If you have managed an online community at some point in your career, you know that the 'member to engaged member' ratio is a pretty widely adopted metric throughout the online community space. You also probably know that that metric leaves a lot to be desired.
In case you're not familiar, the numbers break down like so:
- 1% of visitors to your community register to join
- 15% of those who register actually participate
- 20% of those who participate will continue to be active in 6 months
Following this trend, if we wanted to 1,000 actively participating members, we would need 3.3 million visitors.
So how do we get people to participate in online communities? Well, what brings people to come to an online community in the first place? According to our friend Richard Millington, founder of FeverBee, "People only come to community for answers to their problems."
He also believes that we can get members to participate at an increased rate if we can convince them that "they can keep making unique and useful contributions to the group."
However, this is really just the first step to getting people hooked on engaging in your community. Rich also gives us these four ways to get people to actively participate in our communities.
Approach #1) Perceived Autonomy
Rich defines autonomy as, "the idea that we can act in line with our own beliefs, ideas and values." But, it's not just enough to have autonomy. In order to actively participate in a community, we must perceive that the community values and supports our autonomy.
But how do we make someone feel a sense of autonomy within an online community? Well, there are a couple ways. The first is to strengthen their tie to the community by telling them who the community is not for. If we tell a member of a technology community that the community is not for the technologically impaired, chances are they will identify even more with that community. Second, if we give members the ability to enact real change in the community or feel like they're doing something of substance, then they will have a greater sense of autonomy within the community.
In order to increase your members' sense of autonomy within your community, you must first get a sense for where it is currently. Rich suggests that we design surveys to measure groups' perceived autonomy support.
Approach #2) Recruit and Train Volunteers
Rich says that all we have to do to recruit volunteers for our community is to send out an email asking for them. He also suggests referring to them as greeters rather than volunteers. On average, you may see something like ten responses to this email, and out of those 10 about 2 should be reliable enough to count on, and that is all you should really need to start with.
After you have recruited your greeters, you will have to train them. All your greeters will have to do to encourage participation is to ask members what they would like to see in the community, then wait and listen carefully to their response, and then lastly, work with the community manager to create options for the members to participate.
If you feel like asking your members what they would like to see from your community is going to bug them, don't! Asking your members for their feedback will only help strengthen their perceived sense of autonomy from your community because you took the time to understand how they feel and what they would like to see. In turn, their response will make a real impact on how they and other members will participate in that community.
Approach #3) Design Options to Keep Members Involved
It's not enough to just ask people how they want to be involved and then design ways for members to participate just once, we have to continue that process if we want to keep members participating.
One way we can do this is to send follow up emails to our members. Now, this may sound like it will eat up a lot of bandwidth, but it doesn't have to. Even if you have 1,000 members, sending them just one follow up a year equals out to just three per day.
Remember, the more times you ask your members for feedback, the more feedback you will get. The more responses you get the more information you can use to create participation options that your members actually want.
Apporach #4) Social Relatedness
One of the last pieces to the puzzle here is getting people to feel like they belong in the group. Richard Millington points out a myriad of things to look for:
- References to the past
- Mentions by name
- Inside jokes
- High self-disclosure
- Off-site connections
- Sub-groups forming
Once you are able to identify these tools for creating a sense of community, you can start to build them into your news posts, discussions, etc.
For instance, by including more references to the past in your new posts, you will start create a sort of shared history among your members. This is a very effective way of building a strong sense of community among your members.
Online Community Engagement Takeaway
The way things are going right now leaves a lot to be desired from a member engagement perspective. It takes the average community way too many visitors to get an actively participating member.
But this isn't the way it has to be. By designing a member engagement strategy around supporting members' autonomy and keeping these members engaged for the long haul is really how we're going to turn this trend around.
The secret is proving to your members that you care about understanding them and tailoring engagement opportunities to what your members tell you that they want.