Member engagement and retention is always a top priority for online communities. After all, it’s great to attract new members but to increase membership long-term, you need to make sure your members stay around. That’s where having a member engagement plan can pay off for your business performance and community growth.
Why member engagement matters
Why does engagement matter? Beyond customer growth, a lack of engagement has significant consequences. Companies with strong omnichannel customer engagement strategies enjoy 10% year-on-year growth, a 10% increase in average order value, and a 25% increase in close rates.
Disengagement also makes for a (dare I say it) boring community experience. If you have many inactive, disengaged members, your community won’t have the kind of discussions that spark new ideas and improve members’ skills and knowledge. It creates a downward spiral, where a lack of engaged members creates even more disengagement and can eventually lead to the death of your online community.
Get going with your engagement plan
Improving community member engagement requires a multifaceted approach that considers individual members’ needs and desires, your community team’s resources, and new trends/innovations. It needs to reach people with the right content and connections, at the right time, and in the right ways. As author and entrepreneur Tara-Nicholle Nelson explains, “You can’t buy engagement. You have to build engagement.”
So how can you actually implement a member engagement strategy that works?
How to increase member engagement in seven ways
In this piece, you’ll discover seven tried-and-tested engagement tactics that our community experts swear by. Read on to discover how to take your online community to the next level by boosting your engagement.
1. Sign ups are just the start
Once a member signs up to your online community, the hard work really begins. You’ve attracted them with promises of exclusive experiences and value — now it’s time to deliver on this consistently. If you fail in this mission, your members will quickly leave and your community will fail to grow long-term.
Make the best first impression
This begins with your onboarding experience. Make the best first impression and your members will instantly feel like they’re part of the community and they’ll be more likely to stick with it. A thoughtful onboarding experience will welcome new members and help them get to grips with the community. Begin with an introduction to the community platform and everything that they can do on it, including rooms, content, and discussion threads that they might be interested in or events they can attend to meet people. Encourage them to create content and ask questions to help them interact with other members and network.
You might want to consider sending them tips over a period of days and weeks as too much information at once will be overwhelming. These nudges can also help to make engaging with your community a regular habit and that will quickly help them adopt it in their daily work lives.
Share regular updates
Beyond this, you want to make sure your members are getting regular updates from the community and that they are experiencing all the benefits that it offers. Offer a range of opportunities for people to engage with via your community, like content, questions, or events. That’ll help you craft a member experience that feels relevant and personal to each individual.
2. Make members feel unique
You can provide the best content in the market and access to leading industry experts, but your efforts will fall flat unless it’s highly relevant to members. Each member wants to feel like they matter to your organization. Tailored communications increase the likelihood that they engage with your community because they will discover something helpful and interesting to them.
The best engagement strategies can meet all subscriber’ needs, by taking their career stages, interests, pain points, and aspirations into account. Research is key to understanding what will keep your audience engaged. To identify what’s genuinely valuable to your audience, your best source is direct from them — gather a group of your most loyal customers (usually the first to join your online community or people who regularly attend your events) and ask them. Seek to understand what existing features and activities are most helpful to them, and what new stuff they’d like to see. Adapt your customer engagement strategy in response.
Tap into community data
Community data is another valuable source to inform your engagement strategy. Analyze your existing customers’ behaviors in your community to identify popular topics, content, formats, events, experts, and time of day.
Eventually, you’ll have enough data on your members to segment them based on their behavior, seniority and role, and interests. You can group similar customers together and use this to deliver a hyper-personalized experience that’ll boost their engagement and retention.
Connect people to others
Did you know that 57% of people join an association specifically to network with their peers? Physical event attendance can only go so far. Instead, having a private space online that people can log into regularly to ask questions and chat with vetted experts and peers, can help them expand their professional network. Those personal connections made through your community will increase member engagement organically as they like, comment, and share their peers’ insights.
3. Be accessible, 24/7/365
An effective member engagement strategy works all-year-round. Traditionally, organizations connected with customers during annual or monthly events, ad-hoc requests or research, and generally not in a consistent way. Online expert communities change this dynamic by creating a space for customers to meet and engage with your brand at any time of day, throughout the year. Having this constant touchpoint (and taking advantage of it to deliver constant value) will also improve member retention as you’ve already been in contact with them continuously before renewal rolls around.
It makes it easier for members to justify an annual membership fee (if you charge one) because they are receiving perks like events, networking opportunities, and thought leadership, throughout the year. Something that’s critical given that 47% of associations reported a decline in membership in 2022.
Simplycommunicate, for instance, built an online community to complement its flagship event SimplyIC. Through this community, the organization was able to pivot to a digital event during the Covid-19 pandemic and it had 560 people attend (almost double the usual rate of 300 in-person). This attendance included people in other countries who otherwise couldn’t attend a physical location. It also used community polls and votes to understand more about member needs and inform future sessions.
