of advice on getting a job. Advice that could not be found elsewhere on the web. This drew people in.

And here is the piece of advice I wish I had a year ago – whether you are writing blog posts or your forum is generating great advice, it is this content that draws people to your community.

So if you are starting your community, one  easy first step could be to start a blog and allow people to make comments. It will not only help you develop the tone for your business, but begin to draw people to your idea. Their comments will provide valuable customer insight (as well as being the start of a forum).

For WikiJobs, their growing forum posts helped them create the content and articles and brought people in – like example questions for tests run by the big companies for recruitment. All crowdsourced by the community.

2.  Email is still vital. Email people and let them know what is going on in the community and encourage them to participate. So pick a platform where that email data is yours! There are a lot of off-the shelf platforms that can help you do that (Drupal, Buddypress etc). 

Email keeps your customers hooked.

3. Once you have a community you can sell. The size of their community attracts advertisers and their community also use 3rd party products (like practice psychometric tests) from which they get a good affiliate fee. So once you have a community of size there are ways to monetise. 

They also reward their community for bringing friends into the community.

Testing the water

resizerIt’s hard being an active and engaged customer. We are at our most strident when it comes to buying physical items, like clothes and food, where the market is competitive, the price is transparent, it is easy to shop around and there are clear returns policies to start to level the playing field.  The comparison sites help us navigate complex tariffs for phone and broadband, but it still takes time to get a good deal and more importantly know whether you really are getting the best deal for your money.

And this only helps when it comes to directly measuring the value for money. If you want to shop ethically, environmentally or on the quality of the product or service, the information is difficult to find on the internet and may not be user friendly.

Utilities and financial services can prove even harder to navigate. Privatisation of water, electricity and gas does not mean we have the ability to literally get our water or gas from another companies’ pipes, or attach another electricity cable from another supplier into your home. Instead the supply can come from a company that has done a wholesale deal for the gas and competes on price alone to get it into your home, or in the case of water and sewage competes for a Government contract to supply your patch.

We don’t switch banks either, and this is made harder by the way the hide the charges they make – instead of being open these are often recouped through all sorts of over-priced charges,  lower interest rates and using our money to make more money. How can deice where to put our money if the information we need is hidden from us?

As a customer my ability to know what is best for me gets harder and harder the more important a service to my everyday existence – banking, electricity, telecommunications and water. It makes my head hurt. It’s no wonder that Brits rarely switch providers – it is hard to switch and this then allows industries to continue to pull the wool over our eyes and benefit their shareholders rather than their customers.

After my stint as CEO of Move Your Money I have become more convinced that we need strong and varied voices looking out for customers needs. Regulators only do part of the job, and they themselves need to be held to better account. Our financial regulators let us all down before and during the financial crisis, this was compounded by the revolving door between banks and the regulator (as our highest paid civil servants jumped ship after the crisis and joined the banks they were meant to be keeping an eye on). Our regulatory system does not inspire confidence.

Which! provides valuable information on products and services and is beginning to sharpen its teeth with more campaigns, Ethical Consumer affords us a short-cut to allow us to be a value led consumer. But both struggle with the enormity of the task at hand and have limited resources. What may be important to me as a customer may be different to the next person, so they each give me only part of the picture for me to be an empowered consumer.

And then of course these consumer campaigning organisations are only as good as the data they collect.  The information often is commercially sensitive so that the things we need to know most are hidden behind the veil of confidentiality.  Relevant data needs to be liberated and shared for good not hidden away – only then can I have what I need to help me make decisions about where I spend my money.

So why am I sharing this with you?  Well I have just taken on a new 3 year role as a consumer advocate for the Consumer Council for Water, the body looking out for the customers of the water and sewerage companies in England and Wales. Water is a vital utility and its delivery is complex.  It is not a service we can switch. 

I have set up this blog so I can share information as I learn more about the sector, ponder how we can be active consumers and ask you questions about dilemmas that are thrown up my the way.

I am looking forward to tell you more. 

What we can learn from peer to peer support

The second Building Online Communities meetup happened on Tuesday at the new Google TechHub in Shoreditch. The theme this time was “What we can learn from peer to peer support online”, and the speaker was Jamie from TalkLife. Here member Jussi Tolvi shares the finding from the event. Want to come to the next one – sign-up here.

TalkLifeTalkLife is a peer-to-peer support network, for talking about personal problems and mental health, via an app or on the web. Jamie talked about how he came up with the idea and how it has developed in the last three or so years. It’s safe to say that there have been ups and downs… This type of community obviously has some very special issues to deal with, as it involves mental health and young people, but it sounds like TalkLife have managed to create as safe a space as reasonably  possible, with an amazing active group of people keeping it that way. And in fact we talked about the possibility of having so much safety and security that the community just doesn’t function any more.

One of the most interesting points for me was TalkLife’s algorithm for quietly pushing posts up if nobody has responded to them. The aim is to make sure that everybody in the community gets their voice heard, and to keep engagement up. And that what happens in the first 15 minutes after joining TalkLife is the key factor in retention. Jamie also made some good points about their metrics: what is really important for them might not sound that exciting for others (e.g. potential investors), but absolutely make sense for their particular business and community. And their “vanity metrics” such as user numbers are very impressive too!

And if you didn’t write them down (or weren’t at the meetup!), these are the books that were recommended by Jamie and others:

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz

Onward and Upward: Reflections of a Joyful Life by Michael Wiese

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal

The Facebook Effect: The Real Inside Story of Mark Zuckerberg and the World’s Fastest Growing Company by David Kirkpatrick

Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is shaping our Future by Ashlee Vance