Ben catches up with Richard Millington from FeverBee on all the do’s and don’ts for creating successful online communities. Listen to the episode here!
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Ben Aston Welcome to the Indie Media Club Podcast, I'm Ben Aston, founder of the Indie Media Club. We're on a mission to help independent, bootstrapped media entrepreneurs succeed, to help people who create, promote, and monetize through content. Do it better. Check out IndieMedia.Club to find out more.
Today, I'm joined by Richard Millington and Richard has spent the past decade helping hundreds of companies develop and grow some of the world's largest online communities. And the interesting thing about it is that he's using proven social science to help them do that. He's the founder of FeverBee and they are a community consultancy.
He's also the author of Buzzing Communities and a couple of other books that I need to catch up on. And prior to that. Richard was working with Seth Godin, actually interning in New York. So keep listening to today's podcast because we're going to talk about how you can optimize your online community experience.
Hey, Richard, thank you so much for joining us today.
Richard Millington Oh, absolutely. Thank you for inviting me on this new podcast. I am excited for you.
Ben Aston Well, thank you. And I want to dive straight into community. And I was reading your book and you were talking about how your first community experience was when you're about 15. I actually had the responsibility of managing a community, but which is a big responsibility for a 15-year-old. So how did you actually get into that, having that amount of responsibility when you're that young?
Richard Millington And so the long story is that, I got the short story. I got the Internet are very young and dangerous age. And I quickly found out, you know, you could play games against other people online. And I soon after that, I discovered that I wasn't that good at playing games, as gamers frequently reminded me online. I don't know if you've realized this but gamers on the Internet aren't the nicest people in the world, but I love the communities that were growing up around these games, like almost every game had its own online community. And the more you get into that, you just get deeper and deeper in. So I began running these video gaming leagues and events and activities and just kind of grew from there. And then, yeah, I got my first real job, which is matching a community for Internet gaming centers in the UK like before. You know, there's broadband Internet. I used to work for like an association of 70 Internet gaming cafes around the UK. And as a business, it's an awful business to be in. Like I'd like to start like this start like the start up costs are really high. People want to steal all of your computers. And the one differentiator that you have is a broadband Internet connection. And that wasn't such a big differentiator over time, which is why they've all gone now. But yeah, it was an exciting job with these gaming events leagues. And for me, I was very much trying to drive as much activity as possible because I thought as long as there's a huge amount of engagement and a huge amount of activity in this community, then I'm fine. You know, I'm doing my job. I'm doing all the things I supposed to be doing. It turns out I was wrong and I got fired. It turns out there's a lot more to it. And like, you know, we see all the time, even today, it doesn't matter how much engagement you have, if your company has a bad financial year or it's going through some diff, some difficulty, community is far too often the first thing that gets cut. And so for me is an interesting learning experience. Engagement is important path's level. You just need to get to that level. But it's far from the only thing. And being able to establish the value of that community internally, being able to make sure this is the must-have for the organization, that's a big win. I think we as community professionals and everyone that works this field spends far, far, far too much time trying to drive as much engagement, engagement as we possibly can, and nowhere near enough time trying to build up the support and aligning with our community as to what we need our members to do. And if we can solve that and make sure we're allocating our time right away, our communities will be so much more better supported and more successful than what they are today.
Ben Aston Yeah, so we're going to dive deeper into that in a minute. But I'm keen to kind of follow your failed path if we can. So so from that first failure, I mean, you'd be managing and consulting now for communities for a long time. I'd love to know what you feel like. I mean, your biggest screw up actually was I mean, you've talked about missing a trick in terms of maybe communicating your value or focusing on the right things. But, you know, in all your experience, what would you say are one of the biggest things that you've got wrong, maybe that surprised you?
