Circle Editorial Team


9 min read

How to boost community engagement with proven methods

Community engagement is one of the most talked about topics when it comes to building a successful community, and for good reason. If your members aren’t engaging with your community, something is most likely wrong.

Engagement is how you measure success, know what you’re doing fulfills your community purpose, and help you strategize for the future to deliver the best community experience possible.

But why does it seem so hard to articulate what valuable community engagement actually is? Why is it so hard to know what’s working and what’s not to engage your community members long-term?

In an exciting expert workshop on how to boost engagement, FeverBee Founder and Community Consultant Richard Millington helped Circle members better understand the motivation behind why people participate in communities in the first place.

So, we thought it would be helpful to put together an accompanying guide that shows you how to boost community engagement by understanding the key motivators of your members and creating more participation.

What drives people to engage in a community

Looking at the self-determination theory, below we explore what makes people want to participate in a community in the first place to help you understand how to best meet their needs.

Amotivated: Why people don’t join/ participate

  • They don’t know the community exists
  • They don’t see the value in the community
  • They don’t trust the community to deliver value
  • They’re members of competitor groups
  • There’s a personal conflict involved

Extrinsically motivated: Why people join and initially participate

  • Immediate gratification: They want to solve a problem they know they have and improve skills by accessing unique expertise
  • Social reward: They want to increase their status with exclusivity and influence
  • Group norms: They have major FOMO (Fear of missing out.)
  • Pursue passion: They want to explore interests with like-minded individuals

Intrinsically motivated: Why people participate long-term

  • They have a genuine interest in the topic
  • They enjoy participating in the community
  • They get satisfaction from helping others

The fundamentals of engagement matrix

Now that you understand why people participate in communities; let’s take a look at how community builders can meet more of their community member’s needs through this engagement matrix.

Member’s needs usually fall into four categories

  • Belonging: People want a place where they feel like they belong
  • Influence: People want the ability to influence a group or their surroundings
  • Exploration: People want to dive deeper into their passions and explore new solutions.
  • Support: People want to find the answers to their problems and get help from others.

Increase engagement by expanding topics

If you want people to engage more often, the idea is to satisfy more of their needs.
Think about the areas you give your community members value. In the framework below, we chose “career, product, and lifestyle.”

You can choose the areas most relevant to your community. Now expand your list of topics to keep delivering more opportunities for engagement.
Increase engagement by expanding value

Take a look at the other vertical on the matrix below, and explore ways you can expand value by fulfilling the different needs of your members (belonging, influence, exploration, and support.)

These needs may differ from community to community. The important part is that you know what needs you can meet over time, why you should meet them, and how.

Use this matrix as a template

Begin in one section of the matrix and gradually expand the value of your community to include more and more topics, content types, and solutions to grow engagement and value.

Using the matrix, you can add in the topics most relevant to your community and create a long-term framework for community engagement.

You don’t need to start at the bottom and work your way to the top; you can begin by filling in just one section most relevant to your community.

Outline typical activities in your community

Once you’ve filled in your matrix, take a look at this other framework below to further understand what specific activities need to happen or do happen in your community to satisfy a particular section of the engagement matrix above.

These could be discussions, content, challenges, activities, or another participation type that has the potential to boost engagement in your community by satisfying different member needs.

Having a good community manager matters

Community engagement fundamentals don’t stop there. Another major factor that influences the level of engagement in your community is you!

Community managers drive interactions, discussions, and offer participation opportunities in every community. Without them, members are left to fend for themselves and won’t do anything if a community goes quiet.

Having a good community manager makes all the difference. The more training you undertake to improve your skills the better your community engagement will be. Think communities can be 100% self-sufficient and still increase engagement?

Here’s what happens to engagement without a community manager.

Now see what can happen when a community manager is brought in and does the basics of increasing engagement (triggering discussions, talking to members 1:1, etc.):

How to increase community retention

A lot of communities struggle with their retention rates, but getting these fundamental principles right will have a massive impact on boosting engagement and retention in your community.

Make sure every question gets a response

If someone responds to a new member’s question, they’re much more likely to participate again. As we can see from this graph below, if nobody responds the likelihood of that member making a second post drops dramatically. You don’t need to answer every question. Instead, you can send a link to a helpful space or tag others to help answer it.

Respond to every question/post fast

Ensure none of your members are waiting too long for a response, or they’ll be far less likely to contribute to the community again. There is a small window to turn a new member into a long-term engager in your community. So pay special attention to posts from new members in your community.

Encourage quality responses

Assess the responses in your community and see if they’re personalized, friendly, result in further questions, and give a sense of impact or influence. These are key factors to increasing future member participation and engagement.

Every interaction is an opportunity to build more understanding, introduce connections, advise on other topics, offer validation, share useful information, and encourage further discussions by adding other members.

If new members don’t have any questions, the next best thing is to make sure you tag them in a welcome thread and have them introduce themselves to the rest of the community.

How to stimulate more activity

Here are some top tips below to help you stimulate more activity and therefore boost engagement in your community.
Ask a question instead of making a statement

This one may seem obvious, but it really does work. Asking questions in your community encourages far more replies than asking no questions at all.

Keep subject title lengths around 100 characters

Are your subject titles too long or short to grab your members attention? According to this research below, 100 characters is the sweet spot for subject title length. Give it a go today and see if this simple change makes an impact for you.

Make a specific space for off-topic discussions

Every community should have an off-topic space for discussions that fall outside of the core focus of the community. If you keep these more general conversations away from the key purpose of your community, you’ll avoid deterring people who don’t find value in them and retain those who like these kinds of social interactions.

Create more “how to” content

Try focusing on more “how to” type discussions in your community to boost engagement. Describing how to do something instead of “what to do” is more difficult to explain and requires expertise, which offers more value and increases engagement.

Engagement tips for advanced community builders

Now we’ve got the basics out of the way, let’s dive into the more advanced engagement boosting tactics you can implement to create more participation and long-term community success.
Run an audit of popular discussions
Dive into your analytics and see what people like the most, what the top discussions are, and how much traffic these discussions account for. Make sure you keep these discussions alive by continuing to reference them, repost them, update them, and tag members in them for related posts.

Long-term value over quick wins

While a webinar with an expert might create an influx of engagement in the short-term, producing valuable resources will contribute to long-term traffic that keeps growing member activity along with it, creating more cumulative engagement.

Here are some of the most engaging resources to post

  • Case studies
  • Analyses/breakdowns
  • Templates./resources
  • Survey/data
  • Interviews

Consider specific programs within your community

Think about creating specific programs that offer exclusive rewards and benefits to your members like discounts, exclusive content, or reputation badges. These programs will help boost engagement and give your members a real sense of value.

If you want to take your community to the next level, you need to think about specific programs for different member types, creating value specifically for their level of engagement within your community – whether they’re super users, advocates, influencers, etc.
How to avoid collective action issues

To avoid people freeloading off the contribution and hard work of others in your community, you can create a set of rules that only allow them to receive value if they give it by:

  • Only letting contributors enjoy resources
  • Create a social norm around contributing
  • Forge an identity around being a “contributor”
  • Reinforce reputational benefits of featuring in the community

Ready to put these proven methods of boosting engagement into action?

Now that you understand the fundamentals of engagement in your community, how to increase participation and retention, and some key engagement tips, it’s time to take what you’ve learned and get started on your community engagement strategy!

We’d like to thank Richard for his well-researched, insightful, and eye-opening expert workshop and can’t wait for the next one! If you’d like to learn more about him or get in touch, check out his website, FeverBee.

Check out Circle’s other training videos for more inspiration, motivation, and top tips.

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