Any startup, is only as good as the community that supports it. Communities are an essential element to any and all businesses.
You can’t just send out direct mail to people’s letterboxes and expect to sell. That may have worked in the past, but not anymore. You need to invest time into creating a relationship with your target audience. Creating a community.
This is why the concept of community engagement is so vitally important.
Community engagement is a vague term, like marketing or advertising. It can mean multiple things. It is at the same time, both a process and an outcome.
The context in which the term is being used, is important.
According to this 2018 study, community engagement is defined as:
“a dynamic relational process that facilitates communication, interaction, involvement, and exchange between an organization and a community for a range of social and organizational outcomes.”
Notice “process” and “outcomes”.
In layman’s terms, community engagement is how you can influence your audience through different means, to achieve a broader goal. The primary goal of businesses for example, is revenue.
Focusing on increasing engagement with your community can help you achieve your business goals.
This is even more important when you realize that only 10% of your community contributes.
This is why community engagement is important. This is why it should be a focus.
1. Use Analytics To Track Your Community Engagement
Before you can try to increase community engagement, you need to know how to measure it. How to track it. How to predict it. This is where analytics come in to play.
Analytics is defined as:
“Information resulting from the systemic analysis of data and statistics.”
The concept can be easily confused with analysis. The difference is that analysis seeks to understand why something happened. Analytics uses that understanding of the past, to predict what will happen in the future.
Analytics is important because it gives you a solid game plan based on objective data. It shows you correlations and patterns. It lets you know the best course of action to reach your goals.
Bloggers who use analytics get stronger results than those that do not.
This is invaluable to communities. This is invaluable for increasing engagement.
What are the best metrics (stats/data) to track? Well it’s important to first note that growth goes hand in hand with engagement. So it’s best to use analytics to track both.
Here are the main growth/engagement metrics to track.
- Total number of visitors/visitors per month
- New visitors rate
- Total number of users/members
- Active vs inactive user rate
- User-generated content percentage:
- Bounce rate
- Session duration
- Dwell time/time on site
For more generalized traffic web data you can use Google Analytics.
It gives you various different statistics on your audience.
It also has different categories of analytic data you can use.
2. Get To Know Your Community
Knowing who your audience is, is extremely important for engagement. How do you expect to improve your community, if you don’t know a thing about it?
The concept here is called audience research.
“Audience research is defined as any communication research that is conducted on specific audience segments to gather information about their attitudes, knowledge, interests, preferences or behaviour.”
It’s had more history in the sales and marketing spheres, opposed to community building. It is still however, very important, and a useful strategy for community engagement.
Some general information audience research seeks to find out about communities might include:
- Sexual Orientation
- Political Stance
This kind of general data is useful for segmenting your audience.
More specific, community related information helps give you valuable insight into the minds of your audience. When you know what’s in their heads, you can effectively attempt to engage the community.
There are a variety of different audience research methods one can use to learn about its community. Some of these methods can include:
Surveys are a great way to get to know your audience. They involve a number of questions, can be specific or general and can be done online, in-person or through mail.
A quiz can be give great insight into the mind of your community. A typical quiz is similar to a survey, but involves a points scoring system. This added game element can make it appear more inviting and fun.
Interviews ask a series of questions, like surveys and quizzes. What makes interviews different is that they are done between individuals. It is personalized. Interviews can be done online and in-person.
Q & A’s/Focus Groups
Q & A’s and focus groups are essentially an interview involving an audience. A good example of this type is a Reddit AMA. These can be done online or in-person.
Leadquizzes allows you to create fully customizable quizzes and surveys.
There are over 75 different templates.
And complete design flexibility.
SurveyMonkey is another popular survey SaaS platform.
3. Create Actionable Educational/Informative Content
Content is king. That’s what they say. That’s what Bill Gates said in 96. It’s true. Businesses are spending more than ever on its content marketing budgets. It’s expected to be a 300 billion industry in 2019.
Why is content so popular? Because it works.
People are too sharp these days. They don’t like being sold. Traditional advertising doesn’t get it done like it used to.
You need to provide free value. Like persuading someone in real life. You don’t go asking a stranger to do something for you. You build a friendship. Help them out. You build trust. Once that relationship is in place, it is much easier to sell them.
This is the philosophy of content marketing in a nutshell. This is how it works.