Richard Millington I mean, there's two different things here, because there's the work I do in helping clients build communities. And then there's the work I was doing for a long time, which is running my own business as well. And I think I found running my own business. There's so many fun mistakes that you can make. The one that occurs to me, the biggest one is that for a long time since I can remember, I always thought I was going to have a big business because that's a goal. I don't know why it's a goal, but that was always a goal. And when you have your own business, the first question that everyone always asks do is how big is it? How many employees do you have? They don't ask. Do you enjoy the work? What kind of clients do you have, they don't ask you even how profitable is it? I guess that's a bit of a no go area. They always ask you how many employees you have, and this creates a attention or a need to try and hire as many staff as possible. And that works out really well until you have to pay them and then it gets quite expensive. And so for a long time, maybe the first five years of doing the consultancy work I was doing. My goal was always to try and have a bigger, bigger business. I soon realized that within consultancy there's very few companies that can pay for consultancy and it makes more sense to lay a focus on them and stay small, then try and expand and start taking on those little bits and pieces of work. And I also realized that the work I enjoy is doing the work. I don't really enjoy managing a team. I don't really enjoy doing career plans. I'm in absolute awe of all these people that do that incredibly well. I love doing the work. I love going into the nitty-gritty of someone's community and figuring out how to improve it. And building the relationships, the systems, and analyzing all that kind of stuff is a work I really enjoy. So, yeah, it took me a couple of very expensive years to learn that lesson. But yeah, I think it's important, like most things, to not get swayed by what everyone else is doing and what everyone else is saying. Because honestly, I you've got to find what path works for you. And I feel lucky I found it at the time. I did. And not a few years after that.
Ben Aston Yeah. I think that's such good advice. I think so often it can be so tempting to be drawn into the metrics that the other people might judge you on in terms of, you know, how many employees you've got, what's your top-line revenue rather than actually, well, what is success to you? And if success is only working four hours a day, taking loads of holiday, not having any employees and still getting paid, what you want to live the life you want to live, then let me make it. That's a whole lot more successful.
Richard Millington Well, let me refer that for one second. Since I've downsized the company from, I think around eight employees and mostly just me, the company is more profitable now than it's ever been. I just had my best year ever. I get to pick and choose the kind of work that I want to do. I mean, it's all it just took me a long time to let go of this one goal I've been chasing for a long time and get all the benefits as a result. And I think that's definitely a lesson for life in that is that it's so easy to get sucked into a place where you're pursuing a goal which isn't yours is just what people think is the right goal.
Ben Aston So obviously, you spend a lot of time helping people develop communities. And I think what I'm particularly interested in finding out a bit more about is where community meets paid membership and how these two things fit together. I'd love to know how you've seen paid memberships evolve and how they kind of dovetail into community and what you see working and what you see not working as people try to create communities and monetize communities.
Richard Millington Yeah, paid memberships are a challenge because I think most people, they go about it the wrong way. First it looks like it's easy money. You know, if I've got an audience of ten thousand members and if I can convert, say, you know, one percent of them or ten percent of them into paying twenty or thirty dollars a month, then I'm going to be making a lot of money over the course of the year. And it just seems like, oh, it's a bargain. Everyone wins, but it's way more difficult than that. I mean, the organizations that do it well really double down on that. They hire the staff members specifically to manage these kinds of things. But I think fundamentally, every community like to keep up. The success of any community that I know about is getting the story right. Like when you think of a community, what is the story? And most people, they're not actually doing paid community sites, are doing paid content sites and they're just releasing exclusive content to their members instead of to every one. And the problem that you're going to have with that every day is that if you save your best content for your members, for the people that are paying, it means you can't use that content to promote you as a brand and bring more people into the field or that kind of stuff. And it's also going to have a smaller audience as a result. And it's also like it's not that difficult for other people to create content that's also quite good and they can do it for free. And so I think if you're relying on exclusive and private content to make this work, even the biggest newspapers in the world are struggling with this. So the idea that, you know, an independent person can do that extremely well, there are some great examples and I admire that, but I don't think that's the right story. I think they're saying I want an audience I can charge money for. I think the right story is a story about privacy or exclusivity, I think. Those are the kinds of stories that you have to tell, but both of them come with a caveat, and that caveat is that if it's a privacy-based community, then you can let everyone, everyone doing like the caliber of the people in the community is a big reason why people join. And so you've got a great story that this is an exclusive place. So this is a private place where you can't share anything aside and share the membership list and share any of those informations. We might put you in separate groups when you do join the community. There are some organizations that do as well, social media, to do a really good job of this, having different groups. But I think fundamentally, if it's a paid community, the paper isn't the critical aspect, it's the privacy and the exclusivity. And you've got to take that and think, how can we push that to the edge? Because that's what's going to attract people here. And it means you've got to be rejecting people from joining people that don't meet a criteria. Should it be in. That doesn't mean you can you only have to allow the top people in it. It means you have to have a criteria, sense of passion or commitment or a commitment to submitting regular polls and articles. And if you don't, you're out. I mean, you could have a commitment to telling a story is really going to stand out as well. I know some paid on content sites work. I don't think it's the right way. And if it's about community, then it's about them. You've got to really work hard to make that work. And you're just getting the story right is a critical part.
