When I give talks about building active and engaged online communities, I inevitably end up stating that there are roughly 99 things that you have to get right to create a thriving community online.
This includes everything from recruiting new community members and onboarding them to writing emails that people open as well as recognizing veteran members and volunteers, then getting them involved at a higher level.
A number of factors and complicated strategy advice can overwhelm marketing and customer engagement leaders. But it doesn’t have to. If you know where to look, there are shortcuts and methods that you can use to improve your online community’s performance without all the hassle.
How do you find the techniques that will help develop your online community and produce better results?
The answer is actually simple. To get ideas for new techniques to make your community a success, look at communities that are already thriving and use them for inspiration. The most successful communities employ techniques that are tried and tested – most of which center around providing value to community members and prospects.
I like to call the process of modeling and testing community management approaches based on existing communities that you know to be active “community hacking.”
Let’s dive into seven techniques you can “community hack” from successful online communities around the world. You’ll need to adapt these techniques to fit your goals and industry, but they’re great ideas for how you can help your members, customers, and partners see the value in your community.
7 Ideas from Top Online Communities
The majority of the online communities featured here have been listed by leading community website FeverBee and SEO experts from Linkdex as successful in their fields. Members, activity, and the results the organizations behind the communities have seen all play a part in why each of these communities is considered to be thriving.
Idea 1. Lead with Your Biggest Benefits
To motivate people to join your online community, lead with your biggest benefits.
Times Educational Supplement (TES) is an organization dedicated to supporting teachers around the world. The homepage for their community, Teachers Connect, immediately grabs your attention not with information about the organization or TES’s recent activities, but with the biggest benefits for teachers.
“Find your next lesson – or a new job in teaching” is the most prominent message on the screen. Only after that benefit is clearly stated do your eyes move to the next time “the largest network of teachers in the world”, which succinctly describes the organization visitors are dealing with.
Leading with your biggest benefits instead of your organization is one of the best ways to make your community member or customer centric. It immediately communicates your organization’s value and explains why people should join your community.
Idea 2. Highlight Helpful Content
Community Care, a resource and private social network for social workers, starts their community homepage off with content. The highlighted material clearly showcases both value and expertise, giving people a reason to join the community.
Notice that Community Care’s featured content is available to the general public. When you give away your best content for free, to everyone, it’s easier to connect with prospects. Including social sharing buttons on that free content also makes it possible for members and prospects to share articles with friends and family, increasing Community Care’s reach.
While free content is an enticing tactic to bring people to your website, you need to strike a balance between free and gated content. If everything is freely available to the public, there’s no reason for visitors to join your online community. To provide exclusivity and motivate people to join, keep your more in-depth content and benefits behind a login.
Idea 3. Grab Attention with Imagery and Research
Workfront, a project management solution organization, commands their visitors’ attention as soon as they land on the site. Their most effective method of grabbing attention includes a combination of compelling imagery that draws the eye and valuable research that appeals to industry professionals.
When you use powerful images, like Workfront’s artistic lion, you can grab attention more quickly than with text. The right images will also insight positive, even emotional connections in visitors and break up bodies of text to create a more attractive website.
Combining imagery with a strong offer such as industry research or benchmarking studies not only grabs attention but clearly explains your value and expertise. It’s not something your visitors will find elsewhere and it could help them get ahead of their competition.
If you choose to offer research for free, you can ask visitors for their name and email address in order to access the report, creating new contacts and leads for your organization. You can also choose to collect information on members and prospects by making your research available for a price through your online store. Research that must be purchased can be lucrative and will still provide you with contact information on buyers. Just remember that paid offers may also have a lower opt-in rate.
Bonus: Workfront also has a “community spotlight” behind their login. In the spotlight, an active product user or member of the community is highlighted in an interview. When you shine the spotlight on your members, you make them feel special and invested in your community’s success, often motivating them to continue contributing in the future. Member spotlights also make your community more personal and the hope of being featured can motivate other community members to participate more as well.
Idea 4. Provide Prominent Purchasing Opportunities
Associations can always use more non-dues revenue and businesses are always trying to increase sales, so take a hint from parenting community, Mumsnet, and make purchasing opportunities clearly visible. As long as your sales options aren’t overpowering, both your website and online community are prime opportunities for upsells.
Mumsnet provides purchasing opportunities that are relevant to new parents, one of their prime audiences, on the sides and top of their website. The ads have pictures of the products, the price, and a call-to-action to “shop now” to make it easy for visitors to complete a purchase. To keep products top of mind while visitors browse, the side ads follow the viewer as they scroll.
When your community highlights products from your online store, you can help increase your revenue. Just be sure that, like Mumsnet, the products that are most prominently displayed are relevant to your prospects and members. If ads aren’t relevant, or if they’re overpowering, you risk annoying visitors.
Idea 5. Feature Discussions and Activity
A site centering around the fashion industry, Model Mayhem opens with forums that members and prospects may be interested in. The forums show the total number of threads and posts, which immediately illustrates just how active the community and its members are.
By showcasing discussion forums, especially those with recent or high activity, you introduce members and prospects to popular topics they may be interested in. You also clearly highlight the fact that your community is flourishing, which is yet another way to demonstrate value.
Featuring active discussions shows visitors that your community is full of experts and members who participate regularly, so it’s obvious that new members won’t be joining a ghost town. There are people they can connect and have conversations within your community.
Idea 6. Personalize
Everyone from Amazon to mom-and-pop stores with websites are working on customized online experiences these days, and Sony Playstation is no exception. Sony’s forums and community is one of the best examples of how to lead with personalization.
Sony Playstation’s homepage starts by asking visitors to pick their topic before finding out more. Buttons with Sony’s various subjects of interest are positioned just below the prompt. Once visitors choose their topic, they can further personalize the page they’re taken to, ensuring that whatever page they reach is relevant to their interests.
You can use similar techniques to personalize your community experience to make sure that information, discussions, and articles are hyper-relevant and more likely to meet your visitors’ needs. Continue to provide helpful information and tools throughout the entire online experience so members will consistently see the value in your community.
Idea 7. Include Immediate Calls-to-Action
Random House’s community, Figment, features prominent calls-to-action as one of the main elements on their page. The calls-to-action are “start writing”, “start reading”, and “start talking”, followed by a fourth, smaller call-to-action to “sign up for newsletter”.
This calls-to-action get people involved as soon as they visit the page by clearly telling them the next action to take. And, similar to Sony’s Playstation community, they allow visitors to customize their experience by choosing the action that most appeals to them.
Making your site immediately actionable draws visitors in, getting them involved in the process. As people participate, they’ll develop a stronger relationship with your organization and other members, derive value from their interactions.
Compelling images, immediate calls-to-action, and personalization are just a few techniques that are working for some of the most successful online communities on the web. It’s important to remember that these are not one-size-fits all tactics, however. Use these as examples and ideas for ways to improve your member experience, but make sure to customize them to fit your audience and industry.
The most successful techniques will be relevant to the needs and interests of your members, customers, and prospects. Find out what layout is easiest for your members to use and the offers they see the most value in, then incorporate those into your online community.