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In today’s “always-on” culture, it’s never been more important to create a real connection with your customers. Every day, customers face an onslaught of up to 10,000 messages across multiple channels, and trust in brands is at an all-time low, according to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer report.

To break through the noise, you need to establish a genuine connection with your customers. I’ve seen firsthand the role that online communities can play in establishing relationships with customers. But it’s not enough simply start a community. To deliver real value, you need to ensure that every stage of the community member’s journey is rewarding, from initial recruitment to ongoing activities.

I recently shared strategies for improving engagement in online communities in Engage: 101 tips to improve the research participant user process, a handbook from the Global Research Business Network. Below are five of the tips I shared that can help you boost engagement in your online community.

Think mobile first

Today’s customers choose whether or not to participate in online communities. Their feedback is invaluable, so it makes sense we solicit their input on devices most convenient for them. Increasingly, customers are reaching for their mobile devices to participate in online communities.

Approximately 50% of activities are taken on a mobile device or tablet, so it is extremely important to keep small screens in mind when designing and programming an activity.

 Some best practice tips for mobile: 

  • Be concise 
  • Always test your activity on a mobile device 
  • Avoid grids and rank order 
  • Limit the number of open-ended questions 
  • Adjust image sizes for small screen and use only when necessary 

Create personas

People want and expect a personalized experience in online communities. Messaging needs to speak directly to customers and allow them to connect emotionally with the company. However, it’s difficult to get to know each person individually. 

One option is to create personas to define your customer groups. Personas are fictional, generalized representations that help you relate to your customer groups as humans, and can help you tailor recruitment approaches to each group. For instance, how you approach a group of millennial women for a fashion brand may be different to how you engage with a group of retirees for a health brand.

Design engaging messaging 

Customers want to feel like you are talking directly to them, so companies can no longer rely on a one-size-fits-all approach to recruitment. You can leverage the work you have done on creating personas to help. 

Once you have “humanized” your personas (brainstormed characteristics, assigned a photo and name to each, and discovered unique ways to recruit), you can start to design your messaging to fit each group. 

For instance, in a social media recruitment message to a young, engaged following, the tone should be conversational and short. In addition, the call to action needs to be easy to find.  

Remember: being in an online community is similar to any other community. Your customers want to feel like they belong and are a part of something special with a purpose. You can create this sense of community by creating a unique look and feel to your community. For example, create a name and creative that represents your brand but is unique to the community. Additionally, you can send members sneak peeks or insider knowledge that is exclusive to them.  

Stop repeating yourself

No one wants to be asked the same thing over and over; repetitive questions can frustrate your customers and imply you’re not listening to them. More importantly, you are not using the power of your online community to profile your members and gain insights that drive important business decisions for your company. The longitudinal nature of online communities provides more opportunities for a variety of insights. 

Even though you may do similar surveys, community members crave variety and different experiences. Consider putting together a calendar of activities to ensure an array of business questions are being addressed at least once every six months, or by activity type (e.g., online journaling or discussions).  

Consider adding “persona building” activities to mix it up. Include short and interactive activities that go beyond business objectives to shed light on who your members are, what they think and what motivates them.  

Building personas allows the community manager to learn more about customers and provides more depth to the member relationship.  

Show gratitude 

Your customers want to feel like their participation is appreciated. Remember to show gratitude and thank members for sharing their insights and opinions.  

However, avoid incentive programs aimed to motivate individuals. Incentive programs aren’t sustainable; people who expect money for their time lose their innate desire and motivation to participate. A sense of community can be lost when the focus shifts from genuine participation in research to extrinsic rewards.  

Instead, consider sharing back the insight gained from the community to educate your customers. Share-backs are important as members can see firsthand that their feedback was valued and used for positive change. Members have a more positive brand experience and are more engaged in their community when research results are shared.  

Learn more strategies for increasing engagement in online communities in the GRBN handbook, Engage: 101 tips to improve the research participant user experience.   

The enterprise guide to online communities

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Christy Ransom

Christy has been “customer centric” since before it was even a tenet of modern business. For well over a decade, Christy has lead Vision Critical’s customer success teams, focused on community recruitment and member engagement best practices. She expertly directs the Sparq Next community, fostering the full customer journey, supporting customers to ensure they get the highest ROI from their insight community, leading the development of the education team, creating the curriculum for both customers and employees, and developing best practices in insight community management.

Her insights into customer success can be found in the Global Research Business Network Engage Handbook and The Insights Revolution: Questioning Everything. When Christy isn’t researching and celebrating customer success, find her harvesting cherries from her backyard trees in the wine country region of British Columbia.

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