August 11, 2021

The Power of Micro-Communities

Online communities are powerful tools in today’s marketing world. They allow your audience to engage with your brand in a deeper, more meaningful, and organic way.
It is easy to get distracting spending a lot of energy on building the largest, most engaged groups — but the most effective communities of all can actually be micro-communities.

What are micro-communities?

Micro-communities are small groups of online users who all share a common interest. Micro-communities are typically less than 30 members.


a small group of online users who all share a common interest. Micro-communities are typically less than 30 members.
Micro-communities are based on the idea of quality over quantity. The small group size allows for all members to be more active and engaged than they might be otherwise, and engagement can go deeper.
Micro-communities can also allow you to focus on deeply supporting and enabling a few high-engaging members to help drive member interaction and build the rest of the group up.
This group structure ends up creating a ton of value for all the members.

How do micro-communities work?

People come to a community for a specific thing that they want, which is usually information. They might need help troubleshooting a product, they might be asking for help or looking for customer support. Maybe they are looking for new ideas and want to be inspired. But fundamentally, they all want information.
So, for a community to work, you need people that are seeking information and people that are providing that information.
That seems simple enough. But the reality is that information is readily available today and so competition is steep. If people can easily find the same information elsewhere, why would they take the time and energy to join your group?
Therefore, you need to persuade people that your community is the single best place to get the kind of information that they need. You need to convince them that your community provides indispensable value that they can’t find anywhere else. And you need to compete with giants like search engines and social media platforms.
Also, the information you’re providing has to come from somewhere! That means that you also need to motivate some of those members to provide the information to others. Not only do members need to provide the information, but they have to provide it in a way that other members will actually read it and integrate it as a part of their flow.
Many people focus on the goal of increasing overall community engagement. The ultimate goal is to have enormous engagement numbers. However, that is simply not realistic and is not the most productive approach. The reality is that all of your customers are not going to be participating in your community — even if it is a micro-community.
Studies show that only a fraction of brand audiences participate in their brand communities, and even fewer audience members stick around for the long-term. Only a small number of those members make the majority of the contributions to the group.
You’ll often find that you don’t have a homogenous mix of users sharing their brand love equally with each other. Instead, you have a small number of people who share a lot of great responses with the group regularly, and you have a large number of people who ask one or two questions and that’s all they need to get out of the group.
To understand why such a small percentage of people participate in groups, it is important to think about the psychology of groups.
Ask yourself, why do people participate? People usually participate for emotional or social reasons. Maybe they want to impress people, or they want to maintain a certain level of status. Maybe they want to feel like they are helping people or making a useful contribution.
If everyone was participating at the same level, then it would be impossible for anyone to feel unique and achieve those feelings of status or accomplishment.
So, the reason we find these group dynamics in any kind of community where just the top 1% participate at high levels is that, in any group, only a few members can shine or be the top members.
If everyone participated equally, then no one would feel like they are rising about the average or obtaining any sort of prestige. If no one feels like they are accomplishing anything satisfactory, then they are likely going to stop participating altogether.
So, in the end, having a lot of users is often not the key to building a successful online community. The key is to have the right set of users. It is possible to create a lot of value for your brand with fewer community members and lower engagement levels than you might think.
To be successful, you don’t need a lot of people sharing a lot of information all at once. This can lead to information overload and overwhelm users. It can make it more difficult for people to find the information that they’re looking for and drive them away.
Instead of focusing on collecting a huge number of ideas or thousands of customer reviews — or whatever your goals are — just focus instead on collecting great ideas or high-quality testimonials.
Instead of focusing on collecting a huge number of ideas or thousands of customer reviews — or whatever your goals are — just focus instead on collecting great ideas or high-quality testimonials.

