Have you ever looked at an optical illusion like the one above? (If not, you have now.) In this example, the first thing that most people see is a white vase.
However, upon closer inspection of the black areas, you notice two faces nose-to-nose. Now that you've seen both the vase and the faces, you can't "un-see" either one. You can never go back to seeing a single image.
That's the mark of an effective product, service, or strategy. Once you use it, you're hooked on the results and can never go back.
Online member engagement falls into that category. An effective member engagement strategy gets your members participating and interacting with your association and their peers through its website, networking events, or private member community. That interaction then leads to stronger relationships that can help your association increase member satisfaction, renewals, and advocacy.
Here are three engagement tactics that every online community strategy should have to produce noticeable results. Once you try these techniques in your online community, you'll never go back.
3 Essential Engagement Tasks to Increase Participation in Your Online Community
Task #1) Onboarding
When you have a new member, you need to do more than just welcome them to your online community by sending an email and a link. If you merely send them a short email with a link and then leave them on their own, they'll click once and that will be the last time you see them. On the other hand, if you expand your email to introduce new members to everything your community has to offer all at once, it can be overwhelming.
So instead of creating one welcome email, develop an entire program around bringing new members into your online community. This is valuable because you want to make them feel welcome but you also want to become part of their online habit. If members get a periodic email from you, they're more likely to remember your organization and its community. They also have more chances to take action on your emails and start engaging.
Create a drip campaign giving members fun new activities to do online each day or week. Your drip campaign can feature new members in a spotlight, interview them, or ask their opinion on something within the community. It can also point them toward blogs and discussion forums or encourage them to register for an event.
Your onboarding drip campaign can include any community activities or benefits that will appeal to new members. For higher engagement, try to personalize the campaign as much as possible. The more relevant and personalized your messages, the more likely members are to get involved.
Task #2) Empower Veteran Members
Often, veteran members who are not active in your association are busy doing their own thing. You might reach out to them with greetings and member appreciation messages, but for the most part associations don't think about this group on a regular basis.
However, like current business customers, veteran association members can be incredibly valuable. They make excellent advocates and expert contributors, and could even be mentors for some of your newer members. All you have to do is bring their attention back to your association and online community so they start engaging again.
There are many ways you can use your online community to reach out veteran members and make them some of your most active members.
Way #1) Look for incomplete profiles.
Send out emails to those who only contain skeleton information. Make sure members know that by filling out their profile completely they'll further their personal brand and be more likely to connect with other members.
Way #2) Feature veteran members in a spotlight.
Everyone wants their skills to be acknowledged, so highlight your most loyal members' expertise in regular spotlights.
Way #3) Approach someone with a unique skillset.
Ask them to post to the community about recent events or industry trends. Let them know that you place a high value on their insight.
Way #4) Remind people to update their social media links.
When members' links are updated they can stay connected and reach more people with their messages. It's one easy way members can start building their personal brand.
Way #5) Ask for their opinion on a recent blog that relates to their job or interests.
People love to share their thoughts and opinions. They'll often feel flattered that you ask and most members will be willing to share their expertise in ways that help your association and other members.
Way #6) Create a content summary newsletter.
Send the newsletter to members who haven't logged in all month. Send it with an email that reads, "Here's what happened while you were gone." Provide enough content in the newsletter to spark interest but not enough that it gives away everything. Link back to your site.
Way #7) Suggest people log in to manage their communication preferences.
The more personalized their preferences section, the more likely they are to get relevant, helpful information.
Way #8) Run a report on who has been absent from your community and events for the past few months.
Reach out to them and encourage them to start participating again by teasing them with content on the topics they've engaged with in the past. Show them that they're missing out by not participating.
Task #3) Recruit Volunteers
Your online community is the perfect place to recruit and nurture volunteers because you know community members are already interested in your association. Every time they log in and participate, they express that interest. Here are a few ideas to get more volunteers out of your private member community:
Idea #1) Post volunteer opportunities as if you're hiring for a paid position.
That means giving potential volunteers everything they need to know to determine whether or not they're interested in and qualified for the opportunity. Include the number of hours a month the position requires and where it would occur.
Idea #2) Add a sign-up form.
Sign-up forms are essential because your community is open all-day, every day, but your association is not. Don't give potential volunteers a chance to change their minds before your association office opens. Get them signed up while they're excited and follow up as soon as possible.
Idea #3) Incorporate "virtual" and microvolunteering opportunities.
It's impossible for every member to come to your office, so create volunteer opportunities they can do from anywhere in short periods of time. Helping in your online community by moderating comments or welcoming new members is one option.
Idea #4) Tell stories about how volunteers further your association's mission.
Your online community likely allows for public and private blogs. Use these to post about the good work your volunteers are doing. Private blogs posts can encourage recognition inside the community, and public blog posts can increase your association's reach, highlighting how active your members are and how they're helping to improve your industry. That type of inspiration is often infectious.
Idea #5) Showcase and celebrate your volunteers personally.
Send each volunteer an email thanking them for their hard work, then do in-depth pieces that tell your community about each volunteer. In the piece, you can thank volunteers for their efforts, but go above and beyond their work in your association. Explain how they love dogs or go mountain climbing every weekend. Personal details will help other members connect with volunteers and also shows that your association values members not just as assets, but as people.
Idea #6) Use member profiles to find people with the expertise you need.
If someone has experience in PR listed in their profile and you need help writing press releases, don't be shy about approaching them. Most people will be flattered that you notice and appreciate their hard-earned skills. To drive this home, make sure you compliment them on their expertise as well. A verbal acknowledgement of their abilities can help volunteers feel valued and encourage them to contribute.
Engaging Members in Your Online Community Takeaway
Managing and growing an online community can seem daunting. The enormity of the task and the time it takes leads to paralysis for many organizations. However, there is a minimum you can do that will make a big difference, like the three tasks above.
Start with these three tried and tested methods to get your association members to engage. Then, break down the rest of your tasks into manageable chunks so that you're consistently increasing member engagement and your community's value over time.