Report: Engagement Strategy Key to Building Strong Online Communities
A new Higher Logic report found that organizations have seen a decrease in the number of active contributors in their online communities since the pandemic. Though this trend was anticipated, it’s still important that associations take an active approach to supporting and investing in their online communities moving forward.
While many organizations saw a boost in online community users during the pandemic, the number of unique monthly logins and unique contributors has returned to a more modest average.
According to Higher Logic’s 2023 Association Community Benchmark Report, its nonprofit and association customer base saw an average of 759 monthly unique logins and 94 monthly unique users in 2020. In the first six months of 2023, customers saw 601 average monthly unique logins and 74 average monthly unique contributors.
With numbers returning to pre-pandemic levels, it’s important for associations to support member engagement in online communities with strong and consistent strategies.
“From the data, we’ve seen that engagement drives every part of an association’s work like the mission, education, learning, etc.” said Rob Wenger, Higher Logic’s CEO. “These communities drive engagement.”
Wenger shared how understanding members who use online communities and investing in the platform can help associations prioritize and drive the success of their online communities.
The report found that about 15 percent of a community’s total users are active. Of the active users, an average of 6 percent log into it monthly, and 13 percent of those who log in contribute to discussion activity.
“When you think about it, 15 percent active and 6 percent log-in is huge,” Wenger said. “You don’t need to log into a community since you can participate without logging in like reading the community digest or replying to emails.”
Wenger said that this pattern follows trends in human nature. Every community has people who are regular participants, those who are active occasionally, and those who log in but never participate—often called lurkers or quiet learners.
“This group is important because they’re finding valuable information from your online community,” Wenger said. “They may not post, but they still go to the site to read posts or get answers to questions. They’re being educated and staying in touch with your association.”
To increase participation, examine what content is being shared, as well as who is posting and replying to it. Consider other topics that would be of interest to different subsets of your membership and how to foster those conversations.
For example, if you want to engage early-career professionals, ask members to share helpful tips they learned in their career or invite early-career members to anonymously ask the questions that they’re afraid to ask their boss.
“We also recommend creating content calendars for communities, which is a standard for marketing practices,” Wenger said. “It can help bring in new members into the community early and help coax members to engage who may no longer actively participate.”
Invest in Community
According to the report, organizations that invest in online communities see greater impacts the longer they spend cultivating their communities.
Associations with online communities between three and five years old had an average number of 50,655 total users and 7,549 active users, compared to associations with online communities that were one year old (18,632 total users and 2,578 active users) or two years old (29,109 average total users and 3,742 active users).
“Once it’s become a proven resource, an association puts more effort into the community through marketing or sharing information about it at conferences, and the community continues to grow,” Wenger said. “We know from the data that once your community takes off, it will likely keep growing.”
The longer an organization has a community and invests in its success, the more member activity they’ll see in return. The data also showed that the number of monthly unique logins and monthly unique contributors were higher for organizations using their communities longer.
“Staff training is key,” Wenger said. “The more staff are trained on how to run the online community, the better it will be. The first year may feel like drinking from a fire hose, but over time as they implement more strategies, increase content and posts, the more you’ll see members engage.”