Community engagement is more than just increasing pageviews 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 kind of things you will want to tackle to keep users engaged. Below are some tips to help make that happen.
1- Create an email newsletter to highlight content in the community.
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- Choose a Forum Software that has email notifications that bring users back to the community.
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- Enable social media sharing, but use social media content to direct people back to your community.
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.
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.
4- Use gamification features, but tie it to something meaningful.
Use your community platform to reward positive behaviour. One way you can do this is by creating unique and creative badges, but it can also be by tying positive engagement to special privileges earned with karma points. Some of the perks you could give include, access to a special insider category, or ability to add a signature in their posts.
5- Have a content schedule and plan to create content worth talking about.
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 opinions, 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?