This is part one of a two-part series on how to build an online community with magnetic pull. Here's a link to part two - psychology.
I was recently asked, "how do I keep community members coming back?" This is what we refer to in the business as "The $64,000 Question." Once you crack that nut, you're golden.
There are two primary ways to address the returning visitor issue: through technology and through psychology. Today's post will offer tips on how to use your community platform (technology) to keep people coming back. On Thursday, we'll address some of the psychology of participation, which can be just as important to understand.
You may have seen our crazy statistics about how, across Hoop.la sites, 89% of visitors return within 24 hours of their last visit. That speaks a little bit to the inherent magnetism of our particular platform, but let's get into the details of how to leverage technology regardless of platform.
Don't underestimate the importance of the welcome message. It's your new member's first impression, so give them an immediate reason to return. Perhaps you invite them to introduce themselves, and offer a link to the intro forum, or have them upload a video. Whatever it is, give them an assignment that allows them to come back to the site and share something of themselves.
The ideal configuration is to have initial notifications off by default, except that when a member posts content, it defaults to notify them of replies to that content. You always want to give the member control over which notifications they receive, but out of the gate, you need something that will remind them that the community exists, and let them know that others have responded to the content they posted. This is crucial, particularly in the early days before the member has formed the habit of visiting your community.
Your technology probably has a mechanism for you to communicate with your members. It's good practice to occasionally send out some type of communication, whether it's community news, a special event, or an invitation to contribute to a poll. Again, you're reminding the member that you exist, and letting them know they're important to you.
The word "gamification" has been overused lately, but the essence of it is correct. People love to play, and they love to make progress toward goals. It's a good idea to implement some type of steadily advancing system of titles or badges as the member participates, and let them know (perhaps in the community guidelines) what they are working toward. You could even build in a physical reward once a user reaches the highest goal...send them a t-shirt or stickers!
Member to member connection via off-topic sharing
Once you get your members connecting with each other, you've arrived. Those relationships can last for years if they are strong and are reinforced on a daily basis. I can't stress strongly enough how important it is to have at least one space for your community members to have chitchat, or off-topic conversations. It doesn't matter if you're running a doll collector site or a big brand community, your members have to feel as though they can sit with a cup of coffee and interact. If you're constantly moving their discussions to a different forum or telling them to stay on topic, you'll lose them.
No unanswered posts
Use your platform to alert you to unanswered comments and topics. It's particularly critical for new members, but you always want to see a response to new content. The minute a new member feels ignored, he/she will go elsewhere. Ideally, your other members will step up and respond, but if they don't be prepared to jump in yourself. Have a zero tolerance policy for zero replies!
Fresh content daily
Another thing that will keep members returning is knowing that, like their daily paper, there's always something fresh popping up. Besides posting new content yourself, and encouraging members to post, you need to highlight the fact that there's fresh content by pulling highlights out to your main website, or Tweeting out new topics. Promote the new stuff, and keep the page looking fresh and interesting every day (by the way, Google likes this too).
How have you used technology to encourage member participation? What is your biggest challenge?