How to identify key customers in your micro-community

So, we know now that the top 1% of users create the majority of the content in online communities. And we know that those users can create valuable content and engagement.
While 1% might seem small, this is actually great news. Creating and maintaining a valuable level of engagement is much more sustainable when you only need to identify and recruit a small number of people.
So, you know that they’re out there. How do you go about finding your top 1%?
The easy way to go about this is to manually look at your community and find the most active members. There are usually some clues as to who these people are. If you look at your community, you’ll find users who post a lot of reviews or social media posts and are highly engaged.
You can also use your CRM to ask survey questions to existing community members and see who provides valuable responses.
And don’t forget about your direct connections with customers. You can easily test ideas on social media or during webinars and other events. Take advantage of these interactions to test who your members are and see who is ready to ask questions or respond to questions.
Once you identify these people, reach out to them and ask them to join your reward program. This method can work well in some situations, but it doesn’t help you to recruit people for specific skills. This technique just recruits people to sign up to do more of what they’re already doing.
If you take a group of highly engaged people and start giving them rewards, they don’t necessarily become more engaged. They are already doing the activity that you want them to do, and they might not have more time or energy to do more of it. They might already be maxed out.
This method is sort of like taking your top 1% and just putting a fence around them that shows they’re part of the top 1%, rather than actually enabling them to do more.
A better way to go about identifying and recruiting your top 1% is to ask, what are the specific skills and activities we need to add to the group? How can we enable people to do better?
Instead of just recruiting people for the sake of recruiting them, be very selective about the kind of people you recruit. Make sure they have the skills that you need. One way to do this is to collect a data set with your user information to identify the best fits.
Instead of just recruiting people for the sake of recruiting them, be very selective about the kind of people you recruit. Make sure they have the skills that you need.
You also want to recruit people for different reasons. Having a variety of people in your groups that bring different skill sets can help inspire users to participate more in specific types of activities.
Identify your goals and the specific behaviors you need to accomplish those goals. Then figure out which specific incentives and rewards attract and encourage those behaviors. This can help you incentivize people to engage in behaviors beyond what they’re already doing.

How to recruit key customers to your micro-community

There are generally three approaches to recruit new key members to your micro-community.
The first approach is direct outreach. This involves reaching out to people to join your program — like headhunting people for certain skills. Direct outreach can be labor-intensive and is mostly used to get communities off the ground when they are just starting out.
The next approach is to create an application form. Here, you can advertise which skills you’re looking for and then people can apply to join your program. This approach is less work for you, since people come to you instead of you needing to reach out. Also, it is motivating for the users because it makes it feel like an exclusive thing that people get to do once they achieve a certain status in the community.
The third approach is to create a nomination form. With this, members get to nominate other community members for the program. This can be difficult to pull off well, but when it works, it works very well. This method can be highly motivating and meaningful for members because of the emotional experience of being nominated out of a group of people.

How to engage and reward super ambassadors in your micro-community

Online community PeerBoard
Once you identify and recruit these super members, you need to continue to nurture them with things such as superuser campaigns. These will help keep them engaged in the long-term and motivate them to continue producing value.
Some highly engaged members might become super ambassadors. With super ambassadors, helping people in the community becomes part of their identity so they are more likely to stick around.
But when you think about it, super ambassadors are a bit of a weird scenario that doesn’t happen in other contexts. These people are essentially serving as brand voices or customer support — all for free. It is not their job, just an interest.
These people are not looking to be paid financially but instead are looking to feel good. Swag and free stuff don’t usually work as a motivator here.
They want status or prestige. They want to help others and feel useful. Or maybe they want a sense of identity, or direct access to the brand. They want to feel connected to a special group or something that matters. They want to gain influence or power and have an impact on the world. Or maybe they just like a challenge.
Brands need to offer rewards differently to provide these emotional experiences for their users.
Instead, brands have found that training can be a successful motivator. People love to get free training because it can help them improve their work, expand their skill set, and develop new positive behaviors.
Users benefit personally from training, but then the quality of the content they produce for your brand generally improves too. This is a positive growth cycle that benefits both the community members and the brand.
Providing rewards like free training can also help you reach deeper into your community. Instead of just nurturing your top 1%, training can help you reach out to the top 5–10%. These users might be interested in participating but they are lacking the right skills. Equipping them with the right skills might build their confidence in their skill set and inspire them to participate more.
Incentives like training or integrated affiliate programs can help brands to build special relationships with their community members. It shows that you are listening to their wants and needs. Strategically providing the right rewards and surprises at the right moment to your community can go a long way in nurturing your members.
However, users are also constantly evolving. Many communities are rotating communities, meaning that there is a natural churning cycle of members. There will always be some evergreen users who stay engaged long-term, but others will come and go. This is especially true for groups with high turnover, such as bridal groups or pregnancy groups. This cycle is natural, and you cannot always prevent it.

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