Traditional public participation has been around for a very long time, but today it may seem to be more expensive and time-consuming. Organizations have over time realized that the benefits of online community engagement are far more than the old perceived notions of marketing.
Community engagement is the process of building, nurturing, and retaining customers. According to research1 on online communities, 57% of organizations find community engagement to be their top challenge. The same research also states that a branded online community reduces the burden by 49%. This is why many companies have started to focus more on community building and engagement strategies.
The benefits of community engagement are numerous, the most important ones being lead generation, customer retention, brand loyalty, cost-effectiveness, and data collection. This makes community engagement an important part of your marketing strategy.
One should never forget that a community is only as strong as its contributors. Whether you are at the top or are just an upcoming organization you will need to put in continuous efforts to meticulously plan healthy engagements to have an authentic connection with your members. Here are 7 proven tips to increase your community engagement.
Seven Tips to Increase Community Engagement
1. Build an Open Platform for Expression
Every community thrives on user-generated content making its members the most valued resource. People love to talk about themselves and this, in turn, helps people learn and by giving them an open platform, you give them a chance to share their stories and experiences.
In a Twitter discussion on online community engagement tactics by Peers over Beers, an online podcast for enterprise community managers, Parul Gupta2 said, “Your community members learn from the experience of each other more than a generic piece of article.”
The more your members feel heard the more are the chances of them coming back to your platform to share their experience. This makes community engagement an excellent tool for customer retention.
Another important aspect of an open platform for expression is that members who are not comfortable speaking in front of an audience can now openly give out their opinions. Mike Sanders3 in his article six benefits of online community engagement said: “ Online participation is a welcome opportunity for community members fearful of public meeting formats, offering a medium for broader, more moderate views than those characteristics of traditional planning meetings attended primarily by passionate activists.”
2. Activities Based on Member Cohorts
Every community differs in size and interest, but within a community itself, you will still have even further differences among members. You need to create different segments of the members based on their engagement in the community and then customize your engagement based on these cohorts or segments.
This will be very useful to you when creating a reward system or when rewarding the loyalty of your most engaged followers. Similarly, you can also motivate your least engaged members to increase their engagement by showing them the benefits of being the most engaged members.
An example of this is the Badge System in the HubSpot community4.
3. Plan Activities to Keep Members Invested
You need to plan activities that keep your members invested in your community. You need to have a mechanism to have them engaged through some form of activity. It could be monthly competitions, challenges, hosting community events, or hosting discussions on trending topics. With these activities, you can expect them to keep interacting with your content and at the same time have them create content. The more activities you have the more members you can engage and retain.
A good example for this would be CNN’s iReport.com5 where they post a new topic every week on the Assignment Desk page for members to submit photos, videos, or audios.
4. Foster Culture
Ana Buss and Nancy Strauss6 said “Successful online communities don't just happen by themselves. They’re the result of a carefully executed strategy, solid design, and patient nurturing.” This is very true as you need to patiently nurture your community. This includes fostering a friendly culture for all of your members.
As mentioned earlier you need to help your members respect each other's opinions and not use harsh words in case of disagreements. You need to create a culture where every question receives the acknowledgment and every query is easily resolved. If your members look out for each other it will not only help you resolve issues but will also help create an environment of trust among community members.
5. Focus on Community Moderation
It is important to have a space for members to express themselves openly but there needs to be moderation in terms of the content that can and can not be posted. This is where you need to give high importance to your content guidelines. But you shouldn’t be rigid in terms of these guidelines. You need to have in your members and in case of any mistakes talk to them privately. As long as their content adds value to the community you may allow it. This will show them you trust in them and they, in turn, will follow your guidelines.
You also need to moderate the content in the community in order to avoid bullying, trolling, and offensive language or behaviour. It is important that the members learn to respect each other's opinions despite their differences. The culture you have in your community should be focused on growth.
6. Integrate Gamification into your Community
Gamification is widely used by businesses to improve their community engagement and promote healthy competition. In simpler terms, gamification means the application of game mechanisms into traditional non-game related things. It is not only about reward points or badges it is about the motivation to interact with the content or activities.
You can automate gamification techniques for common activities or tasks, issue special badges for members creating content to help their peers, and set up a most valuable person program for most active members. You can also announce the most active members once a month motivating other members to up their game.
The best example of the benefits of gamification is Playboy7 that had an 85% gamification participation rate and a 60% increase in their monthly revenue. The other brands that used gamification and gained high benefits include Deloitte, Nike, HubSpot, and Spotify.
7. Encourage your Members to Invest Some Time and Effort
If you ask your members to invest some time and effort for the community they will not run away but will come back again as they are part of the creation of the idea. The more time and effort a member invests the more likely they will want to continue to be a part of it. You can also use rewards and other offers to encourage and reward these members. This becomes a tactic for retention and also creates a larger opportunity for the members to interact.
Like one size doesn’t fit all you need a different strategy to deal with different communities, but despite the different strategies that you pick these tips will only help you move in the right direction to increase your community engagement.