Coming up with a community strategy after three years of procrastinating

(James McMahon) #1

Tl;dr: I have a community oriented project, defined goals (perhaps too many) and need some guidance on what the next steps should be to move this project forward. I’m also concerned that the user experience on the site is not quite up to the job of even rudimentary community discussions.

Website: (feel free to kick the tires with the signup process)
Facebook page:

Hey guys. I’m not a community professional, but I’ve always been heavily engaged with community in one sense or another and fascinated by it’s ability to impact people’s lives in some way. Sometimes big, sometimes small.

I’d like to share my project with you and get your thoughts on it. I think you’ll find it interesting.
A big passion of mine is auto racing (motorsport for those those east of the atlantic). Specifically kart racing. I’ve always tried in some way to help more people enjoy this sport.

About three years ago I got a little (lot) more serious (or at least focused and objective) about it and started “a thing” called KartPulse.

This was sparked off when a major player in this space essentially threw out the community with the bathwater with a website update that turned off their old phpbb install which contained accumulated 15 or so years of insights, tips and discussions. Then, when called out on it, their response was basically “Pound sand, the forums were (and are) free, this is our business and we will do as we see fit”

I was amazed and pretty pissed off that there was no value seen in the community that had been built on the site. Also, the “update” was pretty self serving. It provided the same content (race report) but nothing of real value to help people get racing, help businesses find customers etc etc. Nothing that was going to really grow the sport, at least in my opinion.

When I started KartPulse, I made a promise to myself that community would come first and that we were going to change the script and narrative for the sport.

In my view, I have yet to deliver on this promise. We have built a great fanbase on facebook, built some helpful resources (articles, track and business directory) for folks racing (or interested in doing so) but have not really put any skin in the game as far as building a community on the site is concerned. I’ve consumed a lot of content including buzzing communities and I’ve taken a few runs at it, but I don’t think we had the right mix of content, strategy and site functionality for it to work well. The site is based around a social network which works well, but the forums are kinda clunky. While technology Isn’t the #1 thing, for sure the experience has not been great for people that visited the site.

So I’m regrouping again. I’d like to make people’s experience on the site a little better both in tech and IX as well as really get some community activity going on the site. I want to grow and connect the sport, including the industry side too. Ideally I’d like to frame this redesign around our community with their participation and feedback

Here’s a little about what I’d like to do with kartpulse for the sport.
Overall goal of kartpulse
Build a comprehensive resource for karting (content + information + tools + community). Resources for racers, businesses/tracks to improve and level up.

The idea is to create something akin to a travel website for the sport, leveraging UGC. Something visually rich, enticing, engaging that you would want to explore to learn more, built by a community that can help you get racing and encouragement\help to make sure you keep enjoying it.
A community driven “” for kart racing

General Practical Community Goals\Activities
Discussions - racers helping each other out (forums)
UGC - videos, stories and photos
Directories: Tracks, businesses and events maintained and updated by the community.
Wiki\Knowledge base including a glossary of common terms used in karting

Culture change (Based on our observations on why people quit):
While karting is well known as being where many professional racers began this has hurt the sport by attracting folks that are not in it for the long term and merely only use it as a stepping stone. Karting is much more than that, offering great fun for kids, adults and families.

There’s an over emphasis on “winning”. By that I mean finishing first. This leads to people getting frustrated and/or trying to contort the rules and classes to suit themselves. Classes with three entries are pretty common especially at club\local level. We’d like to change that narrative to something along the lines of the journey being the reward, place the emphasis on having fun, redefining what “winning” means and help guide people towards picking classes that suit their situation (location/time/budget etc)

There’s a lot of snobbery and one-upmanship of “my karting is better than yours”. Whether its the level people race at, the type/speed of kart they race or the kind of racing they do (dirt vs indoor, vs outdoor). Our mantra is…. If you’re having fun in a kart, that’s good enough for us. Whether you’re plodding around in your back yard with an adopted generator engine or racing against current F1 drivers at the big events, you’re a badass in our view.
I think we’ve done a good job of emphasizing the change we seek on our facebook page, but again I’d like to take it to the next level.

