Gina explains how to ask a good question that will drive deep conversations and keep your members coming back. Then she dives into where to go from there, and how to develop connections between members through shared goals and interests. Finally, we get into how you relate that engagement back to business value.
Maurice Cherry: Hello, Nexus attendees. My name is Maurice Cherry. I'm a creative strategist here at Orbit, and I am talking today with the one and only Gina Bianchini from Mighty Networks. Gina, it is so, so great to have you here today.
Gina Bianchini: I'm really grateful for being here. This is going to be fun.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah, absolutely. I want to really dive right in and start with Mighty Networks.
Gina Bianchini: Sure.
Maurice Cherry: There's nearly a million communities on the platform. That is a phenomenal number to even think about. Can you talk about what makes Mighty Networks such an effective platform for communities?
Gina Bianchini: Well, I think first and foremost, we think about the holistic experience of creating and growing and designing thriving communities. So for us, yes, the software matters. It just, it does. And how and where you take advantage of software that is really designed to bring your members together in your own space, the things that you can do when you have that, is just different. It's just a different experience. You can unlock deeper relationships. You can really take members on a journey where they're meeting and building relationships with each other in pursuit of results and transformation that they cannot get on their own. And a lot of other good stuff.
Gina Bianchini: The biggest thing though, is that we believe we're not in the software business, we're actually in the people business and we're in the relationship business, so it's as important for us at Mighty Networks to help people with the framework and the strategy of putting in place the things that really make building a thriving community that essentially runs itself so much easier. So there's this whole bad rap that community building online gets where it's like, oh, it's so hard, or you can only do it on big platforms and you have to be where all the people are and nobody wants to use something new. Or it's just so hard to get people to engage or share. We have not found that to be true, as long as you avoid the booby traps. And the booby traps are really clear when you do that.
Gina Bianchini: I'm not even sure if I totally answered your question, but I'll tell you why I went off on this tangent. Communities online and in the real world are some of the absolute, most important thing that any of us can build or be a part of. They are really what we are supposed to be doing as human beings. It is how we build our identity. It's where we get our sense of belonging. Most importantly, it's how we ultimately achieve results and transformation in our lives, that we just simply cannot do on our own. A community makes it easy to build new habits. A community makes it easy to problem solve. A community makes it easy and fun to create things that have never been created before.
Gina Bianchini: And so at Mighty Networks, we think software is one piece of a much bigger opportunity and problem to solve, which is how do we get people into communities in this new era where so many people are defining community by consuming a feed of people producing content, and unsurprisingly it's happening at the same exact time that there are higher rates of anxiety, higher rates of depression, higher rates of loneliness. It's an epidemic. And the answer's actually simple. We just need to go back to building and being a part of communities.
Maurice Cherry: Absolutely. Those are really great points. And I mean, here at Orbit, of course, we're all about making sure that we can help communities thrive. Earlier this month, Mighty Networks put together this fantastic free guide of 1000 great community questions. Can you talk about what some of your favorite questions were from that guide? what makes them so effective?
Gina Bianchini: Oh, sure. Overall, what is really exciting about community building, so again, we're in the people business and we are in the designing community experiences that unlock relationships that you can't get in other places. Well, the way, and ultimately move into what we talk about and think about as quests. These are the activities that you're doing in a community together from online courses to challenges, to experiences, to collabs. What creates the initial spark to all of those things that community can be and also community growth, polls and questions.
Gina Bianchini: My favorite polls and questions are ones that take advantage of the unlocking phrase, which is what we talk about as, anybody can ask a great question that's going to get engagement in your community if you use one of the unlocking phrases and you just apply your topic to it. For example, what is the one thing that's an unlocking phrase? People want to answer that question. What is the one thing that you do every morning that sets you up for a great day? Everybody can answer that question unless their answer is, actually, I don't do one thing. But then, they're going to pay attention because everybody else is sharing their one thing. So one thing is an unlocking expression. One of my other favorite questions that actually seems so basic, but gets incredibly great results is, what do you want to get from a community of peers? What do you want to get from a community of peers? It's like, oh, that's a great question. I actually really want to learn how funnels work. Or I really want to learn what are people doing to stay asleep longer, whatever it might be.
Gina Bianchini: Those examples of these unlocking expressions, phrases, really allowed us to come up with 1000 questions. I think about if we can come up with a 1000 questions as a small team of, I think it was three of us-
Maurice Cherry: Wow.
Gina Bianchini: anybody can come up with the questions that are ultimately going to bring their community together and unlock that value, those relationships, that again, people are just not able to get anywhere else.
