A community engagement plan is a strategic plan that outlines how you'll cultivate an environment where meaningful relationships form and flourish. This plan serves as a roadmap, guiding your strategies and all engagement activities — from in-person events to online competitions.
The beauty of a well-crafted engagement plan is that it ensures alignment among all stakeholders in the community engagement process and helps guide your team in decision-making. An effective plan should also help community managers better articulate how the community contributes to key business objectives and simplify getting buy-in from major decision-makers.
In this guide, we'll break down the key components of creating an engagement plan that resonates with your community and propels your business forward.
Understanding your community
Any successful engagement plan begins with a thorough understanding of its audience - in our case, the online community. You must know who your members are, what they value, what motivates them, and how they engage with your platform. This knowledge drives personalization, relevance, and success in online community engagement.
In this section, we will discuss essential techniques for mapping member demographics and psychographics and community status quo.
Creating member personas
Creating member personas is similar to crafting characters for a novel. Each persona represents a segment of your community and target audience, complete with its own background information, including demographic characteristics, interests, behaviors, and needs. This helps you to visualize your community members as real people, rather than just statistics on a page.
To create these personas, start by analyzing your community data. Look at your community's age distribution, geographical locations (or time zones), occupations, education levels, and so on. Dig into their online behaviours, such as their preferred content types, posting and commenting habits, and the times of day they're most active.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you run an online community for Indigo, the popular bookstore. You might create a persona like "Emma, the Avid Reader." Emma is a 28-year-old woman who works at a medium-sized company, reads 1-2 books a month, often posts book recommendations in the early evenings, and loves participating in book discussions.
By developing these personas, you can tailor your engagement strategies to meet the specific needs of each persona group. In the case of Emma, for instance, you might schedule discussion threads for popular books in the early evenings when she's most active.
Conducting surveys and polls
Surveys and polls are a must in your engagement toolkit. They are great for gathering quantitative data about your community's preferences, needs, and opinions. You might ask questions about their interests, why they joined the community, and what keeps them coming back for more.
For instance, if you're managing a health and wellness community, you might conduct a poll to see which type of content members prefer: 'How-to' exercise videos or nutritious recipes? The results could surprise you. You could then steer your content strategy in a direction you hadn't anticipated. You could even follow-up after implementing changes to see how your members experienced seeing their input in action. Even the response rate alone could tell you something about your members
Remember, data is there to help you in the decision-making process. If your poll reveals a strong preference for exercise videos, for example, then it’s time to do something about it. Put on those gym shorts and start filming!
💡 Pro tip: Focus groups are another form of research to get to know your community. You can use this technique to complement the quantitative data you get from polls and surveys.
Social listening is about tuning in to your community's online chatter to understand their opinions, concerns, and sentiments.
By simply observing, you can learn so much about your members' interests, attitudes, and the types of engagement they typically exhibit.
For example, in a photography discussion forum, you might notice a surge in conversations around drone photography. You may see members sharing their drone shots, asking for tips, or recommending drone models. This could cue you to introduce a new drone photography challenge or invite a drone photography expert for a live Q&A session.
User experience (UX) research
It’s helpful to understand how members interact with your online platform. Do they find it easy to navigate? Do they face any issues while posting or commenting? Is the platform's design intuitive or cumbersome?
Let's say you're running a community for make-up enthusiasts and you notice members often complain about difficulties uploading their pictures. This feedback signals a problem with the user experience.
You can identify hiccups like this and iron them out by conducting UX research, which can include methods like usability testing. Remember, your platform should empower your members to engage, not stand in their way.
Understanding community status quo with a SWOT analysis
SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. This analysis will help you understand your community's current status and inform your engagement strategy.
Strengths: Identify the positive attributes specific to your community. What are you doing well? Are there unique resources or capabilities that your community can leverage? For example, a strength could be a highly active user base or a unique theme that differentiates your community from others.
Weaknesses: Know your weak spots - you’ll be stronger for it. These are internal factors that may hinder your community engagement. It could be a lack of participation in certain community activities or an outdated community platform that affects the user experience.
Opportunities: Here, we examine external conditions that could benefit your community. An opportunity might be a trending topic that aligns with your community's interest or a potential partnership with a relevant influencer.
Threats: Lastly, you must be aware of external factors that could harm your community. This includes competitor communities, changing user trends, or changes in social media algorithms that might impact your community's visibility.
