How to Keep Your Online Community Engaged

The past few years have taught us that all kinds of communities aren’t just powerful, they’re essential. But for community managers, unlocking all that potential, especially with limited in-person meeting options, is devilishly difficult. You need to appeal to a huge variety of community members, find engaging content, and just make it worth people’s time.

But to do all that, you need to find the right strategies and the right tools to implement those strategies.

Fortunately, we’re going to talk about both here. Below, you’ll find 4 key strategies for keeping your online communities engaged and thriving. We’ll also talk about some tools to make it all possible, and dare we say easier, with your limited time.

So before you settle for the same old community management techniques that have been getting you diminishing returns for years, see what you may have been missing and unlock the full potential of your members.

Post content your group actually cares about

The need for good content isn’t exactly shocking, so this really comes down to how you discover that content and what you do with it.

Wait, how do you figure out what your audience cares about?

This is the trickiest part, but it all starts with the why. Start by understanding what your audience cares about. This can be done with a simple poll, one-to-one interviews, or testing out various types of content and digging into the analytics. Your best bet is likely a combination of both because often the content people say they want is different from what they actually connect with.

Although most guides for how to do this are designed for larger audiences, most techniques can be applied by community managers. This guide has a detailed breakdown of the best techniques for structuring and implementing this kind of audience research. Just be sure you know the answer to this question before you go out and build a content sharing system that isn’t going to get you the results you need.

How to consistently source content that works

Once you have a clear idea of what your audience cares about, you need to actually find that kind of content. The even bigger challenge is doing so consistently. To do this you need to cultivate a good set of sources. Below are a few places to get started:

  • Subscribe to newsletters on topics that are trending in your community
  • Find relevant podcasts that might appeal to your members
  • Create Google alerts for keywords that you see coming up a lot in discussions
  • Ask your audience where they find content they like

Between all of these sources, you’re aiming for content that’s both relevant and timely. If you can turn your online community into an excellent place to learn about and discuss relevant information, you’ll have a very engaged community on your hands in no time.

Sadly, no content stream you create will ever last forever. You need to regularly bring out the same techniques you used to understand what your audience cares about initially in order to confirm that they’re still engaging with the content you’re sharing.

Actively facilitate connections between group members

In reality, great content alone does not automatically translate into an engaged online community. If you stop there, you risk falling into the trap of becoming a glorified newsletter. People join communities to engage with and learn from other community members. Ideally, that would happen naturally, but as a community manager you need to be proactive in ensuring that it happens on an ongoing basis.

Being able to actively link members up with each other is key because the value group members get from connecting with the right person is something they can’t get elsewhere. It’s that single irreplaceable element that will keep people coming back and create just the kind of engagement you need. Ultimately, the information or support most of us need to face our toughest challenges just isn’t available through a simple Google search.

No wonder many companies are already using peer to peer learning internally, finding that it helps address skill gaps, improve leadership skills, and feel like more of a team. All of these benefits translate well into engaged and effective online communities.

Of course all of this is easier said than done. With plenty of time and a smaller group, this isn’t so hard, but scaling this kind of facilitation gets difficult and expensive quickly. This is where having the right tools becomes critical.

How to make active facilitation practical

The real challenge here is the human element. One person might have the perfect background and experiences to match with another community member but the match just doesn’t work. It takes a long time to get a feel for which criteria really translate into effective matches.

That’s why, despite that human element, this is actually a job that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is excellent at. How can AI figure out what makes a good match? The irony is that it doesn’t need to. AI excels at finding patterns, so regardless of the exact thing that makes a specific match between two community members work, AI was developed to track that pattern and others like it to continuously improve the matches it suggests.

This is why using an AI-driven tool to suggest the right community members to match up is an effective way to scale this process while also making it more effective. To get a better idea of what this looks like in practice, check out this VC community case study demonstrating how Orbiit does it. Combining powerful insights with tools that handle the huge logistics and even help suggest conversation topics means it handles virtually every element of excellent facilitation for you.