Ben Aston Yeah. And I think, you know, in my experience of trying that former approach, which is getting content and trying to create a membership around gated content, and that content could include a forum component or, you know, a traditional community component. The challenge with that is that over time, people realized that they joined because they wanted the resources, which they're not using, because they don't have time, because what you're doing is creating more things for them to not use. So that creating content is can feel like, oh, and I think people theoretically or philosophically feel like, oh, yes, I want this exclusive content. But then when they when you give it to them, they can feel like, oh, well, I'll use that later. And so I think this idea of creating community and creating boundaries which firstly restricts the people who it's for. But also I know one of the things you talk about is that whole initiation process, which is, you know, and that includes boundaries, which is what you actually want to give to this community. What are you hoping to get from the community just so that you can set those boundaries and expectations that this isn't just about you getting our stuff and leaving. This is about being part of something and being part of a story that is that therefore much more transformative than, hey, pay some money, get some stuff and leave.
Richard Millington I think there's a tendency, especially in the digital space, to come up with this theoretical person. It doesn't actually exist. And one of the things I've learned is not to do that. Like so I would approach this is what paid membership sites do you pay for? Like, not a fee, a fee, a theoretical person, but literally you or your friends. And if you ask five, five, five of your friends what paid sites that they pay for, you can get a list that you're like, OK, that's probably not what I was expecting and then work with that. I think there's often this tendency to come up with someone that who really needs is actually finding actual people who do. And for me, you know, there's maybe one or two sites that I pay for, but it's very few. And the criteria has to be like it has to be a club that I feel like, oh, I almost didn't get into that because that status, that reputation, that's that's what I'm paying for.
Ben Aston Yeah. Yeah. And that setting that bar makes people have a sense of gratitude once they're there. And it makes them fearful, fearful of flipping out if they don't kind of keep up. So when we're talking about, you know, we've been talking about how you set the bar to get the right people in the community when you're assessing the health of the community, is there a single metric that you're kind of your top-line metric or I guess your bottom of funnel metrics, depending on how you look at this, that you think where you're always trying to dig down to find that metric, to work out where the health of the community is actually at, what for you reflects health in a community?
Richard Millington Yeah, there is one metric, but I share like the most common in the early stage. It's whether there's a high level of activity and whether that line is heading in the right direction. That's obviously very important for more mature community. It's relevance, the relevance of the activity that's taking place, and so what we use is a survey, a survey, and this works on, you know, many different kinds of communities. We have a series of questions, but fundamentally, we want to know, is the content, are other discussions? Are the members is it relevant to your day to day lives, like day to day? Do you find useful stuff in here? And if not, why? Why not? Because I want to know the answers that once you have the answers that we can at that, the whole community say accordingly. But fundamentally, it's the relevance that matters.
Yeah, probably. Probably most to me and most of the communities. And they often you find that people are visiting a lot, but they're not finding it as relevant as it used to be. If you can't do a search so that you can look at how frequently people are visiting and try to ignore the absolute numbers of total business or that. But yeah, I like doing survey doing surveys and interviews of members and really just figuring things out in that way.
I think you get much better data set to work from.
Ben Aston So in those surveys, you're trying to establish product-market fit and whether or not the community is delivering what the market or the community needs, and what kind of questions are you asking people to elicit? The kind of responses that give you the insights you need to adjust the product?
Richard Millington It varies a lot. So there's usually a top-line question, which is, you know, how relevant have you found the community in the past couple of weeks? Not forever. I don't want them like thinking about their entire life span because people then say very nice things. But the last couple of weeks that tend to give useful information, I want to know what challenges they're struggling with at the moment. Where do they go to get those challenges solved today? And if it's not the community, then why not? And what you often find is that I'm struggling to figure out what equipment to use for this issue. And I search on Google first and I get the answer there. So for me, it's really interesting, which is, you know, what can the community do that Google can't? And Google is great for giving you information. It's always great at telling you about the emotional journey. You know, you're going to find this really, really frustrating is not always great at telling you which vendors or which people that you can trust to work with. So it gives you the places where you can go to make your community more relevant.
