Ever wonder why members join your community and then leave without feeling a real sense of belonging? Have you wracked your brain trying to find ways you can encourage them to contribute more?
We’ve all had “stuck” moments in our communities, where we reach engagement plateaus and need an injection of inspiration to level up. There’s a way to keep your community moving and vibrant. We’re here to share 11 of them.
We’ve aggregated the top tips shared by community leaders on the most popular CMX Hub articles this year. This advice will help drive your work forward for a successful year of community building ahead.
1. Sometimes, you have to hack it.
When starting a community, sometimes you have to make the community appear artificially active. You can do that through internal engagement (getting other employees to engage on your platform), phoning in favors from friends, or paying contractors temporarily. “We had to hire students from UCLA and other top programs to listen for the first month and a half. It was hard to meet the demand,” says 7 Cups of Tea CEO Glen Moriarty. It’s forgivable so long as you don’t do it for very long.
2. Validate your community concept before investing in platforms and big launches.
“While thinking big and into the future is important, look for a way to test the community concept before you get into vendor selection,” wrote Maria Ogneva of her experience as Head of Community at Sidecar (she is now Director of Community at Sumo Logic).
“For us, the lean community experiment happened on Facebook. We tested and observed how members interacted for about a year in secret Facebook groups. We saw, time and time again, our members wanted to find and share with each other. Knowing our community’s motivations made the platform search process easier, as I could place each product demo in the context of our existing community. If you don’t have strong hypotheses for how your community will interact on your platform, the salespeople from platform vendors will fill in the blanks for you. And that is not a safe bet.”
3. Hook your members with habit-forming feedback loops.
“The secret to Product Hunt’s ability to keep its users engaged is a thoughtfully architected system built on the Hook Model,” explained GrowthHackers’ Director of Engagement & Analytics Anuj Adhiya. “It’s designed to raise the odds of becoming a community that is also a daily habit, whether you’re a content consumer or creator.”
4. Hire a community professional.
If you really want to spark engagement, you need someone who focuses on trying new tactics and measuring their success. And you need to bring that person on full-time. Here’s a quick hint for finding the right fit: “Community builders are passionate folks. We want to know why we should care about the community you want to build. Even if we do know your company, we want to be reminded of your driving mission, what problem you really see yourself solving, and we want to begin to envision how we can begin helping to solve that problem as a part of your team.”
5. Recruit your most outspoken users first.
When you’re recruiting new members into the community, get creative. “If you’re not sure who to start with, turn to your support queue. Who have you interfaced with multiple times? Who do you know on a first-name basis? These people need not be ‘influencers.'” Invite them into a private beta space, call it a pilot, and see how it goes. This goes back to tip #2: try it before you buy it. This is exactly what Foursquare did.
6. Host brunches.
Brunch works. It really really works, asserts Erik Torenberg, Head of Community at Product Hunt. Erik outlined the mostly free tools that Product Hunt used to become the massively successful and engaged community platform that it is today, but he couldn’t emphasize brunch enough: “More so than a party or any other event, a brunch allows you to get to know lots of people quickly. You could spend five minutes talking to someone, but somehow you’ll feel like you’ve known that person for a long time. Also, a brunch enables you to meet people you’ve always wanted to meet, especially those who are too busy to meet one-on-one but can’t pass up the opportunity to befriend 20 new people.”
7. Get outside perspective.
It’s tempting to get stuck in your own community and not look outside for inspiration. Our members have shown us that stepping outside, asking others for help and ideas, and trying new things is the best way to go. We have 21 case studies to get you started plus a Facebook Group where our nearly 3,000 members share ideas and inspiration daily.
8. Plan your content thoughtfully and with structure.
In community, content really is king. If you don’t have a clear content strategy, you’re likely missing out on a huge opportunity to recruit the right members, inspire conversation, and grow long-term. Having a content calendar is important, but it needs to be strategic. As you grow, too, you’ll want to encourage members to create their own content.
The only way you can do that right is by having a clear idea of your strategy and goals: “‘Giving users access to control might be scary, but it’s a necessary part of the community growth process.’ Your content strategy needs to include top users as well. But ultimately the overarching direction needs to come from you, even if that direction is putting members’ stories front and center and doing no creation yourself,” explained CMX Content Strategist Clem Auyeung.
9. Ask your members what they want.
It’s not all about your brand and what you can get out of it. In an interview with the First investor in Uber, Rob Hayes, he stressed that community is about elevating your members to the point that they have real influence on the product: “The sitters [on UrbanSitter] are really excited about being in that community. The company has engaged them to understand what it is that the sitters want as opposed to just asking the end customers,” he said.
10. Spend a lot of time on the intent conversations.
“Spend a lot of time on the intent conversations. Talk with your members about what they want to accomplish and really listen.” A lot of leaders can be tempted to set the vision without first making sure that their members are bought into the future of the organization. “Don’t dictate the building blocks of your community,” David says. “Have conversations about them.”
11. Don’t be afraid to try different types of content until one sticks.
When launching a new community, we can ponder endlessly what kinds of posts will spark engagement. Unfortunately, simply pondering these questions does nothing to move the needle. The team at Udemy jumped right in and tried several different types of content to initially engage people after their group launched.
The most successful type of content they tried was around sharing production tips with instructors. While their community was full of subject matter experts, they were not video production experts. So they really needed help figuring how to create quality videos. That became a large value proposition for the community.
The main theme that was woven through all these pieces is that you have to step out on a limb and take risks in your community if you want to spark engagement. Ask people what they want, try new pilot programs, be open to new experiences with your members. But do so with intent, with planning, and with a strategic approach.
And, as always, remember that no matter how hard you work, some people are not meant to be part of your community. You can’t please everyone and natural turnover is inevitable.