Many online communities suffer from the ghost town effect—that is—engagement starts to waver, your enthusiasm decreases and your community becomes stagnant. This is especially common with new communities in the very beginning.
But as time goes on and enthusiasm continues to lag, it can be especially difficult to motivate your community and keep it active and engaged; the two things that are perhaps most important for building a successful community.
While this is something that should be address, you don't need to fret! This is a common barrier that can absolutely be successfully tackled. This blog will give you some valuable pointers on how to combat the ghost town community effect and get you back on track.
Start With an Autopsy
Sound spooky and gruesome? Sure, but it needs to be done.
We have to figure out what is causing the lag in the first place or we can’t hope to correct it. Dive into your analytics and your community platform for important clues to save the day. The following are just some of the things to review:
What are the topics that have elicited the best, most frequent responses?
What content garnered the most views?
What is the content garnered the most shares?
Who are the members who contributed a lot in the past and left?
Who are the members who are still contributing?
There are two goals to this analysis. The first is to identify the content that did well with your audience in the past, and the second is to identify members to connect with for an informal survey.
Create a Personal Email Survey
Once you’ve identified your key users, send them an email. Take off the mask—no costumes here. Make it personal and reach out. Explain that you recognize that the community experience isn’t what it used to be or that it could be better. Thank them for all they’ve done for the community and make it clear that you value their contributions.
Express your sincere desire to make the community great and recognize that they are an important part of that goal. People are usually open to talk about their experiences if you ask in a sincere and honest manner.
Consider asking some of the following questions:
What do you like most about the community?
What drives you to participate?
What kind of content would you like to see more of?
What kind of content do you not like?
Be sure to include some of the content that was popular and ask their opinion about it. If you’re lucky, you'll get some important feedback. Maybe you want to offer them some treats from answering, like swag, or exclusive content. It doesn’t need to break the bank, but a little appreciation can go a long way.
Also, reach out to individuals who are either less active or who've left the community and ask a similar set of questions. Include a few different questions such as:
What are your reasons for leaving?
What, if anything, would make you consider coming back (if they left)?
What would cause them to be more engaged?
Create a Plan For Relaunch
You'll need a "relaunch" of sorts; an official release with all the new community updates that you've implemented to boost engagement and participation. With this relaunch, you'll want to have that same type of confidence and excitement that you had the first time around. Create a plan of action and execute it. Use the result from your surveys to help make the best decisions possible. A few things you might consider to shake things up:
Change your theme (a fresh coat of paint is always nice)
Reconfigure old categories and/or create new categories
Create new content/topics to engage your audience
Prepare community only premium content that will drive excitement
Archiving old/outdated content. Sometimes those categories you created just don’t work.
Update and enhance existing content so that it's up-to-date
Don’t hide in the bushes waiting to surprise someone: put your plans out in the open! Tell your team, family friends, even your current members what you have in store and find out their thoughts. Elicit feedback from trusted sources including your key community members. Don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis, though. Make plans, set reasonable goals, and commit to a reasonable launch date.
Getting the Launch Right
Sit with a calendar and choose a date that works best for your company. For example, you’ll want to choose a day that isn’t conflicted by holidays, large events, or other happenings in your industry.
You should probably choose a low traffic day, if possible. You also want it to be a day where you can ensure proper support from your team, and your own community.
Once you have a date, you should start building excitement on your social channels and make it into a really big event. Be excited, your followers take their cues from you. Be prepared that some people will hate change no matter what you do. That’s just human nature. But always ask yourself: Is this in the best interest of the community? If the answer is yes, then stay committed to that belief and move forward.
When the date arrives, launch any changes you have to your public site. Let the community know that now is the time and ensure your fans that your team is standing by to help in any way that they may be needed. No skeleton crew! Full commitment!
Hopefully, all goes well and you’ve worked out the kinks ahead of time. Remember that few launches go off 100% without a hitch, so be prepared to act quickly to take corrective steps if needed.
When you are good and ready, send an invite to your mailing list and let the party begin!
Consistent Communication is Your Secret
Now that you're back, stay engaged.
Armed with feedback from your analysis and surveys, keep an eye out for the problems of the past and step in when needed. From time to time, elicit feedback from your members. Contact the same list and ask them if things have gotten better and if you’re on the right track. Gather feedback from new members as well and find out what is and is not working for them.
And always be loyal and helpful to your members and supporters, and you can expect a certainly level of loyalty in return. Remember that without them, the community is nothing, so make sure that you're there and present whenever they need it.
Here are a some other tips to push engagement and participation from day 1:
Make sure new members are engaged right away
Create shared experiences or events around your company and products. For example, an exclusive Q &A on your forum with the interventor of a product, or a live demo of new things coming.
Plan ahead, so everything is not last minute
With a proper plan, the right team and content, almost anything is possible!
I would be remiss to say that this article was a panacea, but the truth is some communities may fail even with the best intentions. Nonetheless, you owe it to to yourself, your company, and your community to give it a chance. You may be surprised at how much life a second chance can breath into a languishing community.
I can also say this in all honesty: I’ve never had a community fail without learning something in the process that helped make the next venture so much better.
Be sure to check out our eBook, How To Build an Online Community Forum: A Framework for Successful Community Building, to ensure that you don't miss any steps in your community refresh.