How to Build Long-lasting, Thriving, ROI-crushing Communities

Want to learn how to build active, meaningful communities while winning over executives and board
Maria Ogneva

Want to learn how to build active, meaningful communities while winning over executives and board members? Talk to Maria Ogneva. She has run communities at LinkedIn, Sidecar and now FinancialForce, and even ran product marketing for Salesforce’s own community offering.

I spoke with her recently on how to boost engagement by creating trust and belonging in meaningful communities, and where the community space is headed. The video has the full content, but I’ve summarized some of the key points below. Enjoy!

Q: How did you get involved in community?

A: I moved to a new city and was looking for community, so I got on to meet people. Learned about the community tools that were coming onto the scene at that point and decided to do it for a living. I now work with B2B companies to create “awesome, engaged, sustainable communities” for employees, partners and customers.

Timestamp in video: 35 seconds to 2:20

Q: How do you draw the line between what’s required to build engagement and what a business needs to measure its success?

A: The fabric of community is building a sense of trust and belonging. You have to talk to each person with their goals in mind. This is what community managers do, using their innate sense of empathy. We want to help people become better versions of themselves through the power of community. Apply empathy to your conversations with everyone.

Have a plan of why you’re doing the community and how you’re going to get support — what is the guiding star that everyone in the company is going to understand and get behind? Talk to the CEO in those terms. Find out the CEO’s set of values and how you can help them excel.

You can see the sense of belonging when members feel comfortable making their own posts or sharing something. Look at areas like how many questions are answered within the first hour, or how many people are in the thread. You can also do a “sense of community” survey on how connected they feel and if they are getting what they need.

Timestamp in video: 3:28 to 8:20

Want to learn how to build active, meaningful communities while winning over executives and board members? Talk to Maria Ogneva.

Q: What have you learned about communicating to CEOs, executives, and board members about community health and success?

A: Be concise and don’t have too many metrics. Don’t focus too much on the small details. Ultimately what board members care about is how it affected the business. Keep it pointed and relevant to the driving goal for the company. Always know what is on that CEO’s set of objectives for that year so you can align to that and speak in that language.

Timestamp in video: 9:07 to 10:20

Q: Have you been able to witness communities take on a new mission over time?

A: Absolutely. All great meaningful communities have evolved their mission over time. If you’re trying to get organizational support, you have to understand how to get people excited about it. Focus on something that’s crisp and valuable to the members and the organization, and be focused in how you talk about and measure it.

Timestamp in video: 10:38 to 12:45

Q: What are some of the tactics that you’ve used to boost engagement and connection among your communities?


  1. Allow for off-topic discussions, because it helps people feel a sense of belonging/trust when they let their guard down. Ask questions that may not have anything to do with community goals, but help people feel connected (e.g. ‘what’s your favorite place to travel?’). As a good community manager, you have to understand the psychology and make it easy to get engaged.
  2. Learn what you can about the person at on-boarding by asking questions (e.g. “what do you hope to gain from this group?”).
  3. Introduce new members to people and content that will make their life easier.

Timestamp in video: 13:05 to 19:09

Q: What about the other end of the journey, when their interest fades and commitment levels go down? Do you have tactics for re-engaging?

A: We’re currently working on an email series that helps re-engage people by checking in with them. Don’t panic when it happens because it could be more about changes in the member’s personal life than the community. Allow people to participate the way that they want to. You can send a one-answer survey to understand if they’re getting value.

Having these re-engagement loops is important because it helps members form a habit.

Send them the occasional email reminding them to contribute and include a few recommended reading items. You can also stroke their ego a bit to get them more involved, such as “Hey, someone posted this question and I think your expertise would be great to answer it!”

Timestamp in video: 20:08 to 25:18

Q: How do you think about blending offline connections (e.g. conferences) with online?

A: There is nothing more effective than face to face. Organize people in user groups so the community can thrive in between the in-person meetings. Make sure everyone joins a group or a thread in the community and encourage them to share experiences.

Get people to share progress in the community. That gets them to take what happened in person and extend it to the online medium. Also use icebreakers. Find ways to show people’s needs and get other people involved who can contribute to those needs.

Timestamp in video: 25:35 to 29:28

Q: Loneliness and disconnection are rampant, despite social media “connections.” Where do you hope the community space heads to deal with these issues?

A: You have to hold yourself accountable for how you’re enabling people to act. We need to get away from measuring success in “likes” and more towards finding meaning and life-long learning. The community should be about solving problems and talking to each other, not about people trying to get noticed.

Being part of meaningful communities and learning together is the best defense that we have against feeling anxious, fearful of the future, and feeling irrelevant. The world needs more real communities where people help each other, are there for each other, and assuage fears.

Get out there and contribute to your community however you can, in real life and online.

Timestamp in video: 30:20 to 36:55

Work with experts who build successful communities

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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.