Achieving high engagement levels — and lifting them even higher — is one of the biggest challenges to operating a successful online community. How to keep community members active and engaged received a lot of attention in a podcast recording with Chris Hemedinger and Shelley Sessoms of SAS. Shelley and two other Community Managers report to Chris, who is the Senior Manager of Online Communities. Together, they manage 20 different communities, and that number is still growing. Here are 3 ways your bran’s online community can lift engagement.
Cultivate the art of listening
Customers don’t always come out and say what they want directly. You need to try a variety of techniques and pay attention to which ones are most effective at getting people to open up.
The most direct path to coaxing customer participation is with support forums where customers can ask questions about using your product or service. This is how SAS started their online communities 10 years ago. Many others have started the same way.
Forums allow customers to help each other. Through peer-to-peer support you have engagement coming in the form of both questions and answers. Listen for which answers customers feel are the best. To do that, enable all users to ‘like’ answers, and encourage the person who asked the question to select the best answer.
When a question is going unanswered, or when all the answers are incorrect, have an employee answer the question. The more closely associated that employee was to the creation of the product or service, the better.
Aside from forums, create more engagement (listening) opportunities with blogs, polls, and user group events that can be held on or offline.
Develop policies and procedures that encourage employees to engage
As Shelley and Chris discuss in the podcast, it’s easier to get some employees engaged than others. Communicating directly with customers takes some programmers and engineers out of their comfort zone. That’s too bad, because their direct participation means a lot to customers.
Think about it. When you’re having a problem using a product or service, would you prefer to have your issue addressed by a customer support representative or one of the people who created that product or service in the first place?
The first step to persuading non-support employees to participate in your community is to reassure them that their participation is valuable and welcomed.
To that end, develop policies and procedures that guide employee participation. Spell out ways the company wants employees to participate. Set parameters for participation so employees won’t fear that by participating they are committing to an activity that has no limits and will become a drain on their time.
A further step could be to create a case study or two that illustrates how participating in the online community has given technical employees a better grasp of why customers have had problems with certain aspects of products they’ve worked on, and, how that understanding has led to specific product improvements.
Recognize and reward participants
Consider “gamifying” participation by giving recognition badges to employees when they answer their first question, earn five ‘likes’ for an answer, and so on. SAS gives badges for dozens of engagement activities. As Chris and Shelley described in the podcast, there is no ceiling for how many badges a user can earn.
Find ways to reward and recognize customers as well. Spotlight super users of your product who share their expertise in your community. Recognize leading contributors.
In short, make the community fun and rewarding, especially for those who are helping others succeed.
These three suggestions should get your community off to a strong start in terms of engagement, but you should never stop looking for more ways to engage your customers. Test new ideas and measure the results. Roll out the ones that work.
The quest to lift customer engagement never ceases.