Higher Logic Blog

Private Online Communities: How to Write Headlines that Drive Engagement

Written by Joshua Paul | April 28, 2015 at 1:40 PM

We live in a world that is saturated with more content than any one person can consume. You see in every time you open your browser, tap an app in your phone, check your inbox, or scroll through your social stream. If you're experiencing content overload online, you can bet that your customers are too.

So how do you cut through the noise to get eyes to your private online community?

Building a private online customer or member community requires a commitment to consistently growing engagement over time, with the ultimate goal of creating a social space where people can come together to share values and experiences. Marketers and community managers have one large challenge in common.

The challenge:
Convince your busy target audience to take precious time out of their lives to engage with your company or organization.

The skill employed by marketer to overcome this critical hurdle in company blogs and email campaigns can be borrowed by community managers to drive engagement in private online customer or member communities: writing catchy headlines.

Successful online community managers are constantly seeking ways to add value for their members by stocking it with quality information, tools, and conversations. However, few people will take advantage of these resources if you can't get their attention.

Start by writing attention-grabbing copy—so your community members will be motivated to further discover the value inside your online community. Your headline-writing skills will be on full display in your online community's:

  • Blog articles
  • Discussions
  • Email communication
  • Documents
  • Videos
  • Surveys

When community members see a headline that conveys something valuable and relevant (and sometimes intriguing), they are more likely to follow the specific action prompt; in this case, clicking a link to get more information.

Online Community Managers Need a Marketer's Perspective on Headlines

Sound too good to be true? Look at it this way: A headline is a promise. It tells people what they will find or learn if they take time away from their day to click.

In your private online community, headlines can serve two important purposes.

  • Headlines posted within your online community can work to grab the attention of members once they are already logged in, driving them to discover new content and join new conversations.
  • Headlines are not just about using headlines to drive customer action within the community. You can use headlines included in emails and public social networks to drive people back to the community who haven't participated lately.

So, what makes a great headline in your online customer or member community?

11 Tips to Writing Attention Grabbing Headlines for Your Private Online Community

Tip #1) Tell the Truth

We live in the age of click-bait headlines that don't always deliver on their promises. Social media feeds are cluttered with links promising that we, "won't believe what happens next!" and your members are weary with headlines that overpromise and under-deliver. Instead of writing a crazy headline full of hyperbole, tell the truth and let your quality content speak for itself. Accurate headlines lead to trust and the creation of loyal, repeat readers.

Tip #2) Keep It Short

Your headlines shouldn't be a mouthful. By keeping them short and snappy, your members will be able to see what their options are with just a quick scan. How many words are too many? While there is no hard and fast rule in private online communities, a good rule of thumb is to shoot for headlines between 50 and 75 characters. Short headlines are especially important is you're driving people to your online community via email and big public social networking, like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Tip #3) Make Them Catchy

Getting creative with your headlines makes them more memorable. My personal Twitter feed gets 15 new posts in the five minutes it takes to grab coffee. To rise above all of the online clutter in your target audience's lives, your headlines should make an impact on your readers. Craft headlines that I can't wait to read when I get back with my morning coffee. Try using alliterative words or flashy language or a pop culture reference. However, don't take your creativity too far and break Rule #1.  

Tip #4) Ask a Question

Using a question as your headline helps your customers or members know what types of answers they can find once they click. Questioning headlines can also speak directly to the types of problems that your community members are having. As your community members are scrolling, they may see your questionable headline (pun intended) and think, "Yes, that's exactly the problem I am trying to solve!"  

Tip #5) Solve a Problem

"How to" posts strike a similar emotional cord for members. The phrase tells members that they will learn or improve a specific skill and is honest. In many cases, your headline might be promoting a technique for solving a problem that your members didn't even realize they had.

For online communities that expose discussions or blogs to the public, this type of title is also very searchable. If you want to know "how to" do something you typically include that in your search engine text.

Tip #6) Make a List

We live in a world of Buzzfeed articles that cover everything from political news to the recent episode of Grey's Anatomy in list form. This type of bulleted information is popular for two reasons:

First, the content is great for quick scanning, which your busier members will find appealing since they'll be able to learn something new without having to wade through large chunks of text.

Second, the content is incredibly easy to share. A member may share to another member with a message of "what do you think of 5 and 6, I totally agree with 7". Just as easy as lists are to create they are easy to amend.

Tip #7) Run It By Someone

It's never a bad idea to bounce your headline ideas off of another member of your community management team or someone in your organization. Getting a second opinion can make your working headlines much more effective. Often, we are so consumed in a project that an outside reviewer offers unique insight.

Tip #8) Speak to Your Audience Directly

Your headlines are trying to attract your target audience to your online community, so don't be afraid to speak directly to them. Addressing your reader in the second person can make your content more inviting. Second person can also make your content feel more specifically catered to individual members' needs. How can you not click when the title is literally speaking to you?

Tip #9) Focus on Strong Adjectives and Verbs

Try to make the language of your headlines as strong and eye-catching as possible. For instance, rather than "10 Great Tips," use "10 Killer Tips."

Tip #10) Be Negative

Negative and playing on community members' fear can have a positive outcome when it comes to clicks. For instance, let's say we gave our title a negative spin, "Why Your Headlines Aren't Working for Your Online Community." This method isn't appropriate for every headlines. Certain topics lend themselves more to a negative spin, so think carefully about how best to reach your audience.  

Tip #11) Look at the Results

Use your community data to learn what types of headlines your members tend to respond to the best. Do they gravitate toward "How-To" posts, but don't really take much of an interest in headlines that ask a question? Learning from your analytics can help you write better headlines that take your target audience's preferences into account.

Private Online Community Takeaway

Your headlines are promises to your online community members and prospective online community members. Each time your content matches your headline, you gain a little more trust with your target audience. With each headline you write, ask yourself this: am I fulfilling my promise?

Integrate these tips throughout your headlines, always mindful of which is most appropriate for the given content.  By creating catchy headlines and following through on your promise, you have a cornerstone the community management systems that keep people engaged in your online community.