To summarize, I’m looking for some pointers on what my next steps should be. The site is in need of a rework and I want the community to be a part of that in order to make it effective.
I’m very worried about managing expectations on that, and ending up being overwhelmed and disappointing people. Those expectations being timelines to see changes as well as keeping people engaged without necessarily championing everyone’s ideas. Although this is a community, it is not a democracy and this is a side gig for me.

(Sarah Hawk) #2

Hi James,
Welcome. This sounds like a great project and your motivations are admirable. I’m happy to help out where I can.

I signed up just now and here are a few things that I noticed

  • There are a few layout issues on the signup page (Chrome)
  • You ask for a lot of information – is it all necessary at signup time?
  • The ‘invite your friends’ feature is great. I’d keep an eye on the stats there and see how frequently it is used though. You could potentially remove that and put it into an on-boarding process.

I agree that your platform is a bit clunky, but it’s not dire. This article might be helpful if you want to decide on some areas to improve: What we look for when we review a community site

How long has the site been up in its current incarnation? Rather than trying to fix everything at once, do you have data that can inform some of those decisions? e.g. what specific metrics do you want to increase? What does success look like?

As far as communicating things to your audience goes, transparency and open communication are always the key to success.

@Terri is asking similar questions around communication and process in this topic.

(James McMahon) #3

Thanks for taking a look Sarah,

Will check this out thanks, Recently changed the theme/template for the site.

You ask for a lot of information – is it all necessary at signup time? [/quote]
I will check again. thought I had removed a bunch of stuff and just made it as simple as your email address and password, even removed the email verification.

That’s easy… nobody is using it :slight_smile: It makes sense too because at that point they don’t know what they are inviting people to.

I have an account with ActiveCampeign so I am considering setting up an onboarding sequence of emails for new members.

Will review the threads and articles you linked to.

The site has been in this basic configuration for two years. The landing page, theme and menus have changed. But otherwise the social network when you login and so on has been running for a couple of years. On changes, I agree totally on not making a sleuth of changes without some sort of process.

For metrics, I don’t have hard numbers because I really have no idea what’s realistic. Essentially I’d like to see more (read: some) participation on the site. Whether that’s forum topics karting in general (racers helping each other out) or helping shape the site in some way.

I think at this point, I’m really looking at a volunteer community huh? When I think more about even kicking off some forum style Q&A, ideally I need some helpful and knowledgeable folks ready to answer questions.

The elephant in the room for this kind of discussion is Facebook. I need to figure out a way to make the discussions compelling enough to make it worthwhile for people to engage on a place other than facebook.

Thoughts on that?

(Jess Williams) #4

Hi James,

Sounds like a great idea and I wish you the best of luck! To address the elephant in the room, as you say… If you already have an active community on FB, why would you need to move them to your forums? Have you explored the pros and cons of this?

You could still provide great content, QA sessions, stories, etc. on the site – but main discussions and member connections still happen within your FB space (and integration of FB comments on your content within the site, etc). It will take a solid content strategy and some great curating, but it can be done.

Perhaps there is an overarching business goal and metric you need to hit with forum participation, but I would encourage you to ask yourself WHY (not HOW) you would essentially “move” a community from FB to forums.

If you’re committed to moving them over, then your plan of improving the UX and platform as a whole is good, but do not get bogged down with this. In my experience as a CM and as a participant in many forum communities, the platform itself is not nearly as important as the content within. Find a handful of great member contributors and build relationships with them. Encourage them to participate more by spotlighting them and just being genuinely interested in what they have to say. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a small core group of active members in the beginning. Go for quality over quantity! Some of the best communities I’ve been part of feel like a small table of smart friends who are “there for me” – much more valuable than a large room of distracted people who are just there for the food. :smiley:

(Sarah Hawk) #5

I love this. Such a great analogy.

I think it’s true, assuming it aligns with the goals and value proposition of your community.

What IS the primary goal of your community @James_McMahon?
Where does the value lie for the organisation?

