In our guest post from Collis Ta’eed of Envato, we learned that the “build it and they will come” strategy is not effective when it comes to growing an online community.
Instead, you’ll need to channel your inner gardener by dedicating your time to making your community thrive. Like Collis says, this virtual “garden” community of ours is not going to grow overnight— and there are no shortcuts.
If you haven’t checked out that post or haven’t built your online community yet, we definitely recommend that you read those articles first. They’re the perfect place to start.
Today, we’re going to build on Collis’ point that you can’t just create a community and hope it will suddenly become THE place to be. We’ll be showing you the best practices for keeping your community active and engaged so you’ll have members who are excited to be there.
What makes a community “active”?
Before we dive in, it’s important to understand what an active community looks like.
Have you ever been part of a Facebook group that posts every once in awhile? You may have even forgotten you were part of the group since they post so infrequently.
Or what about a group where the admins are the only ones participating, and it’s essentially a one-sided conversation?
These are both great examples of an inactive community.
Communities like these don’t last long. Once members figure out that there’s not much going on, they’re more likely to leave and find a group that’s more engaging.
Now here’s what an active community looks like:
Members are usually quick to respond and excited to jump in on discussions, which creates back-and-forth chats between admin and community members instead of one-sided conversations.
On top of that, members are eager to post relevant articles or images and don’t hesitate to do so.
See the difference?
Our goal is to get your community to fall into this active category so it’s thriving and people can’t wait to see what’s going on each day.
So let’s talk about how to do that.
Focus on Finding Relevant Topics
It may take some time for your community members to post their own topics, so it’s important that your admins or website team encourage conversations by finding relevant topics to share.
These can be images, videos, or even articles in the news that relate to your most recent sermons.
Choose positive stories that teach or inspire your community members instead of controversial topics that could stir up unwanted arguments.
You want topics that people are already talking about, but not ones that may cause so many differing opinions that it sparks a debate.
Whoever is in charge of your online community should make it a point to find relevant topics on a consistent basis. This could be at the start of each week or mid-way through. Then you can post them to the community as regularly as possible.
Encourage a Response from Members
While posting relevant topics is a smart first step, you’ll also need to encourage members to voice their own opinions about anything that you post.
Eventually they’ll understand that it’s okay to comment, but in the beginning they may need a soft nudge.
Some ways to do this include:
- Asking a question with each post. (Ex. What do you think of this story?)
- Spelling out what you want your members to do. (Ex. We’d love to hear your opinion. Feel free to leave a comment!)
- Encouraging members to post. (Ex. Do you have an inspiring story you’d like to share with the community? Feel free to post any relevant links, videos, or images that you think our community will love.)
Asking members for their opinions is usually a great way to elicit conversations. As a general rule of thumb, members are more likely to get involved in the chat once the comments start to stack up.
However, if your team selects the wrong topic (a controversial one), you could have more unwanted comments than you bargained for. This is why choosing the right topics is imperative.
Your community admins should also try to respond to as many comments as they can to encourage more of a discussion. Make sure they keep an eye on how the comments are flowing; if arguments or unwanted behavior pop up, they need to be stopped immediately so members can feel safe again.
Ask Members to Share Their Stories
Icebreakers can be nerve-racking for some, but they’re a little easier to handle in an online community. People feel less intimidated to share their stories when they’re not standing in front of a room full of people staring at them.
A good way to get new members engaged with existing ones is to ask everyone to share a little information about themselves when they first enter the community.
Users don’t have to share anything too personal: a simple mention of who they are (occupation, married/single, have kids, pets, etc.) and how long they’ve been going to your church is totally fine.
I love when the online communities I belong to announce events like, “We’d like to welcome our newest members to the group [new members are tagged in the post so everyone sees them] and ask that everyone give them a warm welcome in the comments.”
You can even post: “Tell us a little something about yourself,” to encourage newbies to share their stories.
Chances are, members will find something in common right off the bat, which makes the transition into the community just a bit easier.
However, you don’t have to wait for a new member to join to ask people to share their stories— you can do this anytime.
Whenever you share certain articles, ask your community members to share their experiences. You could say something like, “Do you have any experience with this? Share your story in the comments!”
When people begin to open up, they’re more likely to find others in the group who share a similar experience. This is a perfect way to bring people closer together and helps other users feel that it’s okay to share their stories, too.
What better way to engage your community than by sharing what everyone has in common? It’s a simple way to unify people and encourages that warm community feeling.
An active community (whether online or in-person) should offer its members support continuously.
This support doesn’t always have to be in person— it can be in the form of virtual hugs and positive well-wishes.
Each month, you could choose a specific topic and offer support by posting relevant articles and encouraging members to share their experiences.
Keep in mind that users may not be inclined to share too many details if you choose a sensitive topic, and that’s okay.
Here are some ways to show support without making users feel obligated to discuss their personal details:
- In honor of [insert cause], we’d love to show our support. Tag a friend who could use our prayers today.
- With [insert cause] Awareness Month upon us, we’ll be posting helpful articles all month long. Please feel free to share this with your friends and family who could use the support.
- You could also feature new members each week who may need prayers from the community. Share a short snippet about their story and let members know that you’d love to feature someone they know next week. Encourage them to message you privately to get all the details.
Once your community members see that this is a supportive and loving place, they’ll have no problem getting involved.
By choosing relevant topics each week, asking for your members’ opinions, and offering support, you’ll have a thriving community that’s active and engaged in no time.
Remember, this process is going to take some time and lots of consistency; it won’t happen overnight and there are no shortcuts.