Higher Logic Blog

The First Five Places to Look to Increase Online Community Engagement

Written by Joshua Paul | November 25, 2014 at 2:55 PM

By now, you're well aware how important ongoing engagement is to the success of your online customer or member community. Without active conversations in your discussion forums or dedicated readers for your content, your entire online community management strategy falls flat.

An active and engaged community can play a big role in your customer experience. Imagine this scenario:

  • You offer a fairly complex solution to a business-to-business market.
  • A new customer is thrilled to learn your business offers an online community. She immediately pulls up a web browser to check it out with the intention of creating a log-in and bringing some questions to a specific product's customer discussion board.
  • However, she quickly notices that the groups in your community often go weeks without discussion replies and your latest blog post isn't worth her time.
  • Before even getting a chance to click over to your product resource library to check out the guides and videos, she remembers a Facebook message she forgot to reply to and clicks away.

In this case, your online customer community wasn't even strong enough to hold the attention of a potential new member who initially had the intent to join. The early promise this new customer felt when she noticed your company had an private online community quickly fades.

While only time will tell how that affects her future as a customer of your products, you do know that this particular customer will get fewer of your messages, have little opportunity to learn from her peers, and feel less connected to your organization and its ecosystem.

The Opportunity and Challenge of Increasing Engagement

Increasing online community engagement isn't only significant for the overall health and sustainability of your community—its impact extends to customer satisfaction and retention as well.

While increasing online community engagement to improve the customer experience might sound easy at first, generating participation isn't as simple as your typical run-of-the-mill customer communication strategies. With all that goes into running a successful peer-to-peer community, often distractions get in the way of nailing down an effective plan for building engagement.

Regardless, your members aren't going to magically become more active participants all on their own. You need to take intentional steps to zero in on your engagement problems and focus on finding solutions. And as with any complicated task, the trouble comes in knowing where to start.

Luckily, we've got you covered. Here are the first five places you should look when trying to increase engagement in your online community.

Area #1) The Social Density of Your Groups

The structure of your community and the number of groups you have dictates your social density. It comes down to how you segment information, community members, and engagement opportunities. Even though it might seem like more groups equals more participation, giving your members too many options can actually reduce engagement in your community.

So, how do you know if you have too many groups? First, look at the total number of people in your community in comparison to the activity across groups. If you have a group where the last question was posed two months ago and received zero replies, then that's a strong indication your members have too many participation options and your social density is diluted. You're more likely to see an increase in community engagement with fewer groups that have more members and a steadier flow of traffic.

Area #2) The Value of Your Content

It might feel like you're producing a lot of content—and you might actually be producing a lot of content—but that won't matter if the value isn't there for your target community members. Think of this as a quality over quantity scenario. Producing enough content is one thing, but producing enough content that addressees your target audience's biggest challenges is another thing entirely.

The content you produce helps give your target audience a reason to first visit your community, but it's the value of the content which you're continuously adding that gives them a reason to return for a second, third, or fourth visit.

Since your content is already competing with all the other content on the Internet for your customer's attention, you need to make sure it has enough value to catch and keep their attention. Make sure you're hitting topics that matter to your target online community members by developing your content plan around their various personas and pain points.

Area #3) The Success of Your Outreach and Re-engagement Efforts

Your members are busy and your online community is not going to be top of mind. It is your outreach or re-engagement plan that is going to bring members back to your community. Your online community software's email system is the most common tool for this important part of your online community management strategy.

Once new members come to the community, what are you doing to keep them interested and motivate them to come back? A large part of turning new members into regular members is making your members—both new and old—aware of the engagement opportunities available to them.

Your initial outreach and onboarding is important for getting members in the community, but it takes an ongoing marketing effort to make them stay. Consider what opportunities for engagement you're offering and analyze how you can make them more relevant and valuable to your target audience.

Area #4) Your Basic Engagement Ratios

There are several questions you'll need to answer in order to find and focus on the right weaknesses in your online community's engagement funnel. For instance: are new members finding the community? Are they registering? Are they logging in? Are they viewing the discussions and content? Are they contributing?

These questions are best answered by examining your online community's basic ratios. This data helps paint a complete picture of member behavior and also helps you to avoid going down a path toward fixing the wrong problem.

Rather than just consulting your log-in numbers, check your log-in to action ratio. This will tell you if the problem is that your members aren't signing into your community? Or, that they're signing in, but not doing anything once they're there? Learn from the behavioral clues your ratios provide so you can address the right part of your engagement problem.

Area #5) The Engagement Level of Each Persona

Your target audience is made up of different personas. You can track where a bulk of the members that fit a specific persona are in the engagement funnel. The same messaging that might click with a user of a specific product who is new to the community won't resonate with an executive that has been engaged in the community for several years. You need to focus on handling each persona differently.

Successful messaging takes both what you want your members to do and their current engagement level into consideration. This allows you to motivate members to engage in the community by promoting the right activities for the right people at the right time.

Online Community Engagement Takeaway

Increasing engagement isn't easy, but it is a lot simpler when you start in the right place. By examining your groups, content, outreach, ratios, and personas, you can get a clear picture of what's not working. From there, you can build a strategy to increase participation and improve your customers' experience.