6 Ways to Keep Members Engaged in Online Communities
We’ve always believed that a sense of belonging is the key to creating an online community, and that belief is backed by real research. In 1986, social psychologists McMillan & Chavis described the heart of a successful community as “a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together.”
At their core, communities have always been about bringing people together for a common purpose. And because of that, it’s clear why professional associations have long been committed to building vibrant communities.
Think of a community you belong to. What inspired you to join? What keeps you coming back for more and wanting to maintain your involvement? It’s probably the level of comfort you feel, the support you receive, and the sense of belonging the community gives you.
A sense of belonging is a human need, but it’s not necessarily something members can easily communicate. For many, joining a new community is scary. Their initial lack of participation isn’t an indicator of a lack of desire; it’s usually an indicator of fear.
At Forj, we’ve heard from leaders that one of the biggest challenges they face in running an online community is engaging so-called lurkers, those who browse but don’t actively participate. Here, we’re sharing 6 ways to boost members’ sense of belonging and engage them in your online community from the start.
1. Create a Friendly Atmosphere
From the day they join, it’s important to cultivate a positive atmosphere in your online community. Your community should be a place where people feel safe to share their thoughts and opinions. This starts with the tone you use to communicate with your audience. Be excited, warm, and kind. Use Emojis and GIFs to break the ice and add a little humor to your community. Always welcome new members publicly, let them know you’re happy they’ve joined, and ask them to share a little about themselves. Involvement from moderators and members you identify as ambassadors gives social proof of positive engagement, making it easier for new members to participate.
2. Maintain a Healthy Balance of Content
Your community should maintain a healthy balance between the content that moderators post and the content that members post. If you’re the only one talking in your community and initiating conversations, there’s a problem. To create a healthy balance of content, create a list of discussion ideas for your community that will keep members engaged. Keep lists of topics that resonate in your community. Some members may be afraid to spark a discussion, and you can ease their fears by letting them know what other members are interested in discussing.
3. Promote Members to Moderators
A wise person once said leaders don’t run a community, a community runs itself. We’ve seen this to be true at Forj, and that’s why we’re advocates of Roles and Recognition. One of the best ways to create distributed leadership is by establishing a system in which active members are promoted to moderator, admin, or ambassador roles. This is beneficial for many reasons. First, it helps delegate administrative tasks, taking some of that work off your plate. Second, it creates a system of recognition and centers the community on the people in it. Third, it keeps members engaged.
4. Host Local Events
Communicating online is great, but there’s something to be said about meeting in person. We’ve seen communities grow closer by hosting regular, in-person events that help establish real connections. We suggest hosting regular meetups in the cities where your members are located. You can make it easy using the Community Events page in the Forj platform, where your invite can automatically sync to members’ calendars.
5. Match New Members with Long-time Members
Another way to keep members engaged with your community is by establishing a partner program. Like we mentioned, fear is one of the top reasons members take so long to engage in an online community. A partner or buddy program, where new members receive a mentor right when they join, is a great way to gently ease them into the community.
How can a mentor help a new member? Mentors can make themselves available to answer questions new members may feel afraid to ask, introduce them to other community members, keep them updated on events, and tag them in relevant discussions.
6. Create Subgroups
Finally, if you’re managing a large community of thousands of people online, it can be intimidating for new members to speak up. One way to ease this pain is by creating subgroups. Subgroups can be centered around similar interests, demographics, or location. Admins can easily organize and create subgroups using the Community Map feature in the Forj platform.
Each time members connect with your association and each other, their sense of belonging should grow stronger. With a modern community platform that empowers members and puts resources and connections within reach, you’ll see their engagement and commitment expand.
At Forj, we believe engagement is just the beginning of community success. To learn more about how engaged members can create vibrant communities, check out our Building Vibrant Communities eBook or watch our Building Retention with Vibrant Communities webinar. You can also request a demo to learn Forj can deliver expert insights and help you build a strategic approach to community success.