Online community engagement is one of the best business growth strategies. An engaged community is an evolved customer base – their feedback can help you with product development, marketing strategies, and brand management.
But the most asked question is: How to keep them engaged? Well, there’s no shortcut here – it’s mostly sustained, consistent effort that demands a clear-cut strategy, attention, and thought.
A US-based power tool company, DeWalt says their online community saved them $6 million in research costs. And this recent study shows how smart community programs can be cost-effective growth strategies. Among the brands surveyed,
- 54% averred they use community engagement and bring down attrition
- 72% said they use their community for product feedback, and
- 77% said it helps fine-tune their brand awareness strategies
So, how does one maintain community engagement? What value proposition can a brand give the users to make their community journeys an engaging, compelling experience? Here are 13 ideas:
1. Nurture the old, entice the new
The idea is to create a warm and welcoming ambiance. The existing members want to be taken to the next level of their journey with you, the new members need to know what you are doing that’s of value to them.
Each member needs to get that sense of belonging in your community – so ask them to share a bit of their life. This is the first step towards encouraging community participation – it is an ongoing process.
How to keep it up? Be regular with sharing content – share brand initiatives, inspirational thoughts, products, and progress. Occasionally, show your other side – post the odd peekaboo into your office/employees in action.
See how tech giant, TCS does it! This helps build brand trust, and a trusted brand is one that people automatically gravitate to.
2. Make them feel special
Once you create a community and begin the engagement, the next step is to personalize the approach. So, begin with content curation. Post content that members can identify with.
Go for their emotions, stimulate their intellect. Humor is a great tool here. Allow them to share content on your community platform. Organize mentor programs, masterclasses. Remember, freebies and giveaways – can be virtual, too! But all your engagements should revolve around your company’s core philosophy.
The Goodreads community is a great example here – They run reading contests, provide best-read lists, etc. and all their content is curated around books and reading, categorized around genre and age.
3. Get real, sometimes. Go offline
Often engagement dwindles when you begin to cruise along in a pattern. Shake things up a bit, take your online engagement offline – invite members for physical meet-ups.
It pays to invest in such initiatives because they are as good as corporate networking meetings. You can have these offline events as product precursors, where only community members get an early-mover deal.
The global mobile app building company, TekRevol, hosts frequent meetups to establish their expertise and position themselves as an industry thought leaders. Such initiatives are great for lead generation and customer acquisition.
"Your audience will get first-hand experience of what you do and that will help them better understand how you add value to their interests," says Abeer Raza, the company's founder, and CEO.
4. Make it easy for them
Don’t create too many hurdles for member participation. This will make people unfollow your page or group. Many a time, companies complicate access and participation processes. Though it’s tempting to get user information for analysis, desist from doing it all the time.
One of the first steps towards this is to find out what type of community your target audience wants? A public community, or a branded, private community?
Once that’s decided, it’s best to respect the platform you are on – if it’s your own website, reduce bottlenecks and pain points. If it’s a popular app like Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn, cross-posting becomes easy. Don’t create special walls/subgroups, etc.
A word of advice: Choose platforms that make it easy for users to comment/post/share – this will optimize participation.
5. Keep interactions regular
This is critical once people begin to expect something from you regularly. Plan wisely. Once a week, twice a week, twice a day – pace the interactions depending on what the nature of your community is.
Parenting communities, for instance, post up to 4 posts a day – and it works for them because parenting is a very dynamic thing, and parents often refer to the internet or go to their communities to look up things.
Now for what to share: a mix of articles, products, links to other interesting stuff pertaining to the nature of your work sector. Again, be regular. If Saturday 11 am is the time you feel is best for a live interaction or podcast, keep it the same every week, to maximize participation.
6. Celebrate frequent participants
A lull in action in the forum? You need some active participation. How do you motivate your members to suddenly like/comment and share? By celebrating the top participants, of course. Not only will this encourage more participation, but it will also give the other dormant members something to aspire for.
Give away digital stickers or badges of recognition (Facebook did it smartly by awarding ‘top fan’ badges to frequent users), let them avail special discounts off your products, make them feel ‘premium’.
