We increasingly live in a world of instant gratification.
Video rental stores gave way to video streaming on-demand. Mobile apps help consumers plan meals and get relevant discounts at the grocery store. And it won't be long before same-day retail delivery is commonplace.
The rise of immediate gratification in our culture is one of the reasons that private online customer and member communities don't hold the same esteem within the business landscape as public social networks and email marketing, despite evidence of the clear business benefits.
The executives in charge struggle with the comparatively long ramp up time to see business-level results. Community managers in the trenches have to set up and adjust processes that could take weeks to test.
The disconnect appears when organizations want and need to increase engagement now"today" in the short-term.
Though we write a lot about the strategies and online community management processes that create sustainable customer or member communities over the long-term, there are things that you can do to increase participation in a relatively short period of time.
Before getting down to business, let's take a look at why businesses and membership organizations struggle with getting community members to participate in their private online community.
People Are Busy
As members of the "Busy People Club," you know this truth all too well. Your customers or members also likely belong to this club and this trend is not going to reverse any time soon. The key is creating an online community so full of value that is worth their time among all the other competing forces in their lives.
People Already Have a Large Number of Online Places to Spend Their Time
With the myriad of social media sites and public communities available, your company's online community might not always make the top of the list. However, your online community offers your customers and members exclusive value they can't get anywhere else. To generate ongoing participation, it is important to continually make this clear to your target audiences.
Participation is a Chain Effect
If new members sign in and don't see active discussion boards or new files in the resource libraries, their motivation for contributing and returning to the community isn't going to be high. The spiral effect of inactive communities is why building participation with existing members is crucial for developing an active and thriving private online community where new members turn into participants.
Steps You Can Take to Drive Activity in Your Private Online Community
Now that we've established a few reasons why your online community participation might be lower that you want it to be, let's get right to creating the reverse effect. In addition to having a quick turnaround, all three of these tactics revolve around things you can do without getting executive approval, calling a series of meetings, or pulling together a task force.
#1) Use Targeted Emails Around Existing Resources
Whether you already send a "weekly round-up" email or have other educational content you can promote, utilizing your online community software's email marketing engine to highlight relevant information and discussion for your customers or members is a great way to bring members back to your community.
Use the segmented lists in your community platform to reach out to certain categories of community members and draw their attention to an aspect of your online community that is relevant to them. By targeting emails directly to their career interests or product usage, you increase the chance that they'll take notice and respond.
Drive people to the hottest content and discussions in your community by including a call-to-action in your targeted emails.
#2) Invite New People
This might seem like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how infrequently personal invites are extended when growing online communities. Despite seeming so simple, an invitation can have a significant impact on how people view your online community. People like to feel wanted. They respond better when they have a connection"¦an in.
Taking the time to personally reach out reminds people that you want them to be a part of your online community. That simple act of affirmation can not only help increase their chances of participating, but also affect their attitude about doing so and their willingness to share your community with their networks.
#3) Enlist Advocates to Lead a Discussion or Sub-Community
Reach out to some of your biggest supporters"”whether they're volunteer leaders, committee heads, or board members"”and ask them to lead a discussion in the community. Spread out the responsibilities as much as possible so as to not place the burden too heavily on one individual and to ensure a variety of discussion topics.
For instance, you could recruit 12 board members; assign them each a month and ask them to be responsible for leading one discussion within that month. Encourage and train your advocates to utilize their personal and professional networks to bring people into their discussions. The fresh influx of perspectives and content will help to liven up your discussion boards and encourage a broader range of customer and member participation.
TIP: While these are all tactics to increase participation in your online communities this week, that doesn't mean they should be a one-time practice. In fact, employing these processes on a regular basis as part of your online community management plan lays a solid foundation for steadily increasing and maintaining participation over time.
Online Community Participation Takeaway
You have enough on your plate. While it is a top challenge for businesses and membership organizations, increasing participation in your online community shouldn't consume your workday. Luckily, these three tips are designed to take up small amounts of your time while potentially yielding significant results.
While it does take consistent effort and a constant eye to ensure discussions and content are fresh and meaningful, maintaining participation can be managed efficiently. Integrating these strategies into your overall online community management processes can help make less work for you in the long run while enhancing the health of your organization's community.