(James McMahon) #6

Jess and Sarah, thanks helping me process this…

In retrospect, maybe move was the wrong word to use. But for sure we want to shift the emphasis and conversations to our own platfrom. Some weeks our organic reach exceeds 260K (from 6K likes) but the nature of the engagement of that content (memes etc) really only serves to get our name in front of people, we’re not really able to collaborate to solve a problem for a racer, or the sport.

Why our own platform…

Facebook is great for what I call “transactional” kinds of discussions, but as a place to look for answers or a reference of any sort it’s terrible. This is by design (It’s not intended to be a KB).

I’d like for us to have control of our community platform. Facebook cares about facebook, and it’s shareholders. Not karting (or insert your own topic of choice). By having our own platform we have flexibility (within reason) to change in ways that we believe can help increase participation in the sport.

(Subjectively) I have a sense that discussions on somewhere other than facebook, handled correctly can result in more meaningful, objective discussions. Perhaps most importantly, the results of those discussions can be managed and arreged in some kind of logical way, not get lost in facebook.

What I’m trying to create is something that combines community content (both entertaining and informative\educational) with a platform that will present that content in a way that works as an effective marketing site for the sport. Somewhat like a tourism website. Example (Sans community backend)

Given the commitment it takes to get involved and stay racing, having access to good resources and a community that helps set and achieve racing goals, solve problems that are holding growth of the sport back.

A kind of melting pot of Quora, Wikipedia, Google Maps\Business, wordpress, youtube & flickr

The primary goal is to increase participation in the sport of kart racing. By attracting new racers and helping existing ones get more enjoyment from the sport.
Is this a helpful answer?

It’s not a formal organization perse so I’m not sure how to answer this. Right now it’s a group of enthusiasts and racers that want to elevate the sport by sharing information as well as elevating the presence and professionalism of the sport on the web.

I do have some ideas on how we can turn this into a business, but for now I’d like to focus on getting people involved in the process of building this “thing”.

(James McMahon) #7

Thinking more about this… I think I might be working in the reverse direction of some (many?) professional community managers. By that I mean, I am looking to form a community to build something almost from scratch. Whereas (I think) most pros come onboard with an existing mission/business and work to cultivate the community around it.

(Sarah Hawk) #8

That depends very much on the nature of the community. If it’s a branded/support/internal community then yes, the organisation exists first.

If it’s a CoP then the community exists first and is seeded from a common interest.

I was under the misconception that kartpulse was a brand/organisation, but I’m now gathering that it’s the name of your site/community – is that correct?

So if we back this up a bit – you already have a community, a purpose and a platform. What is it that you now want to achieve/what metrics do you want to change?

(James McMahon) #9

It’s a bit of all of these, that might be whats odd about it. I guess I’m trying to build a community/brand/organization/internal support community from the center out. We’re trying to take the reigns of the sport and lead the way though technology, information, community and advocacy.

kartpulse is the community and brand, that ideally will become a branded community on the site that comes together to help grow the sport.

In the near term I think two things would be a great start, although I don’t have hard numbers or targets for them yet:

Increase membership and participation\engagement on the website.
Use this participation to drive the development of the site, the project and begin to build and information library for racers. A wiki basically

Feel free to come back with something along the lines of “snap out of it, you need to do this first”

(Sarah Hawk) #10

Not at all – they’re legit goals!

Let’s start with what you’re currently measuring. What metrics (if any) do you track? You need to set some baselines before you can set targets, and you need data to tell you where things are going wrong and what you need to fix.

(Darren Gough) #11

This really made me laugh and it’s often very true!

(Jess Williams) #12

Hey James - fair enough on the forum front. I completely agree that forums are the right medium for solid QA and building a resource for members. FB is a great medium for getting the word out. You may need to consult with a social media expert on how to convert those people over. Definitely not my expertise. :slight_smile:

I suggest striving to set actionable goals (which you may have already done, so forgive me if the following stuff is already in the works!)