Maurice Cherry: I like that you refer to the questions as a spark, because you need to have something to stoke that interactivity, not just between members, but also to have the members interact with the person that's asking the question. So even that second question you asked about what do you want to get out of this community of peers? That's a great way to get information that otherwise you would maybe have to get from a survey. And I guess this is a survey of sorts, but you're stoking that information also in the form of an initial interaction.
Gina Bianchini: We actually have it built in as a feature to a Mighty Network. We have a number of features that just don't exist anywhere else, because we're doing something a little bit different, which is we're building communities that are designed to create relationships between strangers, people who don't already know each other, which is different than Slack, which is about small teams or Facebook groups, which is all built around... The entire Facebook group structure is built around... And it has not changed really dramatically in the last 15 plus years, is all around people who already knew each other. People that were a small group in college. So the same software is being used for groups with 80,000 people in them, and it just doesn't work as well. You have to build for the specific use case.
Gina Bianchini: In our case, we want people to use Mighty Networks to bring people together for deeper relationships and ideally it's software that is built for strangers to become collaborators and strangers to become friends. And so one of the features we have is an icebreaker question. Any member who joins has that kind of an icebreaker question, like what do you want to get from a community peers? So from the very first minute somebody joins a Mighty Network they're being encouraged and warmly welcomed to contribute. That doesn't mean that they have to, but it's setting the cultural tone for a community that is really, really important.
Maurice Cherry: You mentioned those earlier types of questions that kind of sparked that interaction. What are some of the components of a good question that really engages community members to contribute and to connect?
Gina Bianchini: It's a great question. The thing about unlocking phrases is that I don't even have to finish the rest of the sentence and your brain is already starting on these, to answer these questions. What is your favorite? What is your least favorite? If you could. What do you value most in a friend, in a partner, in a job? You see where this... you can really add whatever topic you want to add to them. What is your number one? What is your go to? What is your dream vacation? What is your dream job? What is your dream partner? What is your best? What kind of? How many? They're very concrete, as you can tell by these examples. And I'm happy to share the guide itself. Drop me a DM. I'm just Gina B on Twitter, or join us in Mighty Community at community.mightynetworks, yeah, community.mightynetworks.com. I don't know why for a minute, I forgot the URL. I was like, wait, no, that's right.
Gina Bianchini: Basically these 1000 questions and really the power of these unlocking phrases is the difference between community engagement and community, I think about it or talk about as community crickets, where it's just like do do do, and the worst thing that people can do, and they do it because we've all been trained to do it with social media, is that they'll take an article from somewhere outside their community. They'll put it in their community as a link and they'll be like, "Hey guys, what do you think?" To me, that's the community death spiral, because what happens is that you put that link in there because you're like, "I don't know what else to do in terms of driving engagement in my community." And we have a whole framework called community design to make it so easy to build a community that people actually want to contribute to and where relationships are actually being made.
Gina Bianchini: And instead, with the death spiral, you put a link in because you're not exactly sure how to get your members talking to each other. And so now you put that link in, and first of all, it's one of 17 links any of us get on any given morning. We got four things being shared in the five different group threads we're in, plus we had to check social, plus we. So then the, "Hey guys, what do you think?" Think about how open ended that is. Maurice, do you know whether you're supposed to be like, "Yeah, I liked it." Or do you have to write an essay about it?
Maurice Cherry: Right.
Gina Bianchini: No one understands in 2022, "Hey guys, what do you think?" what they should do with that. So the power, in sharp contrast, the power of these questions are that they are fast, they are specific and you can answer them in less than 15 seconds. Name one thing. Or when was the last time you? Now just hear the difference between those two. And so we see in our data, polls and questions get people talking, and they'll keep coming back to those question threads for deeper conversations.
Maurice Cherry: So it sounds like a good question not only prompts you to think, but also it sort of anticipates that you'll respond, because as you said with this sort of death spiral with links, and I've seen this before, and I think the only thing worse than just posting the link is posting the link and then saying, "Thoughts?"
Gina Bianchini: Oh yeah. That's even worse than, "Hey guys, what you think?" But I'll tell you, it's not that it makes you think. The best questions are those that don't make you think. They don't make you think. You just answer them. You're like, "Oh." Like, have you ever? Have you ever been to Hawaii? No or yes. You can answer it really quickly. And so that is how you can start to drive engagement in your community. And then that engagement opens up all of these kinds of quests and things that your members want to do together to achieve results and transformation in their lives.
Maurice Cherry: So this is a good segue into my next question. So you've asked this poll or this question, you've got your community members, excuse me, you've got your community members responding. How do you then nurture that into a long term connection?
