How to Encourage Participation in an Online Community

How does a community come together, anyway? All this talking and sharing on online communities doesn’t happen overnight, and it certainly doesn’t happen on its own. Setting up a place to meet is nice, but an online community can sometimes resemble a high school dance, with everyone shyly hanging off to one side waiting for the first person to get started.

In essence, the community manager is the first person up to dance. She encourages everyone onto the floor, regardless of skill or expertise. She doesn’t make them feel inept, but rather teaches them the latest steps. Soon, all the chairs are empty, and the dance floor is full.

The community manager is also the host. She stands at the door and says “Hello” and “Welcome” to all guests, paying special attention to the newcomers. She puts everyone at ease and makes sure that each person has someone to talk to.

If the conversation isn’t happening, she gets it started. If a newcomer is finding it difficult to keep up with the conversation or discussion topic, she finds a mentor to help. She never makes anyone feel self-conscious or ineffective, but encourages everyone to have a voice.

Fostering a community all sounds good in theory, but an online community isn’t a party or high school dance. It’s a forum or social networking group where people come to interact. Though the community manager doesn’t even have to get up out of her chair, getting others to participate is sometimes challenging.

However, regardless of the reason for the community, the members joined to benefit from talking to others. Therefore, members shouldn’t need a whole lot of encouragement, and most don’t. However, there are still people who aren’t very comfortable with interacting with others online or aren’t sure how to use an online community, and they need some help coming out of their shells.

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