Picking up where we I left off on measuring online community engagement, I thought it would be useful, maybe even illuminating (!) to talk about some of the ways you can increase engagement in your online community.
Launching a new community takes some time. It takes time for folks to get comfortable with their new digs, with their new peeps, and whatever it is they feel they ought to be talking about. Consider Cog’s ladder theory on group dynamics. In the early phases of individual interactions in a group, Cog theorizes that members are in a “polite stage” – interactions are simple and controversy is avoided. For an online community, this can be disastrous. Without rich conversations (in the form of comments usually), the community can look like a ghost town. How does the chicken beat the egg then? In a place where folks may be shy to share, or where the conversation is so airy that no one is compelled to share, how do you get people to engage?
Everyone Loves Cupcakes
It takes time to develop healthy, robust conversations in any online community. If you’re in that early polite stage (whether your site is new or not), I think there are some things you can do to increase engagement. And it all has to do with gaming the system. And Cupcakes.
- Gaming tip #1: The Contest. Start up a contest where contributors get a prize. Make it a compelling prize (slap your brand’s logo on something cool like a mug, sunglasses, water bottle, ipod/pad/phone case, etc). Acknowledge these members on your homepage, in newsletters, in person even. Start to let them set the bar for what constitutes a good, participatory citizen.
- Gaming tip #2: Recognize the Power of Exclusivity. Go out and find those folks who tend to be more outspoken than most. Ask them to contribute. Tell them the community is counting on them (which is the truth). In return for their efforts, let them get the exclusive scoop on something (first to know about the new X), or let them be a part of a consumer advisory group. Whatever it is, it has to be exclusive and they have to feel excited about it.
- Gaming tip #3: Meet them where they are. If they are in the “polite” stage, give them what they want. Seed the site with discussions and questions that are simple, where everyone can get involved, and where perhaps everyone may even agree. New members need to see that others are like them at this stage. So find common ground and make it easy for members to voice their solidarity.
- Gaming tip #4: The Badge. In the gaming world, badges are key. You get a badge when you kill that 50th warrior, or when you find the lost treasure chest. Badges are bragging rights. And most people like to brag a bit. Create a simple badge for top contributors. The badge has to be cool. It has to show up on that member’s profile or anything they publish. It has to exude hey-I-am-a-subject-matter-expert. You may need to develop a hierarchy of badges. That’s okay, but keep it simple as possible.
- Gaming tip #5: Give away some cupcakes. Everyone loves cupcakes. Go around and visit your members in person (or over the phone if they’re not around). Do some shameless self-promotion. Dangle a delightful cupcake carrot under their nose and tell them they only get it if they do X (X would be some sort of site contribution). Cupcakes may not work for everyone logistically, but you get the idea. This one is about being proactive, not being afraid to ask the community what you want of them, and giving them a little bonus for helping out.