Coffee Talk: Boosting Community Engagement

CoffeeTalk-July2014-CommunityThis morning, I met up with a couple of industry friends to kick around a few ideas on how to take a venerable community to a new level of engagement. Like many folks in the tech space, their community members are stretched thin with little time and budget to devote to ‘discretionary’ activities. And competition for that limited time is heating up.

So, as always, it comes down to consistently creating value. Essentially answering the question: why is this community a great place to invest their time? Tough question. But strong coffee in hand, it seemed that the ‘answers’ we batted around centered largely on content, connection and commitment.

 

Content

  • Meaningful content is table stakes. What keeps community members coming back for more is the perception that this is not content you can get just anywhere. There needs to be an air of ‘exclusivity’ about the content offered up; it’s one of the most compelling benefits of membership.
  • More isn’t necessarily more. We tend to obsess about generating more stuff. But in fact, most of us are drowning in content – not all of it useful. So insights that help net out what this content could mean to members and their organizations are invaluable. Community experts can step into that ‘peer analyst’ role – in blogs, newsletters, forums, hangouts or webinars (if the topic is substantial enough to warrant it).
  • Another value-add for the perpetually time-crunched member is for the community to curate relevant content – and then let members customize their content experience. Again, members want to surface only what’s important to them. Let them ‘hide’ the rest to lower the noise level. This could be applied to members’ community hub or online newsletter.
  • Introduce more visual content. People are more likely to engage with content that includes video and images than text alone.
  • Consumption is king. But for those inclined to pass good material along or build on it to spin out their own point of view, make sure it’s easy to access key content assets and share them.
  • When you get a high quality asset, particularly member generated pieces with broad appeal, then promote them. Community platforms with great ratings functionality will surface five-star content that community management can then highlight. The bonus is member recognition, which helps boost future engagement.

Connection

  • Peer-to-peer connection is at the heart of a community. Giving members options to interact in their channels of choice is important. But because it can be more work for the community management team to monitor and engage in more spaces, add social networks judiciously to reflect the preferences of your members and the CM team’s bandwidth. No ghost towns, please.
  • Access to SMEs – either from the brand or from within the community – is part of the exclusivity element. Featuring them in a range of educational and engagement activities – delivered online and offline – reinforces why the member is here.
  • Face-to-face meetings can be unmatched in solidifying relationships. You’ve got attendees’ attention when they’re onsite. And there’s the emotional bond and energy that’s hard to replicate in virtual events. For long-standing members, an annual conference can serve as a ‘reunion’. The challenge lies in proving the value of the investment. Try:
    • Offering 1:1 or small group meet-ups with product or industry SMEs to personalize the experience – and go home with some new tips or ideas.
    • Using mobile apps to help attendees get the most out of their conference experience. With literally hundreds of options, they can select their sessions and manage their own agenda. They can also stay connected with other attendees via chat capabilities, follow the event Twitter stream and easily add their own voice to the conversation.
    • Making it easy for attendees to access and share key sessions or content with their teams post-event. Conferences are about professional development, preparing for the future and in this case, optimizing the investment in your software. A repository of the key resources post-event helps members share those learning – further justifying the investment.
  • Consider supplementing your major F2F conferences with local or virtual events. By sidestepping the need to be out of the office or incur T&E, more members may have an opportunity to participate.

Commitment

  • Fight the ‘launch and leave’ mentality. As they grow, communities often take on a personality and culture of their own but still require ongoing care and feeding by a professional community management team. Great community managers are a ‘visible hand’ – serving as go-to resources, welcoming and encouraging new members, prompting engagement, listening to members’ wants/needs and making course corrections based on that feedback.
  • Face-to-face meetings take major commitment but can generate a tremendous amount of content and engagement. Be sure to get the most mileage from them throughout the year, not just leading up to and during the event itself.
    • Capture the voice of community members’ onsite to showcase the energy and enthusiasm of attendees.
    • Repurpose presentations into other assets – like blogs or datagrams – to release throughout the year. Build an editorial calendar to extend the life of those assets.
  • Invest in the platform and tools to keep your community vibrant. Judiciously add new features and functionality to foster engagement.

Netting out our coffee talk – don’t forget the basic tenets of great community but keep experimenting with new ways to keep things fresh and appealing to the next gen members. So I’ve given you a topic – now discuss.

Cheryl Treleaven
Cheryl Treleaven

Principal

Engaging your customers is at the heart of successful marketing programs. For more than 20 years, Cheryl has been building and executing content and thought leadership strategies designed to do just that. She is excited to be applying that well-honed skill to a help companies like Microsoft, Cisco, 3M, Intel, Capital One and Barclaycard tap into their stakeholder communities and build sophisticated content strategies.

Her experience base spans a range of industries – from technology and financial services to retail, travel, consumer products and healthcare. Cheryl has served as an integral member of her clients’ marketing teams, providing counsel on marketing and brand strategy, thought leadership, media relations, product introductions, and event management.

Prior to joining ComBlu, Cheryl spent 10 years leading corporate marketing for large, complex organizations.

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