Getting a community-based organization up and running requires balancing a variety of factors, from your budget and available resources to your community needs and growth goals. While each organization will have their own path to success, the end product of your efforts will nearly always be the same: engagement opportunities for your members that are both meaningful and worthwhile.
Assembling a community rarely happens without at least some oversight. While your organization’s members can reach out to one another and form connections of their own accord, forging a true community usually requires more dedicated focus in the form of effective community engagement strategies.
To help your organization create and implement strategies designed to build a sustainable and loyal community, this article will explore:
At TagFi, our team consists of experts in community-based organization management and we are deeply familiar with the challenges community leaders face everyday. This means we’re also well versed in the top strategies for overcoming these challenges and are ready to engage organizations, both big and small, with unique solutions that fit their needs.
In this guide, we’ll outline fundamentals that most organizations, no matter their size, can benefit from, starting with understanding why community engagement strategies matter.
Crafting and implementing an effective community engagement strategy requires dedicated focus and resource investment, but the results are well worth it. Once your organization has a strong community engagement strategy up and running, you will begin seeing the following benefits:
While creating your initial community engagement strategies might be challenging, once you have them in place, your organization will be able to rely on them to keep your members happy and invested for the long haul. Having a systematic approach to engagement will help your community stay organized and provide a roadmap for integrating new members into your organization.
There are many potential ways your organization can engage members, but not every strategy is equally effective. Before designing your community engagement strategy, ensure you understand the principles behind how and why members engage with the organizations they join.
This article will walk through several strategies based on three key principles that should be taken into consideration whenever you engage your members:
You can continually engage your members by putting the power in their hands to reach out to other members. This allows them to generate their own value through conversations, interactions, and other social opportunities.
This is why social media websites can achieve such long-standing popularity despite the website creators rarely creating new content for members: empowering members to engage with one another can lead to an infinite number of scenarios for engagement.
That doesn’t mean your organization can’t help get the conversation started. For example, your community-based organization should regularly create new content for members with the goal of starting a conversation around it, leading to continued discussions that last well-past the time it takes to read an article or watch a short video.
The first step to empowering your members is ensuring your organization has strong online communication tools. For most organizations, this will be forums, comment sections, and direct and group messages.
While it might sound obvious that you should create content tailored to your audience, many community-based organizations can benefit greatly from stepping back and analyzing more specific insights about their current audience. Doing so will ensure you listen to your members’ needs and create events and activities based on what’s currently in demand.
This is especially necessary to do as your community grows and changes. Over time, your audience may shift or new programs may bring in new demographics for which your previous content may not be optimized for. Checking in with your members regularly helps you stay attuned to what is happening in your community and ensure that you are creating content that resonates with your current audience.
Building a community also requires moderating that community. Clear guidelines provide rules members will agree to before they begin communicating with other members. These rules will vary depending on your audience and content, but for most community-based organizations they should revolve around driving relevant and civil conversations.
Effective moderation also requires maintaining an active presence within your community. Showing your members that moderators are present and care about assisting community members will not only help deter discourteous interactions but also ensure they’re available to step in if problems arise. This can help you keep your finger on the pulse of your community and resolve problems before they have the chance to grow.
Your community guidelines will also shape the audience your organization cultivates. For example, you’ll need to decide if members must all have profiles with their real names or if they can post anonymously. Some communities are also stricter about what content can be discussed on their website with policies of removing off-topic comments.
The right strategy for your organization will depend on your audience, budget, current offerings, and growth goals. However, there are several strategies that most community-based organizations can leverage to engage their members.
We’ll address eight proven community strategies that your organization can implement with just a few adjustments to your unique situation.
Your community engagement strategy should target members at all levels of your organizations. Rember, one of your organization’s goals when creating content is to push members through the sales funnel to higher membership tiers. Your organization must, therefore, maintain a careful balance of ensuring each level has enough content to be worth the price tag, while also persuading members to move to the next tier level to access more content.
However, this does not mean neglecting your free members. You can attract more members by offering a range of free content to demonstrate what your organization has to offer. Then, you should continue creating engagement opportunities, some of which are locked behind paid memberships.
This approach keeps your free members engaged with your organization long enough to show that your content is worthwhile and allow them to build connections within your community. Then, when you host a paid-members only activity, free members will be inclined to upgrade their memberships to participate alongside the rest of your community.
When first launching your organization, it might be tempting to rely on hosting your community opportunities and discussions on a social media platform such as Facebook. However, doing so will lead to several drawbacks in the long run, especially as social media platforms continue to change their features and update their guidelines, which may not always align with your organization's interests.
