As we discussed in our video on understanding the online community lifecycle, there is no “silver bullet” to building a private online community. It takes time, understanding of your audience, and persistent value-added activity. Whether you are engaging customers, members, employees, prospects, or another stakeholder group, building community always includes a series of steps including onboarding, profiling, and nurturing.
With such a multidimensional engagement plan, where should you point your microscope when your online community is underperforming?
If you don't have your community engagement plan fully mapped out, it can be difficult to diagnose weaknesses in your online community. Follow these 4 steps to find and plug leaks in your community engagement plan:
Step 1) Map Out Your Engagement Cycle
Lay out each step in the process of moving different customer segments from a new community member to a fully engaged member (note: fully engaged mean different things to different demographics and organizations). Identify the desired behaviors at each stage. Then, correlate the content and communication that your organization will produce to help members reach those steps. Tip: Don't forget to include contingency workflows for steps outside the ideal path, such as re-engaging customers who have gone silent.
Step 2) Measure Performance
Evaluate the conversion ratios for each step in your customer's lifecycle. Are new members reaching the next engagement level successfully? Are veteran members still participating in the ways that you expect them to participate? Are you able to help less-engaged community members increase their level of activity? Using the engagement analytics built into your online community software platform, document your conversion ratios quarterly, if not monthly.
Step 3) Identify Weaknesses
Once you have mapped out your engagement stages and analyzed how well you are moving community members through the process, you can identify those ratios that are strong and those that need improvement. For instance, you may find that a high percentage of customers or members are comfortable participating once they go through the onboarding process, but their participation drops off less after 6 months. Tracking your performance over time allows you to find weakness more quickly and address the root causes.
Step 4) Plug Leaks
Having your engagement map, content plan, and performance metrics allows you to identify the factors behind your engagement leaks and so that you can plug them. It could be that your stages need adjusting or that the content at a specific step is misaligned with what your audience needs at that point - or both. Rewriting emails, producing more relevant content, and restructuring your community groups are some of the actions are can test to get better results.
Tips: Keep in mind that online communities don't operate in a vacuum. Outside factors can also contribute to lower conversion rates. However, if you notice a trend of weak engagement at a certain stage, it is probably something that you have control over.
As professional community managers know, building a successful online community is a nuanced process. Creating value for your customers, employees, prospects, and partners take time and deep understanding of the problems each group facing at different stages of the online community lifecycle. These 4 steps help businesses and membership organizations breakdown their community management plan into more manageable pieces.