An online community is a tool. It’s designed to help members get involved, make connections, and develop relationships with their peers and organizations. Community professionals know that and are engaged in keeping the community active and getting other staff members involved.
But what about executives? Your c-suite and board of directors may not be as involved in your community as you’d like them to be – and that’s a problem. Executive participation isn’t just another ‘nice-to-have’ for online communities. It’s a critical component of success.
Why Executives Need to Be Involved
Community Roundtable’s 2017 State of Community Management Report found the most successful online communities have top-level participation. They benefit from having everyone, including subject matter experts, directors, and executives interacting in the community.
Simply having support from middle and upper management can move the needle for communities. But Community Roundtable’s research also found top communities don’t just have support, they have substantial executive participation. Executives who regularly make community part of their workflow, create content, and respond to discussions are more likely to have best-in-class communities.
So why aren’t more executives participating in communities?
The Top 5 Barriers to Executive Participation and How to Fix Them
From a lack of time to technical comfort, there are five key reasons why executives don’t participate in their organization’s online communities, according to Community Roundtable research. Here are a few tactics to help you tackle each problem.
1. Lack of Time
No one should be surprised that executives are strapped for time. And since that fact won’t change, you need to find ways executives can participate without taking more time out of their busy days. Fortunately, online communities have several activities executives can do that take little, or even no, time to complete:
- Sign community welcome, notification, and update emails with executives’ names and headshots. This inserts executives into the community without taking any time at all out of their days.
- Use your executives’ profiles to post blogs and announcements. The best online community software makes it easy for you to sign in as executives or impersonate them so important announcements look like they came directly from senior leadership.
- Hold quarterly Ask-Me-Anything (AMA) events. Every quarter, have a different executive sit down for 30-60 minutes to answer questions from your membership. It’s a great way for members to get face time with executives and, if you have four or more people on your leadership team, each executive will only devote an hour of their time every year.
Be creative when looking for low time commitment activities for your executives. The easier the tasks are for them to complete, the more likely you are to spur long-term participation.
2. Not Sure How
This is a big opportunity for you, since these executives often want to participate, they just need help getting started.
To get these executives into your community, make a list of different activities they can do. Begin with easy tasks like welcoming new members and answering questions. Then move up to more time-consuming activities like writing articles, hosting regular events (such as AMA chats), and even mentoring a few of your members.
Walk executives through your list and ask which tasks they’re most interested in. Do they want to welcome new members? Show them where they can find people who have recently joined and how to contact them. Then let your executives do what they do best – move your organization forward.
Expert Tip: Don’t just create a list of tasks – point out specific discussions and questions executives can respond to. Curate this content and send it to executives once a week so they can quickly log in to the community and respond to the most important inquiries personally. Your curated content list will not only highlight how many important discussions happen in your community, but it will serve as a continued reminder to executives that they should be involved.
3. Lack of Interest
The great thing about communities is they have a wide range of benefits you can use to peak your executives’ interests. Find out about executives’ priorities, then match them to the community. Are your executives expert networkers? Do they want to know more about trends in the market and what your members want?
When you know your executives’ interests, pitch the community as a way for them to pursue those interests. For example, executives who want to learn about the market can use the community as a conduit to member needs. They can browse discussion forums, requests, and blogs from members that help them understand the market and how member needs are changing.
Once executives see your community as a way to further what they’re already interested in, participating will come naturally.
4. Don’t See Value
This is, unfortunately, a common issue for online communities. Too many organizations see a community as just a box they need to check instead of a tool that can help their organization grow. To fix this, you need to show how your community is impacting your organization’s business goals.
For associations, one of the easiest ways to do this is with retention. The top reason why association members don’t renew is a ‘lack of engagement with the organization’, according to the 2017 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report. Show how your community increases member engagement – and, ultimately, retention – by tracking vibrancy metrics like blog posts, discussions, and file library downloads. As activity increases, so does member engagement.
You can also show how your community is impacting other business metrics, including acquisition and revenue, by comparing metrics before and after your community. For more help finding business impact and proving value, download our How to Calculate the Business Impact of Your Online Community eBook.
5. Technical Comfort
It’s hard to dive into a new platform without knowing how it works. Take the time to demonstrate your online community to executive leadership. Walk them through the features they’ll use most often and have them practice performing tasks so they’re more comfortable with your software.
Then, point your executives toward your online community provider’s help documentation. Most providers offer a support site, user group, and educational training videos your executive team can access any time they need help. Executives can use these resources to learn more about your community so they feel comfortable using it.
Expert Tip: Another way to improve executives’ technical comfort level is to send them to live training with your software provider. Top online community providers hold live trainings periodically throughout the year, making it easy for your executives to choose a time that works with their schedule.
Pitch Your Community as a Business Tool
If none of these tactics work, your executives may fall into the “other” category, which keeps 14 percent of executives from participating in their online community. All this means is your executives have another reason for not participating. Talk to them to find out what their reason is and form a plan to overcome it.
And, regardless of the reason they aren’t participating, always help executives see your online community for what it is – a tool. It can help them further their interests, grow your organization, and improve business results. Once executives see your community as something that helps them improve and get results, they’ll be more likely to participate.