Higher Logic Blog

10 Things Every Online Community Manager Should be Testing to Increase Engagement

Written by Joshua Paul | February 27, 2014 at 3:35 PM

When you first launch a private online community, your goal is to go from having a non-engaged set of members or customers to a highly engaged community of members or customers. However, that type of transition doesn't just happen overnight.

Engagement is something that builds over time and your online community management strategy needs to reflect the nuance of that growth.

Luckily, there are a number of metrics you can test to identify the aspects of your private online community that are succeeding in increasing ongoing engagement, as well as the weakest areas of your engagement funnel that could be improved.

Measuring engagement isn't just a one-step process - it needs to be measured in stages (your engagement funnel). As your community members join the community and begin to understand how they can participate and what's in it for them, they'll go through stages of engagement" - from unaware of your community to a new member to a contributing member and so on. They may even eventually become an established leader in the online community.

Testing various aspects of your online community's engagement funnel can help your business or membership organization optimize your processes throughout each step of the experience.

What Should You Test to Measure and Analyze Each Stage of the Online Community Engagement Journey?

Optimizing specific processes, content, and actions in your private online community leads to more people converting to the next step in your engagement funnel. For instance, testing and adjusting your onboarding process will convert more community members from new members to contributing members.

What should you test? Let's look at 10 areas that community managers should test, measure, and optimize on a regular basis.

#1) Marketing and Login Pages

On these early landing points for your customers or members, you'll see a mix of existing members and first-time visitors that know nothing about your online community. It's important to know whether your public marketing web pages and your login page convey the benefits of the community clearly for the specific audiences your are targeting.

Test how many people came to the log in page versus how many people logged in or requested access (or registered) for the community, if conversion rates are low, ask yourself if this key gateway to your community is confusing or not consistent with your primary value proposition.

#2) Registration Process

Analyzing how effective your registration process is could be the answer to why your community isn't getting as many members to sign up as you expected. Is the process clear?

Is the registration form too long? Are you asking for too much personal data up front? For instance, if your registration form has 150 fields rather than 15, you might want to consider making it easier on your potential members to join the community.

#3) Onboarding Process

Engaging new members early is important to let them know that their participation matters. It shows them the value of the community and grow their commitment from the very start.

Test various onboarding processes that welcome new members to the community to see which combination of email, content, and personal outreach have the most success in driving engagement. For instance:

  • Does your welcome email get more click-throughs if you send it immediately after registration, or if you wait a certain period of time?
  • How many emails should be in your onboarding campaign?
  • What type of content do new members want in the early stages of their community involvement?
  • Does a welcome video get more conversions than a welcome blog post?
  • What type of discussions are new members most likely to contribute to?

Answering these questions will help to optimize your onboarding processes and increase engagement from the very beginning of the member experience.

#4) Main Community Page and Other Landing Pages

Depending on your online community software, there is usually a lot of flexibility in what you choose to feature on your main community page and other significant landing pages. Since it's the first thing your members will see when they login to your community, you want to give them relevant and useful information, along with clear ways to engage other customers or members.

Try featuring different content and social features and see how they promote interaction. How does your conversion rate from logins to contributions change depending on what you showcase?

#5) Automated and Manual Email Messages

With both your automated emails that your online community software sends out when members join the community or take certain actions, as well as manually sent email campaign messages, you can test different options to see what increases open rates and call-to-action conversions. See what type of subject lines coincide with the best open rates and what style of body format increases conversions on the email's call-to-action.

#6) Videos and Documents

You want to fill your online community's resource libraries with the type of information that is going to get and keep people's attention. Knowing which topics, formats, and lengths get more engagement and comments can help guide your content production decisions. For instance, do your members prefer shorter how-to videos, or longer conference recaps? Are they more likely to download an eBook or a more basic report?

Analyze the files and media in your online community's resources libraries to find out which information is most frequently consumed and shared. Then, produce more content like that to increase engagement inside your private community.

#7) Blog Content

What topics, titles, and themes get the most comments and shares? Do your blog readers respond more to categorized lists of tips or opinion from experts? Do more community members read industry analysis pieces or comparison articles?

Using your online community platform's blog metrics to determine the type of content your customers or members are most interested in reading can helps your organization to know what type of content will attract return visitors and engagement.

#8) Forum Titles

Since forum discussions are user generated, there is less you can test compared to other areas of your private online community. However, your forum and individual discussion threat titles are a variable can be optimized to get people to the forum and participate.

For instance, identify whether "Q&A" titled forums have higher participation than "Ask an Executive" forums. This analysis gives community managers insight into which type of language and positioning will result in higher participation.

#9) CTAs and CTA placement

Calls-to-action (CTAs) in your online community drive customers or members to take an action in the community. Graphical or text-based calls-to-action can get members to discover new content, participate in a discussion, or register for an event in your online community platform.

Depending on what you want to achieve with your calls-to-action, placement can be crucial. For instance, if you have a blog post on a topic where there is a similar forum conversation, you might have a CTA in the blog post that directs readers to the forum to participate. Or, if community members are participating in a forum about a particular product or program, there might be a CTA asking them to sign up for an event related to that product.

Determining what type of CTAs garner conversions and where within your community they see the most success is important for optimizing the purpose of CTAs.

#10) Navigation and Navigation Order

Successful private online communities solve problems for customer or members. Optimizing how people find information and answers is critical to keeping customer or members engaged and coming back to your community.

Your navigation bar needs to have the right elements and have them in the right order, but you can only really know if you've succeeded in this area by testing out different groupings and arrangements.

If something isn't getting the right amount of traffic, consider making it more prominent. You can even test live with a small group of community members to see how they think through finding information in your online community

Increasing Online Community Engagement Takeaway

When you test the 4-12 steps in your online community engagement funnel, every percentage point in your conversion ratios counts. Testing is also something that never ends. You can always find the weakest point in your engagement funnel and make adjustments until it improves.

While it is vital to know the processes within your community that need improvement, it is also important to know which areas are your strongest. By analyzing your strong metrics and shortcomings, you can work to make your community into a place your customers or members get immense value, build connections, and enjoy spending time.

Even though testing can be time consuming, improving small percentages over time will pay big dividends in terms of your ability to keep customers or members engaged.