7. Give UGC its due; make your brand community-friendly
Community group owners commit the cardinal sin of not posting enough user-generated content. Not at par with our philosophy’, ‘not a positive feedback’, ‘it just won’t work’ – these are some of the oft-quoted reasons.
But understand, online forums are for open discussions and sharing of content, ideas, feedback, and so on. Play the moderator, filter abuses, and make it a safe environment for all to freely share their content.
8. Give them add-ons
Another prime factor in maintaining community engagement is taking some of the initiatives forward by sending all the members a weekly mailer or a newsletter with the updates for the week, or what to look forward to next week. It can also be a blog/vlog. Or you can wish them on their special days.
It gives them an inclusive feel to know that the brand is sharing things with them. The advantage is that you can directly reach out to every member with offers, discounts, and other buy-now services – and up sell.
The University of Michigan, upon studying the relationship between online communities and organizational sales, discovered that customers spent 19% more after becoming the brand’s online community member.
Brands that set up communities, but don’t communicate with the members won’t see much user participation. Use all channels available – such as forums, comments, etc. Nothing puts people off more than the feeling of being ignored.
So, if a member asks a question and has to wait a week for some response, it’s all over with the engagement. So be swift in answering those queries and addressing grievances.
Another great way is to enable communication within your community through in-app messaging services such as CometChat. These allow the community members to communicate with each other through text, voice, and video messages.
Take Instagram for example, they achieved unparalleled engagement when they introduced the ‘Direct Message’ feature in 2013.
10. Collaborate with the community
Remember, building an online community is a great marketing strategy. So, once you have a sizable membership, you need to chart out a plan to include them in your marketing plans. How do you do that?
Begin with identifying the key stakeholders, see how they fit into your organizational goals and collaborate with them to promote your community.
As a company, focus on giving the community early access to services and support. Look for ways to give back to the community – it will go a long way in building long-term customer loyalty.
One of the most famous stories here is of how auto giant Volkswagen Canada crowdsourced the script and cast for its new advertisement using the brand’s Facebook group.
And did you know, the new Mini-Oreo print ads were designed by the Kraft Food online community members?
11. Create a sense of shared mission
Online community engagement can also be driven through active participation in specially curated polls and surveys. In fact, it’s a great strategy to cut across changing algorithms and retain user attention. Share the results with the members – let them know what they said as a group.
Or do it like the fashion magazine Vogue does – they often run photo contests, ask for cover model opinions on their community page. This will generate a feeling of shared accountability among the members and will up your brand credibility.
The key is to find out what motivates them and nurture that. Why are they a part of your community? What do they enjoy the most? Ponder on that.
12. Identify and use community influencers
In every thriving community, there will always be a subgroup of super-users who can encourage the silent bystanders to become active participants.
You can task them with mentoring and engaging new members – tag them in conversations, ask them those private questions, credit their virtual identities, and allow them to bring in other members to in-person events.
13. Build community resilience
A community that can support itself will also support your business. So, invest in extending your community’s social reach and capacity by helping them share their knowledge and skills.
Organize community resilience-building activities – and once the community is up to supporting itself, you can reach out to drive leads, gain brand loyalty and retain customers.
Virtual Rooms - for casual chats, getting members to write first-person accounts of their lives are some of the activities that will encourage participation. Beauty brand Sephora, for instance, organizes Beauty Talk, where members find solutions to their beauty problems from other members.
Your community is for your members, your members are your brand advocates. So, think about what experiences you want to give your customers?
Stay Connected and Ace the Game
To conclude, branded online communities help organizations achieve a number of key goals such as marketing and customer retention. Communities also enable peer-to-peer support and provide members a space to share their ideas and give feedback.
Online communities are the best advertisements for brand loyalty, and engaged, active members, are emotionally invested in your company. They will buy your products and also talk about them to family and family.
So, if you are looking for ways to raise your brand’s awareness, you need to build an active online brand community. Remember, highly engaged members are your best sales pitch out there!
Connect with us today to learn how CometChat can help you engage your community and scale your business.
About the Author
Vagisha is a content marketer who writes for publications such Hackernoon, Thrive Global, Medium, BBN Times, among others. She was also part of a team at Accenture that extensively worked on niches related to tech, marketing and SaaS.