Instead, invest in creating a website dedicated solely to your organization. Doing so will provide a variety of benefits, including:
To create a website, you could recruit a web development consultant to build one for you. However, doing so is expensive and can often take months to get up and running. By contrast, there are cost-effective alternatives, such as TagFi, that provide pre-built templates for core webpages and don’t require any coding knowledge to use effectively.
Joining a new organization, especially one that has existed for a significant period of time and has a lot of content to explore, can be overwhelming. By creating a welcome series, you can walk new members through the basics of how to use your platform and steer them towards opportunities you would like them to engage with.
You’ll likely use a series of emails as welcome messages, providing information about your organization and linking to various resources. When creating these messages, consider the following elements:
Additionally, after new members have been with your organization for a significant period of time, you can begin alerting them to a mix of freely available and paid content. This encourages them to move to the next membership tier, especially if they are reaching a point where most free content has already been exhausted.
As mentioned, your organization should aim to empower members to reach out to one another to build an organic community. To help them, your organization should provide communication and messaging tools as well as a variety of discussion places for members.
When designing your communication system, consider doing the following to help improve engagement:
Additionally, consider adding an interactive content feed for your members. This will allow them to get a quick overview of what’s going on at your organization, while presenting them with a variety of content they can engage with or conversations they can add to.
Gamification tools are features of your website that provide members with additional motivation to get involved with community activities by awarding badges, points, trophies, and other online cosmetic awards.
There are a variety of ways to use gamification based on the behaviors you want to see in your community. For example, if you would like to incentivize members to compete against each other, you might create a leaderboard. Or, if you would like everyone at your organization to complete a set of actions, you might create a badge series where each step is awarded a corresponding badge.
For professional organizations, you will need to strike a careful balance between creating gamification items that encourage participation without seeming juvenile in nature. For instance, an industry professional may be less interested in displaying community participation awards on their member profile, but may appreciate being recognized for their outstanding contributions during a competition at an event.
Keeping in touch with members can be a challenge for both small and large organizations. While small organizations may have trouble allocating resources to devote to active community moderation, they also likely have fewer members to manage, whereas large organizations will likely need to set up policies that encourage members to self-moderate in order to maintain order over their thousands of members.
However, making an effort to stay in regular contact with your members will set you up for a variety of benefits. Here are a few reasons you should keep in touch:
If your organization has the resources, consider creating a community manager position. The person in this role will then be responsible for moderating your community’s online conversations and drafting and sending messages to your members.
While some of your members may be comforted by familiarity, if you find yourself posting the same types of content over and over again, you may be at risk of losing engagement from long-term members. Prevent this by getting creative and routinely experimenting with new types of content.
For example, if your organization primarily shares text-based articles with your members, consider changing things up with new types of media, such as videos, interactive webinars, or even articles that more heavily rely on infographics and other visuals. Or, if your organization hosts the same annual events year after year, try adding new activities, changing venues, or even experimenting with completely new event types.
Pay close attention to member response when conducting these experiments. In some cases, you might find some changes are a big hit among members right off the bat, while others might require more workshopping. If your organization has already set up effective communication tools, many members will likely provide feedback voluntarily, but your organization can also ask for responses to specific questions with surveys and polls.
Organizations based around their local community can increase their engagement with members both on and offline by partnering with local businesses to create a marketplace.
Essentially, organizations with community marketplace allow members to register as businesses, who can then promote their products and services on your website for your members’ perusal.
In addition to giving members a new way to engage with your organization's website, this can be a smart business decision that shows local businesses the value in partnering with your organization. Businesses will provide an extra stream of revenue in exchange for hosting their products on your website and promoting them to your members.
Before partnering with a business, ensure that their services are trustworthy and of interest to your members. By agreeing to host them on your marketplace, you are endorsing their offerings and implicitly advising your members to buy their products. Poor business partnerships can damage your members’ trust in your organization, while strong ones have the potential to be mutually beneficial for the business, your members, and your organization.
Effective community engagement strategies often require regular updates and course corrections based on your members’ responses to them. Additionally, your current resources and budget will impact what you’re able to offer and when, which may influence your ability to fully implement some strategies right out of the gate.
Of course, investing in a community engagement strategy has significant pay-off in the form of member loyalty, increased memberships, and the opportunity to push your members up through your membership sales funnel. To learn more about how you can optimize your strategies for continual growth, explore these resources: