Our guest blogger Judi Huck is the communications specialist at the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP), which has a community on the Higher Logic platform. She is based in New York and currently working her way through every park and museum in the five boroughs. Connect with her on Twitter @7Huck or on LinkedIn.
Proving your community's ROI is one of the most daunting tasks for a community manager. The greatest ROI from our online community was a nearly five percent increase in retention for 2014. This past year we generated a 33 percent increase in log-ins, as well as increased engagement via public comments, private messages and downloads. In this post I'll share four tactics that helped us retain more of our valuable members.
NAPNAP is a mid-sized healthcare association, and our online community has been around for five years. I was the first staff person to form a strategy for the NAPNAP Community; previously all community activity was organic.
Our member engagement strategy has essentially two parts: community moderation or internal tactics, and marketing/communications or external tactics. The words internal and external refer to the way that our platform is used.
Part I: Community Moderation
Internal Tactic 1: Member Interviews
By far the easiest engagement tool we used was the tried and true member interview. We used a short questionnaire for both email and telephone participants. Conducting member interviews was fairly straightforward. If our members preferred to have a phone conversation, those interviews typically lasted 15-20 minutes. Once interviews were transcribed or in draft format, members were given a few weeks to edit their interviews and provide the final okay before posting.
If you have a sense of which groups or sections in your community are less active than the others, you could prioritize those communities over the already active ones. Another way to think of this approach is community triage.
Interviews produced positive responses, and I would often receive immediate feedback to the posts. Particularly with our special interest groups, members were delighted to learn more from members with similar interests. I made sure to email-introduce the spotlighted members, featured in the community interviews, to interested fellow members who had reached out to me.
Internal Tactic 2: Facilitating Discussions
Encouraging discussions is a more involved moderation tactic. We didn't "seed" questions. Rather, our approach was reactive; I would post on a member's behalf when their request landed in my inbox. Typically, requests came from students, novice practitioners and occasionally researchers. Once granted permission to post, I took care of the question for the member and shared instructions on how to post discussions for future reference.
But my work didn't stop there! To ensure quality responses, the proactive part of the approach, if you will, I leaned on active group members to assist those who initiated discussions. We have several tiers of active members, including elected leaders, whom we call "officers" and serve two-year terms, as well as founding members of special interest groups (often former officers) and long-term NAPNAP members. It was these core volunteers who made the real difference in getting our questions answered. At one point, I tested frequency as a criterion, targeting members who recently visited the online community. However, this second set of potential participants was less inclined to take action and reply to discussions.
Part II: Marketing Your Online Community
External Tactic 1: Robust Communications
Outside of the communities themselves, we developed a content-rich editorial calendar of weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual communications. The main channels and modes of delivery included member newsletters and welcome emails.
The latter was key because it was our main method of member onboarding. We sent welcome emails on a monthly basis and provided detailed instructions on how to access the community site. Higher Logic launched an automation feature late last year, but if your community platform does not come equipped with one, you can use database tools (for the first three quarters we used a combination of BoXi and Association Anywhere).
A few weeks later, I followed up with a call-to-action for new members and tried tasking them with posting an actual discussion question. I should note that in our case, this approach never quite took off.
Another personalized communication we implemented was geared toward top contributors. We sent individual thank you emails, short and sweet, to members who made the top of our regular community reporting. My hope is one day these individuals can join other active members, like officers and long-time members, and eventually help create content for the community.
External Tactic 2: Community Building Events
We conducted numerous teleconferences and in-person trainings highlighting the online community. This helped distribute engagement throughout the year, particularly during our conference "off-season" (If you're a larger organization, you may not have an off-season).
Networking is consistently listed as one of the top reasons for joining our association. Periodically, I organize conference calls with the goal of enabling virtual networking for members. Often, members who dialed in would break off to form subgroups and collaborate on projects. If this happens in your community, you could say that the community ROI is product innovation!
In addition to teleconferences, we held two, in-person trainings with officers last year, specifically on how to use and take advantage of the online community. You can certainly compare the cost of audiovisual fees to a webinar recording, and see which event type makes the most sense for your organization. Thankfully, our two events were well attended and received, and our volunteer participation in discussions increased.
We hope to analyze our latest member survey soon and better understand how satisfied members are with the community and other member benefits. It's all about continual improvement, right?
What are the business benefits you're seeing from your communities? I'd love to hear more, and learn what has worked for your association or nonprofit.