It doesn't tell you how to get accepted into different kinds of groups or I mean, there's lots of stuff that Google can't tell you. I might just be that to go to a different online community to answer that question.
And I want to know why, you know, why they're going to work on that problem might be that they get a book out. Whatever it is. I want to figure out, how can we make the community more relevant? Can we create content on those topics? Can we start discussions on those topics? Can we have just experts to come into mentor people on those different topics? So really diving deep into the challenges that members have at the moment where they go to to get them solved and why they did or didn't use the community. Those three questions are so useful to ask.
Ben Aston OK, so you have we so we identified the user needs essentially we're trying to reframe that product-market fit to pivot the products, to create more engaging experiences in those areas where people are struggling and where they're finding challenges that aren't being met. The solutions aren't being met elsewhere.
Richard Millington I know like in the digital space as a whole, I lean startup vibe and that terminology is being used. I would say like pivot probably isn't the right word. I think of maybe be more like incorporating it. If you think of a community like throughout and throughout everyone's day that needs that, that they have in the morning, you know, when they any started work, they need to know what coffee to buy. They need to know coffee machine to get they need to know where to find these documents. They need to have a template for this thing. They need to know how to have a quick, healthy lunch. And so is all these needs throughout the entire day. And for me, if I want people to visit the community more often or throughout, you know, not just every day, but several times throughout, throughout the day, it's about figuring out what those needs are throughout the day and then solving as many of them as possible within the community. Zoom people have reasons to the community over and over again becomes more useful. So it's about incorporating and maybe expanding the scope, not changing the entire concept of the community as a pivot usually implies.
Ben Aston Yeah, and so, I mean, as we're then trying to, you know, press these levers to optimize our member experience or community experience, I know one of the things you talk about is. Yeah. Focusing on the big wins rather than just, you know, the everyday grind of responding to people, welcoming people, creating content solving disputes, which are the kind of things that as a community manager you can get drawn into because it's, you know, it's neverending. So now you talk about the search on three things, optimizing that member journey first. And so we kind of identify the pain points. How do you then kind of architect this member journey to try and meet those needs?
Richard Millington Sure. So the member journey, there's great tools like smaply.com, which I really like in just laying it all out. The first thing I would do is look at what the journey looks like today throughout step by step. How do people first hear about the community? What's the message that they hear? Where do they click on? Is a search result? What is a text app is next to that search result? What is the registration page look like? So map out the entire journey. I think the first thing to do then start going through and look to see is there a consistent message throughout this entire journey. So if people just about to join, especially going to pay them a paid membership site, having a case study or a testimonial at that specific point or highlighting who some, some of the top members that are in that site could be very useful. I want there to be a consistent journey throughout that entire phase, and then you start looking at it and being I mean, so consistent story throughout that entire phase, and then you start looking at, OK, what are the tactics for each medium that we need to think about here? Because you can optimize every single step of this. When someone first visit your website, for example, how many of them actually click on the link to join? And if not, why not? Do they not see content? That's interesting at the moment. Maybe we could have some discussions are paying higher up. Maybe you could have a featured list of content that appears above the fold. Is the registration form really easy? Is that different ways you can change the pricing or the structure of how people join a one month, three or a discount if they join this, you know, all those kind of tactics, tactics and tools and techniques and all those great, great things.
And then I start looking at, OK, once we've tried to optimize it, we analyze what is and isn't working and continually adapt. And what I found consistently is that there are certain techniques that work to get people to join and participating in terms of the first discussion that we map out the first couple of weeks of what we want a newcomer to do in that community. So that might be, you know, you might introduce yourself as a first discussion, then you might share a challenge that you have at the moment, and then we'll encourage you to respond and participate in that, and then we'll encourage you to do something else. So there's no luck involved. I mean, luck is fantastic and that's great, but there's nothing left to chance. You know, the moment you join, we're not just hoping that you engage and participate. We're going to do everything in our power to do that. So, yeah, getting that newcomer to journey right is definitely one of the biggest wins in most communities.
