May 11, 2021   |   Vol. 20   |   Issue 5
Kelsey McKinney, MGI Account Supervisor

Harness the power of online communities.

In a year when people are seeking community and have the desire to connect, it should come as no surprise that association online communities continue to be highly successful member engagement tools. Communities can pay big dividends when it comes to building an engaged and loyal membership base. They enhance the member experience and facilitate the open exchange of ideas, which helps increase overall membership value.

However, it’s not as simple as “if you build it, they will come.” While every association’s online community is unique, here are four tips to keep in mind when building or developing activity within your community.

  1. Content is key. Having fresh content and active discussions are the hooks that keep people coming back and engaging with others. Try this: put together a list of dedicated members who you can call on to post seed questions to keep the discussion moving. Many of our clients create lists of possible discussion questions even before the community has launched so that they have content ready to go if organic conversations need a boost.
  2. Actively manage the community and the conversation. Plan to dedicate staff time to managing the community. If questions are posted that need answers from the organization, make sure they are answered in a timely manner. If discussion topics are posted but there are no responses, call upon one of your dedicated members and ask them to respond. If there is a lull in new posts, break out your list of seed topics to get a new conversation started. It’s critical, especially early on, to proactively spark, support, and encourage participation. As your members become more engaged, you will find less time is needed to manage the community.
  3. Be smart about segmentation. Many online communities have the ability to segment their full audience into sub-groups. On the plus side, sub-group categories often focus on specific topics that attract people who otherwise might not be interested in participating. However, over-segmenting your community can backfire, especially in the beginning. Creating smaller and smaller sub-groups can mean that there is less relevant content available for each group, which can decrease participation and affect overall community engagement. Our clients often find segmentation works best after they have established organic conversations and engagement in the core community and before they create sub-groups.
  4. Develop an opt-in policy and a communication strategy. There are typically two options when enrolling an audience in an online community: (1) automatic enrollment of all members/stakeholders (with the ability to opt-out), or (2) an opt-in-only policy requiring all participants to join individually. Generally, there is more success with the first option. Automatic enrollment eliminates the need for people to take an extra step. Where we do see the opt-in approach work best is when segmenting a community into sub-groups – here people can decide where they belong based on what interests them most.

    In terms of communication strategy, many platforms send out a “daily digest” email to everyone who is enrolled in the community with information on “what’s new” to encourage people to log in and join the conversation. If you have auto-enrolled everyone into this communication, your reach is much greater than would be when having people opt-in individually. The daily digest approach also helps to get the word out about your new community. Also, make sure you take advantage of the communications you already have with your members and stakeholders. Include announcement of your community in your acquisition and renewal programs as a new member benefit, promote it at your events, or include links to popular threads in your e-newsletter.

There is substantial power in an online community. In a world where opportunities to interact online abound, you can harness that power into meaningful engagement and interaction that adds real value to your members’ personal and professional growth, and at the same time enhances your organization’s relevance and indispensability.

If you would like more information on strategies to engage your membership, contact Jana Darling at or 703.706.0349.

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