Finding and working with your 'early adopters'

(Priscilla McClay) #1

Continuing the discussion from So, what are you working on?:

At Sarah’s suggestion, I’m opening this up to a new topic, as what Colleen has mentioned is exactly what I need to try and achieve.

How do I identify and build relationships with that “core group” who can build activity in the early stages?

(The team that built and launched the community before I started already identified a few who made a massive difference in the first couple of months, but activity has now dropped off, and I am starting to think I need to recruit more of them.)

Like Colleen, I am looking at going through our hospices and finding existing volunteers. Being new to the organisation, this means I need to do lots of relationship-building with hospice staff, too.

We also have hospice nurses posting on the community, so I suppose you could say these are also part of our “core group”?

It’s brilliant to have them involved, but I need to make sure they stay engaged and bought in, which is hard when the community is quiet.

Does anyone have any tips and suggestions for dealing with any of this?


(Alessio Fattorini) #2

Same problem here and in my case they’re moderators too, so I don’t know how to handle this situation. I tryied to speak with them, offering my help or suggesting to continue to contribute.
Any hint?

(Gear Buzz) #3

We have identified some (6) super users. I’m not quite sure what the plan is. We will just be making it up as we go along I suppose.

(Sarah Hawk) #4

I think there are two things at play here. Firstly, the issue of helping your offline experts to transfer their important skills online. I’d love to hear what @colleenyoung has to say on this because your situations align to a certain degree.

Then secondly, how you engage and encourage those members to step up and become super-engaged

I have a few ideas. I’d love it if others would jump in with theirs so that we can brainstorm.

[quote=“Priscilla, post:1, topic:1202”]
How do I identify and build relationships
[/quote] In my experience the identification is relatively easy. There will be people that are quick to help, always put their hand up to volunteer for things, are more engaged than others etc. General observation should be enough for this bit. Then you could reach out to them personally and tell them that you value and are enjoying their contributions and that there is obviously a lot that others can learn from them. Make sure that they understand that you’re not ‘asking them for help’ but that you’ve noticed them and recognise their importance.

You could set up a special place for them to connect with each other to strengthen their relationships. Here is an example.

[quote=“julesstanden, post:3, topic:1202”]
We have identified some (6) super users.
[/quote] Have you contacted them yet @julesstanden? What is it that you are hoping they might be able to help you achieve?

Have you had any initial thoughts @Priscilla?

(Richard Millington) #5

Hi @Priscilla (did you change jobs?)

In my opinion, there’s a few different things here:

  1. The ‘core group’ should be really obvious to spot. They are usually the most active people on the site. If they’re not, you probably don’t have one. Which isn’t a killer, but definitely a good focus to get things going. Which leads into problem 2.

  2. It’s really hard to guess who will and won’t become a core member. Aside from a (possible) slightly lower level of self-esteem, you can’t really predict who will and won’t be the core member. Take @Bas_van_Leeuwen for instance. He’s probably one of the most active members in this community. But I’d never have predicted he would be. Likewise, those I might’ve suspected would be the most active haven’t been. Existing volunteers might work, but it’s more likely it’s people you don’t know today.

  3. If you can’t predict core members, you can predict who’s likely to be the earliest active members. The big pattern here is it’s people who know you best. We did a big review of this when we published the Proven Path. The single best thing you can do before launching a community is building strong (genuine) relationships with 20 to 30 people you want to join it upon launch. They might not become the core members over the long-run, but they will be the ones that provide the initial burst of activity to get things off the ground. It sounds like you’re already doing some of these (but I wouldn’t focus just on existing volunteers).

  4. Make sure everyone you invite has a specific skill/experience/viewpoint which they can use to benefit the community. The more the initial members feel they can make a unique contribution, the more they participate.

  5. When people do make an initial contribution, they need to see the overwhelming impact that contribution made. i.e. who it helped, the number of replies, the gratitude of other members. This has to be done sincerely however. Having a few discussions with a lot of responses is better than a lot of discussions with few responses (when you’re getting started).

Hope that helps.

(Colleen Young) #6

Hi @Priscilla,

I agree with everything that Hawk and Rich said and have a few things to add. First, I will clarify that I am referring specifically to a community of circumstance as our health-related communities are (people diagnosed with a condition, facing end of life, caring for someone at end of life, coping with loss and grief).

In my opinion you have 3 distinct groups. The names you apply to them can be modified to suit your community, but I would describe them, and your relationship with them, as such:

1. Volunteers/seed members/mentors - As Rich states in point #3 of his post, you should establish a strong relationship with people you want to participate in the community. At the end of life stage this is challenging. I was able to recruit mentors from hospice/palliative care volunteers. At Virtual Hospice, we have strong relationships with several organizations whose existence depends on volunteers. I held workshops with self-selected volunteers who were interested in taking their volunteerism online. I introduced them to the platform (before it was launched), they signed up and made their first posts in the workshop, and gave us feedback for improvement. We talked about the difference and similarities between their in person work and how that may translate online. As you know much of hospice work is non-verbal. Some people questioned how they could just “be present” and journey with someone who is dying and/or grieving online as they did in person. After a workshop, usually about 50% of the participants felt they were not suited to participate (but remained advocates and told their clients about the community). Of the 50% who said they would participate, only 20% actually became dedicated mentor members. I worked very closely with this group to build activity before expanding my outreach to new members.

