What are some best practices for starting your own community?



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    Nicole - Community Manager
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    Hi Erica -

    We're happy to share how we do things here at Zendesk, and hopefully some other members of the community will chime in as well. You may also be interested to read through these similar conversations from other community members:

    Katie Ginsburg from Clever asked about best practices for increasing user engagement specific to running a community about a year ago, and I shared some insights there.

    Rachel deHoyos was asking for tips for driving community adoption last month, too.

    You may have read it already, but there are also some good tidbits in both the article and comments here: Best practices: six things to think about before setting up a community.

    It's great that you're thinking about what you want to accomplish before turning your community on, and the goal of keeping it easy to manage is a good one.

    One of the first things to make sure you have in place is knowing who will be running it, and making sure that you have someone (maybe yourself) that's going into the community and engaging with users there every day. While the ultimate goal for many communities is that they become self-sustaining and self-managing, it usually takes 12-18 months of high engagement from the company/community manager to get it to that level of activity.

    This is where it's helpful to have a point person who oversees everything, and then a handful of other subject matter experts who can jump in and start conversation or give great answers to questions.

    Depending what the purpose of your community is, you'll want to be clear on how you're going to manage your posts and what your escalation paths are if you need to bring other people from your organization into the conversation.

    For post management, I highly recommend creating an email address just for the community, and subscribing it to all of the topics in your community. This way that email address will receive a notification every time a new post or comment is created, and you can manage your posts out of that inbox. We found that Gmail served this purpose well, and used their tagging and auto-filtering capabilities quite a bit to track what posts were about, what was going on with them, and what the end result was.

    You also asked about engagement. I came across a study once that found that growing communities tend to all have two things in common:

    • 80% of posts receive a response within 8 hours or less (this response doesn't necessarily have to be a final answer, but at least an acknowledgement of the post. We're still working toward this goal ourselves.)

    • Every topic receives 5+ new posts per day

    Now, those are goals to reach for but may or may not be easy to achieve right away. But the point is that engagement is the key to a thriving community.

    One thing a lot of people don't think about is how to be proactive in their community. Rather than just waiting for users to post and give you something to respond to, if activity is low, go start a conversation about a popular topic. Ask questions and ask your users to share their ideas and best practices. This not only helps them to learn from one another, but gets them in the mindset of helping to answer each others' questions.

    It's also important to have guidelines in place before you launch, both to set users' expectations and to make sure both you and your users are clear on what kind of activity is and isn't allowed in your forum. Here are the Zendesk Community Code of Conduct for a point of reference.

    It's also a good idea to have crisis plan in place, i.e. what happens if there's a huge outage, or some kind of PR nightmare? What happens if a user or group of users start getting really negative or abusive in one of your threads - how will that get handled? What happens if your main community manager gets hit by a bus?

    You'll want to pre-populate your community with some content. You do not want to launch a community with a bunch of empty topics. I would figure out what your most frequently asked questions are, and start some threads with those in place. You may also want to identify a group of customers to have "pre-launch access" and give them a few weeks' head start on everyone else, so that there are some active conversations happening by the day you make it public.

    Some other resources I'd suggest for you are the professional organizations for Community Managers: CMX HubFeverbee, and the Community Roundtable. They all have great blog posts and discussions, and offer courses on developing your community strategy if you're interested.

    These organizations have really great documentation available, plus courses and workshops and stuff that can really help you think strategically about your community and engagement. They can also help to arm you with the information you need to get buy-in from other people in your organization and resources that you might need.

    Let us know if you have any additional questions, and hopefully some other members will chime in with their experiences as well!

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