Best Practices for Community Engagement

After working with hundreds of communities, here are the best practice strategies that drive long-term member engagement in your online community.

As the director of community strategy at Mobilize, I’ve been able to work with many communities and learn the consistent patterns in what works and what doesn’t to drive long-term, healthy engagement. Here’s a brief rundown of the clear best practices that drive successful engagement.

Before you jump in, however, know that the most engaged communities start with a thoughtful strategy that includes; goals, what’s in it for the members, the outcomes for the business, and more. Make sure you’ve built your strategy foundations before beginning to engage.

Need help with your community strategy? We’ve got you! Check out this quick Mobilize Academy video and follow the template we’ve included. 

Show your members what they can do in your community, don’t just expect them to do it.

Give members concrete instructions for how to participate in your network, and consider posting best practices tied to each ask. Important instructions include: 

  • How to introduce yourself
  • When to comment on a post
  • How and when to send a private message to someone you found using the member database

Three recommended ways to share these instructions:

  1. Email (via announcement), or automated onboarding emails
  2. Highlighted post for new members — using video with showing how to take action
  3. Direct message when new members join

In each place, give the instructions and show the member how using a different format, such as a written how-to, a screenshot of an example post, and a 30-second video overview from the community manager. Video is essential to build personal rapport and establish trust—but also to show the member for much better understanding.

Then, ask trusted community members to lead by example. Invite them to do each of the actions you’d recommend to a new member, so it’s clear what the cultural norms are when people enter your community.

Partner with a valued group of community leaders.

If you want to grow engagement with your online community, then it’s essential to build close relationships with trusted, active members of your community. Use data to better understand who’s most engaged and invite them to help you, and empower them with clear directions and ownership.

When community members are empowered, they create more leaders within the community—which creates a snowball effect that massively grows your community engagement and ultimately members.

leaders create more leaders

How to get your group of community leaders moving:

  • Identify 5 – 10 community members whom you trust, and who you think would be willing to get more involved on a long-term basis.
  • Then, create an informal or formal distributed leadership program with these individuals. This strategy is key, so make sure to give a read on how to build a sound distributed leadership program.
  • Speak on the phone or video to get to know each individual, their strengths, and how they want to get involved. 
  • Set clear expectations with them, such as “Please comment weekly and post monthly.” Work with them to define the meaningful activities they want to participate in and establish a regular cadence of those activities.
  • Express your gratitude often and share praise.
  • Keep a regular recruiting cycle for community leaders, because it’s natural for leaders to phase out as different aspects of life take up more of their time—and fresh eyes increases innovative participation.

Don’t just build a content calendar. Build an engagement program. 

No more “content for the sake of content.” Reframe your mindset from creating a content calendar to creating an engagement program. 

Build a strategic plan that identifies what your members care about, the activities and conversations you want to see, and the value you want to deliver to your members. This should be well defined from the work you conduct in planning your network strategy. Also, use polls or groups to help uncover what your members want to keep your engagement aligned.

Create a calendar that incorporates dynamic content, experiences, and management activities that you’ll create to deliver that value based on those learnings. 

Ensure that you’re sharing valuable resources, connecting members to each other, and nudging community members to share, as well. 

Your engagement program might include things like:

  • Create a post asking members for their opinions on topic X. At @mention two community leaders and ask for their thoughts. 
  • Connect three groups of three members via private message.
  • Host monthly video office hours or create discussions on a thought-provoking article.
  • Post a monthly 2-minute video with lessons learned from the previous month and what’s ahead for the coming month—encourage members to make an appearance and share their take.

Remember, your community values peer to peer connections and your expertise. 

The people in your network are, of course, your biggest asset. However, don’t underestimate the importance of you and your organization in attracting people to your online community.

Start by developing a naming or branding convention that identifies you and your colleagues as members of your organization. Then, consider a three-part approach for your staff engagement strategy. 

  1. Share the expertise that your organization has generated because of its access to the network’s exclusive knowledge base.
  2. Make the network experience personal by always welcoming new members and asking your staff to regularly comment on posts. 
  3. Be the concierge that proactively connects your members to each other and to the resources and experiences that matter to them. 

Supplement online conversations with regular video, phone, or in-person experiences. Let each inform the other in a connective cycle.

Humanize the online community experience by ensuring your engagement program includes both written conversations in your online community and video or in-person experiences that bring online personalities to life. 

If these are in-person events, extend the impact of the conversations that happened by reporting back on these events with photos and videos, and continuing the dialogue online afterward. This has a massive impact on delivering long-term value from short-term events.

Similarly, prepare for events by creating conversation topics and prep activities in the online community in advance. Use polls, questions threads, and other posts to get a better understanding of what your members want from your time together.

By doing this, you’ll create what you can imagine as an infinity symbol – a continuous cycle of online and “in-real-life” IRL experiences that fuel each other and breathe life into a dynamic, meaningful experience for members and your organization.

Scale intimacy by building personal, 1:1 relationships with your members and encouraging them to do the same.

Building personal relationships is key to growing your network and increasing engagement. You can build intimacy at scale by personally connecting with your members. Consider conducting each of the following:

  • Encourage members to connect with each other by building relationship development into your engagement program. Consider sending a private message to each new member and/or ask your community leaders to do so. 
  • At @ mention your members in posts and comments to bring them into the conversation. 
  • Create a poll that invites people to say “yes” to connecting 1:1 with other members, and invite them to connect in the comments.
  • Create a monthly campaign to encourage people to host their own video chats on a “topic of the month” and report back to the community in a post.

Remember that members often need you to explicitly tell them how to engage in your network. Instruct members to connect personally by first leading by example, and then encouraging others to pay that forward.

Once your engagement activity is moving, pay attention to insights and make micro-adjustments

Engagement metrics from a mobilize community

Engagement data is the fuel for growth and the catalyst for driving new value for your community members. Take the time to set up analytics and insights reports to look into the engagement data tied to content, events and interactions—by cohorts—to create microsegments within your member database.

This opens up endless opportunities for new engagement programs that are hyper-relevant based on context and relevance—which keep members coming back. Some basic ways to leverage insights within your community:

  • Develop analytics reports to understand what content users engage with at the person-level (by user ID/email). Use those insights to personally recommend new content, groups and/or events for those members to engage with—a great way to increase intimacy within the community.
  • Use data insights to understand who’s most active, who’s least active and build programs to help most active members, drive re-engagement with inactive members through peer-to-peer direct sharing
  • Conduct member polls using video and gather feedback from events, posts, and topic groups to better understand what’s resonating with each member audience. Segment your member database using these insights and begin building new high-value programs tied to this feedback to drive hyper-relevant value with members
  • Analyze your most active and engaged member profiles to understand what’s delivering value. Deepen that value by aligning your content and engagement strategy to fuel these learnings.

It’s important to think about the technology partner you’re working with, and their approach to helping you uncover insights from the engagement data within your community.

As you develop your network strategy to drive engagement in your community, don’t forget to map out the attributes, activities, and metrics you’ll need to measure. Uncovering the insights needed to improve your community engagement becomes much, much easier.

For more learning about best practice engagement strategies, check out this free on-demand webinar. Also, take a look at the Mobilize method to better understand how we help build thriving communities for our clients.

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Work with experts who build successful communities

Mobilize is made up of community experts who have launched communities for the likes of Dropbox, United Nations’ SDSN, Dermalogica, and more. We work with you to align your business goals with a tailored community strategy to ensure its success.

Whether you’re just getting started or are looking to improve outcomes with your existing community — we have strategies and industry-tailored programs to help you get things done. Schedule a demo for a personalized walk-through of our technology and learn about our expert-led strategy services.