According to the Content Marketing Institute, content marketing is defined as:
“A strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.“
Consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience.
This is exactly how you engage a community. Content marketing is about bringing community building to business.
So what exactly makes great content?
According to Neil Patel, there are 9 ingredients to great content.
- Make sure the content is completely original
- Write a strong, compelling headline
- Make the content actionable
- Provide answers to questions
- Be accurate/provide sources for claims
- Make it engaging and thought provoking
- Use images and videos
- Write short and to the point
- Be consistent
Writing longer form also generally produces better results. According to Orbit Media bloggers who write longer report stronger results.
Popular forms of content include how to guides, case studies, white papers and eBooks.
Brian Dean of Backlinko has a highly engaged community, in large part to his top-notch content. He routinely publishes high quality actionable marketing guides.
His practical content gets fantastic engagement from his community. Each post is littered with comments.
4. Be Consistent With Your Content
Content is good. Consistent content is even better.
To keep your community engaged, you need to consistently put out high quality actionable content. This is something that is ongoing. The minute you drop off, is the minute your audience stagnates, and becomes less invested.
In HubSpots own words:
“Companies that published 16+ blog posts per month got almost 3.5X more traffic than companies that published between 0 – 4 monthly posts.”
Bloggers themselves feel stronger about their content marketing results when they produce more often.
So what is the optimal content frequency?
Marketing Insider Group looked at all the data available on content frequency. They wanted to find out optimal frequency.
“Publishing 2 – 4 times per week provides the highest results in terms of both traffic and conversions. This is the answer according to the data we have seen from multiple studies, as well as much of our own client work across more than a dozen client websites in B2B, B2C, and with companies large and small.”
Optimal Frequency: Post content 2-4 times a week.
You can use HubSpots free content calender to help plan things out.
The calendar allows you to fill in an excel spreadsheet with all the necessary content variables.
There is also a function for repeated types of content.
5. Collaborate With Other Communities
Collaborating with other communities is a great way to build engagement within your community. It works because it simply provides more value to your audience. This is a good thing.
It’s a reciprocal relationship that benefits both parties. Good content is good content. The audience does not care where it came from. Collaborating will open new doorways, and expose new audiences.
According to Orbit Media, here are 5 ways you can collaborate on content marketing:
- Guest Posts
The guest post is the ultimate collaborative method. Either you feature someone else or they feature you. It’s a reciprocal relationship that benefits both parties.
Brian Dean of Backlinko guest posted on Buffer back in 2014.
Brian has grown dramatically since then. Buffer doesn’t look too bad having a guest post from him either.
It’s mutually beneficial.
- Deep Dive Interview
Ask to interview someone you’d love to have featured in your community. Make sure you ask really good, insightful questions. This can be done over email.
Here is an example of an interview post.
Neil Patel’s name and reputation will only benefit hosts community.
- Expert Roundup
The expert roundup is a popular content method. It involves interviewing a bunch of experts in your industry. You ask them all the same questions. You get an awesome piece of content.
This is what it generally looks like.
Expert roundups tend to do quite well. This particular roundup did very well. It generated 4,000+ social media shares, and was featured on the Buzzsumo most shared post of the week promotion.
- Contributor Quote
Reach out to an authority in your industry. Ask them for a contributing quote to a post you are writing. People love to give their opinion on issues.
- Quote & Mention
This method is easy. Simply quote someone else in your content. Don’t forget to also give them a backlink. External links are good for SEO.
6. Prioritize Email Marketing
Email marketing is the virtual equivalent to direct mail. It is private, it is personal. It has long been a valuable tool in the marketing and business world.
It’s also ridiculously popular too. According to Radicats 2019-2023 Email Statistics Report, over 293 billion emails will be sent in 2019.
The same report also found that over half the world’s population uses email.
Email is also an extremely effective marketing and sales strategy. A 2015 National Client Email Report from DMA found that email ROI is 3800%.
What about engagement specific data? An email message is 5x more likely to be read compared to Facebook. According to QuickSprout, email list subscribers have also been shown to comment and share content disproportionately.
Building an email list, needs to be a priority for your community engagement plan.
Buzzfeed makes some great emails. This particular email was telling its subscribers to check out new content. Notice the humorous subject title, fake image alt texts.
Or this audience research email from Matt Becker of Mom and Dad Money.