Gina Bianchini: That's a great question. The best way to nurture engagement in a community is to make connections between your members. And the best way to make connections between your members is to give them something to do such that they are furthering their goals, that it's about mastering something interesting or important to your members. So for us, we break these down into quests. Four general kinds of quests, courses, which courses have just gotten such a bad rap because a lot of people do them really poorly and that you then have really, really low completion rates on the course.
Gina Bianchini: So for us, the only thing to know about a course at Mighty is that it has a beginning, a middle and an end. So if you're just getting started or you're moving a community or you want to get a lot of attention, a course is great because it provides a little bit more structure to your members. And for the people that have opted into that course or workshop or seminar or summit, it gives them a reason to talk to each other. So as you think about and look at quests, courses are great just, again, for a beginning, middle and an end.
Gina Bianchini: Challenges are a little bit more lighter weight. They are fantastic for building new practices or building new habits, again, drawing attention so that your members are building those habits around your community. One of my favorite examples is a thriving community on Mighty Networks that was started by Yoga with Adrian. 10 million YouTube subscribers, over 200,000, 250,000 members in their Find What Feels Good Kula Community. And they've been able to draw those numbers by having, every January, a 30 day yoga journey or yoga challenge, different pose every day. Then what they're able to do is draw in micro communities because each of the day's actions is its own community because it has its own topic. It has its own group.
Gina Bianchini: Then experiences are obvious whether that's a mastermind group, whether that is a, again, a summit. Something that is your members are there together at the same time. And then lastly collabs. We have a great Mighty Network called Urgent Optimist, which was started by a woman named Jane McGonigal, a game designer and futurist. She's basically set up what is, for all intents and purposes, a game, that is all about future scenario planning. Tomorrow US dollars are gone and digital currencies have replaced them. What do you do? 10 years ago she ran this same thing on Ning, my last platform, and what they found over the decade of following the people that played these kinds of scenarios out is that they actually were much more comfortable with change, and much more comfortable and resilient to, whether it's a global pandemic or whether it is whatever the next chaotic thing happening in the world. And so that's an example of putting teams together and collaborating on things that the community can build together.
Gina Bianchini: Those are all examples of how questions turn into quests and quests... And we actually have another guide that we launched and circulated last week, which is 500 of these quests and things that you can literally, we are seeking to make it so easy, again, not just because the software is awesome. It is definitely awesome. But also, we want you to be able to copy and paste things for your members to do together and to inspire you around how to develop and design a community that is so valuable you can charge for it and is really well designed.
Maurice Cherry: This is fantastic information. I know we have people attending that are marketers, that are CEOs, that are business folks, and you talked about completion rate as a metric, say for courses. What are some other metrics that you can use to track your engagement programs like this and measure their improvement?
Gina Bianchini: I think in general, how do I measure success? I like to look at the whole mighty insights, which is basically a dashboard that comes with every Mighty Network. I am constantly looking for where and how are members connecting with other members? So I'm looking at comments, I'm looking at DMS, I'm looking at how many people show up for a live stream and participate in that chat. Those are the kinds of things I'm looking for, less than, oh, is everyone contributing? Or some of these very unrealistic... not everybody's going to contribute. And that's okay. What you want is to make it easier and easier and easier and give people more and more permission to contribute. But then knock it down or feel desperate if they're not doing it. There's something to fix there. There's something to... We don't talk about it as fixing, we talk about as reframing, so reframing the challenge, reframing the opportunity.
Maurice Cherry: How do you relate the value of community engagement back to business outcomes?
Gina Bianchini: Well, it depends on what outcomes you're looking for. But here's the things I know to be true just in our own numbers at Mighty Networks, we have 55,000 people in our mighty community today. We talk about it as this is our teaching community, just like you'd have a teaching hospital. This is a place where we run this community of 55,000 people, so that people will understand all of these types of dynamics that are all kind of a part of this framework we have called community design.
Gina Bianchini: So for us, we actually can look at how many people within mighty community upgrade? How many stay longer? How many are growing their members and their membership base in ways that are pretty profound? So to me, yes, there's revenue streams that you can create directly in your community, and that's a very hard number, hard, tactical number. You either have revenue or you don't. But there's all these other ways that community can really benefit you as a business, from faster growth, longer retention, more value, teaching people how to use your software. All of those things really do matter.
Maurice Cherry: What I'm sort of hearing also is that, some of these things that you're measuring are not hard and fast, quantitative metrics. As you said, what's the value that people are getting from it, that's not really something you can measure in a number or a percentage.
