3 Steps to Design a Community Engagement Plan

7 minute read

April 16, 2020

3 Steps to Design a Community Engagement Plan

To inform this strategic approach to community engagement and participation, Vanilla had the pleasure of hosting a webinar with the founder of FeverBee, Richard Millington.

Over the past 13 years, Richard has helped to develop over 270+ successful communities, including those for Facebook, Google, The World Bank, Oracle, Amazon, Autodesk, Lego, The United Nations, Novartis, and many more.

Richard is also the author of both Buzzing Communities and The Indispensable Community and has delivered keynote talks in over a dozen countries.

Taking the lessons learnt from this insightful webinar, let’s break down the 3 steps involved to design an amazing community engagement and participation plan. The 3 steps involved in this process are:

  1. Identify Member Segments
  2. Identify the Desires of Each Member Segment
  3. Craft your Community Engagement and Participation Plan

Driving Engagement and Increasing Adoption

The Issue: Most Members Don’t Stay Engaged

So the issue here is that members simply aren’t sticking around, which is definitely not what you want. In fact, according to research conducted by Feverbee from customer samples, roughly half of the people who join your community and make a post will never post again. This data shows that the average community is likely to exhibit the following statistics:

  • 43% of people who make a contribution will never make a contribution again.
  • 35% of people who make at least a second contribution will be gone within 30 days.
  • Only 16% of people are still making active contributions after 90 days.

From these statistics, it can be concluded that most communities consist of two groups of people:

  1.   A large group of people that are new to the community and won’t be engaged for long.
  2.   A smaller group of people that have been around for a while.

As such, a gap exists right in the middle of these two groups since most of your members either fit into group A or B and don’t fall in between.

This community engagement and participation plan will help you address this issue.

Step 1: Identify Member Segments

One common mistake that communities tend to make in their approach to encouraging engagement is treating all members the same, which leads communities to ask members to do the wrong things. Not all members are the same since not all members will have the same level of expertise, motivation and time to create posts.

Communities need to help members do what they are actually capable of doing. To figure this out, you need to do some research on your audience and identify your member segments.

Who are your members, and how can you create a community engagement plan based on these segments and their corresponding capabilities, needs and desires?

3 Factors to Consider When Identifying Member Segments

There are 3 overarching factors that play a role in defining the segments of your community. Richard identifies these factors as:

  1. Tenure: The length of time that someone has been a member of the community.
  2. Activity: The average level of activity and contributions they’ve made to the community.
  3. Psychographics: The specific thoughts, feelings and topic interests that someone has about  the community.

The best way to do research on your community and collect information about these factors is to ask your members directly. To do this, Richard suggests using a survey.

Collect Data via Survey

When creating your survey, you want to ensure that you incorporate questions that will help you identify segments based on tenure, activity and psychographics. Getting relevant and accurate information about your segments will help you create an engagement and participation plan that strategically targets each segment.

Richard suggests using a survey software platform since it will allow you to apply filters to your results, which will help you analyze your data after it’s collected it.

Some suggestions for questions that you might want to include in your survey are as follows:

  1.   Overall, how helpful or unhelpful do you find the community?
  2.   Approximately how many years have you been a member of the community?
  3.   Approximately how many hours a week do you spend in the community?
  4.   Approximately how many years have your been a customer of the product/ service?
  5.   Which of the following best defines your interests (list several community topics)?
  6.   Overall, which of the following best describes your purpose in the community?

Finally, depending on your community purpose, you might want to add some more unique questions regarding community topics.

The goal is to try and identify 3-6 different member segments. An example of a member segment is the members’ tenure – how long have they been part of the community?

For example:

  • Newcomer: been a member for 0-1 year
  • Intermediate: been a member for 1-3 years
  • Expert: been a member for 3-6 years
  • Veteran: been a member for 6+ years

A sample survey has been made available by Richard if you are interested in using it for your community.

Step 2: Identify the Desires of Each Member Segment

The data that you’ve collected should provide you with specific information about the segments within your community, and their identifying features. This step is all about knowing how to analyze and read the data that you’ve collected.

You want to analyze the data for each segment and their unique responses. For example, what is it that Newcomers look for when they go to your community? What’s their purpose for being there and how relevant is the information that they find?

Identify Member Segment Characteristics

By analyzing the results for each segment, you get a better sense of what they want and how to address their needs.

