10 Ways to Engage Members In Your Online Community

By: Paul Schneider

A grab-bag of ideas to enliven your member communities and connect with volunteers.

The first question associations tend to ask when launching an online community is, "How do I engage my members and get them to use my site?" The answer: with content. Think about what draws you to a website. You look for unique content you cannot get anywhere else, right? Believe it or not, your association is in an ideal position to generate similarly unique content. To get started, here are 10 ideas that will keep your members coming back for more:

1. Expert blogs. Within the ranks of every association are experts. Give them a free membership to write a weekly or monthly blog. Even if you have to pay them for their content, the additional membership dues and engagement will offset the costs.

2. Ask a hot question. Everyone has an opinion, so post a question that is certain to get people talking. After people get into the site, they will see what other resources you have available. Have a question ready to go every week, especially when you are launching a site. Enlist board and committee members to post them.

3. Surveys. Launch a survey that your members would want to know the answers to. Make the results available only to participants.

4. Post pictures. People love to look at pictures. Have members upload their favorites from the latest conference to a central photo library on the site. Or hold a contest for the most exciting, boring, or interesting cubicle or office environment and have members vote.

5. What's new? Send reminder emails to alert users to new content or posts containing words or phrases that interest them. Repetition of the value your site offers that is specific to members' interests is a great way to get people engaged.

6. Members of the week. Your members and volunteers are what make your organization special. Each week, feature a short article on a member and her contribution to the association or industry.

7. File drives. Have a contest for members to post files to the resource center or library. The most postings or most-useful post gets a prize.

8. Staff blogs. Your staff lives and breathes your industry. Have staff members write a weekly blog about what they are doing on behalf of the membership. It will let members know the latest news and start to create a rapport between staff and members.

9. Monthly addresses. Video is engaging. Have your president or executive director film a monthly video address. Be sure the video is only available on your site.

10. Webinars. Members want to learn. Provide weekly or monthly practical webinars on industry issues.

The items above need to be part of an ongoing plan that allows you to feature something new each day of the week. It will be a lot of work. However, if you stick to the plan you will see your members become more engaged with your organization and your website become a resource your members can't do without.

Paul Schneider is senior vice president of business development and cofounder of Socious, Inc., in Gilbert, Arizona. Twitter: @paulschneideraz; Email: [email protected]