25 Ways to Encourage Activity in Online Communities

Perhaps besides a great website nobody visits, there is nothing worse in the digital world than an inactive online community.

There is a way, for instance, to drive website traffic but marketers really cannot get people to discuss and share in a community if they simply do not want to or are not inspired to. Below we've detailed 25 ways to encourage conversation. If we missed any, sign in to comment below!

1. Collect Photos: Chances are a community is going to share some pretty great photos of a product or service in use in the real world. Have these photos go into albums that members can browse perhaps even with tagging functionality. 

2. Comment on Trending News:
Brands can help develop in-depth conversations about what is trending outside of its digital walls by sharing and commenting on trending news.

3. Consider Push Notifications:
With permission, companies could accelerate activity within their communities by alerting members when someone has commented on a thread they are following, voted for their content or took some other action relating to their interests. Just be sure, however, members have a way to control the frequency at which push notifications are sent and the reason they are sent.  

4. Curate Relevant Content: While most people like to be in the know, consuming all the available content out there is impossible. A community manager should follow industry news in order to keep their community members updated on what they should know. Consider it a "Five Things You Need to Know Today" type initiative and members could reward a community with their time if the curation is done well. 

5. Embrace Hashtags: Even on social apps that do not support hashtags (i.e. Snapchat), people still use them in their posts. When working with the development team, ask that the community supports hashtags so people can discover related items when they are used. 

6. Ensure It's Accessible: 
Make it easy to access the community like the same username/password combo for the site and the community or remembering a user as they go from one place on a website to the community. In other words, reduce the friction of accessing the community.

7. Establish Cadence:
If employees can only be active on a certain day, tell community members so they know when to show up to have conversations in real-time.

8. Follow Trends:
It's critical community managers keep up with what their members expect from the platforms they use to engage with their peers like the use of artificial intelligence to answer questions quicker. 

9. Gamify: People are naturally competitive so reward their community activity with points to be recognized on a leaderboard or to redeem for some virtual or real-life swag.

10. Get Giffy with It: The Internet is still in the age where the ability to use GIFs is a novelty considering Facebook and Twitter only recently added that support. By allowing GIFs, community members can express themselves in a fun way. 

11. Give Your Best Content (Free): Look if anyone gets paywalls, it's traditional publishers like Website Magazine. If a company is going to support a community of people who want to talk about topics relating to a brand, however, the organization is going to need to give them the good stuff (like that content that is only available after filling out a lead generation form). Community members will come to know that they can bypass some of the company's acquisition strategies because they are valued members or insiders of the brand.

12. Hold Contests:
While brands do not want to get in the habit of only offering perks for participation (see sidebar), contests are a quick way to get people active within a community particularly when the prize is worth their effort.

quote"When I got started in Community Management, contests were all the rage, and at the time they seemed like a great way to get people to participate. But when you're trying to build a community of people who will keep returning and participating, the motivation to participate needs to be more intrinsic. If people are only participating to get a prize, they aren't going to engage as authentically, they're less likely to come back, and the motivation isn't focused around quality. I think an occasional contest or swag giveaway can be a lot of fun, but the primary focus should be on strategies that build relationships rather than just reward participation."

" Nicole Relyea, Senior Community Manager at Zendesk

13. Integrate with Social: Consider ways members can allow their social network to participate whether it's sharing key insights to their favorite networks, adding new members or using their social profile picture.

14. Let them Mention: 
CMNTY Founder and CEO Maxim Schram recently told Website Magazine that the ability to mention a fellow community member is critical functionality in online communities today because people are used to this capability on social networks like Facebook. 

15. Listen First: Community managers should know when to sit back and listen to a conversation, when to take action (like funnel a query to the appropriate person) and when to join in. Members will start to trust admin when they find a good balance of the three. 

16. Make It Mobile Friendly:
If a company is going to have a community in 2018 and beyond, it absolutely needs to be accessible from mobile devices. Brands could miss out on an incredible amount of activity if they are alienating those who have time on their phones to interact. 

17. Onboard Creatively: Brainstorm ways to introduce new members to a community, and what would encourage other members to welcome them as well. Perhaps an interstitial is delivered to new members asking quick questions about them and their interests then those surveys can be used as part of the introduction (with expressed permission). If it was a community for LEGO enthusiasts, for example, they could perhaps even share a photo of their recent build to go along with that survey. The photo and background information about the person could get people talking and make the new member feel welcomed. A community for a particular software platform, for example, could ask the new user what it is they are working on, what questions they hope to get answered and perhaps a little about their company. 

18. Organize Events:
Invite members to local events where they can interact in person; chances are the community's bond will grow after meeting face to face. 

19. Personalize Everything: To maximize activity in online communities the experience needs to be tailored to who the member is and how he or she has behaved in the past. Content should be delivered based on the person's expressed interests (what they have clicked on, commented on or spent time reading), what the company anticipates she may be interested in next and other known elements about this person. 

20. Provide a Voting System: Not all community members want to share or comment, but they can still be part of the community by voting on certain elements they would like to see in the community or by voting for another person's comment as a confirmation they agree. 

21. Repurpose Conversations: After obtaining permission, consider repurposing community conversations in the form of a blog or social posts. Not only could it encourage other advocates to join the community, but current members may appreciate the impact their insights can provide others. Repurposing conversations as good-looking graphics used in email or social channels may get others to join and actively participate as well. Capitalize on that fear of missing out (FOMO) element so many of us have.

22. Schedule Time: While some communities thrive even without admin participation, dedicated community managers (or those assigned as such) should schedule time out of their day to be active within the community themselves. By scheduling a time, the person will be less likely to forget or push it off for other tasks. 

23. Share News There First: Treat community members like a public relations manager would treat a trusted reporter by sharing news there first whenever possible (e.g., product launches, new hires, sales). Community members will likely think nothing of it as the brand shares the news, but if they hear of it from somewhere else, they may feel slighted. 

24. Social Login: Do not make a potential community member remember another username/password combination. To boost initial registration as well as activity levels, let them easily sign in for the first time and every time after with Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter  or LinkedIn login. 

25. Spotlight Members & Moderators: Simple Q&A's about who a person is, where they came from and what they are passionate about can make everyone more relatable to encourage participation.  

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