Let's go back to our book club example. A SWOT analysis might reveal something like this:
* Strength: Highly active member base
* Weakness: Limited participation in weekly book discussions
* Opportunity: Collaborate with local authors for exclusive webinars
* Threat: Other emerging online book clubs
By understanding these elements, you can build a strategic engagement plan that capitalizes on your strengths and opportunities, improves your weaknesses, and prepares for potential threats.
Setting engagement goals and objectives
Now that you've spent some quality time getting to know your community, it's time to set some goals and objectives. This is when we connect the dots between community engagement activities and key business objectives.
Define how community engagement will support key business objectives
Your community engagement plan should support your broader business objectives. For example, suppose one of your business objectives for the fiscal year is to increase customer loyalty. In that case, your community engagement strategy might focus on building strong relationships with community members, providing value through exclusive content, and creating a sense of belonging.
Just remember: you can’t contribute to all company-wide initiatives at once. Begin with one main goal and one or two supporting goals, especially if your community is still in its early days. Clear and realistic goal setting prevents your community team from experiencing overwhelm or discouragement.
Set objectives for your community engagement plan
Now that we've established how community engagement fits into your business strategy, let's discuss setting specific objectives for your community engagement plan.
The difference between goals and objectives
First off, let's clear up the confusion. In everyday lingo, we often use 'goals' and 'objectives' interchangeably, but they're two distinct concepts when it comes to business strategy.
Think of your goal as the final destination of your community. On the other hand, objectives are the milestones you need to hit along the way. For example, if your goal is to 'Increase community engagement,' an objective is 'Increase the average number of comments per post by 20% in the next quarter'.
▶️ Watch this video for an interesting perspective on the difference between goals and objectives in marketing.
Importance of SMART objectives in community engagement
SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. It's a framework that ensures your goals are clear and reachable.
Let's revisit our community engagement goal from earlier as an example:
"Increase community engagement by boosting the average number of comments per post by 20% by the end of Q3 2023". Here’s why it’s SMART :
Specific: Increase comments
Measurable: By 20%
Achievable: With the right strategies
Relevant: To community engagement
Time-bound: By the end of Q3 2023
Once you apply this framework to your goals, you’ll be able to achieve your goals more effectively in your online community.
Workshop: setting up your engagement goals and objectives
Okay, enough theory – it's time to roll up our sleeves. Here's a mini workshop to kick-start your goal-setting process:
Identify your key business objectives: This could be anything from boosting sales to increasing brand awareness. Write these down and clarify your highest priorities.
Define your community engagement goals: How can community engagement help achieve your business objectives? Write down broad goals that align with your business objectives.
Define your objectives: What are the specific steps you need to take to achieve your goals? Write down a few objectives for each goal.
Transform your objectives into SMART objectives: Add specificity, measurability, achievability, relevance, and a timeframe to each goal.
First impressions can set the tone for a member's future involvement in your community. An effective onboarding process is like a compass for new members, guiding them toward meaningful engagement from the get-go.
Craft a warm and friendly welcome message that familiarizes new members with the community. Highlight its key features and nudge them towards their first actions. For example, if you manage a book club community, you could encourage new members to share information about their favorite book or author as their initial post.
You might also want to consider a guided tour that familiarizes members with the platform and an automated email sequence to provide ongoing guidance during the first few weeks.
A well-devised content strategy can spark conversations, provide value to members, and maintain a lively and dynamic community atmosphere.
A wide variety of content is key: blog posts, videos, polls, infographics, and interactive Q&A sessions can cater to diverse member preferences. In the context of our book club community, you could create reading lists, author interviews, book trivia quizzes, and themed discussions around various book genres.
💡 Managing all this content can become overwhelming. Make sure you create a content calendar that keeps you on top of all these projects. 🗓️You can even use our content calendar template created in Notion and get started right away!
Competitions can add a fun, dynamic layer to your community engagement. They not only stimulate activity but also strengthen the bonds between members. The essence of a successful competition is to make it meaningful and relevant to your community.
Here are a few techniques that you can use:
Product Customization Contest: If your community is built around a product, you could run a product customization competition. For instance, if your community is related to a software tool, invite members to customize their user interface or develop unique add-ons.
Scavenger Hunt: You can hide clues or items across different posts, discussions, or pages in your community platform and encourage members to find them.
“Caption This” Contest: This is a great way to stimulate creativity and humor in your community. Post an interesting image related to your community's interests and ask members to come up with a caption. The best caption—as voted on by members—could win a prize.
“Fill in the Blank” Contest: This can encourage members to think and engage. Post a sentence related to your community or industry with a blank space and invite members to fill it in. For example, if you run a tech community, you might post, "The most innovative technology of this year is _______."
