16
 min read

A Strategic Approach to Increasing Engagement and Participation

Does your community seem stagnant? Richard Millington partnered with Bettermode to share best practices for engaging a community and keeping the members hooked. Read the key insights here.
Written by
Meagan Faryna
Last updated
October 31, 2023

Does your community seem stagnant? Are you struggling to keep members engaged and involved? Learn proven techniques from a renowned expert in community building.

We brought in Richard Millington, founder of FeverBee and author of ‘Buzzing Communities’ and ‘The Indispensable Community,’ for a webinar on how to engage community members and keep them hooked

At Feverbee, Millington has worked with the world’s most community-driven brands including Google, Facebook, Sephora, Microsoft, and more. Using psychological principles and data, Feverbee has developed an approach to community building that focuses on using specific leverage points to systematically increase growth and participation.

Millington says many organizations don't understand exactly where to focus their efforts to increase engagement. In case you missed the webinar, this article lays out where to spend your time and effort to make the biggest impact on the level of growth and participation in your community. 

What determines the level of engagement?

Understanding the community audience is the first step in engaging your members
Understanding the community audience is the first step in engaging your members

Ultimately, your community’s total engagement is determined, to some degree, by outside constraints. The diagram above helps illustrate what to keep in mind about your community's audience, so you can better understand what points to leverage to increase engagement. 

  1. Potential audience: This is the potential number of people interested in the topic, or the number of customers interested in your product or service. 
  1. Interested visitors: A percentage of your potential audience will actually be interested in what your community has to offer. 
  1. Churn: A certain number of visitors will leave or become disengaged from your community fairly quickly. 
  1. Former members: Inevitably, some members will leave the community for a variety of reasons. 

Limiting factors to consider

You can apply leverage and tactics to increase engagement in any of the areas above, but there are other limiting factors to consider. 

For your potential audience

Whether a community’s potential audience is large or small, there will always be certain constraints to keep in mind that will affect total engagement. 

  • Fixed amount of interest: The number of people interested in a topic or the number of customers is usually fixed. You may not even know what this exact number is, but it’s out there. 
  • Number of questions and problems to solve: If visitors don’t have any questions or a problem to solve, there’s no reason to visit. There are some exceptions, but we’ll get to that. 
  • Members who have already churned: They have already visited and left the community for unknown reasons. 

For your former members

Engaging departed members is unlikely and focusing on them is not the best use of your time. However, it’s useful to understand why members leave to see where you can optimize engagement. 

  • Poor experience: They engaged a little, but didn’t like what they experienced and left. 
  • Lost interest in the topic: People’s interests wax and wane and the same goes in communities. 
  • Joined a competitor: Perhaps a competitor met their needs more effectively or was a better fit for them. 
  • No issues requiring the community to solve: Some former members have had all their questions asked and have no further need for the community. 

How this affects growth 

You may be wondering how all these limiting factors affect one another in terms the growth of your community. Here’s a breakdown: 

  1. If the number of interested visitors is greater than your churn, your community grows. 
  1. If the potential audience shrinks, then the interested visitors shrink, and, by proxy, your community does as well. 
  1. Conversely, if the potential audience grows, then your interested visitors will as well
  1. If the rate of churn increases, the number of former member grows, which, of course, shrinks your community. 

Due to the constraints and limiting factors mentioned earlier, there’s only so much you can do to increase engagement in your community by focusing on your potential audience or former members. It’s not impossible, but you’re better off focusing your efforts elsewhere. 

You’ll have the most impact on engagement if you focus on improving the community experience to increase interest and reduce your rate of churn. 

When members have a good experience inside a community, they spread the word. We also know search traffic increases with high engagement levels. Meanwhile, if you can reduce churn by even a small fraction by creating meaningful experiences, this will also have a big impact on engagement. 

