28th March 2007

How do you segment your community?

At the end of "Your Community already exists," I promised a follow up on segmentation.  So much has been written about this that I hesitate to add my own spin, but I’m resisting re-researching the topic to pick who I think did it best.  My goal here is not to create the "industry standard" taxonomy, but to set a framework for how I’ll discuss it overtime here at Community Group Therapy.

If you really want to explore this topic fully, it is likely well worth exploring my blogroll for others points of view on this.

So here goes.  This is essentially how I think about online communities from a segmentation standpoint:

  • Internals:  Often forgotten in the taxonomy - but CRITICAL.  Who are the internal employees in your company that are participating (or need to participate).  What are their roles?  Do their roles reflect your community goals (Do you have aspirations for product improvement insight, but only marketing participating)?  Are they "volunteers" or is it their job to be in the communities?  Are they there because they want to be or because they were told to be?  You’ll have all of this - map it, plan for it, reward it if necessary, negotiate for it as needed (carrot and stick), develop your pitch to convince as needed - Just make sure you pay attention to it.  Your community without participation from across your company will not achieve its potential.
  • Moderators:  These are sometimes employees and sometimes community volunteers.  They’re critical to the tone, manner, health and managing the "norms" of the community.  They need to be empowered, but very cautious in using their power.  Moderation is part art, part science.  Consistency is key.  They need to be a very well known and respected participant in the community.  Oh..and some personality helps:)
  • Elite contributors:  NOT to be confused with Moderators.  These are your most active 1% of unique users (or even less in Microsoft’s case).  This is the steep part of the curve where a small percentage of users are massively…even shockingly active in your communities.  Reminder, I’m very biased, but to me, this is job #1.  This is the segment that you have to deeply engage.  (For Microsoft, these are the MVP’s).  Their reasons for their level of activity are largely their own, but it is never (or rarely) about helping you…it is about helping other users.  Their "ROI" could be described as learning, socializing, helping, "Pay it Forward," or simply as altruism.  Misunderstand the motivations of this audience at your own peril!!
  • Active Participants:  Often described as the next ~20% of active participants.  They represent the next most active (though significantly different than elites)group of participants.  They are predominantly "askers" but are also "answerers" and some % of them will someday be your Elite contributors.  These are your "regulars" - they come back because it was good last time. 
  • Lurkers/Consumers:  These are the masses.  They probably found you via search.  They may or may not come back.  In the end they have utilitarian needs from the community.  This is over-simplified to be sure - in fact I’d love your input on how to break down this group a little further.  Somewhere in this group are participants I’d call "curiosity seekers."  They are circling the pool and looking at all the fun…building up their courage to jump in.  The tone/manner/approachability of your community will determine how much courage it takes.  This group I think is particularly critical to the long term vitality of your community.
  • Non-Users:  Well, all of the above are probably a small percentage of all your users…so you have A LOT of work to do.  It is equally important to consider your non-users.  Why are they non-users?  What can you do to attract them?  If you attract them too fast, might they damage your community.  What are you doing to drive awareness of your community resources?  Ease of discoverability?  Re-use of the content?  Remember…Field of Dreams was just a movie!

Now that you have a taxonomy (mine or another you like)…what to do.  Just ensure you check your plan, end to end, against this taxonomy.  If you design your community with lurkers in mind, will elite answers dislike your design.  If you design for elites, will curiosity seekers ever get in the pool?  Are you differentiating services and/or benefits by segment?  Let’s face it, you will have budget constraints.  Some services may have cost you can’t scale beyond your 1%.  Consider the currencies ("coined" by my friend Lee at Commoncraft) that benefit each segment.

Whatever you do, don’t go and build your community strategy without considering segmentation.  Even if you get some things wrong, having the context will allow you to identify and troubleshoot your errors much more quickly.



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This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 28th, 2007 at 7:16 am and is filed under Business Strategy, Community Development, Social Media, web 2.0. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

There are currently 4 responses to “How do you segment your community?”

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  1. 1 On March 28th, 2007, Corrine said:

    I have personally experienced a situation where company “Internals” essentially destroyed a community due to a combination of factors. It was not pretty.

    I was taught many years ago that every reply should be as clear and complete as possible. The reason is that for every active member, there are potentially many times greater the number of visitors who found their way via a search engine — the non-users. I Admin a site where I have been active for 7 years and have seen, out of the blue, where a person will register and post a thank you for all the help they have received from the site over the years. I wouldn’t categorize this type of visitor as a lurker or non-user. Then again, I am less interested in categorizing than knowing that someone else found the help they were seeking.

    A strong team will lead by example. When “staff” provides clear, concise, friendly help, others will emulate them, including the “elite”.

    If non-users can easily navigate your site and find the solution they are seeking, then they are almost as important as the rest of your community. They are likely to bookmark your site for return visits, quote the response with a link at another site, refer friends, etc. They will help your community grow.

    One thing that I believe sets the wrong “tone” is a reply stating the poster’s question has been asked and answered before and to use search. IMO, that nothing is the worst type of hand-slap a new member can receive. A successful site will understand that the wrong search criteria could have been used, the results were overwhelming or the poster still did not understand the answer. There are many variables. Not only would it would most likely be faster for that experienced person to provide links or quotes of a possible solution than to scold the poster for not searching first but those results would end up indexed in the search engines for the next person who comes along.

    People come and go. It is not often sites maintain a strong regular following (staff as well as members) over a long period of time. For that reason, I see maintaining consistency, freshness and a friendly atmosphere more important than categorizing.

  2. 2 On March 31st, 2007, Sean said:

    Agree with your observations, but I don’t think these points are mutually exclusive. Segmentation and thoughtful planning considering each of those segments should go hand in hand with consistency, freshness and friendly environment to encourage long term success of the community.

  3. 3 On June 16th, 2007, A guide for those that are new to this blog… « Community Group Therapy said:

    […] Community Segmentation model […]

  4. 4 On January 31st, 2008, Debating the Influencer model: Fast Company debates the "Un-Tipping Point" : Community Group Therapy said:

    […] This taxonomy is admittedly a bit simplified.  I blogged a deeper opinion on taxonomy some months back […]

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