Now that you've crafted your main engagement strategies, you have to define how you are going to enable engagement in the community. This is the process of providing the right atmosphere and giving our community members the tools and motivation they need to become active participants. It's all about making it easy and appealing for members to engage, adding sparks that prompt engagement, and making their contributions feel valued.
Giving voice to community members
To amplify the voices of your community members, it is important to not only actively listen and respond to their feedback, but also create a community space that encourages and simplifies engagement..
For example, an intuitive layout with separate areas for different topics makes it easy for members to join relevant discussions. Also, consider integrating your community with your website or product. This keeps your community from being an afterthought and places it at the heart of your user experience.
Gamification involves using game design elements in non-game contexts, like points, badges, leaderboards, and challenges. It's a powerful way to encourage community participation and reward active members. For instance, a coding community might reward points for helping other members solve their programming problems, with a leaderboard showcasing the most helpful members.
Timely notifications can keep members informed about the latest activities in the community, reminding them to participate. It could be a reminder about a new discussion, a response to their comment, or a notification about a community event. These little nudges can encourage members to return to the community, react to updates, or continue conversations. Explore your options for in-browser notifications, instant or delayed email notifications, and sending alerts in the community itself.
Recognizing and celebrating the achievements of your community members goes a long way in fostering engagement. Whether it's completing a challenging task, reaching a milestone, or contributing significantly to the community, celebrating these successes brings a positive vibe to the community. For example, a fitness community could celebrate members who achieve their personal fitness goals, inspiring others to do the same.
A community engagement plan is not complete until you clearly define how you will measure levels of engagement.
Engagement metrics give you insight into how your community members are interacting within your community. It's important to choose the right metrics that align with your engagement goals and objectives. Let's discuss some of the key metrics you should be tracking:
Active Users: This metric refers to the number of members who are actively participating in your community, whether it's posting discussions, commenting, liking, or sharing. If you notice an increase in active users, it's a good sign that your engagement methods are working.
Content Engagement: Track how members are interacting with the content in your community. This can include likes, shares, comments, and saves. For instance, if you run a blog within your community, you might want to track how many comments each post receives or how often posts are shared.
Contribution Ratio: This metric measures the ratio of contributors (those who post content) to lurkers (those who read but don't post - you can read more about lurkers here). A healthy community should have a good balance of both. If you have a high number of lurkers, it might indicate that members are not feeling encouraged or comfortable enough to contribute.
Retention Rate: Retention rate shows you how many of your members continue to engage with your community over a certain period. A high retention rate indicates that your community offers value to its members that keeps them coming back.
Time Spent: This measures the average amount of time a member spends in your community. If members spend a significant amount of time in your community, it suggests they find the content and discussions engaging and valuable.
Budget and technologies
Implementing your engagement strategies will require some investment, both in terms of money and tools. These should be included in your engagement plan too.
Budgeting for community engagement
Implementing online engagement strategies requires investment in money and tools, which should be included in your online community engagement plan.
Software tools : Account for tools that streamline online community engagement efforts, such as social media management, email marketing platforms, and analytics tools.
Promotional activities: You need a communications plan, which could include social media advertising, content marketing, influencer partnerships, and other efforts to attract more members to your online community.
Content creation: Expenses could include graphic design, copywriting, video production, and photography, to keep your online community active and interested.
Virtual community events: Consider costs associated with planning and executing virtual events, such as video conferencing platforms, digital marketing, and guest speakers or entertainment.
By allocating funds to these categories, you can create an effective online community engagement plan that utilizes resources to achieve your goals.
Technologies for community engagement
When creating your community engagement plan, make sure to have a thorough list of essential tools. This should include a community platform, automation software, webinar hosting, analytics/reporting, and survey tools.
This list not only helps you ensure you're equipped to manage your community and engage your members effectively, but it also offers transparency to key stakeholders. It highlights the supporting infrastructure, associated costs, and interplay of these tools, providing a concise snapshot of the resources required for a vibrant community.
Creating a community engagement plan starts with understanding your community's nuances, setting goals that align with your business objectives, and tailoring strategies for active engagement. The community engagement process is dynamic; you’re always enabling your members, celebrating their successes, and refining your approach as you learn more about your community members and stakeholders.
💡 To facilitate this planning process, Bettermode offers a community engagement plan worksheet. This template lets you focus on the strategic aspect, relieving you from worrying about the structure and presentation. Download it here.
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