Increase membership: What numbers are you looking to hit? It might be helpful to break it down into a weekly/monthly/quarterly goal. Set realistic expectations (easier said than done if you’ve never tracked it before)

Increase participation: Define participation. You’re probably looking for things like profile completion and forum posts. Again, what numbers are you trying to hit? A big participation metric to start with, especially early in the game, is how long it takes a new member to actually participate (go from signing up to participating in some way). Another common metric is whether or not a member is still logging into the site after XX days.

Increase Engagement: I separated this one out because I believe participation and engagement are two different things. Again, getting granular about your goals can help you bubble metrics back up. Engagement might mean sharing stories, adding photos, replying to forum posts, joining clubs, etc. It’s not the same thing as participation/usage of the site, IMO, although some may disagree.

Your second goal is a bit more nebulous, so I suggest picking that one apart into actionable goals, as well.

I hope some of this helps you. I feel this early goal-setting and analysis is super critical and helpful in setting priorities and focusing your efforts.

(James McMahon) #13

This is super helpful thanks…

That’s true, it does have a place in our toolbox, especially in the future as move it towards being more of a content marketing program for the sport, with our site as the call to action to find out more and get racing.

Our memes have been super popular, maybe a bit tacky, at times but we’re about having fun too. We’ve been gradually posting more action driven content, meme/tag type content as a way to warm people up and get them behind growing the sport and getting others involved… example…

So we’ll be trying this along with perhaps videos of me yapping to get people engaged on the site. But first I probably need to define what we (as a community) are going to work on.

Increase Membership. It’s hard for me to think of a number and as I think of this… I’m considering dropping this metric in favor of the others. What do you think about that? I’d like this to be a place for quality discussions and contributions over a sleuth of signups.

Increase participation Reading this… I feel like I should skip this metric while we’re getting started?

Increase engagement I would like to set some goals for say, wiki contributions, articles, number of tracks that have setup their race schedule in the directory and/or claimed their (free) directory page. The biggest holdback for me is fear of overwhelm and I might be overthinking it… The idea of managing how-to guides on how to do this, connecting and following up with the tracks, managing expectations on the bugs that are present etc. Fear of letting people down with a $hitty product. Well, $hitty for now

(Sarah Hawk) #14

Membership is a vanity metric. People will always sign up, but they don’t offer any value if they don’t engage (unless you need eyes on ads).

You probably want to measure engagement or stickiness as your primary metric. This topic is quite useful. I suspect that your initial goal should be to build up your core group of active members, so you’ll be wanting to measure how many people that sign up actually post, and do they keep coming back.

(James McMahon) #15

Vanity is how I feel about # of signups too.

OK so the primary metric I want to track is: DAU/MAU (daily active users/monthly active users).
What is considered an active user? Someone who comes back, logs in and looks around?

No plans for ads. I’m purposely avoiding them like the plague. I don’t think they add value to our mission, advertisers or the people being subjected to them. The concept to build value added services that benefit different segments (racers, tracks, businesses/suppliers) of the community in some way. Simple example being online race registration that is tied to the race directory. Easy for racers to sign up and pay, easy for tracks and series to accept funds securely.

We’ll see how that idealistic theory goes, I have to do some proper idea extraction and customer development with that to see what the first chargable thing is that we should build. If nothing else, I’d like to see businesses use their knowledge and expertise to market themselves and establish trust with customers, rather than just throwing money at an ad and seeing what happens.

That said, some capital to accelerate things, especially development and UX on the site would not hurt. But that’s another topic.

What actions should I take next? I’m going to find my buzzing communities book again and re-read it, but I don’t want to fall into a trap of just consuming content and “thinking” about what I should do.

(Sarah Hawk) #16

There are lots of variations, and I’m in complete agreement with @jesswlms – engagement is different from participation . We currently define an active user as anyone that has made at least one public post in the specified timeframe. Some communities include likes, or other interactions. If private networking is important to your strategy, then you might include private messaging.

If I was to redefine my strategy because we decided to put a focus on knowledge sharing, then perhaps we might count the number of contributions to wiki topics.

Choose two or three objectives and then figure out what success would look like for each of those. Then you can decide what metrics you can use to gauge that success.

