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Building a brand community is, overall, an exciting process. But there is one thing that every Community Manager is almost frantically afraid of - inactive community members. Just imagine that you spent hours working on your vision and community platform, you managed to launch all of it successfully, and now there is only silence. No posts, no comments, no one is engaging in discussions - pretty scary, isn’t it?
The harsh truth is that without community engagement, your community will never thrive or grow.
Keeping members active and participating is one of the main challenges that every brand eager to build online communities has to face. It can be frustrating, but also - as with everything related to community building - pretty exciting once you start noticing the first results.
If you’re wondering how to bring your online community to life and boost your community engagement, we’re here to help. Take a deep dive into this article to get inspired and learn everything about the best community engagement strategies!
Why is it essential to keep your community members happy and active?
Hopefully, everyone in your company already knows why building an online community is extremely important for your brand - especially in 2022. But still, there is one thing that all key stakeholders have to bear in mind - only an active and engaged community can carry out the business goals.
Your community members should interact regularly: share knowledge, experiences, ideas, and form meaningful connections (the whole interaction structure depends on your vision behind the community). That’s what an engaged community looks like in a nutshell - people care about your platform, find value in it, and want to contribute. If you achieve that, it will be much easier for you to work on such KPIs as customer retention, brand loyalty, or customer lifetime value. The real problem starts when no one cares enough to be active on your platform.
Without the community engagement, your members will gradually lose touch (with each other and with your brand), and moving them through the various lifecycle stages of the community will become much more difficult.
The 5 levels of community engagement
Let’s talk more about the lifecycle stages of your members. Is it achievable for all members to be active all the time, at all times? Probably not. Some of them have been active on your platform for some time, some have observed the discussions but haven’t participated yet, and some just joined the community. To sum up - your group comprises members who are in different lifecycle stages. Understanding the needs of each stage is essential for keeping high community engagement.
So, every member of your community has their lifecycle stage and a specific role they can play within it. Now it’s your job to identify them. Thanks to that you’ll be able to target the members with a properly selected community engagement strategy that includes specific techniques, posts, discussion prompts, etc.
5 levels of community engagement (lifecycle stages):
You definitely don’t want your community members to stay at this stage. Inactive members are users who joined your community but haven’t taken any action for 6+ months. They don’t contribute in any way. Usually, they don’t even watch your content, and there are two main reasons for that - they’re either deeply uninterested in your community or they simply forgot that they are a part of it. But don’t worry, they’re not a lost cause. With a bit of creativity and good research, it's entirely possible to turn an inactive member into a contributor.
These are the people who just joined your online community. They haven’t found their role or place yet - they’re simply looking around, gaining insight, and deciding what to think about your community platform and its members. It’s essential to make them feel safe, comfortable, and excited about your community from the very moment they decide to join it. Give them a warm welcome and encourage them to interact with others. Remember that newcomers can just as easily become contributors as inactive members.
This is usually the largest part of online communities. Silent watchers are enjoying your content, and they are happy to be a part of your community space, but they haven’t engaged in any discussions or activities yet. Despite their silence, the watchers are a very significant part of every community, and you shouldn’t overlook them in your community management plan. They have great potential, and with the right community engagement strategies, they can easily become contributors.
The more contributors in your online community, the better. Community managers are directing all their efforts to get as many of them as they can because contributors make online communities thrive. These are active members, who love taking part in conversations, creating their own discussions, content, and an incredible amount of value that benefits other users and generates a positive business impact. Take good care of them and keep them happy - you don’t want to lose them. The most loyal contributors usually become community leaders.
If you play your cards right, you can get a lot of community leaders - the most dedicated and committed members of your online community. They will be your natural ambassadors and influencers, actively encouraging other users to join the group or participate.
Community leaders are usually power users and loyal customers of your brand, that’s why they love to take the lead in discussions, share their tips and help other members. At some point, they can even help you with community management, for example by organizing local community events. It’s essential to be in close contact with them because they are an excellent source of feedback, insights, and user-generated content.
Of course, all online communities are different. That means that each of them has its own breakdown of member types, depending on what business goals stand behind them. Remember that no matter what your member structure looks like, the most important job (usually done by a Community Manager) is turning newcomers into invested watchers and then into active contributors.
10+ effective community engagement strategies you can start using right away
There are lots of effective community engagement techniques that can work wonders. However, it’s essential to select them appropriately for each lifecycle stage. If you’re having trouble turning your newly built platform into an engaged community or are seeking ways to avoid inactive members, read the next sections carefully. We’ve compiled a list of community engagement strategies we consider extremely effective and assigned each to a different stage (and a different audience).
How to turn newcomers into invested members
First and foremost: act fast. It’s important to start with a bang and motivate your members to participate right after they join the community. Most of them probably won’t start engaging in discussions right away, but they’ll get more invested, and that’s a good start. The key here is to:
Win the audience with your onboarding process
Whether you’re working with social media platforms or using dedicated community management software, all your newcomers need to feel welcomed and comfortable right away. Make sure that they have all the essential information, know their next steps, and are aware of the exciting new possibilities.
- Send a welcome message
The new members should receive your welcome message right after they join your online community. The most popular way is to send an automated newsletter that will become a part of your nurturing and member development.
