How Can I Increase Online Community Engagement?
Looking for ideas to boost your online community engagement? We share 6 practical tips to help you better engage your stakeholders online.
Need to better engage your stakeholder communities online?
Online community engagement can be tricky — after all, you don’t have the advantage of face-to-face communication and nonverbal cues… and if you don’t capture someone’s attention quickly, they’ll disappear as quick as a flash (or mouse click).
But there’s no getting around it — most organizations will need to engage their communities online, alongside more traditional methods. And online communication is an efficient and cost-effective way that you can reach nearly an entire community, as long as you can do it right.
So, why’s it so hard?
Online Community Engagement — The Good and The Bad
The digital world is full of opportunity, like the ability to tap into more perspectives for your engagement than ever before. There’s more technology and data available than ever to support and inform your stakeholder engagement. Online engagement is also more real time and costs less than other engagement methods.
But it also brings challenges like:
- Shrinking attention spans as brands compete for visibility (alongside entertainment, workplaces, and personal networks)
- Growing expectations that brands provide a more engaging experience
- The possibility that nearly anyone can reach and influence a sizable audience online
- Engagement teams becoming overwhelmed by the volume of stakeholder data to manage and the complex technology needed to manage it
- The landscape itself continuing to change as new platforms emerge
- People’s preferences for how they interact online continually shifting
As a result, online community engagement isn’t as easy as it looks, and many organizations struggle to capture people’s attention and retain it for long enough to communicate about an issue or get important feedback.
Six Tips to Get Better Community Engagement Online
With that in mind, we’ve put together some tips that should help you understand and improve your online community engagement.
1. Invite a Response
Gone are the days of one-way media broadcasts. Today, online communication is all about the interaction, whether it’s comments, email replies, direct messages, shares, or something else. This means that it’s time to stop sending emails from [email protected] and actually invite your community members to hit reply (or provide another suitable channel to respond in). Turn on your social media comments, replies, and messages — and ask your audience to tell you what they think.
Remember that your goal is to engage with your online community, not just communicate at them. So, use the digital tools available to invite a conversation and response. Speaking of which…
2. Respond Back!
Don’t just leave your stakeholders hanging. As much as possible, try to respond back to every comment, email, or message you receive — and meet their expectations according to the way they reach out. This means:
- Acknowledge and thank them for their input (they gave you their attention, after all!)
- Respond to any questions
- Acknowledge any problems or complaints and make a note to follow up, if needed
- Report, block, and/or ignore any inappropriate comments (don’t feed the trolls)
- Take the conversation to a different platform (email, phone, face-to-face meeting) if appropriate
- Respond using your organization’s tone of voice (more on that below)
3. Get Your Tone Right
A good portion of your online community engagement will likely happen in text form — emails, social media posts, comments, media releases, blogs, and so on. But just because you’re not speaking out loud, doesn’t mean your words can’t convey your tone of voice or brand values.
You wouldn’t expect someone to respond positively to you over the phone or in a face-to-face meeting if you spoke in a deadpan voice the whole time. It’s the same with written communication on your online platforms.
The right tone of voice can help you better connect with your audience, bring your words to life, and make your online communication more memorable. So, define your tone of voice (characteristics like ‘optimistic’, ‘friendly’, ‘helpful’, or ‘approachable’ can help to encourage engagement) and ensure that all your communication consistently matches this tone.
4. Analyze Sentiment
A very similar rule applies to the communication, comments, feedback you get in return. Online communication may lack the body language cues of face-to-face communication, but you can pick up on other cues to understand what people really think. And that’s where sentiment analysis comes in.
Simply Stakeholders’ sentiment analysis tool looks at the words and tone used by stakeholders in every interaction (e.g. survey responses, call recordings, and emails) to determine how someone feels about the project or issue. This AI-powered tool automatically identifies and tags stakeholders with their sentiment, which means continual data analysis and insights to inform your engagement (without your team doing any heavy lifting).
So, you might not have body language to guide your engagement with stakeholders online, but you will have other useful clues that’ll help you adjust your approach.
5. Keep it Varied
You know what they say… variety is the spice of life! And that certainly applies to your online community engagement.
This means choosing multiple places for your organization to show up and invite people to engage in conversation or provide feedback. For example, you might choose a couple of social media platforms that best fit your industry and audience, as well as an email newsletter, submission forms, and a website resource center.
It also means that you should try to communicate in a variety of formats — text, long/short video, images, galleries, infographics, audio, live events, and more. And even vary the day and time that you post your communication (some times and days might get better engagement, though this will vary by audience and industry).
Different community members are going to prefer different platforms and ways to engage. Some stakeholders might have disabilities or other barriers that make it difficult to engage via some platforms or formats. In either case, variety increases the likelihood that you’ll reach more of your audience and will help you increase the overall engagement of your online community.
6. Make it Fun
Ideally, your stakeholders will be motivated to engage with your organization or project because they want to have an impact — and because you’ve demonstrated that their input will genuinely influence outcomes. But sometimes you can do all the right things and people just aren’t interested.
If you want to get someone to participate in your stakeholder engagement, one of the best things you can do is make it more fun. For instance, consider how you can incorporate gamification into your digital platforms. Would stakeholders be more motivated to engage with your organization if they earned points or badges for following you on social media, completing your survey, and/or sharing that survey with others? What if their online participation unlocked an exclusive event invitation, tickets to a prize draw, or insider information?
Think outside the box about how else you could reward your online community for their engagement!
Looking for more information or inspiration to help with your community engagement? Check out these related resources:
- Best Community Engagement Strategies in 2023 [Blog]
- Improving Stakeholder Engagement: How to Keep People Engaged [Blog]
- How To Use Social Media To Engage Stakeholders [Blog]
- How To Write Engaging Emails to Stakeholders: Tips & Templates [Blog]
- 7 Signs You’re Getting Your Community Engagement Right (Or Wrong) [Blog]