For instance, will the community get the most collective value if people have tracks set up on their schedule or if they share tips on the wiki? Let’s say it’s the latter – what kind of numbers might be realistic given that it a new behaviour that you haven’t yet modelled?

Once you have made those decisions you can plan tactics to start making those behaviour changes.

(James McMahon) #17

That’s given me something to chew on… What activities have the most collective value. Seems obvious in retrospect but its a great question. Guess I’ll start by listing them off and ranking them.

(Shreyas) #18

We’ve had a pretty similar situation with respect to getting new people on-board. We run a neighborhood community chat platform. We experimented with two things, however, this was easier to implement for us since it was an android application:

  • Based on the number of user sessions, we prompted them with a push notification to invite their friends with a CTA that said “This neighborhood is a lot better with your friends in it…” and A-B testing with messages on those lines.
  • Another idea we tried out and which worked better was incentivizing users to refer thier friends. We did this was a mail merge email that felt very personalized to the most active set of users and told them that we’re rolling out an invite system and we would reward them with amazon gift cards for x number of referrals through them.

I just checked out the facebook page as well, and I must say that you’re doing a wonderful job there!

I really like that you have a community first approach.

During our product building phase, we were posed with a really big challenge; Build the product and then the community OR Build the community and then roll out important features.

To help sort this out and prioritize things, we had a user meetup that had around 60 people sign up and 9 people attend! I learned a lot that day and I must say that those 9 people went on to become advocates and even took up the challenge of keeping the forums clean from spam.

If you can get a couple of friends/karting enthusiasts over a small meetup, I think that can go a long way. Only important thing is to set up metrics & outcomes that you’d like to achieve from the meetup way before you actually plan for one.

Another important thing that we did and that took off really well with respect to content were AMA sessions. We were initially focusing on interest-based communities, so we got experts from different fields to do an AMA session on our platform. This basically requires some effort to pull off-

  • A good social media banner with the date and location of the ama mentioned.
  • A set of enthusiasts that we personally know might be interested in the ama to be a backup in case no one attends(yes, we’ve had situations like that too!)

The expert would most likely share the post on his social media and would get us some traffic. People who wanted to ask him questions would actually come to the platform.
Recently, we also started focusing a lot of shareable content. For example- Humans of Belong (Idea courtesy Humans of New York :grin:). But that really worked in getting traffic from sources like facebook, Twitter and Quora.

I know this has been about my experience, but feel free to ask questions if you think you’d like to know more about it, if it feels relevant.

We were basically trying to bring a Facebook community onto our platform. The way we did this was by cross posting a lot of content from the facebook group to our platform and vice versa. That helped us build the initial momentum we needed and for people to know that we exist.

(Sarah Hawk) #19

Excellent – a starting point!

Remember that people are only going to visit if there is value in it for them, otherwise they’ll be “too busy”. Your primary goal as a community builder is to figure out where that value lies, and how to persuade your audience that it exists.

(Jess Williams) #20

Absolutely agree here.

James, I have to say I’ve been quite fascinated with your posts and how they do not seem to directly connect the community to the business. As a CM, it’s always been my job to figure out how the community can move the needle on the business revenue. Always.

Building a niche community for the sake of community and forwarding the sport in general is refreshing.

That being said, those metrics we’ve been talking about will go a long way in facilitating discussions with potential clients. The first thing a racetrack owner will ask you is, “how many members do you have?” This is why that vanity number of signups is still important. You know true engagement means much more. I know it. Everyone here knows it. But the racetrack owner just wants to know how “popular” your site is so he can decide if it’s worth his time to engage with your community.

So even though it really is a vanity number, having a target number and showing some growth may still be a goal you need to focus on from the start. You said you couldn’t think of a number right now, so a good exercise might be to put yourself in the shoes of a client you are planning to offer a “chargeable” to. What number might be valuable in those talks? What about in 6 months? 12 months? Of course, you’ll have other more meaningful engagement numbers to talk about, as well.

(This is just my experience, of course, but I don’t know how many times I’ve helped educate stakeholders and clients on why these types of metrics mean nothing to the business…only to have them continually ask for and CELEBRATE the population count. haha)