And most people do a really bad job of it.
Ben Aston And so, I mean, you're trying to optimize that kind of member experience in that critical first couple of weeks. How are you how are you providing promise to people to do this? What like what have you found works? Is it text? Is it email? Is it a phone call or does it very well? How do you because it what we're doing is trying to educate people and trying to form a habit in their mind that when they have a challenge, that this is a place where they can find help? Right?
Richard Millington There isn't one single thing, like. People jump from different mediums all the time. So they'll begin in. Most communities know who paid communities because that's usually behind a paper by other people have to cross.But in most communities, say if your iPhone breaks, the first thing you might do is go to a search engine and then type in what you think the issue is iPhone6S screen not turning on, and then you'll find a list of search results. For many people that's the first time they discover a community even exists because it comes up in one of the search results. And then you got the title tags on the meta description that. So that's like the very first impression. What does that say? Like, we can change that. We can tweak that. So that's the very first thing. And then they click on it and then they'll get to a discussion, hopefully with an answer. So what does that page look like? You know, because these are pages that overwhelmingly account for around 80 percent of activity in most communities. So we look at to see all the little prompts, is it clear where people can join? Is it clear where they can go for more information? And then they might browse around the community, they might get to the home page of that community. Is it really clear then what the benefit is? Is it is our banner or hero image? Is it clear what the unique value of this community is and why they should join and then they might click on the registration page and then we have very clear text there. We try to limit the amount of information that we collect. Then there's the email that they receive to join. So it's quite tedious to a certain extent. But there's no one thing now what you can do is try and optimize one stage. So when people visit the home page, have a banner that pops up right in front of their faces, they join now and get this free guide. Don't do that. It's annoying. And what tends to happen is that you can get a lot more people at the top of the funnel by doing that. But it usually hurts your search traffic. It usually drives away a lot of people that would have otherwise joined hands. People don't stick around. You don't want people joining in your community to get a free guy. Do you want them joining because they want to be a part of the community. And so it's very hard to change their motivations once they've joined.
So, yes, stay away from one of the silly marketing growth hacking stuff. It's just honestly, it's a waste of time when it comes to most of the community, things that are important.
Ben Aston Yeah, and I think I think that's so true about going for the quick wins. Yeah. Might drive up initial conversion, but it also might drive up your attrition as people like. Oh well I got that guide, now I'm done. I mean let's talk about platforms as well because I think that's another thing. That you talk about in terms of a big win that's worth investing in, what tools have you found that are worth using as you're helping build our communities? Is there anything, in particular, that is worth name-checking that you think is good or particularly bad?
Richard Millington I think what happened for a long time is that all of the platforms were incredibly, incredibly expensive. Even today, like most of the clients who use platforms like Salesforce, Chorus, and sided platforms where you're paying like 50 to 100 grand a year at least just to use these platforms.
And so puts it just in the domain of the top brands that can afford to do that. What I think is happening now, which is really exciting, is that anyone can create a community in seconds because there are so many great tools to do that. You can use Facebook groups if you want. There's I mean, you can stitch together a great community experience just by tools. Are they available today? So Slack group or WhatsApp group with Medium for sharing announcements, Zoom for meetings. You know, you can stitch together like a really great community experience. I have spent thousands of dollars a year, and so I think that's a very exciting place to be. If I was launching a new community from scratch today, I'd probably try to build up a big audience there first and then start considering an upgrade possibly to something like Discourse or Vanilla. One of the open-source forum basic platforms that are better for search traffic. They are better for getting people to follow discussions that have happened a long time ago and just for sharing information, you know, in like chat rooms and Facebook groups and WhatsApp once that once the discussion is off the page, it's gone. So it's a good place to get a community started. But over time, I would move on to something else and maybe keep those initial groups running to let people know what's happening in the new community experience that you have.
Ben Aston Yeah, yeah, that's definitely been my experience. So we started the community on Slack. And the challenge is, is that Slack really is designed as a synchronizer kind of mainly synchronous communication tool is not where you can easily find an old thread. And actually, people use Slack in different ways. So some people will use threated topics, other people will just keep typing because that's what they want to do. So I think that just creates a whole mess.
