Professional Community Perspectives: How Engaged are Your Members?

Ask many professionals, and they’re likely to cite ‘community’ as a critical factor in their decision to join and participate in a professional association. With this in mind, associations have taken the concept of community to new levels, building online environments that allow for always-on content, access to resources, and networking and conversation.

Online communities have opened new avenues to member engagement—and they come with both opportunities and challenges. Recently, Forj gathered leaders from more than a dozen associations for a series of focus groups dedicated to exploring their professional communities. We wanted to know: What makes them flourish? How do you measure success? And what are the possibilities for the future?

In a four-part series, we’re sharing key insights from our roundtable events on community and the member experience. In the first installment, we’re identifying the cues that demonstrate your members are actively engaging in your community. Watch for and encourage these behaviors to grow the size and success of your professional community.

What are the signs of a thriving community?

Offering a user-friendly platform and relevant, timely content are table stakes for online communities today. Time and again, our focus group participants pointed to people as the most critical drivers of community success.

Your professional community is likely to flourish when:

  • Members convene on numerous subjects they’re passionate about
  • The community identifies and rallies behind shared interests and common goals
  • People take part in shared experiences and foster a sense of belonging
  • The community demonstrates trust, respect, and inclusion
  • Members share unconditionally, without prompting, and in the absence of tangible incentives

“[A great professional community is] a place that gives you energy, makes you feel better when you leave it, and keeps you wanting to come back.”

- Carrie Melissa Jones, Community Strategist & Author of Building Brand Communities

 

What do the most engaged community members do?

There’s a clear difference between heavy contributors, intermittent contributors, and ‘lurkers’ in your community. In fact, research has shown that in most online communities, only 10% of members actively engage and the rest passively observe.[1] Our focus group participants shared stories of online communities that grew in number of members but stayed stagnant in terms of activity—and how they could spot who was and was not engaged.

Your members are committed and contributing when they:

  • Show up consistently and use a variety of the resources available to them
  • Ask questions and provide solutions
  • Eagerly share their knowledge, their experiences, their successes, and their lessons learned
  • Participate online and offline (in committees, task forces, panels, or boards)
  • Recruit new members and welcome them into the community
  • Take the lead by starting conversations, contributing content, or scheduling discussions and events

“Measuring engagement should not only be about connecting members to more people … but also connecting them to the purpose of the community.”

- Carrie Melissa Jones, Community Strategist & Author of Building Brand Communities


When Engagement Wanes

An active, collaborative, supportive online community is every association professional’s dream. And many begin this way—only to see participation taper over time. But you can prevent the wane in engagement.

Make sure you’re positioned to keep your community engaged and moving forward by considering these strategies.

  • Put people first. Boost feelings of belonging and commitment by linking people together and helping them nurture relationships.
  • Make it personal. Use what you know about your members, their preferences, and their goals to offer targeted recommendations for community resources
  • Create a virtuous cycle. Serve up relevant resources and encourage members as collaborators. Create opportunities for them to share knowledge and thought leadership by curating or contributing content.
  • Walk in their shoes. Audit the community from a member’s perspective to make sure it’s intuitive to use and easy to engage.
  • Seek feedback. Use one-on-one conversations, focus groups, or surveys to gain actionable input and insights from your members.
  • Encourage advocacy. Identify your most engaged members and ask for their support welcoming newcomers, initiating discussions, and creating connections.
  • Integrate, integrate, integrate. Use email, social media, and events as catalysts for engagement, always driving people back to the community.

[1] The 90-9-1 Rule for Participation Inequality in Social Media and Online Communities