While the definition of community can vary widely depending on whom you ask, most community managers agree on the differences between an audience and a community:
An audience is a group of people who listen, while a community is made up of people who interact.
To figure out which one you’re dealing with, consider the following questions:
- Is your Twitter following a community if the only thing people do is read your tweets without having conversations or sharing?
- Is your blog a community if no one comments on your posts?
- Is your online branded community really a community if people aren’t sharing their interests, swapping ideas and advice, or connecting with each other in meaningful ways?
Without the interactions that give life and purpose to a community, all that’s left is a group of passive lurkers.
Fostering meaningful conversations is one of the biggest challenges community managers face, so we’re sharing few ways you can start to transform your anonymous audience into a thriving community of active members.
1. Get to know your members.
In order to develop the relationships that are critical to the success of your community, you must get to know your members first. There’s a few ways you can do this:
- Find out where else members are interacting. Twitter? LinkedIn? Other communities? Monitor their conversations so you can find out what they like and dislike. You can also reference these exchanges to spark chatter in your own community.
- Take a look at how your content resonates with members. Run reports on which types of posts receive the most comments, or how many registrations you’re getting for your webinars. This will help you adapt your content strategy based on your members’ preferences.
- Ask them what they want. Take polls and surveys on a variety of topics to learn more about what really matters to your members.
2. Get help from your advocates.
Providing momentum and ideas for interactions can seem like a daunting task, especially as your community grows. Don’t be afraid to ask your top members for help—especially your advocates. Advocates are the customers, employees and evangelists who happily sing your brand’s praises wherever they go. Once members see these power users getting involved, they’ll be more likely to jump in themselves.
The key to keeping your advocates engaged is to give them chances to learn new skills, grow their professional network, or be seen as a thought leader among their peers. Keep the advocacy flowing by giving contributors regular recognition and rewards, such as member spotlight stories, points and badges, or public thank yous.
5 Ways Brightpearl’s Advocates Helped Drive Customer Success, Engagement and Positive Word of Mouth
Learn how Brightpearl used their advocate marketing program to uncover hidden advocates, drive customer engagement and increase positive reviews.
3. Go off topic.
Many community managers agree that holding an off-topic conversation can be an effective way to help members connect with each other and have fun.
Annie Charalambous, Community Manager at eToro OpenBook—an online community of 4 million members—says she typically wraps up her daily community recaps with a picture of a pug or something funny to get people’s attention and lighten the mood.
“Sometimes finance can get a little boring, so I don’t like to keep it completely on topic all the time,” said Annie during a panel at this year’s Community Manager Appreciation Day. People become more interested and engaged when you make the conversations fun.
4. Hold an offline event.
Help your members put a face to a name. Create opportunities to interact on a human-to-human level by holding an offline event at small, relaxed venue. You won’t be able to replicate this type of experience online!
After coordinating a few meetups, you may find that members will start hosting their own events without your knowledge. This is a good thing! When the community starts to take on a life of its own, you know you’re on the right track.
Online communities will always have their share of members who simply want to listen. However, it’s important to motivate members to contribute to a thriving community that will help build trust and loyalty for your brand.
The Community Marketer’s Manifesto
The time has come to transform the concept of community into the powerful business asset it was meant to be. But it’s going to take nothing short of a revolution.
The Community Marketer’s Manifesto outlines:
- The ongoing importance of B2B communities
- The bleak reality of communities today
- How communities can (and must) be so much more
- A radical redefinition of community
- How to take action toward a brighter future for communities
Will you join us, comrade? Take the first step…
Read The Community Marketer’s Manifesto
Related: Our guide to community marketing