Hacks for Growing Online Community with Limited Resources

Janna Crabb (@jcrabb) is director of online communications at CASE.

This is the first in a series of blog posts on community management, highlighting the keynotes at a conference on online communities and community management hosted by Higher Logic, the platform used for CASE Communities. While the conference focused on the association world, the keynotes’ ideas were relevant to anyone trying to grow communities online, including CASE member institutions. 

Vanessa di Maduro's delivers her keynote on community management hacks at the Higher Logic Super Forum.

Vanessa diMauro delivers a keynote on community management hacks at the Higher Logic Super Forum in October.

Most of us who are responsible for managing online communities—whether private or public groups—are often slowed by limited resources and very long to-do lists.

What can we do to make the most of our limited time and resources? Speaker Vanessa DiMauro, chief executive officer and chief digital officer of Leader Networks, shared the following tips on doing more with less.

Reach out to members. You’ve heard this story before: “We created a community, but no one wants to use it.” Reaching out to members and encouraging them to participate in conversations—regardless of the purpose of your community—goes a long way in improving engagement. Specifically:

  • Welcome new community members. Send new members a welcome message. Offer them tips on how to use the community; let them know the best ways to participate, how they can make a difference and where to go for help.
  • Thank active members. If you have community members who regularly answer others’ questions and offer valuable advice, let them know that you’ve noticed and encourage them to continue and even increase their participation. Consider thanking them publicly on your community.
  • Contact previously active members. If you have members who are no longer active, reach out and learn why they have stopped participating. If it makes sense, encourage them to resume sharing advice and information with the community and offer ongoing recognition once they re-engage.
  • Encourage lurkers to participate in conversations. Create low-risk opportunities for members who read posts but do not ask or answer questions to participate in the community. For example, enlist a volunteer to ask what members are reading or for good resources on a topic of interest to the community, or ask members to introduce themselves.

Involve executives and staff members. One of the most effective ways to show how valuable your community is for your institution’s leadership to participate in conversations. Encourage staff members across your institution to also participate in conversations and share content.

How can you make this happen? Ensure that your communities are part of your institution’s culture. Implement training programs on cultivating community. Create programs that staff members can take part in and encourage them to invest in and be part of the success of your online community. And, of course, remind them of the value of your community and its successes at every opportunity!

Enlist volunteer ambassadors. I know many institutions already do this, but the idea is worth repeating. Find and enlist volunteer ambassadors to share your messages, facilitate conversations, champion your community, encourage others to participate and help your online community to grow by contributing their time, expertise and enthusiasm.

Facilitate connections between members and content. People join communities for two main reasons: to connect with others and to connect with content and information. Provide easy access to both to keep members coming back. How? Respond to questions and comments, provide answers or sources for answers, share interesting content—and make sure members have fun with one another both on and offline. Finally, keep track of what works and what doesn’t to better streamline the process and focus your energy where it has the most impact.

Has your institution tried any of the tips above? Share the experience in the comments.

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