Richard Millington I mean, that's the problem with a lot of the non-forum-based plan platforms is that today most of the knowledge is lost within 24 hours. Right. Once it's off the page, it's gone. So it's such a tragedy because you just people are asking the same questions over and over again. And it's just not a good experience of long term. And passed, you know, a relatively small number of members are participating. It becomes impossible to follow. So, yeah, if you want to grow big, you're going to have to invest more in the platform over time.
Ben Aston Another big win that you talk about is developing rituals and traditions. And can you give us any examples of rituals or traditions that you've seen working in communities that are simple, simple to implement that? Yeah, that really encourages that engagement. And that, I guess, builds that sense of tribe and a sense of belonging as well.
Richard Millington So depends on what level you want to go with this. If it's a smaller, private online community, then you can give each person an amazing welcome to that group. You can set them a couple of times to do maybe share how they first became involved in the topic and really make an effort to introduce them to everyone else and have this like a first-week experience. Aside from that, there's like so many options. I know traditionally, you know, you've had like universities and colleges, that haze, like the people that I knew. And while that know very often wasn't a wise thing to do, the goal of it wasn't a bad goal. What we found is having discussions are fun and interesting to read. What I don't like is where there's where you drive every newcomer to a discussion where some introduce yourself and I know recommend that before. But introduce yourself and it becomes like 10000 responses and it's boring. No one reads it and he wants to scroll through, you know, 10000 responses to find there are far better options. You know, something like what have you done before? What is your biggest career mistake a be like? Well, you must be here because everyone has an amazing story, right? Everyone has made an amazing career mistake and often they're engaging to read. Often they're quite entertaining to read. And so people get into the tradition of that. Another one is just finding out something that's more relevant. To a specific sector, you know, if it's a programing based online community, you might highlight some relevant to code, to coding that's important to them. It might be what is one thing you've learned that you can share with the group? I mean, it's like it should be something that's a little bit difficult to do just a little bit. But it gets people to trust that community, gets people to trust that if they share something, they're going to get positive responses back and it should be motivating. Like the worst ones are really when you're sitting in a big group and someone says, let's go around the room so everyone can introduce themselves. And it feels like 20 people in the room, that's 20 minutes of your time is gone. But it is like, you know, share one fascinating fact that you know, it's going to be far more engaging and interesting. So being able to set up that kind of structure is going to be really important. And then there are so many other traditions like, you know, the birthdays are happening all the time that people that are getting promoted in your community, having kids, getting married. I mean, there's no reason you can't mention that in a regular newsletter in your community. There's no shortage of traditions. You can celebrate the birthday of your community since it was law says you can set your own day. I think today was coffee, coffee day, a couple of days. You got in like a couple of weeks. The thing is Amazon Prime Day, which I mean, if they can do it, your community can Saturday as well. I mean, there's no shortage of options there.
Ben Aston Yeah, I think that's great. Yeah. Finding excuses to celebrate wins, however small I think really cultivates that cultivates the sense of community. And, you know, that that idea that, hey, there's people out there that care about me and we're in this together. And I think that is a powerful component of a community. I'd love to know, though, as well, from your experience, what hasn't worked in like rituals and traditions that you've seen people try to implement any fail stories of that not working other than just complete disengagement? Because I think I guess if you just asking the wrong question, people just be like, well, that's not very fun.
Richard Millington Um, got to be careful because I don't share too much client information.
I think the biggest ones are, you know, the introduce yourself discussions that go on forever or like where there's this massive roll of people that have joined the community and every one of them is at mentioned because it works well the first week in the second week. Then after that, it doesn't work so well, things that cause too much discomfort or mental effort. So, for example, if it's you know, you know, even we share a challenge that you're working on, that's quite a hard thing to do. It works in some communities, but we've tried it in communities where people even don't have a challenge that they're working on or they're not ready to be vulnerable with the group. They're not ready to trust the other group. Is it going to judge them for not knowing something? And also sharing a challenge means that you don't know something. And your first contribution is going to be like, hey, look how dumb, how dumb, how dumb I am. And it's not. It's not. But that's how people perceive it in their minds. And so you're going to be very careful about those kinds of things.
Ben Aston Yeah. No, that's good. I think yeah. I think setting the setting the bar low but not too low and making people feel good about sharing as well I think is really funny is by saying.