The chart below provides an example of different segment and their characteristics:


Segment Title Tenure Relevancy Characteristics
Newcomer 0-1 Year Low
  • Spend approximately 2 hours a week in the community.
  • Come to find quick answers.
  • Most interested in Q&A.
  • Find most of the answers unhelpful.
Intermediate 1-3 Years Extremely High
  • Spends about 3 hours a week in the community.
  • Comes to find good quality answers.
  • Most interested in sharing ideas and giving feedback.
  • Finds the answers and topics very relevant.
Expert 3-6 Years Extremely High
  • Spends about 2 hours a week in the community.
  • Comes to find good quality answers.
  • Most interested in sharing ideas and giving feedback.
  • Finds the answers and topics very relevant.
Veteran 6+ Years Medium
  • Been a customer for over 6 years, spends 4 hours a week in the community.
  • Comes to provide meaningful responses to questions and reports any issues.
  • Most interested in providing responses and being seen in the community as a leader.
  • Finds the community isn’t as it used to be, but is still relevant and important.


After identifying the characteristics of each community segment, it becomes more clear as to what drives each segment, what they have the time to do and what they are motivated to do. This is critical information that will inform your community engagement and participation plan.

Identify their Deeper Desires

Now that you know what your segments are and their behaviours, you can dive a bit deeper and identify what they actually desire from your community.

And I say “desire” and not “want,” because as Richard puts it, “what people say they need is different from what they actually desire; what they say they need is different from what is going to keep them hooked within an online community.”

In order to capture this information, you will need to do some qualitative interviews with each member segment:

  • Interview 3-5 members of each segment.
  • Capture the exact words your members use.


The need to capture the exact words will help you to determine the psychology behind them. This will be the key to developing your strategic approach since it will uncover the deeper desires of your members.

As Richard explains, “[during the interview process] go the extra mile to really get behind what they’re saying and understand what their deeper desires actually are…[these] strategies [that you will employ in your plan] are about the emotions that you are going to amplify or perhaps dissipate to help members become deeply engaged in your community.”

Richard breaks down what members may say and what it actually means.

Things Members Say They Want

Deeper Desires Which Keep Members Hooked
Answers to questions Reducing fear that something might go wrong.
Ability to quickly find information Feeling confident to solve problems by themselves
Connect with others in a similar situation Feeling part of a special group / not being left out
Access to staff Feeling respected and appreciated


The deeper desires that you discover through this process will form your strategic approach to creating a community engagement and participation plan that actually works.

Step 3: Design your Community Engagement and Participation Plan

Your strategic plan should be composed of three distinct categories per segment:

  1. Objective: In essence, each member segment should have different objectives since they are all uniquely different. For instance, maybe your objective for Newcomers is to have them ask at least 5 questions and remain active for 3+ months.
  2. Strategies to Achieve Objectives: The strategies that you employ to achieve your objectives need to play to the deeper desires of your member segment. This is the most effective way to achieve your objectives.
  3. Tactics/ Actions: The tactics used to support your strategies are essentially actions that should be aimed at creating a unique and complete experience for each member segment. The “deeper desires” of each segment will be at the center of these tactics and you will need to point them to the aspect of your community that they will find the most valuable.

Let’s take a look at this structure through an example provided by Richard in his webinar:

Objective Get intermediates to visit the community more frequently and reply to the posts they see
Strategy Increase excitement and sense of community

Ensure there is regular exciting activities and opportunities to build close relationships.

Key Tactic Cultivate an exciting menu of ‘top posts’ shared in the community
Create a monthly ritual for community members to engage in
Let members vote and nominate each other’s work in posts of the month
Schedule upcoming events with regular countdown/ previews.


There are a number of different methods that can be used to execute these tactics, which include:

  • Sending emails to your member and using different narratives that appeal to each member segment.
  • Using different and dynamic banners and sets of messages that members see on the website based on their member segment. These banner should be different and cater to the deeper desires of each segment.
  • Strategically implementing a gamification system that is geared towards fostering engagement for segments that are looking for social rewards.

To learn more about different methods of engaging each segment, and more about developing your community engagement plan, be sure to check out this webinar.

Driving Engagement and Increasing Adoption

Community Customer Success

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Sarah Robinson-Yu

Written by Sarah Robinson-Yu

Sarah is the Content Marketing Specialist at Vanilla Forums. Prior to Vanilla, Sarah worked in the public sector where she led and coordinated the strategic framework and operational policy development of business processes.

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