Community Programs: The Key To Increasing Engagement

community_programs_increase_engagementAah, engagement. It’s a love-hate relationship for online community managers.

When people are talking, trading advice and letting you know they’re getting value from your community, life is good. When the virtual halls seem to echo with emptiness—not so much.

Fortunately, there is a way to help you increase engagement levels so that you’re enjoying more good times than bad. It’s a little thing called community programs, and—with some help from your advocates—they can help ensure that your community never goes quiet again.

What are programs?

According to The Community Roundtable (CTR), programs are a community’s formal, or pre-planned activities that you offer to your community, including regularly scheduled online chats, member welcome e-mails, newsletters, surveys or other events – both offline and online.

Some of these programs are meant to promote your existing community content, and some can even help you generate more content.

Content and Programming is one of the eight competencies on the CTR’s Community Maturity Model – a model that identifies the elements needed to build successful communities.

According to the CTR’s State of Community Management 2014 report, communities with regularly scheduled programs have higher engagement than those without them.

How can we make programs successful?

Now that you know what programs are, here’s a few ways you can get the most engagement from your planned community activities.

1. Schedule programs consistently

Community managers agree that one of the most important elements to running successful programs is to schedule them consistently so that members know when an event is happening—and will start to look forward to them.

A very effective way to make this happen, and plan in advance, is to use an editorial calendar. Your calendar could feature a particular topic or theme each month, with all programs built around that topic.

For example, if you are a SaaS vendor, you might have monthly themes for your customers around how to implement your software, how to train your users or even a month featuring best tips and tricks from users.

Once you’ve defined your theme, your webinars, online chats, trainings and other community events could support that theme.

Luke Sinclair, Director of Community at Sitrion, uses an editorial calendar with his enterprise technology community, but warns that your community shouldn’t be too structured.

“What’s really important is to find the balance between the programmed content and an adhoc conversation that occurs,” he told attendees during a Community Manager Appreciation Day 2015 session.  “The very nature of digital online community is that sometimes conversation just comes out of nowhere, and sometimes that’s the best kind of conversation.”

2. Collaborate with customers

The community programs that show the highest engagement are those that customers either helped develop or that feature customers, reports The Community Roundtable.

This is why it’s important to gather feedback and ideas from your community members. Your advocates are the perfect place to start. Ask them about the length, frequency or types of content or events they want to see, since they love giving feedback. This way, you can be sure you’re fulfilling their needs and providing value.

You can also ask them to provide their own content, such as posting discussion questions, to make interactions even more meaningful.

3. Don’t quit too soon

Although it might be discouraging if your initial programs are not well-attended, don’t throw in the towel too quickly. GIve yourself time to build awareness for your programs, and you should eventually see participation increase.

One way to encourage others to attend your events is to ask some of your advocates to participate. Once others see that there is interest from other community members, they’ll likely jump on board, too.

Don’t forget to reward your advocates by featuring them in your community content, or giving them a little extra recognition. Any opportunities you can give them to build their network and show off their knowledge will encourage them to participate.

Ready to Get Started?

If you’re ready to add some structure to balance out your freeform community conversations, why not give programs a try?

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Hold a webinar series around a particular theme or topic
  • Conduct a live event such as a user group meeting or conference
  • Schedule a regular Q&A with your support team or a member of your executive team via a forum or online chat

By following some of these tips, you’ll soon be on your way to higher engagement with a little help from your community programs.

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