The welcome message should let the newcomers feel the vibe of your community and provide them with important information - next steps, useful links and materials, and exciting news about loyalty programs, special discounts, or other benefits for engaged members.
- Create an introduction thread
Now it’s time to foster lively communication between the active contributors and the newcomers. Let them know that this is a group where they can meet like-minded people! Create an introduction thread in your community chat and encourage the new users to say something about themselves. You can serve an icebreaker question here.
- Gamify it up!
The new users should start participating and getting curious about your community as soon as possible by completing their profiles, sharing their first posts, and interacting with others. However, at first, they will probably feel too intimidated to do any of those.
You can encourage them to engage in your activities by using gamification. Create a small “Get Started Checklist” where the newcomers can check off every “task” they manage to complete. Reward those with a complete checklist to provide some instant gratification.
How to turn silent watchers into contributors
Getting as many invested silent watchers as possible is a good starting point to get them to engage in discussions and turn into active contributors. Remember that your members need to have a clear motivation for participating, so think about why they might want to contribute and create content. This is closely linked to your vision and the bigger “why” behind your online community. If you don’t have those steps planned yet, read our <ultimate guide to building a successful brand community> first to get the vital know-how.
- Reach out to your members
It’s best to create a habit of reaching out personally to 10 silent watchers per week. Ask them why they haven’t been participating - maybe they can share some valuable feedback or indicate pain points about which you had no idea. You can also send those members the latest posts that might spark their interest.
- Create discussion groups
Your members should be able to find topics that interest them as fast as possible. Creating topic channels facilitates the searching process and allows users to organize themselves into smaller discussion groups. It’s definitely easier and more comfortable to share knowledge, make meaningful connections and create value for others when there aren’t as many people “around”.
- When in doubt - gamify!
Once again, gamification comes to the rescue. At this stage of engagement, you can spice things up with badges and roles. Award members with badges or specific roles in the community for a certain amount of activity. Make them feel proud of their contribution and eager to “unlock” the next level. Make sure to reward not only the contributors, but also the newcomers. It’s important to praise users for their first activities. If they feel appreciated and special, they’ll be more eager to participate and engage in future discussions.
You can also award points for activities - reactions, comments, posts, or even create a whole leaderboard system. With a more advanced ecosystem (a dedicated community management software), you can include specific brand activities, such as blog posts, video reviews, or educational meetups - that’s what our clients do (with the small help of Advocu and our brand advocacy module). Briefly speaking, provide your members with the feeling of gratification every time they decide to contribute.
- Make your members feel competitive
You can boost your community engagement by organizing games, competitions, quizzes, and other activities that might make the silent watchers feel competitive. Here are some ideas that you can use:
- Prepare a trivia quiz about your brand and your offer.
- Create a competition and encourage members to share the most creative use of your product. They can, say, submit photos or video content.
- Organize “Feedback Championships” and ask the users to share the creative reviews of your products.
Remember to reward the most ingenious and committed members with bigger prizes, like discounts or gift cards.
How to turn contributors into community leaders
Now it’s time for the members who reached the top of your community ladder - keep them close and happy. Communicate with them regularly; explain what their role entails and how valuable they are to your company. Reward them appropriately for their participation and the value they create.
Remember that they’ve got a lot of influence in your community - people recognize them as leaders and your brand ambassadors. Sometimes they can even run smaller sub-communities and become chapter/regional leaders. If they come up with their own initiatives, be supportive and provide them with all the necessary materials, resources, and information on your community strategy.
Here’s how you can encourage users to become leaders:
- One more time - gamify!
There’s nothing we can do about it - it’s just really effective on every lifecycle stage. For future and existing leaders, you can create a more advanced leaderboard. Make sure to include clear, fair rules and varied prizes so that you can reward each activity differently.
Analyze what your leaders do for your brand; what initiatives they have taken. Are they organizing local events? Online meetups? Training sessions? Now think about how to make them feel a little competitive about that. Regional competitions with generous prizes for the most active and effective leader could do the trick.
- Keep it personal
The most active members will definitely appreciate their beloved brand getting personal with them. Reward your leaders with personal gifts and messages that will make them feel special. You can, for example, create a loyalty program just for the ambassadors or make sure that they always get early free access to your latest products.
- Make your leaders feel high-class
Let the leaders know that they are especially valuable to you and your brand with a touch of exclusiveness. You can achieve that with a “leaders-only” early access to your new products. Turn the leaders into beta testers for the latest features and inventions, so that they can use them before everyone else. Remember to gather and actively listen to their feedback - they usually have extremely helpful and observant insights.
- Let your members decide who their leader is
It might sound a bit dramatic, but it works! Create a community contest where users can vote on which members are most active and helpful. The results will help you select the proper leaders. Remember to reward the winners! You can spice things up with fun nomination categories, like “the most eager commenter” or "the most passionate debater".
Your community will thrive, grow and fulfill the business goals only if the community members care enough to participate in it. Make sure that your community engagement strategies are appropriately tailored to the specifics of the group and each lifecycle stage.
You can get creative with the techniques described in this article or come up with your own, but they should always focus on your members and their needs. After all, it is them and their engagement that can make or break your community.