Three Ways to Revive Online Community Engagement
If your online member community has been in a lull, enlisting member volunteers, seeding expertise-driven questions on the platform, and encouraging staff across all departments to participate can help drum up more engagement.
Online communities provide opportunities for members to connect, collaborate, and learn from one another. But are your members getting the most out of the forum?
To bring more voices to the platform, take a step back to determine what members want to learn more about and how the online community can serve as a space to provide that knowledge and support.
“We need to think about what need this community is solving for our members and how we can help them see it as the place to go to meet that need,” said Lauren Kelly, director of membership and community at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). “You want to make it easy, clear, and appealing to dive into the community and participate.”
Kelly shared ways that associations can revitalize online community engagement.
Enlisting member volunteers who are already active on the platform can help give drive engagement for the online community.
“Engaging active members reinforces their own enthusiasm for the community and will help drive engagement,” Kelly said. “These members already understand the process. They know how to ask questions, provide answers, and help other members. They are a good resource of expertise.”
Once a week, ISTE emails these member volunteers with a list of discussions in the online community that have little to no responses.
“We tell volunteers that these posts could use some extra attention,” Kelly said. “If the topics fit their area of interest, we ask if they would submit a reply, and they usually do.”
These volunteers engage in a way that is both focused and natural because the conversation already aligns with their interests and expertise. Natural discussion will encourage other members to jump in and join the conversation.
Behind the Scenes
Though staff contributions to online communities varies by association, it can help increase engagement by focusing on member interests.
In its monthly newsletter, ISTE staff include a wrap-up of popular discussions from its member community, which serves as a reminder about interesting topics and conversations that members can check out and contribute to.
“We’re showing them that there are great conversations happening in the community about topics that are relevant and exciting,” Kelly said. “It’s an easy way to encourage them to log in, read about what their peers are saying, contribute their own ideas, or ask questions.”
She also recommends encouraging staff from all departments to post to the online community.
“It helps make your organization feel more personal and community focused,” she said. “And as other departments contribute, they’re more likely to tell members they work with about the platform, which in turn drives more people to the online community.”
When developing guidelines around what staff can post to the online community, Kelly suggests encouraging them to post simple seed questions to get conversations off the ground. Good discussion starters are typically those with a simple question in the subject line, not too much additional context in the post, and a low barrier to entry.
“You want the question to generate value for others to read, but also something that’s easy for almost anyone to be able to respond to,” Kelly said. “Usually, folks just need to get over that first post barrier to contribute more naturally in the future.”
As these questions drive members to contribute and share knowledge, their posts help other members who use the online community to grow and develop their own learning and professional skills.
“Seeding questions is all about how we can help foster the sharing of expertise,” she said. “Expertise-driven questions can really pull in a community to share ideas and learn from one another.”