What to focus on to make the greatest impact on engagement to increase interest and reduce churn

The areas that seem to have the biggest impact on increasing interested visitors and reducing churn are the following: 

  • Technology: How you leverage platforms like Bettermode to provide a seamless user experience. 
  • Benefits: What members get from being a part of your community.
  • Top member program: How you engage and keep your top experts. 
  • Management processes: How you moderate your community. 
  • Onboarding: How you bring on new members and deeply engage them in the community. 

Converting your audience and reducing churn 

Converting your audience into interested visitors is the key to growth. You do so through the following: 

  • Search traffic: Keep your content public if possible since someone searching for a relevant term could find your community. 
  • Outreach/promotion: Use paid and organic strategies to raise awareness about your community. 
  • Word of mouth: Encourage members to share their experiences in the community with others. 
  • Competitive advantage: Be wary of the competition and differentiate yourself.  

Ensuring members have a good experience is key to reducing churn

Ensuring members have a good experience is key to reducing churn and your overall number of former members. Members have the best experience when the following needs are met in this order of priority: 

  • Relevance: How relevant is the information people are trying to reach. 
  • Satisfaction: How satisfying are the answers and solutions they are receiving. 
  • Convenience: How easy is it to get their needs met. 
  • Fun/fulfillment: How much enjoyment do they get as a member. 

Essentially if you want to increase engagement, having a model like the one below can help you decide where to focus your efforts and why. It’s important to understand the limitations of each area, how to increase conversions from potential audiences to interested visitors, and how to reduce churn by providing a great experience for members. 

The factors that determine the level of engagement in a community
The factors that determine the level of engagement in a community

The importance of the community environment 

You can do everything by the book, but much of your community’s success will be defined by the environment. The community environment has multiple layers to it that contribute to its overall success: 

Layer one: The community circle of success 

The circle of success in a community

These are the high-level markers of the success of your community. It’s typically more applicable in support and success communities than membership communities, but the principles still apply. 

  • Engagement: The more activity the brand has, the more successful the community is perceived to be. 
  • Customer support: The community reduces support costs by receiving questions in the community, with other members typically providing the answer. 
  • Community success: The community increases the success of members by serving as a mechanism for members to share high-quality information with one another (eg. case studies, tips and tricks, documentation, and more). 
  • Innovation: The community drives innovation by soliciting feedback, gathering input and ideas, prioritizing suggestions, and identifying bugs to be resolved. 
  • Advocacy: To what extent does the community influence people to advocate on behalf of the organization. 
  • Retention: The community facilitates a strong sense of connection between members. That connection extends to the brand itself. 

Layer two: The community experience

The factors that determine the community experience
The factors determining the community experience

The success you achieve as a community relies to a large degree on the experience you create. The community experience is made up of the management processes you have in place to give your members a positive experience inside your community. They include: 

  • Technology: The community tech stack, which includes the community platform you use and how it will be configured. 
  • Benefits: The specific benefits for members participating in the community, which defines who the community is for and what it is about. 
  • Top member programs: How the community will nurture and collaborate with top members to achieve its inner goals. 
  • Acquisition and onboarding: How the community will acquire and retain within the community. 
  • Community management: How the community will be managed. This includes moderation, events, activities, content, and everything related to the engagement activities of the community. 

Layer three: The community environment

The factors influencing the community environment

There are some community managers that are doing a fantastic job, but their community just isn’t quite as successful due to a major contributing factor: the community environment. Conversely, there are some community managers who don’t need to go the extra mile simply because the community environment is already set up in their favor. Here’s what that looks like: 

  • Support vs. pressure: The support you have determines the level of budget, permission, and time you have to demonstrate the results. Pressure is about the degree to which you will face confusion about the community, difficulty getting things done, and an urgency to prove success. 
  • Push vs. pull: Do you need to work extraordinarily hard to convince your audience to join or do members naturally come to you?  vs. This is about reach, permission to contact the audience, and the reputation of the organization. 
  • Challenging vs. easy: Some audiences are more difficult to reach and demanding than others. Members who are very busy and in elite roles, have unique language or regional needs, or are within an older or younger age bracket are more difficult to attract and engage. 
  • Risk vs. exploration: This identifies your organization's propensity to explore and learn vs. the need to get things right. It identifies sensitivity to the major types of risks (legal, reputation, privacy/security). This will influence whether you can learn as you go or need to get it right the first time or be shut down. 
  • Competitive vs. uncompetitive: New technologies are emerging which continue to attract members who might otherwise have engaged in traditional brand communities. This includes social media platforms, rival communities, and new technologies (chatbots, cognitive search, etc.) To what degree will other tools and communities drive audiences toward or away from your community? 

