A community platform thrives or dies on its engagement levels. While the technology and design are important, what really creates a successful platform and brings benefit and value to members is quality engagement on issues that matter to people.
Whether you manage one community or a platform of hundreds, the challenge of creating engagement is broadly similar. Here are 10 considerations when you’re looking to increase participation on your community platform.
It’s important to make the purpose of your community platform clear. If you’re not sure why it’s there, then your members won’t be either. Why should they join? What benefit will they gain? What problems will they hope to solve there?
Having some clear goals for what you want to achieve will focus your efforts, but it will also help you convey the reasons to join to your audience.
As the well known proverb says, “it takes a village to raise a child”. In the same way, it takes a team to nurture and grow a successful community platform. Who are your champions? Who are the key influencers in your area of work? Who can help you to develop engaged communities?
Approaching influential people to support you and pass the word around about your platform will attract members and bring credibility to your reputation.
For communities to be successful, there needs to be a willingness to share knowledge between members. A key element of this is trust. How do you foster openness in your communities? What mechanisms can you put in place to develop a sense of community? How will your platform be seen as authentic and trustworthy?
Encouraging members to complete their profiles and connect with others starts to build trust. Community events, such as webinars, can also help to develop good bonds between members.
Fulfilling members’ needs and putting them at the heart of your community platform plans is essential for success. How do you gain feedback from members about what works and what doesn’t? What do you know about your target audience? Are there particular subjects and themes they will expect to see covered within the platform?
Proactively seek members’ views using polls, feedback forms and discussions. Foster a sense of inclusivity by ensuring and demonstrating that all member views are taken on board.
Your platform function, design and layout goes some way to help you in signposting members to where they need to be, but you will still need to put effort into generating engagement. How can you make it as easy as possible for members to find what they’re looking for or join the communities they’re interested in? What are the hot topics for your communities right now? How do you regularly highlight community successes?
Signpost important news and great community case studies. Create calls to action to get involved in new communities, respond to interesting blogs, consultations and discussions, and generate excitement about key content.
A successful community platform is one that seems fresh and interesting all the time. How are you helping community managers to increase participation in their groups and networks? Are there ways you can connect the right people with the right questions to create helpful responses? What processes do you have in place to remove communities that are no longer in use?
If you spot unanswered questions in discussions or within blogs, try and identify people you know who might be able to respond. If people feel they’re receiving responses to questions, they’ll also be more likely to respond to others.
If you’re going to ask members of your platform to put themselves out there and get involved in conversations and share knowledge, then you might want to consider rewarding them for their efforts. Are there ways to reward your members for their participation? What kind of rewards would your members appreciate? Do you have potential sponsors or advertisers who could offer perks and benefits to members?
You’ll need to be in tune with your platform members to understand the kinds of rewards that are appropriate. In some cases it might be recognition, in others it might be something material, such as vouchers or discounts.
Everyone understands that digital environments have glitches and bugs, but it’s how you deal with problems that is important. Do you have sound support processes for raising issues and getting them fixed quickly and efficiently? Where issues are less of a priority, or you can’t do anything about them right now, are you being honest with your members about that? Are you communicating openly about what you are doing and where you have fixed problems?
Respond promptly to reports about bugs, prioritise issues fairly and based on the impact on members, provide workarounds where possible and attempt to fix problems as quickly as possible. Most importantly, be honest with your members.
How we learn from our mistakes and evolve accordingly says a lot about us. The same is true for your community platform. How do you evaluate the performance of your platform? Is it achieving its purpose? How can you review what’s working and what’s not and put that back into improving what you offer?
Bring together quantitative and qualitative data to assess your community platform’s impact. Revisit your community goals. If you’re not achieving them yet, don’t panic! It can take time. Consider what you might do differently to move nearer to those goals.
Communities are all about connecting people, sharing learning and working together to achieve something. There is positive energy in that. How are you helping your members to enjoy using the platform? Do you make it easy for them to share their experiences with each other? How are you celebrating success and sharing stories about what works?
By their nature, professional communities are bound to have some dry content, but that doesn’t mean there can’t also be some more lively discussions. Encourage members to share their accomplishments and celebrate examples of how their communities have provided benefit to them.
At the end of the day, there’s no one right way to drive engagement within a community platform, but if you’re clear about what you want to achieve and you’re taking your members with you, you’re off to a good start.
If you’re considering building a platform for online communities, have a look at Digital Place for Communities or drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, we’d love to hear from you.