What’s the secret recipe for building your community with lifelong members? It boils down to this equation: engagement plus satisfaction equals member renewal. Easy, right?
The longer members stay, the better for everyone. If your goal is to grow your community, increasing member retention is an important piece to hone in on. As members stay longer, they build more connections, entrenching themselves deeper into the organization and community culture. Their life would be different -- and worse -- without the community. That’s what you want, and it’s one of the most powerful factors for your community’s success.
Their satisfaction and renewal is good for your organization because these happy members create content, champion your organization and recruit new members. It’s not just a hypothesis -- in our 2015 State of Community Benchmarking Report, we found that organizations with communities have a 78 percent increase in retention compared to 22 percentage retention for organizations without communities.
Creating collaborative, engaging environments creates a self-sustaining loop, beneficial for everyone involved -- as these members stay over the years, you continue receiving insight, referrals and membership fees from them over their lifetime.
How do you meaningfully engage members, bring them to their full potential and grow your organization?
Engagement + Satisfaction = Renewal
The equation is simple, but doesn’t work if you leave out one or the other -- engagement or satisfaction. Often, strong engagement leads to satisfaction. And, to create strong engagement, you need to eliminate as many barriers as possible to make participation smooth.
There are many creative ways to capture your members’ attention. Often, many of these unique tactics boil down to the community’s personality and the ingenuity of the community manager. It’s the art of engagement, and requires out-of-the-box thinking and deep knowledge of your audience and what makes them tick.
But let’s focus on the science of engagement -- tactics and tools proven to work with almost any community, no matter the quirks and personalities involved. In our 2015 Benchmarking Report, we found two large buckets to focus on: email collaboration and mobile engagement. When used correctly, they’re proven ways to increase engagement -- which makes members happier and more likely to renew and refer.
Here are two tools for community managers to break down the walls, spurring engagement and renewal:
1. Email collaboration
Our benchmarking report focused on how email affects discussions and replies, which is a key marker for engaged and satisfied members -- who are more likely to stay in the community. Our hypothesis was email collaboration would improve community discussions, since it removes a large barrier -- actually logging into the community and finding the discussion.
And we found our hypothesis was right: communities with a “Reply to Thread” email-feature had a 78 percent increase in replies to threads, over communities that don’t have an integrated email feature. Removing one barrier -- logging in and searching -- makes a big, positive difference.
Not only did we discover a definite increase in engagement when members could reply to a discussion via email, but we saw a change in engagement preferences. Members who previously participated in discussions by logging into the community ended up preferring email -- when given the choice to reply on the community site or via email, members were three times more likely to reply with email. Member preferences towards email created a 32 percent year-over-year increase in discussion contributions, compared to only 10 percent increase without email reply.
An added benefit for allowing email collaboration is that it makes your community more accessible for all members. Everyone has their own accessibility needs -- whether they need larger fonts, use voice commands or other assistive technology -- so creating a community that fits those needs is important for full engagement.
Members often choose the email platform that works best for them and their specific needs. Contributing to the community via email basically allows them to participate in the environment that best fits their needs -- which, in turn, increases their engagement, satisfaction and loyalty.
2. Mobile connections
Mobile engagement is the other bucket you need to focus on if you want to increase engagement and create life-long members. It probably goes without saying, but we’re well past the days when people only relied on desktop computers to access the Internet -- number of smartphone users surpassed number of desktop users in 2014. Mobile is where most of the action is.
Even if your members log into the community via desktop at work, you can’t assume they’ll log in via desktop outside of work. Smartphones and tablets are the answer to that discrepancy. To take advantage of members’ high smartphone usage, you need to remove as many barriers as possible to keep members engaged and habitually checking in.
That’s where mobile apps come in.
But first things first -- before diving into mobile apps, it’s important to make the distinction between branded apps and generic apps. They’re both effective in spurring engagement, but they’re not equally so -- which is important to understand before investing in one or the other.
Findings from the 2015 Report found that, of communities with mobile apps, 56 percent use branded apps and 44 percent use generic apps. The trend is definitely towards branded, but it’s not a huge discrepancy. That’s where the similarities end.
In terms of engagement, we found branded apps are much more effective, which we saw by comparing activity data: communities with branded apps saw a 524 percent increase in mobile activity versus generic apps. Moreover, branded apps resulted in a 35 percent increase in mobile related engagement over those with a simple generic app.
We plan to gather more data on branded versus generic apps, but there are several possibilities. Generic apps are just that -- they’re built by a third party vendor, and the same app is used by multiple organizations, so it doesn’t look and feel like your organization. Branded apps have the same look and feel of your organization, are easier to find in the app store, and were build with your needs in mind.
Create an Engaging Culture, and Renewals Will Follow
The tools you give your members, like email replies and mobile apps, the user experience of your community and the platform all make a big difference in creating engagement and building your community. But you also need to create the right ecosystem and a culture that facilitates engagement. Only then will members feel compelled to participate and see the value -- which is what bolsters the community’s ROI. Start slow, create a plan, pick good metrics to follow and adjust accordingly -- and take into account how email and mobile apps may help.