Fertile vs. toxic environments 

A lot of community managers are working in fertile environments, so they have an easier time building a successful community. 

Let’s take the above example. Perhaps you’re working at a publicly traded organization that is risk averse, but there are no major existing competitive threats and you have a budget to grow. It’s not very difficult to build a successful community when you’re working in this kind of environment.. 

However, if your environment looks more like the example below, it’s a different story. 

In this example, you have limited resources, no budget for staff and lack access to critical updates. It’s the kind of place where every post needs to be pre-approved and checked and you can’t access the platforms you need. This is a completely different scenario and it’s very difficult to build a healthy community when you’re facing a toxic environment yourself. 

If the ball is not in your court on this one, you have a choice. You can either accept it and do your best, or begin to tackle those factors above that are negatively contributing to the health of your community. Here are some examples of steps you can take if you want to build a community while working in a challenging environment: 

  • You can position the community the correct way to avoid the competition. 
  • You work to change the internal narrative to get more support and win people over. 
  • You have to build a big audience you can reach out to first. 

Very often if you want the community to be successful, you have to deal with the external environment. 

Seven lessons in engagement best practices 

Lesson one: increase search traffic by archiving outdated information

The key to reaching out to and engaging your audience is increasing search traffic, which FeverBee has found to be one of the best ways to grow a community. This is often overlooked, with many organizations focusing on activities that surprisingly have minimal impact on growth. 

What’s actually the most predictive variable of a community’s success is how many people are searching for the brand in the first place. 45% of the variability in engagement can be explained by the average number of Google searches. 

 the most predictive variable of a community’s success is how many people are searching for the brand in the first place

Rather than investing time in activities such as launching a podcast, organizations should look into specific ways to improve search traffic. One way, particularly for mature communities, is by archiving outdated information.

We want to make content easier to find, and poor quality or outdated content gets in the way. However, this may negatively impact other areas of your community in ways like:

  • Members losing post counts 
  • The community losing traffic
  • Broken links appearing
  • The community experience being affected

You may find it helpful to use a tool like Screaming Frog to run a comprehensive audit of your community. This tool audits discussions, articles, and other elements, enabling you to create a list of content to archive. By setting specific parameters, you can efficiently sort and classify outdated or poor-quality content.

Here are some sample parameters:  

  • Attracted less than 10 visits in the past month
  • Received less than two posts in the past year
  • Published more than two years ago 
  • Where comments mention ‘outdated’ or ‘old.’

Importantly, the content you decide to archive won't be deleted; instead, it will be de-indexed from both internal and external search engines. By doing so, you're ensuring that the content doesn’t show in Google search results, directing users to more relevant and up-to-date information in their searches.

💡To see how to effectively use these strategies, read this case study on how FeverBee used data to prioritize engagement efforts for a $1 billion tech brand. 

Lesson two: improving outreach and promotion 

Promote your best discussions internally and externally

We often overlook the promotion of our best discussions both internally and externally. Organizations like Money Saving Expert and other previous FeverBee clients have shown the power of promoting top discussions within their organization and beyond. They encourage staff members to share these discussions on their social media channels. Additionally, these discussions are posted on the organization's social media feeds, such as Twitter and Facebook.

To reach an even larger audience, they sometimes invest advertising dollars into these posts by running social media ads. Though this strategy may not be suitable for all communities, it's worth exploring and could serve as a potent tool for expanding your online community's reach.

