EP13: How to Start, Track and Grow Communities with Richard Millington, Founder of FeverBee

Richard Millington is the Founder of FeverBee, FeverBee is a community consultancy company that has helped companies like Facebook, SAP, Lego and many more. He started his first online community in 1999 and is the author of Buzzing Communities and The Indispensable Community. Needless to say, he knows a thing or two about community!

Richard dove right into what communities should be doing today and what communities serve as a good example of what to do. He shared that since the industry has had some years to mature companies are now generally doing a good job of getting engagement in their communities but not a very good job of getting the value out of their communities.

Two examples he shared were FitBit and Alteryx which are both doing a great job having the community support multiple goals within the company. There are so many areas the community can touch and improve like support, recruitment, product feedback, time to resolution, case studies, testimonials and so many more.

Richard also touched on the fact that most brands overestimate just how much their community members want to be apart of the community. If you think about yourself how many branded communities are you apart of? Keeping that in mind, you want to build a community around a practical need, something that fulfils a need of the community. Just because you love a product that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will join a branded community, solve a problem they have and they will be more likely to join and participate.

In the last section we went into several social psychology strategies that Richard has used building communities. The first was the theory of self determination which basically means the more you can get what you want out of the community of your own volition, not being sold, the more they will feel a sense of community. Richard also mentioned the “Sense of Community”, a research paper that outlines how to cultivate a sense of belonging that builds a community. Using all the strategies, metrics and material above has helped Richard and the FeverBee team grow some of the best online communities in the world.



[0:00:04.1] DA: Welcome to the C2C Podcast. I am your host, Derek Andersen. After holding my first event in 2010, I went on to create Startup Grind, a 400-chapter community based in over a 100 countries. Along the way, I discovered the greatest marketing tool of all time; your customers. Yet, I couldn’t find anyone sharing how to build a community where people could experience your brain in person, or at scale.

On this show, we talk with the brightest minds and companies on the planet about how to build customer to customer marketing strategies and create in-person experiences for your brand and customers before your competitor does.


[0:00:44.3] JF: Welcome to the C2C Podcast. This is John Frye from the Bevy team. Ladies and gentlemen, today's guest is none other than Richard Millington. He is the Founder of FeverBee. He's worked with companies like SAP, Facebook, Google, Lego and so many more. He's the author of Buzzing Communities and The Indispensable Community.

I'm really excited, because today he's going to talk about the top communities that he's looking at and studying, the big things that most companies miss when they're building their community and metrics and how to measure a sense of community and so, so much more. Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, please enjoy the show.


[0:01:28.2] JF: Rich, you've been helping brands build community for more than a decade. What's changed over the last 10 years, when you look at the way people are building community 10 years ago, 2009, 2008, 2010, what are some of the top of mind things for you that has changed over that time period?

[0:01:47.5] RM: Sure, thanks for the question. I mean, my business is all in the digital side more than the offline world. It used to be around 10 years ago, there were so many questions about how do you start community? How do you get engagement? How to get people actively participating? All those kinds of great things, which are important. I think now, most of the organizations we work with have gotten pretty good at getting people to participate, but they're generally far less good at getting the value from their community that they should be. They're far less good at delivering the value to their members that they should be.

I think, in most communities are only delivering on a tiny fraction of their potential. If we look at most of the big communities that are out there at the moment, most of them are only serving one or two goals. They're only helping the organization in one context, such as a customer support, or ideation. When with the amount of resources that organizations are investing into a community now, they should be supporting multiple areas of the business.

I think the challenge right now, the biggest one facing most organizations is how do we make sure we're getting the most value from our community and how do we make sure we're delivering the most value to our community? I think there's very few organizations that are doing that extremely well at the moment. I think that's a challenge; measuring that value, identifying that value and making sure that you're getting that value.

[0:03:08.0] JF: In the utopian community state, how many areas of the business can community actually affect? You mentioned a couple. If I'm doing this best-in-class, how many are there?

[0:03:19.2] RM: Sure, let's take some of the best communities out there that I know of today. The best branded online communities, such as Fitbit, or Alteryx, those kinds of communities. You have a community there that’s supporting so many different goals. First, you've got the retention. People are connecting of one another through the apps. They're more likely to continue using that tool, that software, those products. You’ve got the academy that's attached on the Alteryx community, so people are learning more. As a result, they're getting more informed about your product. It's customers success.

You've got core deflection when people are asking questions in their community, instead of having to go through any of the other channels that are more expensive. Your odds being most questions that your customers have before they've even had to ask the question, because the answer is already there in that community.

You're supporting your content and your marketing efforts, so you can source the best ideas from your community. You can find out what topics are the most widely discussed within that organization. Then designing that, I would design a system to feature there, or build content around that.

Fitbit for example, source a lot of their best content ideas from the community, the top discussions there. They'll have a nutritionist that write an expert article on it, they'll promote the articles and they get the search benefits from there. You have the lead generation, because the community is a great way to get a lot of search traffic to attract new leads to your business, lead conversion. You have a community that can inform people before they have to actually use the product, as a place where people go and ask questions and get support.

You can use a community for recruitment, where you can find great employees from your community. I mean, you get whole communities that exist today, like the stack overflow site that entirely based upon an idea. They grew up from helping people recruit great people through sharing expertise. Also just solving the issues you never knew you had.

I mean, we've had communities where they identify a lot of their biggest problems today, or tomorrow in that community today. You can see what members are discussing at the moment. You can see very early on if there's a problem, before it becomes a major disaster, PR disaster for you and you can resolve it quite quickly. The time to resolution is really important.

It also comes through in so many other ways as well. We've had organizations where they want great presentation with great material they could use in sales presentations. It turns out, a community is a fantastic place to get quotes, to get case studies, to get testimonials. It's a fantastic place, if you look at some of the other tools that exist today. It's a fantastic place to get your members posting their reviews of your products on the views sites, or responding to those reviews.

Most people before they buy any major software product at all will go to a trust radius, or some comparison site. What you'll find there are reviews and ratings that are usually generated by a community, or people that are in that community. I don't know how many there are, but there's a lot of different ways that a community should be supporting the organization.

Right now it's not, because people are too narrow-focused on whatever initial goal the community had when it began. Often, those goals are very barely defined, and I don't think most people are getting even a fraction of the value they should be from that community.

[0:06:21.1] JF: What percentage of companies would you say are really doing community well and bucket those down at like, are 20% of companies doing community really well, or is more or less? Then how would you break those down to broad strokes?

[0:06:35.5] RM: Yeah. I mean, if you don't mind a little bit of self-promotion, we have a big list of communities feverbee.com/communities. It's a big list of 1,600 online communities and we rank the best of the communities in different categories that we like. What percent are doing well? I think it depends how far along they are in their journey. The more mature a community is, the more likely they're, not always, the more likely it is to be doing well.

By our definition, in terms of delivering a huge amount of value to members while generating a huge amount of value to the organization, I don't know, probably around 5% to 10%. I really don't think it's that many. That doesn't mean they're not generating a positive return on investment. It doesn't mean they're not generating value to their members. They're just nowhere near – it's not generating any way near the value that it could be to both groups.

[0:07:22.5] JF: Well, it's interesting because it feels it's definitely something very relevant. I mean, we're hearing and topical where we're hearing this backlash of in many respects, the digital promise that you're going to come online and you're going to get all these things that you didn't have otherwise. Now people are – it feels like with the revolt against the social networks and revolt against different things, people are almost coming back to where we were, or trying to get back to where we were when we had a deeper human interactions and more in-depth types of real relationships. I think community is so good at fostering that.

I mean, it's interesting to hear if 5% or 10% are really doing a great – it just seems a huge opportunity. You and I are probably extremely biased in this regard, but it just seems a great opportunity right now to capitalize on something that people still aren't – a lot of people aren't doing well.

[0:08:21.5] RM: Yeah, absolutely. I think, I don't know if there are more people that are seeking out communities than before. I haven't seen any data on that. Certainly, there's a huge backlash against all the things social at the moment. I think one of the mistakes that a lot of organizations make it, is that they grossly overestimate how interested their audience are in talking about them.

I mean, take you and I. If we were to name the number of branded online communities that we participated, that we're not running, that aren't involved, that we're not responsible for, it's probably not many. I mean, I've asked this question to a roomful of community professionals in the past, to me, how many of you participate in a brand community that's not your own? Very few people actually raise their hand. There’s clearly a problem there.

I think brands had to be a little bit more realistic. I mean, I can't speak for what non-brand, people our own community for their hobbies and they're doing great. I think if you're running a community for a brand, you've got to be very realistic about why people come to that community. What you usually have is a small group of members, usually around the top 1% they say, but I think our date is you just thought as some that who are going to be super enthusiastic, who have the motivation.

[0:09:48.5] JF: I think one thing that's interesting with eBay is that it really as you say, community has been at the core of the product and it's one of the oldest, most internet treasures, have been around the longest of just about any other website. You've had so much longer to run these programs and to see them play out over time. Whereas, a lot of the companies that we talk to, whether on this podcast, or with Bevy, a lot of them are just newer companies.

[0:09:33.4] RM: Yeah, definitely. I think there's going to be a small group that have the motivation and had the expertise and have the motivation, expertise and the time to respond to lots of questions, to spend time hanging out there and engaging with one another. These are fantastic members to have.

I think, what we then have, are another group that don't really fit that criteria at all. They're going to come to the community when they have a problem they want solved. They're going to want a solution for that problem. They might stick around if there's something new they can learn there, if the community delivers more value than what they expected. Most communities at the moment are based around a problem that customers have. I have a problem, I go there, I get a solution, I leave, I don't come back until there's another problem I have, which might be once a day, it might be once a week. Ideally, it's never because I don't have any more with that problems with that product.

The challenge is how do you build a community that doesn't just cater to that problem, but also what can people learn that they didn't expect? How can you get them to realize, “Oh, there are these unknown unknowns, the things I didn't even know I didn't know. That's why I'm going to come back to the community tomorrow.” You've got to build into that first visit that members had. Then some of them will become the top members as top lesson – , the 1% that answer every question. It's okay if they don't.

It's about balancing those two things. Making sure that you have a community space around a practical need. Then owning the top group, you got to build a very strong sense of community with your members.

[0:10:56.1] JF: Yeah, I've read about something you've written where you said that even if you have, it doesn't need to be a 1,000 or 10,000. You've really start with just five or 10 people that are super engaged in – that reminds me of what the YC training is, which is five, 10 people that love your product. That's better than having a 100 people that think your product is okay. You've talked about that of you just need a couple of people and start with that. Then that can grow from there. I wonder if you could talk about that, because there's all this pressure on marketing teams, right? To do things at scale and to just absolutely blow the metrics away.

I was with a company last week and they have less than a 1,000 Twitter followers. Someone has created a goal and said, “We need to hit 2 million Twitter followers this year.” I just thought it was the most unrealistic – it’s not even a good goal. You've had nine years in your history, or whatever it is, 10 years in your history, or maybe it's five years, you got 900 followers and now you're suppose – this poor social media person is supposed to get millions of followers.

Why is that and how do you – why do I only need a couple people and how do I convince the people that I work for, or the people in the company that are making decisions, how do I convince them that that's okay? Like that's where we should start and that's how we can build something great?

[0:12:21.8] RM: I think, we tend to spend so much time measuring what we can, instead of measuring what matters. That leads to a situation where we're measuring the same tools that people use to measure any advertising campaign, or marketing. Because a lot of tools we use, like Google Analytics and all that and social media analytics are all designed to measure advertising, more than they are designed to measure a community.

