As successful community managers know, tools and technology are only half the equation for a successful online community. The other half includes strategy, methodology, and consistently executing on an engagement plan.
Online forums are one of the most powerful tools in your online member or customer community. Though blog content, document libraries, surveys, and online collaboration tools keep member engaged, online discussion boards are usually the center of the helpful discussions and idea sharing in your online community.
However, sometimes members of your online community start off a little hesitant to post or answer questions in your online discussion forums. Here are four ways that we recommend to customers for starting and maintaining active online discussion forums.
Tip #1: Seed Your Forums
Often the most important step in engaging members in your online community is making your community look and feel active. Type up sample questions and distribute them to your board members. Have your board members post the questions at specified intervals over the course of a couple weeks. Then, ask your most active members to respond to the questions. You will be surprised how other members come out of the woodwork to be part of the conversation.
Tip #2: Weekly Roundups
Have an administrator go over the online forums once a week and find the discussions that may be most valuable to your members. After picking three or four – maybe one popular dicussion, one big picture thread, and one how-to question – compile them into an email and use the targeted email engine in your online community to send an email to the member segment that is subscribed to that forum saying something along the lines of "In case you missed these discussions……" This outreach succinctly highlights the value your organization provides and drive members into your community.
Tip #3: Highlight New Resources
Use the forums to highlight and promote discussion around all of the other content in your community. When a new blog article is written, start a discussion about it in your community. When a new file or video is added to that group's resource library post it in the forum. It will both make people aware of the resource and generate question, comments, and discussion.
Tip #4: Promote Forums in Targeted Emails
Online community managers already use the email engine built into their online community platform to send targeted email communication to members of certain groups and member types. Use the footer of your emails to promote relevant forums or individual discussions. Since your online community software automatically segments your emails messages, only the members who have access to that online group will receive the message promoting the forum discussion.
These are some of the tactics we coach community managers on based on 9 years of launching successful online communities. How are you engaging members and customers using online discussion forums? Add your experiences in the comments below.