The most nerve-wracking element of any community is the idea that once you’ve built it, no one will show up. The Internet is full of communities that never really took off, and no one wants their project to add to them. How do you guard against it? The key is to create attraction and engagement
Attraction is the reason that someone first visits your community. It doesn’t matter how great your community looks and how great your feature are if no one ever sees them. The type of community that you want to run will make all the difference in terms of how you engage users, but there are a lot of tried and tested strategies that successful communities have used to attract views. These are rarely exclusive, and many communities will use a combination of methods to attract the highest possible user base.
These communities use front page content to draw readers into their community. This content then links to the community to invite comment. Once users are signed up, the process of engagement takes over. Examples of communities that use this approach include:
Penny Arcade, which uses its hugely popular comic to attract people into its community to comment on the content, discuss forthcoming events and integrate into the larger lifestyle community.
T-Nation, which posts instructional articles on bodybuilding to attract users into its forum community, where they can swap advice and experiences. T-Nation then uses this community to advertise their range of bodybuilding supplements.
These communities attract users who are performing searches for specific queries and seeking advice. They take advantage of the excellent SEO of community forums to act as a growing knowledge base. Users then join in the community with their own comments, questions and advice. Examples include:
TheBump: a maternity and childcare community with an enormous user base that provide support to each other.
Reddit communities often work this way. Their enthusiast sub-communities attract questions from new users, and more experienced users are happy to lend their expertise to build their reputation in the community.
These communities are based around products, and they attract users through links from product support pages. These can cross over to a certain degree with expertise communities as the community grows, as the volume of answered questions allows the community to work as a knowledge base. Many brands are integrating this kind of support community, but some examples you might want to check out include:
Agilebits: developers of the 1password security software.
Pebble the makers of the Pebble Smartwatch.
The Elder Scrolls Online is a popular MMORPG that uses a community forum to provide effective support for a large user base.
Introducing users to your forum is only the beginning. The name of the game is keeping those users engaged. Engagement is all about giving your members a reason to stay involved with the forum. Members are almost always starting from scratch in your community, and need a significant push to stay engaged until they build the social habits and bonds that will keep them in your community. There isn’t any voodoo to user engagement; it’s all about making sure that new users are able to get involved and start having a positive experience in your community as soon as possible. Before you worry about more intricatestrategies, go through an audit of your engagement practises and ensure that the following points are in place:
Signing Up Should Be Quick and Hassle Free
If a new member is signing up, they likely have a purpose in mind. With every minute that goes by between deciding on a course of action and carrying it out, their interest will dwindle. Does your registration require a bunch of tedious and unnecessary form filling? Is it simple for your user to find the links they need? Depending on your community, you may want to consider using social sign-up, allowing users to register quickly and simply using their existing social media accounts. If your main site has its own login, you should absolutely ensure that you have seamless single sign-on installed, so that users can immediately continue using the community without the tedium of registering and signing in again.
Members Should Be Able to Find Content Quickly
The most common issue I see in failing communities is poorly laid out category structures. Either they have so many categories that I can’t tell where to go for the content I’m interested in, or the category topics themselves are obtuse and unclear. Look at the front page of your community, and ask yourself how it feels to a new user. Pick a purpose and consider how easily you can fulfil that purpose without prior knowledge of the community. You might be surprised at how poor the user experience of the average community can be.
Prevent Problem Members From Creating Negative Experiences
Every community manager likes to think that they have a handle on trolls, but does your community contain other toxic elements that turn users away? If you make a new account in your community and ask a question (try a dumb one), how do the users react? Don’t just look for insults and swearing, look for passive-aggression, condescension and other negative reactions that could cause a user to turn away from your community.
This is an excerpt from The Community Playbook, a complete guide to running and growing your community. It's completely free, so get your copy here!