Email marketing is an effective method to engage your community. It’s not just for selling people things.
So how do you make a good email?
According to HubSpot there are 4 keys to follow.
- Responsive Design
- Appropriate CTA
The email needs to be personal. An email address is in itself personal, as is the inbox. You need to address the email specifically to them.
Images are processed by the brain faster than text. How much faster? Try 60,000 times faster. Just as it is beneficial to use images in blog posts, email is no different. Content is content.
There are so many different devices out there today. Desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones. All the different brands and models. So many varying screen sizes. You need emails that have a responsive design function.
Responsive design is simply a layout that renders its size/function based on screen size.
All emails have a purpose. All emails need the right call to action. Whether that selling them something, or notifying them of the latest blog post. You must have a CTA.
You can also automate the email marketing process. The most popular SaaS platform is MailChimp.
Email analytics are built into the platform to help you track your efforts.
ConvertKit is another automation option.
7. Segment Your Audience
Segmenting your audience can improve the engagement of your community. The concept is called audience segmentation. Here is the definition:
“Audience segmentation is a process of dividing people into homogeneous subgroups based upon defined criterion such as product usage, demographics, psychographics, communication behaviors and media use.”
It is basically a way to subcategorize your community based on who they are. For instance, you might want to make a group for female community members. This can allow you to funnel specific content to them, among other things.
Here’s a great image that shows you all the factors for segmenting your audience.
This is where that audience research comes in handy.
Just how effective is audience segmentation?
According to MailChimp, audience segmentation:
- Defines your target audience
- Tailors your message specific for the individual
- Can drive up conversion rate
- Earn customer loyalty/respect
- Generate leads
A mens fashion company Onward Reserve segmented it’s email list. They categorized individuals into three groups based on purchase history. The three groups were 3+ purchases, non-purchasers and churning customers.
- 278% revenue increase
- 183% click through rate increase
- 41% open rate increase
The easiest way to segment your audience is through email marketing. This involves first, getting them on your email list.
How does one do that?
Write great content, and put an email opt-in form at the bottom. Offer something free with it. Like an eBook or guide. This helps incentivize handing over the email address.
Once on the email list, you can use MailChimp to segment your audience. The platform has specific audience segmentation tools.
You can also integrate LeadQuizzes to MailChimp. This gives you even more data to better segment your audience.
8. Run A Free Giveaway Competition
Running a free giveaway competition is a fantastic way to give back to your community and increase engagement.
Free giveaway competitions are not to be confused with a lottery or raffle draw. You have to pay a small amount to enter those types of contests.
There are many different types of free giveaway competitions. They generally vary on how much is asked of the contestants to enter the competition. Some might ask for an email address. Some might ask for social media shares/likes.
Here is a good example of a giveaway competition that improved a community.
Fragrance company JewelScent hosted a giveaway for a scented jewel candle just before Valentine’s Day. The purpose of the contest was to build the email list of the company.
The giveaway resulted in 3,431 new additions to JewelScent email list. They also nearly made $19,000 in a week. Not bad for something that cost them only $249 to do.
Here’s another one.
John Laudisio ran a sweepstakes competition for the Bruce Lee Family Company. The prize was 3 pairs of Nike basketball sneakers.
The competition allowed contestants to improve their odds by promoting the community.
The free competition giveaway was a grand success. It resulted in 23,489 new Bruce Lee Insider community members. It also generated a lot of referrals and social media hits.
You can use Viralsweep to make your giveaway competitions.
The platform lets you create 100% customizable sweepstakes competitions.
There is also analytics built it to help you find out what’s working for you.
9. Run A Gamification System
Gamification is where you add video game elements to something, to generally increase engagement and morale. Games are seen as a leisure activity, so adding certain dynamics to real world workplaces might improve morale.
Here’s a more concrete definition of the concept of Gamification:
“The application of typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service.”
Some of these gamification elements include:
Points are rewarded for completing specific activities. They serve as a way to measure progress. How many points accrued suggests how good someone is.
Badges are virtual milestone markers of achievement. Opposed to points, badges are more goal oriented and specific.
A leaderboard is a competitive measure of players. They are ranked based on performance of a specific metric/statistic.
A performance graph is similar to a leaderboard in that it measures performance, except it focus on one individual. The individual is compared to previous performances of oneself. It helps show improvements over time.
