The 5 “Must Haves” for an Engaged Community

1. Make it Real

Creating a highly engaged community first starts with realizing you are in a relationship – with each and every member of your community. Think about your significant other, your Mother, your child, your best friend… what makes that relationship work well? (assuming it works well!)

Trust. Kindness. Open Communication. Setting Expectations. Admitting when you are wrong.

2. Content is King

Content throughout the community needs to be thoughtful and interesting. Otherwise, why would someone bother to read it? or to participate?

The content you write for the community website is critical – this is the place your members call ‘home’ and you need to give them a reason to keep coming back. Share, share, share information – about your company, about your brand, about how the last survey they did made an impact on the business. 73% of members join your research community because they enjoy taking part in surveys and want to know they are making a difference in how you develop your products and services. I hear this often “but we can’t share because the information is private – we don’t want to let the cat out of the bag ahead of the campaign, no spoilers, etc.”. I totally get it, there are ways around this: add a few questions to the end of a survey where the information is important but can be shared, do a survey just for the members where the information collected isn’t going to jeopardize anything, and finally, share the information after the critical campaign is over -it’s not too late.

3. Offer the right Incentive Program

If you must ask your members to participate in something boring, or lengthy, then be sure to offer the right extrinsic incentive. One entry into a draw to maybe win 100 bucks is not going to cut it for a 30 minute survey on the topic of widgets. Same for qualitative reports, if you want members to spend 3 hours of their time each week taking pictures while shopping, spending 20 minutes on an online diary every night and then participating in a 30 minute discussion, it will be important to pay them for their valuable time. Even your Mom wouldn’t participate in all that without some incentive (I know I wouldn’t!) The rule of thumb is think about how much time you are asking of your member and then provide an incentive appropriate for that length of time.

4. “Just Right” Timing

The amount, frequency and recency of activities are all important. Treating your members right for max engagement means sending just the right amount of activity invites. Too few and they forget who you are, too many and they feel you are not treating them with kindness. The right amount tends to be around 4-6 times per month. Humans are creatures of habit, so setting a regular cadence is also important (setting expectations). Create a calendar of events so you stay on a schedule.

5. Communicate using Next Generation Tools (platform)

Finally, you need the right community tools to be able to build an online relationship with members and ultimately benefit from a highly engaged and active community. There are many new tools out there – most platforms can’t do it all, so choose the platform that fits the majority of your needs, then supplement for the rest. Is your community more quantitatively focused? Then you need a platform with a killer database, survey and reporting tool. More qualitatively focused? Then you need a platform that can not only handle in-depth online discussions, but also has features that allow members to interact with one another and that can categorize members into status levels – so you can track how active they are and reward them appropriately. An ability to manage extrinsic rewards is often forgotten, but essential – can the platform handle points programs? Regardless of qualitative or quantitative needs, a platform that can be customized to your brand and to make members feel welcome and invited is most important.