Anyone who has tried to build an online community knows that it’s far from ‘build it and they will come’. That idea is a myth. Behind every successful online space there are people working hard to create the energy needed for engagement to thrive, particularly in the early days.
But I promise you it’s worth it! When working well, these spaces enable shared learning, peer-to-peer discussion, innovation, and provide a sense of belonging.
If you’re new to this, it’s important to manage expectations for engagement. Many members of your community simple will not actively engage, but will happy to listen. It’s hard to get reliable statistics about engagement, but most community managers I talk to broadly agree with the Nielsen Norman Group metric of 90/9/1 – 90% listeners, 9% intermittent contributors, 1% heavy contributors, and even reaching these stats takes effort.
These are some ideas of what you can do as a community facilitator to help foster engagement. Not all will work for every community; you’ll need to experiment.
- Welcome new members – as a regular activity, tagging those people, telling them how the community works and how they can engage. Not everyone will respond, but some will. Which puts them over the first barrier – they’ve engaged!
- Tag groups and individuals – we use Teams quite often as a community space, tagged people receive an email notification (settings dependant), bringing them into the space
- Say ‘thank you’ – particular to first posts, making it a positive experience to post, and reassuring others that they will get a response too
- Polls – using polls encourages quick easy engagement and creates a talking point. Make sure to close the poll, declare a winner and use the result to prompt more conversation ‘was that what you were expecting?’, ‘does anyone have examples?’
- Short scannable updates – show people what they’ve been missing by providing periodic email updates. A digest within the community space can also be useful to bring people up to speed quickly
- Share relevant news and resources – but make sure you ask for opinions or questions along with your post – everything should be a talking point!
- Celebrate shared milestones – about the community – like 1yr since forming or 100 members reached – or that the community is interested in – like a special day, e.g., a women in tech network might celebrate international women’s day
- Use emojis, GIFs and stickers – communities are full of humans, so show your human side and encourage others to
- Ask for advice or even co-create content – gather shared knowledge of the community around a theme, by asking for people’s experiences and examples. Tell the community what you’re going to do with their ideas – e.g. write a summary blog. Or get more ambitious and have people work together on a share document; perhaps a guide on a topic that is interesting for your community
- Outreach to gain new members – numbers help, so make sure you’re encouraging more people to join. For example, run an online event, promote via a relevant newsletter, use social media, personal contacts etc.
What ever you choose to do, remember:
Be brave – try new things, it’s ok if they don’t work… just try something else
Be consistent – people like regularity. Throwback Thursday anyone? 😊 Monthly meet-up the same time and day each month… yes please.
Be human – it’s our humanness that brings people together. That’s why it’s ok to make mistakes and not know all of the answers. You’re giving your community permission to be human too.
Find a community for you at jisc.ac.uk/getinvolved
Get support for your community, including a listing on the GetInvolved page
Photo credit: Markus Spiske, Unsplash