So you’ve opened the doors to your online community, you’re getting a steady trickle of new members each week and people are digging your content… now what! 

If you’re a community leader that's already got a bit of traction in your groups (or you’ve been running a group for a while and it’s started to go a little bit quiet) you’ve probably thought to yourself, on more than one occasion… 

How do I increase my engagement?

What Is Community Engagement

Community Engagement is the measurement and management of how many people participate in your community, how often and to what depth. Community engagement is a strategy that identifies key groups of your members and the tactics required to encourage more of them to participate at the right level for them. Engagement allows you to measure how impactful your initiatives are and is also the activity responsible for causing that impact.  

What Is Community Engagement Not

Community engagement on its own is not a measure of success. I’ll say that again – Engagement on its own is not a measure of the success of your community! Does the engagement help you meet your community outcomes or goals? If the goal of your community is to increase average customer value by 10% and your thriving community with millions of likes and comments never causes anyone to buy anything… well then your community is failing despite it being highly engaged!

Engagement is not push notifications, or emails, or gamification, or badges, or prizes, or welcome posts, or member-of-the-month posts… Those are all tools that you might use to enact the tactics that you decide you need to to increase engagement, but they are not engagement in themselves. There’s no use saying “I need to increase my engagement so I better start awarding badges” Awarding badges to who, for doing what, and why? The engagement strategy is the who, what and why, not the tool that you use to achieve it.      

Engagement is not a blanket that you throw over all your members in the hopes that some of them raise their hand, for example you wouldn’t ask a brand new member to write a detailed tutorial on an expert level topic the first day they arrive, that’s a sure way to make them run a mile and never come back. Instead Engagement is selective and segmented, it’s a ladder that you want to encourage your users up one rung at a time. 

So what is the Community Engagement Ladder and what can you do as a community leader to measure and manage more of your members up it. 

The Community Engagement Ladder 

The Community engagement ladder has 5 steps up to the top. Ideally you want as many of your members as possible to climb up those steps to the top. Almost all members start at the bottom and in most cases members won’t skip more than one step up but once they’re up there they will often jump back down to engage at the lower levels in a much deeper way. 

Those steps are:  

  1. Consume
  2. Connect
  3. Contribute
  4. Collaborate
  5. Create

(You don’t want to know how long I spent with a thesaurus to find all those c-words!)

Let's go through these one-by-one

Consume

This measures how many of your members consume community content and resources passively without adding any value themselves. This is the lowest form of community engagement where the value is flowing entirely one way from the people who do contribute value to those passive lurkers. 

However this is where almost every single community user starts on their engagement journey so it is important to measure and track but it’s also important to encourage users beyond this first step. 

Activities To Measure 

  • Daily/ weekly/ monthly logins or active users
  • Posts read per user per day/week/month
  • Time spent reading per user per day/week/month

Connect

This measures how many relationships are being created by being engaged in your community and is the next logical step up for most of your community users. Are they discovering people with shared interests, knowledge or expertise that is valuable to them, potential people to help them solve a problem they are having or maybe even mentors to help guide them on a similar journey. If members feel a strong sense of connection through being a member of your community they will stay around for longer, return more often and be more likely to want to contribute value themselves. 

Activities To Measure

  • Number of users who accept you / the admins as friends
  • Number of users that you connect with privately / direct message per week
  • Number of new friends / connections per user per day/week/month
  • Number of members attending virtual and in-person events organised by you or other group members

Contribute

Here is where your users first get involved in adding content in your community. Usually their first touchpoint is not to author original content themselves but to contribute in some way to already existing content that someone else already created. Contributions measure the level of people who add something of value to something already existing or who help keep something of value alive and relevant. Often we think of contributions as answers to questions but adding thought provoking points of view to existing discussions also helps to keep them alive for longer. Contributions are sort of like a gateway drug to the higher forms of engagement like creation and collaboration.

Activities To Measure

  • Number of Likes or reactions per post
  • Number of Likes or reactions per user
  • Number of comments per post, or per user
  • Number of responses to forum discussions or answers to questions

Create

The most common form of community engagement, where members create new value for the community on their own. This is where an individual member directly authors something within the community that either causes value to be generated or is valuable in and of itself. Typically average users create value by asking great questions or starting thought provoking discussions and your more engaged power users or super users create value by authoring instructional posts, writing topic specific guides, creating how-to videos or walkthroughs or inspiring other members with what they are up to.     

Activities To Measure

  • Number of questions asked by members in forums 
  • Number of activity posts asking a question
  • Number of activity posts sharing value, entertainment or inspiration
  • Number of resources created by a single author

Collaborate

Now your users elevate their connections with each other by joining forces to create value together. Collaboration is the final step on the ladder of contributing after users start to create value on their own. Collaboration can be prompted by the community leaders or admins or it can be prompted by other members. Members often collaborate to solve a common issue or to address a common challenge. Encouraging collaboration is the highest leverage, most scalable way for you to increase engagement in your community. 

Activities To Measure

  • Number of live or virtual events hosted by group members 
  • Number of guests attending events hosted by group members
  • Number of active community moderators 
  • Number of groups created, managed or moderated mainly by community members
  • The level of engagement within groups created, managed or moderated mainly by community members
  • Number of resources created by more than one author

Conclusion

So now that you understand the 5 steps on the ladder of community engagement the next step for you to think about is what different segments of users do you have at each stage of the ladder and how you are going to encourage members at each stage to take the next step up the ladder to become more engaged members of your community. 

So here’s what I want you to do, pick just one stage from the five I have outlined above and in the comments below tell me one thing you could do to encourage more of your members to engage at that stage. I’m gonna reply to every single one of you in the comments with feedback on your approach to point you in the right direction and the tips and tactics you need to make it a success for your online community.

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Until next time!

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