Gina Bianchini: Well, you kind of can. But look, I think we've been sitting around talking about social media metrics, like, oh, the engagement metrics of social media are X, Y, or Z, share or comment or like. And I think we can probably all agree that they're kind of bullshit. I don't know if this is a family show here. Yes, you can see some impact on your business, but the power of a community is that you have a direct relationship with the members in your community, and more importantly, they have a direct relationship with other people that they're never going to have on social media. You're never going to make best friends with somebody or find a new collaborator in the comment section of a story. Why? Because there is no comment section in a story. You're DMing to the creator. You're not actually building relationships between members of an audience.
Gina Bianchini: So in a community... I don't want to leave the impression that this is fuzzy. It's not. You can see, are they coming back? Are they building relationships with other people? Are they having conversations? And because in a community, at least on a Mighty Network, you have access to email addresses, what they're doing, how they're doing it, you have so much more insight into what is working, who are your 100 or 1000 true fans, and ultimately, what value can they bring to your business? More importantly, what value can your business bring to them?
Maurice Cherry: Hmm, well said, well said. Gina, you're a pioneer when it comes to online communities. You mentioned earlier, you founded Ning in 2005, you founded Mighty Networks in 2017, where of course you're also the CEO. When you look back over your career, how have you seen community evolve over the years and where do you see community going in the future?
Gina Bianchini: It's one of my favorite topics, as you can probably imagine. I think the biggest shift since I started, is that in 2022, any of us who want to design compelling and thriving communities, we have to get really sharp with, who do we serve? We talk about it as your ideal member. These are the people that need your community the most right now, and I like to add the emphasis of all caps, right now is in all caps.
Gina Bianchini: Really clear about your big purpose or the motivation for your community. Why are your members coming? Well, they're going to come because they are probably in a transition. People are the most motivated to come into a community when they're navigating a transition, when there's a gap between where they are and where they want to be, and that they have concrete results and transformation that they want to get, and that your community, because community is the most powerful, we talk about it as your bridge to results, but it is the most powerful asset any of us can have in changing our lives for the better. And sadly the worst.
Gina Bianchini: You can surround yourself with people that can take you down, but a community has the unique opportunity to also bring you up. And so that's that sharpness, that narrowness, you didn't need it in the early days of social media, because everybody was just super excited. Back in the days when you could spam your entire friend list and they'd be like, "Oh cool. Something new to try." Those days are over. Being sharp, being clear, getting to your value, your big purpose, really fast and making it super fun and exciting, that is what is working today in 2022.
Gina Bianchini: As I look to the future, the area of community innovation I am the most excited about, most excited about, is what we talk about here at Mighty Networks as people magic. It's how do we use software, especially in the context of a shared interest or a shared passion or a shared goal of a community, how do we let software support any of us to play an even more important role as fabulous host? You've been to those parties. We've all been to those parties, where it's like, we're a little nervous, because we don't know everybody, but we're also excited because we get to meet some new people and we like the host and they tend to know cool people, and so we show up. And that person immediately is there saying, "Oh my gosh, Maurice, I am so excited you are here. You have got to meet Gina. She is really looking. I invited both of you guys so you would meet. So here you guys, this is what I think you should talk about." And then you feel comfortable. You're like, "Okay, I got this."
Gina Bianchini: Then you sit down later and it's one conversation and you're looking around the table and you're like, "Damn, I'm pretty cool. This is exciting. This is what it's all about." And it's all because that host put that dinner together or put that party together. And by the way, we're getting bad at this. We are losing this skill of hosting great parties, of being a part of a community of people where those connections are being made. And again, human beings, we are not wired to wake up every day and just want to happily consume a social media feed. That is why we are moving in the wrong direction. But we're going to move in the right direction, so I'm not worried about humanity.
Gina Bianchini: And so when you think about what software can do, it can play the role of amazing host. Let's say we're all out of practice because we spent the last two years at our house by ourselves and we just don't really know how to do it anymore, imagine software can play that role of beautiful host. And so any community that you show up to immediately connects you to the most relevant people, in the most natural and normal way, and the software can break the ice, and the software can bring people back so that we're creating that fluidity, that then you, as the host, know what's happening. You can have confidence in it and it makes you look, feel great. And you're serving people so effectively. That's all software that has not been built yet. And it is software that we are building at Mighty Networks. As you can tell, I'm super fired up about it, because I think it really matters, to unlock the next generation of amazing and valuable communities that are mastering something interesting or important together.
Maurice Cherry: Wow. Well said. Gina Bianchini, CEO of Mighty Networks, thank you so much for talking to me today. Thank you so much for talking to us here at Nexus.