How to Promote Online Community Engagement

The brand or a new product promotion is what inspires members to join online communities, but as any community manager knows, it’s not what keeps them coming back every day to participate.

People don’t follow a brand on Twitter, like it on Facebook, or even join a forum unless something appeals to them. A brand logo isn’t what invites them to participate in community discussions; it’s the discussion topics, the pleasant atmosphere, and the invitation and subsequent engagement from the community manager.

Most community managers are there only to guide the discussion. What they really want is for their communities to carry on productive conversations whether they’re there or not. Indeed, the healthiest communities can run in a manager’s absence while still following the rules and engaging.

So how does this happen? How does a brand representative get people talking and keep them talking? By giving them something to talk about.

Not only is it important to visit your community each day to make sure that it’s not taken over by spammers and that your members are all having a positive conversation, but when you’re building a community from scratch, you’ll want to guide the conversation at first.

Choose topics that are appropriate to your brand that won’t offend anyone. Light topics, such as the weather, are okay once in a while, but they can also be boring. Book and movie recommendations get people talking, as do the following:

  • “Caption this” contests: Post an image (one you have permission to use) and invite your community to post a caption underneath. Brand-related photos are fine, but make them fun.

  • Fill in the blanks: Post a sentence with a word or phrase missing and invite your community to fill in the blanks.

  • Limericks and haikus: Pick a topic and invite your community to post a fun little ditty around it.

  • “What would you do?”: Post a news item that won’t cause a debate or heated discussion and ask your community what they would do in the article’s subject’s situation.

  • Questions about the brand: Ask your community a question along the lines of “What’s your favorite way to use_____”

Some of these items may seem trivial and off-topic, but you’re establishing a pattern early. Topics are upbeat, positive, and stuff everyone can relate to. Members come by often when they expect fun, not only for their own amusement, but to see how others are responding as well.

Something else is happening, though. Participants will want to do the same thing. They’re going to post their own fun topics and conversation-starters. After seeing your example every day, a tentative few will start doing the same. Soon, many members are engaging with each other, and you don’t even have to hang around.

As long as you establish positivity and discourage negativity from the very start, your members are more likely to follow your example.

Also, just because the community can run in your absence doesn’t mean you should make a habit of being absent. Make sure that your community knows you’re there even if you’re not a dominant part of the conversation. This will discourage trolls, spam, and other abuse.

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