Engagement is the biggest challenge that organizations face, and this is no different when it comes to community. Although community managers still struggle with engagement, statistics do show that community can help organizations improve engagement by up to 21%. But of course, you can't just slap together a community and expect it to garner engagement right off the bat—you've got to put the effort in.
Engagement is much more than just increasing page views or the number of registered users. You need to look at member actions. Does your most active user list fluctuate or is it only one or two members who dominate? Do users return after their first visit and engage with the community? Do you have lots of lurkers but few posters?
These are the kinds of things that you need to consider when looking at engagement levels. Might sound a little complicated, but there are a ton of things you can do to help secure the type of engagement that makes communities successful. Be sure to check out our eBook Driving Adopting and Increasing Engagement in Your Online Community Forum, but for some quick suggestions, check out our helpful tips below!
1. Create an email newsletter
A great way to keep users in the loop and have them come back to your site, is by simply letting them know "whats new".
Email software like MailChimp, is super easy to use even for people who are not design experts. It's also a great way to highlight discussions, topics or events occurring in your community. Over the month, you can bookmark discussions, or keep a draft handy to remember what content to include. With the newsletter, you can also reward engaged members. For example, a community for small business owners could award a member with the highest number of karma points a free banner or ad slot in that month's newsletter.
Regardless of how you approach what content to include, the goal is to pique user interest, so they come back to the community and participate.
2. Use email notifications
Choose a forum software that allows users to get email notifications. In Vanilla, for example, when a user is mentioned in a forum post, they will get an email telling them that they were mentioned. This is on by default. In the email, the actual comment is not included. This is to drive the mentioned user back to the community and engage with the poster.
3. Use gamification features
Use your community platform to reward positive behaviour, while at the same time, generate engagement. The best way to do this is through the use of gamification. Gamification is about making something that’s traditionally non-game related into more of a game, which peaks people's interest and makes then want to engage.
There are a number of different game mechanics that are used to make this happen. Here are some of the most common game elements used in community gamification:
Ability to earn points: Points are earned through a rewards system. Users are encouraged to exhibit the behaviour necessary to earn these points.
Ability to earn badges: Badges are usually earned by completing specific actions. This encourages users to do specific things in order to earn a badge.
Leaderboard: A leaderboard allows users to shine. A leaderboard brings out the competitive nature of users and encourages users to compete for a chance to be featured on it.
Ability to level up/ rank: Leveling up is similar to hitting a milestone. Users are rewarded by being able to reach a new level based on defined actions or events. Users with higher levels show that they have more experience than others
Many communities also tie their gamification system to special privileges. Some of the perks you could give include, access to a special insider category, or ability to add a signature in their posts.
4. Enable social media sharing
Social media networks are a great way to engage users and bring their attention to community content that may be interesting. There are two ways to use social media for community engagement: inbound and outbound.
For inbound purposes, I have found Twitter to be most effective. It's a great way to share a discussion with your followers and invite them to comment. To be effective, you want to make sure to invite new (and existing) users sign up and follow you on Twitter. Include your Twitter handle on the initial email to members, when they join your forum, and include it in your monthly newsletter. If you use your community as a support tool, you can also gently remind users to engage in the community.
Some brands use Facebook. This can be tough, as discussions might happen on Facebook, and not on your community. If you do use Facebook, encourage them in the message to discuss things in the community. Also, if you decide to employ this strategy, enable social logins on your community platform so new users can easily create an account to engage.
As an outbound strategy, make it easy for users to share content from your community. Enable simple Twitter or Facebook share buttons, or use a service like ShareThis.
5. Create a content plan and schedule
Especially when you start out, ensure you or your team have a plan to post content that creates discussion. Focus on interactions by always thinking about why members should care to engage. Maybe take a contrarian point of view or include a poll.
The goal is to get people talking. Ask for feedback, solicit ideas, collect suggestions. In short, ask for users to engage with you. Always think about how you can get interaction and avoid just publishing great reading material.
Keeping users engaged takes work, but using a combination of email marketing, gamification, social media and great content, you can encourage your members to keep engaging with you. Now it's your turn. What are your best tips for forum engagement? What have you found to be most effective?