One of the first steps to building an online community is creating and implementing a community engagement strategy. Once you have a solid following of members, it will be the most important thing that you do, as engagement is one of the two main types of measuring online community performance. As you build and grow your online community, keep in mind these five hard and fast rules of community engagement.
1. Have a Strategy Plan and Stick to It
Once you've decided what your community is about and what you see for the future, hold on to it dearly. Figure out your plan of action for the 1st week, 1st month, then 3, 6 and 9 months. Develop your brand and decide what types of weekly or bi-weekly features you might have. Perhaps you want to start a tradition of weekly forums. Write everything down and stick to it. You'll feel accomplished and members will appreciate your commitment.
2. Tools and Apps don't build Communities, Members do.
In the early days of building your community, it's important to keep things simple. New members can often become overwhelmed if there are too many options for engagement. Stick to a text post field, a photo upload capability, etc. No more than two or three applications. Focus on your members needs and wants, not on the gadgets/widgets/what-have-you.
3. Provide Guidelines
This may seem restrictive but early adopters to online communities can benefit from a little direction. Setting guidelines for what and what not to post is crucial for setting the tone of your community. Provide members with a welcome email and include a few dos and don'ts as far as engagement goes. They'll appreciate the effort on your part, as the community manager, to keep things on track.
4. Trust is Paramount
Don't try to be anything you or your brand is not. Members are much more in tune with who you really are than you might think, so don't undermine them. Plus, the more human you seem, the fiercer the connection they will feel to you and your community. Also remember it goes both ways - trust your community members and give them opportunities to shine in front of the community.
5. Seek Out Key Members and Reward Them
As you grow your community, you'll notice a handful of members who have taken to you and your community quickly. These members are your biggest advocates and your most effective salespersons. Engage them directly, early and often. If you keep these guys around, they'll perform for you - meaning they'll enhance the activity of the community and even bring others in for you. Highlight their accomplishments, reach out to them to offer a weekly column or profile piece, etc. Let them know they're valued.
How do you engage your online community? Share your strategy tips with me in the comments sections below!