We measure the reach. We measure the number of interactions. We measure the quantity of this and that. Ultimately, these things don't mean anything at all. What we need to be measuring are the impact that the community has and how people feel about when they're in that community. What tends to happen is an organization will see their peers with a community that's three or five-years-old, has 10,000 members. They’ll think, “You know what? We want that.”

Instead of going through the steps of where they were three to five years ago to get there, they want to speed up that whole process and do it tomorrow. At least, a situation where they try to have this huge launch and they don't build a stable base to grow from. The easiest way to launch a community today is to launch small, because those first 50 members you have, those first founding members of that community, the people who have to have real ownership over that community, they need a different level of attention.

There's nothing in that community right now, so they need a different level of attention. You need to spend time engaging with each one of them and know exactly what their hopes and dreams and challenges are. Then design ways they can contribute to solve those issues together. Because that's what a typical community organizing is; you find out what people's issues are, you find out ways they can work together to resolve them.

We've lost a lot of that when community building went onto the internet, we lost a lot of that. That's what we need to do. When you start a community, when you’re starting from scratch, I mean, there are a few exceptions in a customer support community where you can just throw a lot of people into a place and you'll get some answers. For everyone else, you've got to start small. You've got to start with those first 50 members. Build a really stable base to grow from with people that are actively engaged, they're actively participating. Then you steadily grow from there.

You're going to be initiating most of those discussions initially. You're going to be responding to most of those discussions. You're going to be at mentioning people to respond to those discussions, bringing new people in, and learn over time you'll find that more and more members are doing it themselves. Until you reach that critical mass point, the point that where more than 50% of growth and activity is generated by the community, as opposed to being generated by you. That's when your work begins to change.

You go from the one-to-one direct interaction to creating content and moderation rules, designing systems for onboarding members, all those great things that are going to help you scale up quite quickly. You need to have that stable foundation there to begin with.

[0:15:05.4] JF: Let's go into a scenario here and I would love to get your advice. I'm running a community that has a product that people like, that let's say the people love. I've been trying to run community initiatives and they're just not taking hold. I'm not getting that first 50, or a 100 people who are really passionate about it. Yet, we have people that love the product. We have a large customer base. When you hear somebody that has that type of problem, if you were in their shoes, what would you do next? How would you go about solving that problem?

[0:15:39.3] RM: Yes. The obvious thing to do is to spend more time with your members to figure out what the issue is. Just because people will love your product, they don't want to spend their spare time talking about that product. I mean, I love coffee. I don't spend spare time talking about coffee with other people that love the same brand of coffee as myself. I think that's quite common. I mean, there's too many products in the world for us to participate in communities around them. It just doesn't work.

I think in a situation like that, there's one or two things that have gone wrong here. One is the relationship side; the people that are first going to join a community have to see the value in that community and they have to trust that you're going to deliver on that value. Trust relies upon relationships, not relationships with your brand. I mean, they could have a great NPS score, whatever, but the relationships with a person that started in the community, the named individual within that whole organization that is going to be responsible for that community, do they have strong relationships? Have they earned the credibility to start a community in that field? The answer is usually no. That's why there's no real trust there, there's no real reason to be engaged.

The second most likely thing that’s happening in a situation like that is the concept of that community is wrong. It wasn't unique enough. You have existing competitors at the moment, or people just aren't particularly excited by it. You have to define, what is a concept of that community really? What is a community actually about? Is it about the product? Is it about the challenge that they have?

For example, imagine you sell a washing machine and people love the washing machine, but they're probably not going to spend their spare time talking about washing machines with other people who love their washing machine. It would be very hard to build a community around that. You can build a community, say for people who want to spend the least amount of possible time doing household chores. I reckon a household hack online community is going to be quite successful. It's still related to what you do, but the concept is different. People are now sharing their hacks, the housework, DIY tools and all that. It's a very different concept of that community.