By along. Yeah. If it's funny it's the best one.
Yeah. That's going to get people engaged. So I mean let's talk about FeverBee I mean you've talked about shedding yourself of your staff and kind of being it alone and which is great. So I mean, I'm curious to know for you, as you're I mean, you do have a community of community people in which you can find it, Feverbee.com. But, yeah, tell me what you're working on at the moment. What are what's on your roadmap? What are some of the challenges that you're facing?
Richard Millington For me, it's all related to the core principles of things that I believe in, which is communities are a serious, serious discipline to be working in and it takes real skills to do it. So for me, we're very serious about community and everything else flows down from that. I think part of being serious about community is by looking at the data side, being very pragmatic about things that are happening, and Yeah, and just trying to make sure that we're getting as many people as possible to the skill level that they need to, to be able to do a fantastic job and have the biggest impact that they can have. So things at the moment that I'm working on, there's another book that'll be coming out, I think early next year that's going to be very focused on community skills and the kind of skills you need to thrive doing this. Just we launched a training course as well. So for the promotion. But yeah, the training course just went live. Also what's been happening over the last six months. So I've been getting so many requests for people to actually manage their community on their behalf. So despite what I said before, I'm now just at the stage of our beginning to manage communities on behalf of clients and building up a small team to do that. I think with consultancy it doesn't work quite so well. But managing you know, we've highly trained staff. I think it really helps as many people don't have the time or the ability to recruit and train great people to manage their community or they're not allowed to hire staff or they want more flexibility to be able to provide. That is really exciting for us. We're doing a lot on the data side. I mean, I've got data sets of millions of observations that we analyze it to figure out how we get an extra edge in our communities. I'm presenting a lot that CMX next week or many weeks ago by the time this is released. Oh, yeah. And also video work as well. I think it's becoming harder and harder to get a message out to an audience today and text. I think people still read text, but if you can simplify it into a video that is catchy, it makes sense. I'm really excited exploring that as a medium in a high-quality way. So, yeah, there's a lot that's going on.
Ben Aston That's cool. And where can people find out more about what you're up to?
Richard Millington Yeah, it's really easy. Go to www.feverbee.com.
Ben Aston Cool. Good stuff.
Yeah, check it out, guys. It's got loads of great information in there, but there's just something you just said there, which just piqued my interest, which was, you know, taking data points from communities. And when you're analyzing communities, what makes one community better than another?
Richard Millington So this is the question, right? I've had a theory for a long time that a lot of people managing communities aren't doing as well as what they think they are. And the reason for that is, say if you imagine the community for a huge brand like Microsoft, and I'm not referring to them because as an example and you've got, you know, thousands of members are engaged in that community every day, you might think you're doing a good job. But if you've got millions of customers, the right answer, the right question might be why aren't there more? Why aren't there more people being engaged in this community? And so what we've been looking at, which is really interesting and we haven't published information yet, is trying to figure out how do we predict the level of engagement that our community is likely to have. And there's a lot of different variables around that. And once we have that, we can look at what kind of impact does the scale of the community manager have? And in the early stages, obviously, the skill of the community manager is very important. But for mature community, it's been around for a long time. It varies a lot. And you can predict a lot of engagement in the community by the number of customers that a brand has. You can predict a lot of engagement in a community by level of search, traffic, or searches for those keywords because that shows how many questions that people have as well. And we're using that as a model to be able to predict how much engagement a community has, how much more potential there is an online community, and then how we can help our clients get to that level and also learn some of the things you learn when you have a dataset of millions of points. You learn a lot of the practices that people think work, though. There's a lot of sacred cows in our field that need to be butchered for hamburgers or something because it just yeah, it's not working.
Ben Aston And that what are some of the sacred cows of community management that need culling?
Richard Millington Sure. Game gamification doesn't have anywhere near as much impact as what people think it does. I mean, I'm sure it works for Fitbit or Duolingo or those kinds of apps. But in a community sense, it gets hyped a lot, and vendors make a lot of money from charging for it doesn't really make a difference. Automation rules don't seem to have a big impact. Getting members to complete their profiles doesn't really have an impact at all. In fact, what you'll find is that the correlation is strong. But what happens is that the more people participate in the community, the more they want to impress the other people in the group, and then they complete their profiles. As part of that, telling people to complete their profiles when they first join is counterproductive because they have no one to impress you.