Meaningful stories are not about performance. It is not an objective measure of performance. It is narrative context, which is a common device in video games. An example would be thinking zombies are chasing you while going on a run.
It can be a way to make boring, mundane activities exciting. Think of it as hypothetical roleplay.
Avatars are virtual representations of individuals. They can vary from very small icons, to full-body 3D animations. It allows individuals to embrace a unique identity.
Working as a team, playing with others is a common gaming element. Teamwork can result in conflict, cooperation or competition. It depends on the specific context.
Are gamification systems effective?
We can look at 2 things to answer this question.
- Scientific literature
- Case studies
A 2014 literature review found that yes, gamification does work. However, contextual and individual factors do play a part.
“These observations suggest that some underlying confounding factors exist. Most prominently, the studies bring forth two main aspects:
1) the role of the context being gamified, and the
2) qualities of the users.”
Entertainment company Electronic Arts (EA) implemented a gamification system for its online support community. They wanted to reward community members who help others regarding games.
Answers HQ uses an XP system. Users gain XP when they answer questions. XP goes towards levelling up.
There are 8 different level ranks.
The implementation of a gamification system increased traffic and converted lurkers to community contributors.
- Active user percentage increased by 15%
- Replies per topic increased by 23%
As of January 2018, Answers HQ has over 12 million registered users. 6.9 million (58%) are considered active.
To apply a gamification system, you will need to use a software platform. There are many options out there. The best option will depend on the nature of your community.
Badgeville is one of the most popular options.
It features complete gamification profiles with leveling, achievements, stats and badges.
10. Run Advertisements
Advertisements are a great way to promote and engage a community. They generally promote products, services or events, and can build tremendous levels of traffic.
There are various different types of ads. These include:
Native ads are designed to not appear as ad selling you. It blends in with your content. In fact native advertising has a lot of similarities to content marketing. It seeks to not appear as a hard sell. Even though it is still.
Native ads can be video or written.
There are 8 different types of native ads.
- In-feed ads
- In-feed social ads
- Paid search ads
- Recommended content
- Promoted listings
- Custom content type
- Sponsored ads
- Product placement ads
There are 2 types of ads on Facebook.
- Paid ads
- Boosted posts
Paid ads is the platforms standard paid advertising, while boosted posts are way for you to promote an organic post. You pay to give your organic content a larger audience.
On Instagram you can feature ads on stories, photos, videos and carousels. All ads have built-in ad features like CTAs. They look the same as normal content, but are ad specific.
There are also collection ads which is the newest format. It allows you to buy straight off the Instagram ad.
Twitter ads are typically text-based. They work a little bit differently compared to ads on other social media platforms. You do not pay until action occurs. What type of action depends on what you choose for the ad.
There are 5 main goals for your ad you can choose.
- Awareness and reach
- Tweet engagements
- Website clicks
- App installs
You can also promote your Twitter account. This functions similar to Facebook boosted posts in that your organic content (tweets) will be enhanced.
There are 7 different types of ads on YouTube.
- Trueview ads (skippable ads)
- Pre-roll ads (non-skippable ads)
- Bumper ads
- Display ads
- Overlay ads
- Sponsored ads
- Masthead format (homepage ad)
Like Twitter, you only pay when someone interacts with your ad.
PPC Ads/Google Adwords
PPC stands for pay per click. It is an online advertisement model that incurs a fee every time someone clicks. The most popular PPC ad platform is Google Ads.
Google Ads combines the PPC model with Google’s search engine. The ads are placed above the organic search results, in priority SERP position. SERP stands for search engine results page.
Google Ads look different than regular organic search results. You can notice the small box that says Ad next to the URL.
What about ad case studies?
The ads were placed on YouTube videos. Specifically as bumper ads.
- 2.2 million new users engaged
- 48% uplift in brand awareness
Use Google Ads for PPC campaigns. Don’t bother with other search engines. Google gets the bulk of the search engine traffic.
For social media automation, there are many SaaS platforms available. Buffer is one such popular choice.
It has analytics built into the platform to help you find out what’s working and what isn’t.
11. Create Video Content
Video content is an extremely powerful community engagement tool. A 3 minute video can engage an audience more than a 10,000 word guide. Video is really that powerful.
It’s no wonder video marketing usage is up 24% from 2017.
It is the future of content marketing.