Engage people to create niche discussions 

For smaller communities, another effective growth strategy is to foster very specific, niche discussions about topics pertinent to your community. 

While working with a pharmaceutical client, FeverBee found that initiating topic-focused discussions on platforms like LinkedIn and inviting people to join the community led to immediate growth. 

Niche discussions can drive growth for smaller communities
Niche discussions can drive growth for smaller communities

While this strategy might not be efficient for larger, more mature communities, for those that are still establishing themselves, it's a clever method to drive traffic and engagement. Niche content is very effective in attracting exactly the kind of audience you want — those who will engage in meaningful discussions and activities, prompting them to join and frequent your community.

Lesson three: Implement a federated search tool 

It may not be relevant for every community, but in some cases, integrating a federated search tool is an effective strategy to enhance accessibility and discoverability in online communities, especially for customer support communities. Using tools like Search Unify and Coveo, or built-in federated search features inside platforms like Bettermode, you can ensure that discussions within the community appear when users search your support site.

A federated search tool not only improves the user experience by bringing all your support content together in one place, but it also helps fill gaps where other channels may fail. Your audience can find pertinent conversations and support immediately when you use a federated search tool.

Lesson four: Get the positioning and communication right 

In the crowded digital space, effectively positioning an online community can significantly determine its success. It's crucial to communicate a unique proposition that sets your community apart and attracts engaged members.

Understanding why people visit a community 

Why people visit a community
Why people visit a community

Understanding the sources from which people seek information can help in targeting your community's positioning. The matrix above can help you understand why certain types of content are more suited to a user’s needs than others. 

If people want information that’s convenient and from a trusted source, they might look for documentation or shared articles. If they want information that’s convenient and a shared experience, then social media is the best option. If someone wants information from a trusted source that’s personalized to them, they may want to reach out to an expert. If they want something personalized and a shared experience, they may reach out to colleagues directly. 

The challenge: where does the community fit into this?

Very often, communities find themselves competing against the larger organization itself as a source of information or against a rival from another organization or community. This is detrimental to the community’s growth and engagement. 

However, if you can successfully reposition your community in the mind of your audience, you can differentiate yourself from a myriad of other information options. 

Redefining positioning strategy using customer support as an example 

Let's consider customer support communities. Traditionally, these compete directly with customer support services, which are perceived as highly trustworthy and personalized. But communities can be repositioned to emphasize a different strength: convenience. You can always reposition what you are offering to your members instead of competing directly with an alternative source of information. 

A community can be positioned as the primary source of information
A community can be positioned as the primary source of information

This repositioning makes the community the go-to initial destination for users, offering convenience as the primary advantage. Only when the community couldn't provide adequate solutions should the user need to shift to traditional customer support. This approach reduces direct competition with customer support and redefines the community’s role. You can apply this kind of repositioning strategy to small and large communities. 

Positioning in smaller communities 

Strategic positioning is effective even inside the smallest of communities. 

While FeverBee was working with a niche community of scientists, the team interviewed members about what they were looking for in the community. The results revealed what members wanted most was a friendly environment. They cared less about the trustworthiness of the community, as there were plenty of places members could go to get more authoritative information, such as academic journals and other scientific communities.

In response to these insights, the team at FeverBee and the small community shifted their focus towards crafting the most inviting community experience possible That’s when engagement levels increased the community really began to thrive.  

The lesson here: positioning isn’t just for the big guys. 

The power of the superlative in the positioning statement

Creating a positioning statement for your community can feel overwhelming, as you may find yourself trying to encapsulate every aspect and benefit into a single message.  A helpful question to ask yourself: if people are only going to remember one thing about the community, what will it be? This becomes the superlative trait around which your positioning statement should be crafted.

Here are some examples of superlatives in action:

  • The most exclusive place for engineers to exchange ideas.
  • Discuss the most cutting-edge developments in engineering with top experts.
  • The quickest way for customers to get help with their product problems.
  • Where beginners can ask questions and get the friendliest responses.