Introduce new people to help them get started

Having great content and facilitating meaningful connections between group members isn’t always enough to keep an online community thriving and engaged. You need to place extra attention on new members. First impressions are powerful not just for determining whether or not someone will stay in a community but how they will behave there. They need to feel welcome and have the behavior you want them to exhibit clearly modeled.

Consider an example where a new community member, we’ll call her Daisy, enters your community. In one scenario, she instantly feels intimidated or even overwhelmed. All the content and discussions going on are high quality because you put in the work, but that very fact can make Daisy feel like she doesn’t belong. In a different scenario, if the quality isn’t there, she might quickly decide your community isn’t worth her time.

In either case, Daisy isn’t likely to stay around for long. To avoid these kinds of problems you need to quickly introduce new members into the community to make them feel they belong and onboard them quickly to help them understand how the community functions from the outset.

How to introduce someone

While this will vary slightly depending on the nature of your specific community, there are a few general principles to follow here. The first is to be fast! When a new community member joins you want to get in there and welcome them as soon as possible. This helps you ensure they have a positive first impression that will carry through.

This is also a great moment to learn more about their needs and expectations from the group. Use this as a kind of early warning system telling you what new members are interested in before they start interacting with the community (at which point this might change).

So now imagine Daisy joining your community again. This time, she gets a prompt welcome from you, asking about her interests so you can help her get the most out of the group. Now she feels welcome and knows that even if what she finds isn’t exactly what she’s looking for, knowing the community is well-run and interested in growing/learning can give Daisy confidence that it’s worth investing in. Of course using a facilitation tool to quickly match new members with older members who might have plenty to talk about with them is also an excellent idea.

Find partners to bring new products and services to your members

To be honest, a welcoming community with good content and excellent facilitation will probably thrive. However, considering all the effort it takes to get there, you really don’t want to leave this up to chance. That’s why you can think of the last strategy for keeping your online community engaged as a kind of cherry on top. Don’t go out and focus on this if you’re not already doing well in the other three areas, but if you can it’s a fantastic way to add that much more value.

This could be anything from a discount on some software or an office product to some kind of team-building event just for your members (more on why that’s powerful below). Not everything you’ll want to consider offering has to be extremely serious or directly related to your industry. A good blend will help you offer more variety and provide chances to see what resonates with members and what doesn’t. So don’t stop experimenting!

How to find the right partners

The best place to start is with your community itself. Keep your eyes peeled for instances where members share products or services they use or recommend. This is your chance to reach out to that company or organization with proof that they are resonating with your members and an offer to partner.

Another easy place to look is in the media we suggested above. Related podcasts, blogs, newsletters, and similar communities will all have sponsors and partners involved. Anyone who’s partnering or sponsoring that kind of content will likely be interested in a similar arrangement with your community.

Remember that even if your community is fairly new, it’s still possible to convince larger companies to partner with you. So give building that relationship a try before you discount a potential opportunity.

Another unexpected reason to consider offering perks

Another benefit of offering perks to your members is strengthening their feeling of membership in the community. Any group is defined by who is in the group and, often more importantly, who is not. Every time a group member takes advantage of some offer exclusively for group members, it’s a chance to reinforce that powerful feeling of being a part of your community.

It all comes down to creating valuable connections

Being a community manager is still tough, but new tools and techniques are making it easier. Still, you always need to remember the fundamentals. There’s no amount of flashy content that’s going to hide the fact that a community just doesn’t provide the engagement it should. Throwing resources into communities that don’t get this core element right risks being a huge waste of resources. That’s why it’s so critical to focus on getting engagement right from the start, even when your community is still small.

So whether you’re starting a new community from scratch, looking to revitalize an old one, or simply trying to build on what’s already working, focusing on valuable connections is a winning strategy. Add in how much easier it has become with AI-driven tools like Orbiit and there’s no reason not to focus on unlocking the power of 1-1 connections to keep your online community engaged.

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