Next, I had to ensure that new members - people who were in need of support and information - joined the community so that the mentor group would be fulfilled in their need to help for that is what motivated them to participate.

2. Core Members These are the members that evolve from within the community. While you can’t predict who will become a core member, they are easily identified as they participate in the community. They feel committed to the community and their online behaviour often describes the role they wish to assume. This is not unique to communities of circumstance and there is plenty of advice to be found about motivation and developing core groups on FeverBee.

3 Clinical Experts This is a unique group. You should consider what may motivate them to participate and determine how you wish to engage them. In an earlier model of Virtual Hospice clinical nurses were the moderators. But this resulted in a Ask the Expert model and not a community. A online public query would be made, the nurse would give a fulsome answer, and the person would leave satisfied - no conversation, no community. Now we have Discussion Forums for peer-to-peer support and Ask a Professional for private queries to a professional palliative team. This is the model the team decided upon, however I see many other possibilities where you could integrate peer-to-peer and professional-lay interaction. Find out what motivates your clinical members. Ask them to participate in a way that suits them, for example time limited online Q&A on a particular topic, a webinar, live chat, a blog. Find a champion who models the behaviour you’d like other professionals to take.

I would recommend that you establish an environment where the experiential (peer-to-peer, patient to patient, caregiver to caregiver) is valued as much as the clinical. The clinical expertise tends to shut down conversations. Give workshops to your clinical staff on how online support may differ from their clinical situations (more social worker-esque, less physician-like).

The most important element for success for Virtual Hospice has been speed of response. We have a lousy (pathetic) notification system for new posts, so they often go un-noticed. This is why I rely heavily on my relationship with mentors and core members to welcome new members. No first post goes unanswered. Ever.

I look forward to continuing this conversation.

Strategies for getting started
(Priscilla McClay) #7

Hi everyone,

Thanks for your very helpful responses. I should clarify that I am talking more about what @colleenyoung refers to as “volunteers/seed members”.

I feel confident that I know how to identify and build relationships with the core users or super-users that emerge naturally from the community, but we are not at the stage of having many of them yet.

@richard_millington (Yes, I do have a new job)

Yes, I’ve been reading some of your resources on launching a community, and that is one of the reasons that I think I need more of those seed members. We did already have some of these, but a long way short of your figure of 20-30.

The reason I am focusing on volunteers is because these are a group that already has an existing relationship with the organisation, although there might be other options I haven’t thought of!

However, as I am new to the organisation, I don’t have a personal relationship with any of the volunteers yet, so this will be one of my big challenges.

@colleenyoung - thanks so much for sharing your model, the way that you have worked with your hospice volunteers sounds really relevant to me and reinforces some of my thoughts about what I need to do next.

The nurses that we have involved seem to have done a really good job so far with a really supportive tone to their answers and focusing much more on emotional support rather than the clinical. So far, their participation doesn’t seem to have shut down the conversations that they have participated in. I am working on organising meetings with them so I can get to know them a bit more.

Did you personally know the hospice volunteers before you recruited them for the community, or were these relationships that you built at the workshops?



(Colleen Young) #8

@priscilla, I have used the volunteer/seed member model several times in a variety of communities. In the case of a cancer organization, I knew the volunteers personally. In the case of hospice, I did not know any of them before meeting them at the workshop. Having done a number of workshops - from mere presentation style to 4 hour workshops - I can share the ingredients that led to more success (engaged and long-term community members).

First build a relationship with the hospice volunteer coordinator. They need to understand the benefit to their volunteers and support what your organization/community is doing, and that it doesn’t risk draining their resources for the work they need the volunteers for. What’s in it for them? Only if the volunteer coordinator embraces the online community and gives you support in front of the volunteers will you be able to recruit them successfully.

The longer workshops by far reap the better results. In the workshop I can take more time to get to know the people in the room. I find out what life experience brought them to hospice volunteerism, what inspires them in the work they do in-person and the way they do their work. Each of them brings a different gift and style. We brainstorm together how those gifts and styles translate to online support which is heavily text-based. We look at the ingredients of a “good post” and a “good response”. We talk about speed of response, and the importance and nuance of self-disclosure (theirs and the other members they support).

Getting them to sign-up and start posting during the workshop is also fun and fruitful. It’s fun to listen to them choose their username, how they thoughtfully consider a reply, etc. Benefits for me to watch and coach them are multifold and as you would expect. I was able to watch how they used the site and make a list of UX improvements. Not only can I coach them on the spot, I observe their approach. Who are the over-thinkers or the reactionaries? Who are the people who were especially compassionate, knowledgeable, practical, poetic, etc - all great attributes for different people at different times. This also gives insight on how you can provide self-care tips to volunteers. Self-care supporting at end of life is imperative and no different for online support.