Whether you think it or not, there is always competition. You need people to see why they should spend their spare time engaging in your community over the multitude of other options out there. 

Following your positioning with action 

Once you identify and articulate your community's unique superlative trait, it's vital to back it up with action. The operations of the community should reflect and reinforce this chosen attribute. 

For instance, if your community promises to be the most exclusive place for engineers, make sure it delivers exclusivity in terms of quality discussions, participants, and content.

Here are some examples of a superlative value and how that could play out inside your community:

Trustworthy

  • Moderating and checking every answer
  • Poor quality contributions are quickly removed 
  • Focus on recruiting and rewarding top community experts

Speed 

  • Incentivising members to answer simple questions
  • Show latest activity and unanswered questions
  • Unanswered questions are sent to agents after 12 hours

Convenience

  • Integrating social media and the product so members can ask a question on a variety of platforms
  • Integrated community experience prepopulates questions and common responses
  • Community appears before any other support channel 

Friendliest 

  • Superusers are recruited based on their friendly responses in the past
  • Strong code of conduct
  • All staff and experts receive empathy training and support

Examples of community positioning 

So you have the right positioning, but finding the right way to communicate is critical. 

Let’s take an example Richard presents in his webinar of a previous client. This was their community’s original positioning statement: 

“ {Community} is an exclusive group dedicated to empower leaders by sharing world-class expertise, exchanging insights, and revamping industry best practices.” 

The main issue with this statement is it’s not memorable. It’s full of cliches (eg. world-class expertise), is too long, and does not appeal to a specific audience. Compare that to the community’s new and improved positioning statement: 

“A private place to solve your toughest problems.”

You are far more likely the remember this one. Often, people try to come up with so many things to say about their community that the message gets lost. Positioning requires clarity so members can understand how this community meets their needs and why. 

Meanwhile, AirBnB’s host community struggles with saying too little. Its page reads ‘Welcome to a global community of hosts like you.’

It sounds nice in theory and clearly lays out the audience, but there is no clear benefit. If they positioned themselves to focus on the reason for joining, their message would be more effective and engaging. Imagine how many hosts would sign up if the message read something like this: 

“Boost your host rating: the easiest tips to boost your rating from top hosts.’ 

Finding the community’s core benefit will give people a reason to visit and engage in that community. Often, the benefit isn’t what people think it should be when they first start working on positioning. 

How to reduce churn

In most communities, the participation graph has a similar pattern: a majority of active members contribute just one post. Meanwhile, 75-90% of registered members don't participate at all. Ironically, these members sign up intending to take part in the community but never do. However, even a small shift in the median participation levels can double the contributions in most communities.

even a small shift in the median participation levels can double the contributions in most communities.
A small change in the median number of posts by members can double the contributions in most online communities

Build a better member's journey

An improved member journey encourages member participation
An improved member journey encourages member participation

To encourage increased participation, it's essential to understand and improve the member journey, from the moment they join to when they become active, engaged members of the community. 

What motivates members 

It’s important to understand what motivates members to act (or not act) the way they do in each stage of the journey. Members typically move from amotivated to extrinsically motivated and, finally, to intrinsically motivated. 

Amotivated 

At this stage, the potential member has no vested interest in the community. Here’s what you need to know about members at this stage: 

  • Awareness: Potential members must first become aware that the community exists.
  • Value perception: They need to see the value provided by the community. This is where positioning plays a key role.
  • Trust: They have to trust the community to deliver on the perceived value.

Extrinsically motivated

The reasons people join and initially participate differ from the reasons people stay engaged. Many communities don't address this difference effectively. At this stage, members aren’t looking for a place to belong so much as immediate gratification and social reward. When members first join a community, they want to: 

  • Solve a problem 
  • Improve their skills and knowledge
  • Increase their status 
  • Avoid the fear of missing out 
  • Pursue a passion with like-minded people (thought this one is less important than others at this stage)

Intrinsically motivated 

Meanwhile, long-term engagement over time requires intrinsic motivation. What is important in this stage is: 

  • Genuine interest in the topic
  • Enjoyment of participating in the community
  • Satisfaction for helping others. 