But don’t just create a space and expect people to check in all the time. You need to give them a reason to interact by providing experts, content and discussions that they cannot find anywhere else. In a private space that cuts through the noise of social media and other marketing channels, and becomes a trusted area for peers to build connections and knowledge.
In action: The FEBS Network
The Federation of European Biochemical Societies (FEBS) supports research and education in molecular life sciences through its journals, fellowships, courses, congress, and other activities. With its online community, FEBS Network, it brings together experts in molecular life sciences and delivers new value to its members at times that suit their busy schedules. Content and discussions are separated into rooms and channels, while members are encouraged to share their own content around events.
A year post-launch, the community has exceeded its network and engagement targets. It is:
- 221% above target on new visits
- 62% Above target for new content shares
- 13% Above target for the average time engaged
- 324% about target for likes
- 78% above target for average page views
It’s been an exciting first year watching the number of users grow and the platform software develop. We’re pleased to have exceeded our targets and are looking forward to developing the Network further in our second year.
Carolyn Elliss, Communications and Projects Manager at FEBS
4. Support digital and physical experiences
Today’s customers want a range of ways to connect with their peers and consume content. Complementing physical activities with a digital presence is essential. You have Millennials and Gen Z increasingly dominating the economy and workforce, but even older generations like Boomers have increased their digital adoption.
Online expert communities provide customers with another way to engage with your organization and gain value from it. Because of their growing popularity, community membership platforms have sprung up to offer a wealth of opportunities for customers to learn online, network, attend virtual events, and meet new people.
5. Make the community experience scalable
This might feel like a misnomer. How can you create a personalized member experience and also scale it across hundreds or thousands of members? With the right community platform you will be able to build a relationship with your customers that feels personal without a lot of manual heavy lifting from your community team.
For example, your community platform can integrate with your existing tech stack to automate some activities like sending email updates or push notifications that encourage lapsed members to re-engage. Many community managers can waste hours pulling reports and data, but the best community solutions will enable them to quickly see (and share) insights via dashboards and pre-built reports. This frees up time to focus on the really important stuff — like coming up with new member engagement ideas and testing them on your community.
6. Make sure your platform is easy to use
Customer engagement will forever be an uphill battle if your chosen platform is clunky and frustrating to use. Your online community needs to be simple for customers to navigate to a chosen area, to find relevant content, to connect seamlessly with peers, and discover new ideas. It also needs to be carefully moderated so it becomes a trusted space.
Businesses often have a lot of different opportunities going on at the same time like learning, content, and events. Consolidating everything into a clearly signposted online community will boost engagement as people can find and consume all of your resources instead of wasting time looking for them. When they want to learn from your association, they know exactly where to head first. It is also more easily manageable for your member engagement team.
7. Adapt to the times
Your customers’ needs will change over time as the market and their roles evolve. Your online community needs to be able to adapt with this and your engagement tactics may also move forward. Ideally, you’ll have a community platform that invests continuously in developing new features that you can test on your community to see if it improves engagement and retention. Constantly scan the horizon to find new experts and content that you can bring into your community to keep ideas and insights fresh. This kind of innovation will help your organization stand out, grow, and showcase your value (especially as younger generations join the workforce).
How do you know your member engagement strategy is working?
To gauge the effectiveness of your engagement tactics, you need to understand how to measure engagement in your organization. There might be a process and success metrics already in place, or you may be starting from scratch. In any case, it’s worth checking that your chosen success metrics align with your goals and wider business strategy. That way, you can ensure your community is having the right impact.
Choose a range of success measures
There are different degrees of engagement so you’ll need a range of metrics to measure performance and identify areas of improvement. For example, one community might measure customer engagement through the number of comments and likes on their discussions. Another event-driven community might prefer to look at overall event attendance increases after the community was launched.
Alongside these measures, you might want to consider smaller indicators of success to complement them, such as email click and open rates on community email campaigns or the number of questions asked after a webinar. Even measuring the amount of time spent in your community (and where) can provide valuable insights into what members find most engaging.
Gather member feedback
Collecting member feedback is also vital as it gives contextual insights that can help you refine your engagement strategy. Customers might highlight certain features they’ve found useful in a new release of your community technology, they can tell you if the community is meeting expectations (and why/why not), and they might give ideas for future activities that’ll keep their interest for longer.
Building long-term member engagement
Increasing your customer engagement and retention is a marathon, not a sprint. Take steps every day to interact with your customers in a more personal way, to find new activities and content that engages them, and to build a network of peers that keeps them returning to your community. These steps will build over time. A year or two from now you’ll find your organization has a thriving, engaged, and growing community.