I also survey the group to find out how much time they feel they can commit, their communication preferences and which subject area they prefer to focus on, ie bereavement vs caring at end of life.

In my opinion, the nurses would benefit from a similar workshop.

(Priscilla McClay) #9

Thanks so much, @colleenyoung, this is all extremely helpful stuff!

(Colleen Young) #10

Your most welcome. I gladly share my practices, false starts and learnings with the hope that you will do it better and share the improved method and learnings with me :wink:

(Sarah Hawk) #11

Brilliant thread – thanks @colleenyoung and @Priscilla

I have a client that is currently going through the founding member process so I have a few resources on hand. It is a very different community, so some may not be of relevance in this case, but they will likely be helpful to others reading this thread in the future.

If you don’t know many people in the space, and you need to build relationships, is there an opportunity to run some kind of event? That might be a good way to get in front of some people and sell your cause.

If anyone else has advice or tips around building a core group of founding members, please add them here.

Influence and Relationships.pdf (71.3 KB)
How to Find Your Community’s Founding Members
How to Build an Online Community (see GROUP 1: THE FOUNDERS)
The CHIP Process

(Colleen Young) #12

@Hawk I have adapted many of these resources for my own documentation, which I am reviewing (again) for Mayo Clinic Connect. Thanks for reminding me of them.

(Sarah Hawk) #13

I have a question that goes off on a slight tangent here @colleenyoung
In a community where the members will only be part of the community for a limited time before they pass away, how do you form and retain a group of core users?

(Colleen Young) #14

@HAWK This is a very good question that has a multi-layered response. First off, building a community for the dying is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Understandably, we’ve had much more success with family members caring for those who are dying and accompanying them through the journey of caregiving, loss and grief. That makes total sense. Caring at end of life is isolating and often people don’t have others close to them who have a shared experience. Online community works.

Building a community for the dying is tough for so many reasons far beyond the fact that they have limited time. For some, talking about dying is equated with giving up or giving up hope. Many people live in denial even when they know they are terminal. It is the same reason that many people cannot accept palliative care. The word alone causes great anxiety. I could go on…

Having said that, there are many who are ready to accept the diagnosis and wish to talk openly with others about it. And people can live for years with a terminal diagnosis. This population will continue to grow. For those people, I want to have a community ready when they are.

(Sarah Hawk) #15

Thanks for the thoughtful answer.

Do you find the job more emotionally draining than managing a community about something less sensitive?

(Colleen Young) #16

Yes. It takes much more emotional investment, which has helped me learn better self-care. But I’m quick to add that, like any great investment, the rewards are higher too. It means so much when I can connect people that can help each other.

I have many amazing testimonials from the community, but this one sums it up. “Who knew that words on a screen could make going through hell possible.” and “I have found this forum to be like a big cosy blanket when I need someone to lean on…”

(Priscilla McClay) #17

Really interesting answers @colleenyoung

The last community I worked on was a cancer support community, and we had a sub-forum within this called ‘Living with Incurable Cancer’. I think ‘incurable’ was easier, psychologically speaking, for members to identify themselves with than “terminal”. Plus, as you say, it is possible to live for years with an incurable diagnosis, whereas there seem to be varying definitions of when an illness is considered “terminal”.

Even with the community as a whole, members didn’t stay around for ever. Some died, but others recovered and felt ready to move on. Bereaved people seemed to use the site mostly in the first year or two after their loss.

For communities like these, I think retention is not about aiming to keep people around for ever, but for as long as they need the support.

In terms of practical strategies for dealing with this, we had a successful super-user programme that helped to welcome new members and get them integrated - I think this helped pass on a positive culture that remained even with a certain amount of turnover of actual members. (For the same reason, we also had to recruit new members to the super-user programme on a regular basis).

(Henry Mackintosh) #18

Could not agree more with this.

(Colleen Young) #19

You are so right @Priscilla. Word choices are critically important, especially in communities with strong identities. They can attract and repel, depending on whether used appropriately or not.

I question myself why I used “terminal” in this discussion? We almost never use it in the world of palliative and end of life care, and never on Virtual Hospice. Incurable is a better choice. We also use living with advanced illness or life-limiting disease. It helps to focus on “living”.

As you mention, especially in communities of circumstance, people move on (as their circumstances change). Determinants of success in the bereavement group for example include transitioning to mentoring/supporting others, leaving the group as the grief journey becomes less intense and letting us know, returning to the group when they experience a set back and know there will be no judgement.

Once you have your seed members, I’m confident you’ll be able to apply the super-user practices from your previous community, including managing turnover and renewal. I look forward to learning from your past experiences. I, too, first managed cancer communities before moving to a purely hospice setting. I look forward to sharing the nuanced differences, especially with respect to the language used and timing of outreach to members and generating and increasing activity.