What’s the key to engagement? Empowered members.
Customers and members often go to communities for information -- that’s great, and you want your community to be chock-full of awesome, valuable information. But that shouldn’t be the only end goal. You don’t want people to log in only when they have the occasional question. You want community to be part of their routine, with regular check-ins and contributions.
So, how do you get people coming back often? How do you help members and customers find value in your community?
It’s not easy. Let go of the reins, give them autonomy and empower them to leverage the community (and help it grow). You want members and customers to talk with each other, meet up offline and exchange all types of relevant information and knowledge. You want them to feel like they’re contributing to something bigger, rather than only passively participating in ‘community’ every once in awhile.
That’s why empowerment and a sense of ownership is key.
Adam Werbach, CEO and founder of Yerdle, recently spoke at CMX Summit West 2015 about what community managers can learn from grassroots movements. He explained how he’s built communities - by empowering members to create real change and see community as a tool.
Here were his three key takeaways for creating an empowered community:
Sure, you have grand plans for your community and all you can achieve together, but if your members aren’t on the same page as you, it won’t work. Rather than forcing your plan on a group of people and having it fall flat, meet them where they are. How does community fit into their self interests? What do they hope to accomplish and how does community play into that? What are the pain points the community could address?
Adam Werbach didn’t mention this angle in his talk, but I’d like to offer a slightly different way to create traction, especially in the beginning -- start with the already converted. Rachel Happe of The Community Roundtable touched on this method in her Super Forum 2015 keynote. When building a community, start with only those people who believe in and care about the cause, rather than trying to include everyone (believers, detractors and the ambivalent). Your believers are the ones who will make it grow. Once they’ve established the community guidelines and a strong culture, add in people who weren’t initially on board. When they enter and see a well established community with social norms, it’ll be easier for them to engage and see value. Rachel Happe says it’s like cooking risotto -- let the rice trickle in as you cook; don’t dump in the whole bag at once!
You may be the community manager, but this doesn’t mean you’re the overseer with an iron fist. The real power lies with your members -- if it wasn’t for them, there wouldn’t even be a community. Yet, if members are passive about their engagement (only checking in when they need information or have a single question), they may not realize their own potential or know how to leverage the community as a useful tool. That’s why you need to train members on processes, like how to start discussions and using self moderation -- this will naturally guide them into advocate and leadership roles. But it doesn’t stop there -- you need to let go of a little control and give them the autonomy they need to actually ignite momentum and start valuable conversations. Once your community members are trained, your job becomes easier and members find more creative and innovative ways to interact, which is why you need to give them the capability to do so.
Don’t let the mundane work of community management make you lose sight of what a feat creating a community is. That community, in and of itself, has power beyond your control. As a manager, you should create a space where people can leverage and use the community to spark real change and value you may not be aware of, which is part of building capability. But it should go beyond just knowing how to start or moderate conversations. Members should look for and join other sub-groups within the larger group -- this creates a stronger sense of belonging, critical for long-lasting membership. You as a community manager may not always be there -- one day you’ll probably leave your organization or shift to a different role -- so something needs to bind members together on a deeper level, beyond your facilitation. That’s one reason why having in-person events, like meetups and networking nights, is so important.
Another way to bind members or customers is to give them groups they want, like a Coffee Talk discussion or common interest group (beyond the profession or industry). It may not be related to your organization, but it brings people back to your community and deepens their sense of security and belonging. Your members and customers will find those outlets and discussions somewhere on the internet, so if they happen to start something slightly off topic on your site -- like a fantasy football bracket or a discussion about cute dog coats -- don’t be too quick to shut it down.
Have you found your hook yet for empowering members? Can you think of how community fits into your specific organization or a pain point it can help alleviate? Remember, building community is a slow process that takes time. Sometimes it can be trial and error figuring out what works and what doesn’t with your members. Every community is different, so even if you have previous experience, it may not translate over perfectly. But if sustainability is your end goal, the time and effort you’ll need to put in is well worth it.