Over time, as members feel more competent, autonomous, and connected to others within the community, they're likely to stay engaged.

By addressing the motivations of members along the journey, you can have a significant impact on the level of engagement throughout your community.

Lesson 5: Give members information 

The term "community" often evokes ideas of friendship and belonging. However, most surveys conducted across various communities reveal that the #1 reason people participate is to exchange information. As important as it is for this to be reflected in the community experience, it is equally vital that it is communicated appropriately.

Offer specific and immediate value

Too often, communities fail to communicate value in a way that resonates with their members. You need to provide information that is both specific and immediate. For instance, instead of a generic call to "attract more clients," members could be offered immediate value by telling them to "download these proposal templates right now." Here are some more examples: 

Typical

Better 

Connect with top experts

Here are five experts you can ask about the most common problems that people face. 

Solve your problems 

Ask us about _____ (an issue you know your members are having) 

Attend upcoming webinars 

Get buying and purchasing strategies in our next webinar

By framing your communication to deliver immediate and specific benefits, you can make your messaging more impactful, leading to increased community engagement over time. 

Lesson six: Gradually expand the value of your community over time 

When considering the value of a brand community, many start with a product-centric Q&A forum. Users visit, ask questions, get help, and leave. However, it can be challenging to encourage return visits to this type of community as users typically only re-engage when they need help with another issue. It's helpful to consider different areas you can expand value: belonging, influence, exploration, and support. You can see some ideas of what that may look like in this graphic presented in Richard’s webinar.

A table that shows how you can expand the value of your community
Expand the value of your community to encourage members to return to your community

Expanding value does not mean bombarding your users with all sorts of discussions, content, or activities at once—the process of expanding value should be gradual, carefully managed, and in tune with your users' engagement patterns.

Of course, expanding value directly changes the activities you initiative in the community. Richard provided several practical examples of content, discussions, challenges, and activities that can help expand the value of your community over time, depending on the specific area you're focusing on.

Examples of how offering more content and activities can help community managers provide more value to the members
Offering more content and activities is key to expanding the value of your community

Lesson seven: Developing a member journey

Creating an effective member journey within your community encourages member engagement and longevity.

A useful strategy involves using visualization tools like Smapley, Mural, or others to map the member journey step by step, from discovery to regular user.

Incorporating member feedback

Understanding the member's perspective is key to a user-centric journey. Use tools like Hotjar to record members' experiences, and even conduct Zoom calls to get real-time feedback on member navigation. Also, evaluate the effectiveness of your communication - analyzing email content and length, for instance.

Tailoring the journey

Customize journeys based on roles to optimize the member's experience - new learners could see different content, like an email series, compared to first-time contributors. Consider guiding members through profile completion, highlighting interests, group selections, and notification settings.

Phases of the member journey 

A typical successful framework includes:

  1. Discovery phase: When a potential member becomes aware of your community.
  2. Registration phase: Optimizing reasons for joining and confirmation experience.
  3. First contribution phase: Ensuring a smooth initial interaction.
  4. Newcomer phase: Ensuring consumption of best content, joining newcomer groups, and progression checks.
  5. Regular/super user phase: Transitioning them from new members to regular, potentially super users.

Developing the journey requires continual measurement, updates, and tweaks for improved member understanding and evolving needs.

Conclusion 

We deeply appreciate that Richard took the time to share his insights on maximizing engagement within a community.  By dialing in his approach of using data-driven and psychological methods, we can enhance the member experience, boost active participation, and cultivate thriving, dynamic communities. 

💡For more insights into the art of fostering engaging communities, don't miss out Richard Millington's wealth of knowledge found on this blog at FeverBee.


Looking for more?

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Meagan Faryna
Content writer

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