Thanks for the welcome, Sarah.
Happy to share a little more – I’m a huge advocate of trying new approaches to deeply understand your community. Metrics only tell you so much, and sometimes they are taken out of context by so many people that the true pulse of the community can actually be contradictory to the numbers staff pass around. (X number of members visit the forums each day so we are rocking it!..But how many are truly engaged and actively pushing the business forward?)
So, having a community advisory board meet up with key stakeholders and department heads can really help keep that human interaction and mutual understanding at the forefront. It also helps develop trust and empathy. A member who rants on a forum thread will give much more constructive criticism to a developer over Skype when they see the dev really wants to listen and learn. A stakeholder will (hopefully) get better at clarifying business goals when sitting in a Q&A session with their members, rather than writing a bland blog update. It’s a tough program to facilitate, but the benefits are enormous.
Persona creation and journey mapping are a passion of mine, and something I sort of “took from the playbook” of designers/marketers. It’s the best way to truly be in touch with not only what your members expect, but what their goals are within the platform. We think we know what they want, or what we’re driving them to want, but persona work keeps us focused on who the members really are at the core. It gives staff a way to identify with them. It takes away the guesswork.
But it takes time. You spend a lot of time using your instincts to narrow your member base into segments, interviewing/surveying with insightful questions, and following up as you start to have “ah-ha!” moments. There’s a lot of member buy-in/participation if you’re authentic – which most CMs are.
After all the data pours in, you have to validate it (with key member-facing staff and community advisory), then publish it in a format stakeholders will hopefully want to hang on their wall as a reference.
Journey mapping is similar, but focuses on a key business flow, like member engagement in a new program or member flow within a service offering. You need to work closely with the designers and devs to map the current process top to bottom, then go out and figure out what the user is doing within that process. What are their goals? Their expectations? What touchpoints are they actually hitting? Metrics, interviewing, testing, shadowing all help with this activity.
A lot of this work is typically done in a different role (marketing, UX, etc) but I find community managers are a perfect fit here because they have incredible insight and instincts around their community.
As you can see by my long post, I’m very passionate about it!