I find the communities that really, really explode to life, the communities that have phenomenal growth are those that have a unique concept in the first place. I mean, Kadgle for example is one of my favorite online communities, K-A-D-G-L-E.com. It's a community for data scientists. Now there's a lot of online communities in that field. It's a competitive space. What made the founder of that community unique is that he built the concept around a challenge. Here would have some data that he'd share with people, then you'd have to predict what the next series of that data is based upon a formula that you design.

It's a unique concept. It’s the only concept of its kind. Expose life, because people love it. I think too often, the default thing for a brand to do is let's build a forum about our products. Who cares? Being like, you've got to think more creatively about. This is the internet. This is the most competitive space for attention that's ever being invented ever, I think. The concept is usually the challenge. People just aren't excited enough by the concept itself.

[0:18:39.1] JF: You use a lot of social psychology. I wonder, I mean, look, I'm a communications major, so it's all a little bit above my paygrade, and maybe what I can even comprehend, but would love to know what strategies – if I'm a community manager, what – and I want to dive into that. I want to start to understand different aspects of the psychology of the users. Where should I start? What do you recommend that I look for and learn from to get better at that?

[0:19:09.5] RM: Sure. I mean, I think how successful you've been, you're being quite harsh on yourself there. I think there's three different things. If you're just getting started from a standing start, I think three things would be really useful to know. One is the theory of self-determination, which sounds quite complicated, but essentially is that people have inherent universal needs to do certain things.

If you can satisfy the motivations that people have at each unique stage, you're going to be very highly engaged in any activity they're doing. These motivations are usually a need for competence, autonomy and relatedness. Most people have heard some variation of this. Competence, the smaller you feel that you're getting, the more competent you feel you're getting, the more you feel you're challenging the tackles at your level, the more engaged you're going to be.

The autonomy, the more you feel you can act in a way that is in-line with your true beliefs and how you want to behave, are you not being controlled, the more you're going to enjoy the activity. Relatedness is the stronger the sense of connection to have with other people also doing that activity, the more engaged you try to be.

We've toyed around with different models, the hooked model and Maslow's hierarchy of needs and all that stuff. The one model we found that is so predictive of whether people will engage or not is whether these needs are being satisfied. If you can take numbers when they first join, which is going to be for an immediate gratification they have, an immediate need for information, or to be a part of something, or whatever it is. Then slowly you've got to make them feel more competent within that field, more autonomous within that community. Having unique roles and things they can do is quite useful.

More connected to other members, as in genuine real friendships are that developing and events are fantastic for that. Then they're going to be participating for the long-term. I think that's one. The other one I think is critical for everyone to read is the theory of the sense of community. The original article was in 1984 by David McMillan and David Chavis, I think. I think I've got that correct. This basically outlines the whole indescribable feeling we have when we're in a group. They found a way to diagnose it and to benchmark whether it exists, so you can use a sense of community index for that. You can look it up. Then you can use that to systematically design interventions to increase the sense of community that people feel.

The sense of community, perhaps more than anything else is a silver bullet for our work. If you can get people to feel a sense of community, they stick around for longer. They participate more. They want to help each other out. Along with the bad behaviors tend to go away as well. A sense of community, that membership that you can identify who is or isn't a member by the language they use and how they dress and all those things, and influence where they feel they can influence the group or not.

That integration needs, whether they feel the group is in-line with what they need and is heading in the right direction, and that shared emotional connection. When you can design intervention with those four things, you're going to have an incredibly powerful sense of community. It's a one blueprint that I think applies to so many different types of communities that are out there today.

[0:22:01.3] JF: That's great. That's perfect. I think maybe for us, that's a good place to stop and this is perfect. Thank you, Rich.

[0:22:07.5] RM: Oh, you're welcome.


[0:22:09.7] DA: Thank you so much for listening. If you like the show, please leave a review wherever you listen to this. If you like to see more about how to create your own event community, go to bevylabs.com/pod. Again, that's B-E-V-Y-L-A-B-S.com/pod.


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