Individual welcomes have a big impact in getting people to a second contribution past, and it doesn't really make a difference. There's so many of these. I mean, there's like a lot of things that people think have a big impact. But this is what this means, that we can stop doing a lot of things and focus on the things that do matter, things that do have a big, big impact, like how we set up the site when people join and also growth.
We don't optimize for growth well at all. We try to retain the people we have. But no matter what you do, people are going to churn out of your community eventually. I mean, there'll be some exceptions, people that being a member of communities for 30 or 40 years now, you've got members of the well that have been there for decades at least. I mean, that's a rare exception. But generally, most people churn out of a community in a couple of years at most. And that's because they get new careers or they have kids or they move away. And there's a million reasons why they might churn, which means you always need like like running a business, really. You just need a fresh supply of customers are coming through. And we don't think about where these people are going to come from. We don't look at the sources of traffic at the moment. And if we did, we be able to get a lot more people engaged in our community and not want to just call him community skills. We spend a lot of time trying to get everyone engaged instead of realizing that actually most participation comes down to a core value group of members are really highly engaged and really finding ways to nurture a couple more of them has a much bigger impact than trying to get everyone else a little bit more engaged. So, yeah, there's lots of interesting data points like that.
Ben Aston Awesome, look forward to seeing that. That come out, is that coming out in a book or how what format will that be in?
Richard Millington Probably a presentation format.
I'm still doing some analysis of the data at the moment.
Ben Aston Awesome, let's close out by doing a lightning round, and I know so question one, what is the best advice you've ever received?
Richard Millington Seth Godin, So when I did an internship with him in New York, he had to say, I don't remember exactly what the phrasing was, but it's very much there should never be like a miracle moment in your plan. So when I worked with him, like any project I put before him, he'd say things like ask questions like who are the first 10 people that you're going to reach? What would they tell their friends? Why would they tell your friends? Why can't and anybody else do this? Why can't they do it for less? So having that crystal clear clarity in your vision and has stayed with me ever since. So if I'm launching a new community, I don't just assume that people are going to talk about it. I plan out every single step of that, what they're going to say, why are they going to say what's in it for them or those kinds of things?
So that for me as being the critical part of every community project I've done.
Ben Aston So next up, which is your personal habits, do you think has contributed most to your success?
Richard Millington Well, I wouldn't pretend, you know, being as successful as many people that you're speaking to a job for me, I am very disciplined about the work. I take very few meetings in the morning, So in the morning. I just work every day. I have a list of goals I want to achieve. I go through the biggest one in the morning. It's not a completely rare idea, but yeah, I take no distractions. I take very few calls. Yeah. So just focusing on the biggest win each day and not getting bogged down in the fire fighting and all that kind of stuff.
Ben Aston Next up. Can you share an internet resource or tool that you use regularly that you find really helpful.
Richard Millington Really helpful. I use Feedly a lot for like the RSS feeds on one of the last people to still use those feeds. I think it's fantastic. I use SEM Rush as a new tool that I've been getting very into in terms of analyzing SEO data and those kinds of things. I'm sure there's more I just can't think of anything right now.
Ben Aston Yeah, and which book or what book have you read recently that you'd recommend and why?
Richard Millington So many books I like books have stood the test of time watching. One of my favorite books is Positioning. So Positioning was written like many years ago, I think two decades old. I don't remember when. Um, but it has a very simple and important idea, which is we overwhelm our audiences with too much information. And if we're promoting ourselves, people are going to remember usually just one or two words about us. So what are the words that you want to associate yourselves with? So, for FeverBee, it's serious about community, there's a lot of people that go into the fluffy side and that works great for them with serious data, psychology, science, practical methods. That's what we're about. And I think being able to have that really boil down what you do to that one word, that one positioning in someone's mind, I think that's a really critical thing to have for building a community or building a business or anything also.
Ben Aston Awesome. Well, Richard, thank you so much for joining us today. It's been great having you with us.
Richard Millington Absolutely. Thank you for inviting me. And I really hope that this podcast goes well.
Ben Aston And if you like what you heard today, please subscribe and stay in touch on IndieMedia.Club. But until next time. Thanks so much for listening.