Growing community should be one of the most important tasks of an organization, but it can certainly be a challenge. Don’t feel like you have to carry that burden alone. One of the best ways to grow your community is to let your members unknowingly do the heavy lifting – there are no better advocates than members, even if they don’t realize their potential. The more robust and thriving your community is, the easier and more natural their jobs (and your job) will be.
A community with members collaborating is a sign of a healthy, thriving network in which your members are finding tremendous value. The more value they’re gaining from being members and partaking in discussions, the more likely they are to recommend the community as a resource to their peers, adding even more people to your community. The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) found that engaged members are 23 percent more likely to encourage peers to join the association than non-engaged members.
So help members engage! This is a big asset for growth.
One easy way to increase engagement is by rewarding your most active members with ribbons and points. Gamification incentivizes any types of activity you, the community manager, want to reinforce. Start by giving points for something as simple as uploading a profile picture, and award ribbons for an easy task, like adding your LinkedIn or Twitter URLs. Say a member posts more than three blogs or is a top five contributor – give out an especially fun or ornate ribbon for this accomplishment.
Create a culture in your community where people are proud to earn ribbons, are impressed by others’ contributions and feel a healthy sense of competition between each other. This system is proven to increase engagement and is seen as a tool that is here to stay in many types of online communities.
Now that your members are ready to earn more ribbons, engage in the community and unknowingly recruit more members, what outlets are you going to give them to move above and beyond expectations?
The more ownership you give your members (within reason), the better. One way to do this is to allow members to publish original, helpful and educational content. Encourage member blogging, as well as resource sharing on their personal social media outlets (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn). This will show outside users all the interesting, relevant conversations they can partake in if they join the community. It also shows outsiders that members are invested in the community, since they took the time to write an entire post rather than simply reply to a discussion thread.
Wondering how to engage members who aren’t writers? An good alternative to blogging is allow your members to host webinars on the site. This also helps members further connect with each other, both during the webinar and in a post-webinar discussion, thus fostering an even greater sense of community and investment. For the purposes of having your best members find your next members, encourage the member(s) hosting the webinar to invite nonmembers—friends and colleagues from both within and beyond their industry—to get them interested and motivated to join.
There’s a lot to be said for the benefits of keeping your community private, but if you really aim to grow membership, then unlocking the doors to your site and hosting an open community can help it flourish.
The decision to have an open community versus a closed community can be a tough one to make—there are benefits to both models. However, open communities tend to have stronger search engine optimization (SEO), coming up more often in general searches and showing users the awesome community you’ve created. When the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics (SCCE) created their open community, they saw a 25 percent increase in membership. Taking down the walls and opening the doors brings more people in for the discussions, which can translate into more members.
Regardless of whether or not your community is open, or you already have members knocking down community doors to write blogs and compete for ribbons, the bottom line is that engagement is key. When you have engaged, happy members, they will remain with their organization and your community, bring in more members and make your job that much easier.