5 Principles of Community Engagement

Lauren Clevenger
Senior Manager, Community & DevRel at BigCommerce‍

Build it and they will come… right?

As community professionals, we know that it is never that simple. Attracting and maintaining a vibrant, active brand community doesn’t happen on its own. Building a culture of engagement among your members takes intention, careful planning, consistency, and hard work.

In this blog post, I’ll share the five principles of engagement that we embrace on my team at BigCommerce. These best practices will help you create an environment where members are giving and getting value from your brand and each other.

What is community engagement?

Community engagement is the act of member-to-member contributions. When a member is engaged, they are completing activities that show participation in your brand’s space and programs. These contributions could include asking a question, writing a comment, or posting a reaction (like a thumbs up) in your online space. Offline, engagement activities could include attending a meetup or speaking at an event.

How your brand measures engagement may differ based on what activities and programs you offer. At BigCommerce, we define engagement in our online community as the number of posts, comments, reactions, badges, and events attended. When building efforts to increase engagement, we focus on tactics to encourage and facilitate member-to-member conversations.

5 principles of community engagement

Great engagement is all about building value and connections among members. Our job as community leaders is to continuously hone and innovate what we offer so the community is always bringing value to the overall customer experience. To guide our efforts at BigCommerce, we reference these five principles of community engagement.

1. Understand your community

To drive engagement, you’ve got to understand who your members are and how they want to engage in your community.

If you are new to a team or launching a new community, start by researching your customer base. Work cross-functionally with your friends across the organization and learn about any established customer personas. Personas are profiles that help you and the business understand users' needs, experiences, behaviors, and goals.

Beyond personas, one tactic that we’ve used at BigCommerce to better understand our members are community surveys. Through surveys, we’ve been able to learn what job titles our members have, what motivates them to join and participate, and what their values and needs are.

Gathering this data is key to uncovering the value that your community brings to its users. Ask yourself — what is the glue that binds our group together? Why should these individuals care about each other? The clearer you can get on your ‘why’, the more intentional you can be about your ‘how’.

A sample survey question from our last BigCommerce Community User Survey

Last but certainly not least, build personal relationships with your members. Actually get to know them! The more that you can get to know your members on a personal level and connect with them one on one, the stronger the foundation of your community will be. At BigCommerce, we frequently DM members to introduce ourselves and set up calls to simply get to know each other better. Our goal is to find out what makes people tick! What do they need to be more successful at their jobs? What areas of our product do they feel really confident with? How can we help?

A template we use when DMing community members to introduce ourselves. Must be customized!

2. Make your members the star

This next principle of engagement is one of my favorites. I strongly believe that in a community, the focus should be on the people and their connections.

At BigCommerce, we let our members shine by proactively looking for opportunities to highlight individuals, their expertise, and successes. We want the spotlight to be on them! This could be as simple as giving someone a public shout-out for their contributions or achievements. When we can make our members more visible, the more likely it is for them to find connections and build genuine relationships with people like them.

The power of community is being around people just like you — people that are having similar experiences, going through the same issues and challenges, want the same information, etc. Our mission with engagement should be to bring those people together and help them find the connections and answers they need. Focus on empowering and elevating the members with everything you do. When creating opportunities for engagement, ask yourself, “Does this center our community members, empower them, and/or help them build connections with one another?” If the answer is yes, then you’ve got a great idea for engagement!

3. Make it easy to participate

When brainstorming tactics to encourage engagement, start small. A great hack for spurring conversation is to begin by offering discussion prompts in your online community spaces. These prompts should be fun questions that any member can answer regardless of their expertise level.

In the BigCommerce Facebook Community Group, we have a weekly engagement ritual called 'GIF Wednesday'.  Each week, we publish a prompt asking for a gif reaction. Our members get a kick out of finding the perfect gif response and it helps build a sense of togetherness in our group.

A GIF Wednesday post from the BigCommerce Facebook Community Group

Engagement opportunities don’t have to be time-intensive for your community. Some members may not have time to participate in an hour-long webinar, but do want to contribute to a simple group question. The nature of your community will help dictate the direction for your prompts and, over time, you can increase the amount of vulnerability and time that you’re seeking.

4. You have to participate, too

If you want your members to be engaged, you have to be engaged. PERIOD.

As a community leader, you must engage within your community. Your visible presence and interactions will help model the culture and behaviors you want to see from your members. Especially in the early days of a new community,  it is important to be extra active in your spaces. This means reading and engaging (even if it is just a like or reaction) with the majority of posts that get shared.

Your contributions should be supportive, welcoming, and helpful. Saying “thank you” and acknowledging great questions and responses are easy ways to be supportive and a cheerleader for your members.

An example interaction from the BigCommerce community

Finally, don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through! The more that members feel like they’re in a safe space, and that they can be their true selves, the more they will identify with your community and care about fellow members. Introduce authenticity into your group by being YOUR authentic and genuine self.

5. Be consistent and be thoughtful

To make engagement part of your community’s DNA, you need a plan. This is not something you want to wing or try to accomplish on the fly. Make life easier on yourself (and your team) with a content calendar of thoughtful, well-crafted engagement touchpoints. I recommend building out an engagement plan 2-3 weeks ahead of time. At BigCommerce, we use Airtable to coordinate our plans across multiple team members and platforms.

Within your plan, it’s important to also track and measure results. Is the community interacting with your discussion prompts? Is webinar attendance dropping? Looking at the performance data behind your activities can be a great way to evaluate what’s working and what’s not.

From here, you can test and learn. Experimentation is part of community life. We won’t know if something works unless we try it. If your GIF Wednesday posts consistently get low engagement, that’s OK. Go back to the drawing board with these five principles and try something new.

And finally, give your engagement initiatives time to work. Not everything is going to be a smash hit the first time you try it. Sometimes it can take a while to build momentum and give members experiences they can consistently expect.

I hope these tips and best practices are helpful and can guide you when looking to boost your community’s engagement. I’d love to hear what you think and what you have tried in your brand community! You can find me on Twitter at @Laurenfaye512.

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