4 Steps To A Successful Online Community

I was thinking about this the other day as I wrote my private vs public groups post: What really goes into the success of a group?

What about the success of a whole community as a whole?


I was looking for a holistic world kind of thing, but then I started thinking about pie.

As a community manager, you’ve probably stressed about this question from the start and have never exactly stopped trying to Do More Better about ensuring it.

This is the nature of the business: Communities, both the audiences within them and the platforms that serve them, never stop evolving. Yay job security!

So I came up with these four things to start us off. In no real order:

4 Things That Will Make Your Community Thrive

  • Communication
  • Nurturing
  • Relevance
  • Ease of use

Thriving like ol’ Hyperion, here.

Let’s dig into them.


This seems like it should be obvious. It’s from the same root word as “community.” Possibly. Anyway, too many communities burst into existence where even the creators aren’t clear what the purpose is, or if they are, they don’t bother to share it with the people they want using it.

How do you get the point across? Post it! Email it! Snail mail it! Yes, it’s a form of advertising, but you ARE selling something even if no currency crosses accounts. If you want a return on your investment, you have to make it worth someone’s time.

  • Pro tip: Make sure the purpose you come up with answers WHY people want to use it, not just what for.

Everybody asks this.


Once you’ve got people in your community and starting to use it, what next?

Guide them.

Depending on your platform, this can take various forms. Yammer is pretty intuitive about some things, not so much with others, but that’s why people like me have job titles that contain “Community Manager.”


  • Seed a few questions to start conversations.
  • Pick out early adopters and coax them to pitch in with their own guidance.
  • Post periodic reminders that the search bar is their friend.
  • Run a contest!

Perhaps a different kind of nurturing is going on.



Our attention span is ridiculously short. One of my best buds wrote about how we’ve become so distracted, even a goldfish has us beat.

You may not even have gotten this far to not-click on that link (though you should, especially if you’re the poor sucker trying to get other people’s attention), but we all know it’s true:

We make plenty of time to do what we want to do, but not so much for the “should dos.”

So how do you make your awesome community a “want to do”?

It has to make sense for your audience to use it.

This goes back to communication, especially that “why” question you answered. What makes your community something they’ll love, once they give it a try? How will it help them?

Ease of Use.

As I said with Yammer, some things are intuitive, some things need a little guidance, but you get that with all communities.

At least, I haven’t found one yet that hasn’t had something that pisses people off.

But if the intuitive and awesome outweigh the WTF-ery, then you’ve got something golden.

Plus, if you make it your business to crawl inside that platform and know it as much as you can, you’ll be better able to explain it to others. There’s that guidance again!

So make sure you can deliver on at least some of the things your audience requires, and be able to work on the others.


This is supposed to invoke calm & ease, but to be honest I’m wondering how long it would take to get out there.

Here’s where I go all meta on you. Behind all this, if you have the luxury, is where YOU decide how you want to do your role.

These four steps are a good foundation to get to where you want to go. Soon your community may be running itself!

What must-haves would you add to the list?

Community Management: How to Encourage Adoption

One of the bugbears that plague community managers is adoption.

There’s really not much point if you’re the only one rattling around in it!

Here’s an example from my own Yammer network to help you encourage adoption in your online communities.

encourage mint (1)

Encourage mint! From peadoodles.

What To Do When Things (And People) Just Sit There

In Yammer, you’ll often see a group get created around a project or theme. We recently had a “Classifieds” group pop up, for example. Or it’ll be a department group: Finally, “Accounting” has their own space.

This group can be public or private. I’ve seen my fair share of new, private groups, because users creating their first groups often think their information needs to be proprietary when it really doesn’t.

Then after the group is created, the admin will add one or two people, post a sentence or upload a file, and just when you think it’s all going well…nothing.

Literally: Everything stops. No conversations, no new uploads, no activity…nothing!


Wait for meeee! From dearmrlevy.com.

Remember that you’re working with people, not data points

Now, part of my job is to help nurture people along and educate them on how to manage their own groups.

Part of THAT is to know when to let things tick along by themselves too. Nobody wants a rabid community manager pushing their own agenda at the expense of the people they’re serving.

So recognize that there will always be projects born in a blaze of excitement, only to slink off and quietly expire.

And that’s okay. Yammer is and probably will always be use-based: You use it when you need it.

So how do you know when to use a little alchemy?

Use what you know

Based on your company culture, the topic of the group, and any knowledge you have of the admin, group members, and group topic, you can…

Make an educated guess as to whether you should revisit this group in 3-6 months and shut it down if needed,


Determine whether the admin is still in email mode: Reaching out only to the people they’d typically email.

It isn’t immediately intuitive that people outside one’s circle or tribe are potential assets. That’s where I come in.


I looked up “breaking into a circle of friends” on Google and got this. My takeaway: Have a running start. From grandforksherald.com.

My approach

“Look at this Great Example of Public Project Group X from last year!” I might say, with enthusiastic clicking. “We had people we didn’t expect join in with their ideas. Because the group was open, it really helped the project be a bigger success than we’d anticipated.”

Well, everyone wants a bigger success than anticipated, right?

Even if you answered, “Wrong!” the point is that this type of approach can guide people to thinking of Yammer in ways we just typically can’t with email.

When you use Yammer for your project, and even more when you open up that project to all your colleagues, this is what happens:

  • The reach is wider
  • The results are better
  • The visibility goes all the way up the leadership chain
  • The legacy lasts.

Not to mention, any confusion over which version of which file is the latest goes away, because you can see and work on the latest version right there.

Tactics for the unconvinced

Of course, it helps to have a successful Public Project Group X to point to.

If you don’t have one, or if the admin is determined to keep her group private, fall back on stressing those potential assets of reach and legacy.

Encourage the admin to add a few people regardless of the group’s status, so at least she can get collaboration started. Suggest that she start out with a question or two. People love to give advice.

That will also make it easier to get that group made public later on when you re-emphasize how “you never know who knows something that can help you.”


Bill Nye always knows. From geniusquotes.

And just as with Yammer itself…

This advice too is use-case based. Let me know if it works for you!

Best Sales Call Ever


The need:

A tool that will measure social media engagement. I know, stunning, right? So, naturally, I took to Twitter to ask.

The response:

Several brand representatives reached out to me. I just now got off the phone with one of them.

The results:

Within two minutes, the brand rep figured out that their tool didn’t (yet) have what I wanted to the granular depth that I needed.

Why this was so great:

He didn’t try to sell it to me anyway. Instead, we finished up our already pleasant conversation and signed off with what I hope were mutual feelings of respect.

Ironically, that Miracle on 34th St principle combined with a great brand rep (thanks, Ron!) makes me wish I could do business with them. I will certainly keep them in mind for future needs.

In the meantime, let me point you to them: uberVU. Check them out for brand insights, monitoring, and listening.