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    Community Member Engagement – a BIG topic

    Julie Paul, SVP, Online Communities

    How to achieve a high level of community member engagement is a very BIG topic – one that can’t be covered in just one posts!  Where to begin? Let’s start with the most basic question: What IS member engagement?

    When we think of members being ‘engaged’ it means they are interested and involved. They are participating in the community.  That could mean a number of things – they respond to the surveys you send them, they participate in online discussions, they actively post their own discussion threads, send in suggestions, or, it could mean they have moved up the status ladder from newbie to influencer.  So, when contemplating community member engagement, you need to first think about what are your ultimate objectives in this regard.  What are you trying to achieve from a research perspective by having high member engagement? Once you have a clear picture, you then need to plan out what you are going to do specifically to foster member participation and ‘engagement’, then finally, how are you going to measure success?

    Engagement Objectives are Important!

    Why? Because the strategies needed to ‘engage’ members cost money and time.  The obvious goal of course, for an online research community, is to have high participation rates in qualitative research and high response rates to surveys.  The type of community you have will help to drive what your engagement goals should be.

    A community focused on qualitative research will typically gain insights through observing the behaviors and discussions of your members, while also posting and running specific qualitative activities.  These types of communities tend to be smaller and require heavy participation through online discussions, possibly one on one interviews, and general observation of the community whereby members post their own articles, comments and forums.  Engagement goals for these types of communities should center around achieving a high participation rate for discussion posts and commentary, as well as a goal for the number of members posting their own topics for discussion.

    On the flip side, communities focused more on quantitative research with survey as the primary method of insight would require engagement goals centered around individual survey response rates, as well as a higher segment of ‘medium to heavy responder group’ vs. the ’non or low’ responder group (see my other blog article on measuring panel health).

    Many research communities fall on the quali-quant spectrum where there is a good amount of both qualitative and quantitative research conducted on an ongoing basis.  For these hybrid communities, goals centered around both survey response rates and participation rates on the community site, through discussions, etc. is where you want to start.

    Once you have specific goals, you then need an Engagement Plan.  The plan lists out the tactical game plan to achieve your goals, with timelines.  It spells out what you are going to do to drive participation.  The plan does not need to be extensive – keep it simple so you will execute it, and you will change it over time, as you learn more about the nuances of your community.

    The Engagement Plan

    Here is a quick example of what an Engagement Plan looks like and the types of tasks.  The types of tasks should be directly related to your engagement objectives.  Notice also, that some items are focused on intrinsic rewards (articles focused on impact of members’ opinions on the brand for example), and other items are focused on extrinsic rewards (providing something of monetary value to the person who participated the most in a given month).  Note also that there is a specific cadence for delivery – people are creatures of habit and they like to know what to expect.

    Item/Task Purpose Date
    Monthly Newsletter To provide members information on the impact their contribution is having to the community 5th Tuesday of each month
    Annual Member Satisfaction Survey To understand satisfaction with the community & ways we can improve to drive higher participation levels February each year
    Member of the Month Profile To provide members with detailed information about a specific community member to encourage members getting to know one another Last week of the month (also feeds to Newsletter)
    Monthly VIP Member Highlight and reward the community member with the highest participation in discussions that month 3rd week of the month
    Brand Impact Article To inform members of the impact they are having on brand decisions 2nd week of the month
    Winner Postings Updates to website with latest winners of sweepstakes Last week of the month, following sweeps draws
    Bi-Monthly Discussion To provide members a forum to discuss topics relevant to the community (topics submitted by members or by client) Posted by noon on Tuesday, each week
    Surprise Reward Purchase an item relevant to the community & give it to the member who has participated the most in the past 3 months Quarterly, Jan/April/July/October


    Finally, it is imperative to monitor and measure your success.  Community health reporting is critical – if you implement engagement tactics and your participation and response rates are low, then something is wrong and you need to course correct, possibly modify your plan to come up with different tactics.

    Stay tuned for the next post in this series: “The 5 Important ‘Must Haves’ for an Engaged Community.”