There are 12 different types of video content according to HubSpot.
- Demo Videos
Also known as product videos. Showcases how something (usually a product) works. This can be something in real life, to a desktop capture recording of software being used.
- Brand Videos
Brand videos are marketing heavy and usually part of a larger campaign. These types of videos are used to increase awareness and attract an audience.
- Event Videos
Usually a highlight reel of an event taken place. Not live. A recap.
- Expert Interviews
An interview of an authority figure in your industry/niche. Can be a video recording of a podcast like the Joe Rogan Experience.
- How-To Videos
Used to teach your audience how to do something. The videos are highly actionable and can be filmed in real life, or animation.
- Explainer Videos
A video that explains something specific relating to your product/service. This is not the same as a how-to video. This is not as actionable.
- Animated Videos
Animated videos can be used for a variety of different uses. They make understanding easier with the use of lots of visuals.
- Case Study & Customer Testimonial Videos
Videos that show specific case studies and testimonials of customers/individuals. These are commonplace and increase social proof.
- Live Videos
Videos that are live and uncut. Usually an event of some sort. Live videos generally have higher engagement rates.
- Virtual Reality Videos
VR videos allow users to navigate a virtual environment. 360 degree videos are the best example of VR video content.
- Augmented Reality Videos
AR videos add a digital layer to the existing environment. IKEA uses AR to help customers visualize furniture in spaces.
- Personalized Messages
Conversation or response to someone, via email or text. It is a personalized video that can help create a connection.
Just how effective is video content?
Real Estate Australia sought to boost its brand. They wanted to drive awareness and generate more leads for property listings. They decided to make video content for Facebook.
- 160% increase in web traffic
- 340% more Facebook impressions
- Cut costs by 60% compared to previous marketing attempt
The best place to produce video content is undoubtedly YouTube.
After all, it is the 2nd most popular website in the world.
For explainer videos, animations, presentations you can use Biteable.
12. Host Live Events
Live events are unique type of content that has immense community engagement influence. The fact that it is live, forces users to be present, in the moment. No other type of content can do this.
Research shows that people really like live content. They watch live content 8x longer than on demand content.
A New York Magazine survey about live video had some interesting findings:
- 82% prefer live video from a brand to social media posts
- 80% would rather watch live video from a brand than read a blog
It is quite clear how powerful live content can be for community engagement.
Types of live events include:
Live podcasts have become a thing in recent years. Originally podcasts were valued for its on-demand media elements. The scheduled medium has become less relevant with the ability to watch what you want, when you want.
What has remained is the value of live events. Social media makes it a trending issue, a live discussion.
Webinar is short for web seminar. It is a method of live video streaming between a large number of individuals. It is a great way to teach/educate your digital audience, simulating a real life classroom.
The Facebook Live feature was added in 2016 and has sparked a new wave of content on the social media platform. Brands can livestream and respond to comments.
When Instagram live and stories came to the platform in 2016, it changed the game. It gave another way for brands to communicate and market with communities.
Snapchat started the short video content craze for social media platforms. It burst onto the scene in 2012 and got big because it was fun. It cornered a niche of social media.
It has fallen off due to Instagram adding stories. It is still around though, unlike other similar platforms like Vine.
Here’s a good Facebook Live case study.
A Vietnamese spa chain, SeoulSpa.vn, wanted to increase its presence in the industry.
They decided to use a Facebook marketing plan, involving live video.
- 50% increase in estimated ad recall
- 4x return on ad spend
- 37.5% increase in monthly revenue
- 30% increase customer retention rate
To create podcasts easily, you can use Anchor.
Anchor makes creating podcasts extremely easy. There is also built in analytics to track your podcast performance.
For webinars you can use Zoom.
The community is the backbone of a business. In a time where nobody likes to be sold, building authentic relationships built on trust is most important. Helping people is how you build a relationship like that. This is what community is.
Many communities appear big on the outside, but just how engaged are they? What good does having an audience, if they do not contribute? Empty seats.
This is why engagement is so important.
Put these 12 actionable steps into motion, and you will get more out of your community.
Lars Erik Larson is a digital marketer based out of Perth, Western Australia. He specializes in writing long-form B2B Marketing Blog posts that build brand and rank highly on Google. Lars runs Wordsmith Method, a content marketing business targeting small businesses and startups.