Higher Logic Blog

4 Steps to Increasing Customer Engagement in Your Online Community

Written by Joshua Paul | October 12, 2012 at 3:25 PM

Your private customer community should not behave like, and be treated like, public social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, or Pinterest. However, what if you could infuse some of the "magic" that makes these sites so wildly popular into your member or customer community?

On a recent, episode of the social business web series, ProCommunity, entrepreneur, researcher, and educator, Nir Eyal, outlined the components of high engagement products. By boiling down addictive social and mobile applications into the underlying psychological elements behind things like, why are we compelled to check email on our phones every few minutes, Nir is able to offer social business professionals and online community managers the building blocks of keeping customers engaged.

"Companies increasingly find that their economic value is a
function of the strength of the habits they create." - Nir Eyal

Creating an Addictive Online Community (the good kind of addictive)

The foundation for creating a high engagement online customer community is designing user habits. Your ability to implement "desire engines," the process that forms habits, has direct implications on your social CRM strategy, community management decisions, and the online community software platform that you select. Here are four steps to creating habit-forming private online communities:

Image credit: NirAndFar.com

Step 1) Develop and Recognize Triggers

Triggers are the drivers behind actions. There are two types of triggers, internal and external. Make sure that you have a firm understanding of your target audience's internal trigger, as well as have the ability to build external triggers into your online community platform.

Examples of Triggers in Online Communities:

  • Your customer receives an email alert when new content or a new discussion is been added to the community that contains a relevant keyword (external).
  • Your customer is starting a new project at work and wants to see if they are approaching it correctly (internal).
  • Your customer receives an email letting them know that someone commented on a forum thread that they started (external).
  • Your customer has run into a roadblock on a project and needs help (internal).
  • Your member is thinking about finding a new job and need to grow their personal brand/network (internal).

Step 2) Make Actions Easier

After you have establish your customer community's triggers, examine your actions. The three most important elements of action are motivation, ability and triggers. Motivation is dictated by how well you create demand and build awareness of how your online community can help your customers. Motivation is important both outside and within the online community itself.

Ability is driven by the level of features in your online community that can help solve your customers' most important problems. Finally, in the case of actions, triggers refer to the user interface elements and other signals built into your online community platform that encourage members to take an action.

Examples of Actions in Online Communities:

  • Updating your profile
  • Connecting with people that you know
  • Discovering relevant content

Step 3) Offer Variable Rewards

It is often thought that consistency, relevance, predictability are fundamental pillars of online engagement. However, it is variable rewards, where the value the user receives is different each time, which drive engagement.

Think about checking your email. Would you check it as often if you knew what you were going to get? No. You check it in the hopes that this time you'll get an important message. Sometimes you do and sometimes you don't, but you always have to go back and repeat the behavior.

Examples of Variable Rewards in Online Communities:

  • Good online community content planning
  • Tip of the week blog
  • Highlighting hot discussions on the home page
  • Recommender technology in the media or file libraries

Step 4) Ask for an Investment

Once your online community members are amped up from seeking and receiving rewards, it is time to ask them to do some work. According to Nir, the investment "generally comes in the form of asking the user to give some combination of time, data, effort, social capital or money." This increases the chances that they will go through another desire engine cycle, strengthen their commitment to the community.

Examples of Investment in Online Communities:

  • Starting a discussion
  • Introducing themselves to the community
  • Commenting in a forum
  • Rating and commenting on a file or video
  • Submitting or voting on a product idea
  • Writing a blog post

Online Community Engagement Takeaway

Organizations can engage their customers or members by chance. However, creating high engagement over the long haul takes deliberate planning and a deep understanding of the science behind online engagement. Check your customer engagement strategy against the four steps in the "desire engine." Keep in mind that the most engaging online communities have multiple desire engines built-in.

If you are building community online or interested in increasing customer engagement, I strongly encourage you to read Nir Eyal's work at NirAndFar.com.