Spend several years working as a Community Manager, and you'll quickly build up a few things: pretty thick skin, some excellent conflict resolution skills, and — certainly not last or least — a full-to-bursting toolkit of engagement rituals.
When it comes to simple ways to boost engagement within your community, it's tough to beat a well-thought-out ritual.
"Engagement rituals are a win-win for both the Community Manager and community members," says Community Education Manager, Noele Flowers.
"For members, rituals give them something to look forward to that they know how to engage with without learning any new information. For Community Managers, they can provide a cornerstone in your content calendar the reduces the amount of real estate to fill with original content."
In the world of community management, rituals are recurring, anticipated prompts. They're often performed weekly, but any regular, consistent and fairly frequent cadence will have the desired effect. If you've read our 'community snack table' analogy, think of rituals as a good old bag of chips — a familiar favorite at a happy gathering.
While a variety of content cadences are necessary for an engaged, thriving community, rituals do have a few unique benefits:
- They're usually easy wins. Rituals are often relatively low-effort on the part of the Community Manager — they're a great way to balance out a content schedule without having to create a completely new engagement prompt.
- They help members build habits. For example, if they know Friday is when you share weekly wins within the community, they may open up the community specifically to do that. Rituals can also help to establish a pattern of behavior as members already know exactly what is expected of them in certain scenarios.
- They're easy for members to respond to. "Rituals let you turn something hard to respond to into something easy," Noele says. "That's why 'goals' [see below] is such a popular one — setting goals is hard, so if you only ask once, it's going to feel like a big lift. But ask every week, this becomes a low-barrier-to-engagement prompt with high impact."
- They can be taken over by your members: Established rituals can be easily handed over to some of your more engaged members. "If you're doing the same thing every single week and you have regular participants, it's a great opportunity to say to one of them, 'Hey, I saw you participated last week, are you down to kick this off this week?'," Noele says
Examples of community rituals
A weekly or monthly goal-setting prompt is a great fit for many communities, particularly those that center around a tool, learning, or productivity.
"This is one of those rituals that may take a bit of explaining when you initiate it," Noele says, "It can help to scaffold the experience with a bit of structure like, 'we like to use SMART Goals in this community'. By repeating the exercise week after week, you'll build a culture, and it will become second nature for your members."
For those members who don't open the community every single day, a great way to make them feel included in the goings-on is to put out a weekly community digest or round-up.
This could take the form of a newsletter, a blog, or even a simple post within the community platform itself. Some examples of things to include:
- Content created by community members
- Member wins
- Upcoming events
- Summaries of or links to recordings of events that took place that week
- Any admin, news, or announcements about the community
Whether they're virtual or in-person, regular hangouts are a great way for members to network and build deeper connections with each other. In The Community Club, our community for community pros, we host hangouts every fortnight (although we have been shaking up the structure a bit — read more on in our community experimentation guide).
Furry Friends Friday
Because who doesn't love sharing pictures of their pets? 'Ruff said.
Community ritual do's and don'ts
Don't be tied to time
Not all rituals are time-bound — some are more about format than a day of the week. For example, you might establish a feedback ritual where, when one member posts an example of something they're working on, others members know to give feedback in a particular way.
"It doesn't have to necessarily be scoped to a specific day of the week," Noele says. "It's more about training your members to do something that takes a little bit of effort by making it a habit. It's about training behaviors associated with others, like 'when we give feedback, we do it in this format'."
Do run a few tests
Say you've started a weekly appreciation ritual every Monday morning that hasn't quite landed. If you hypothesize that the timing has played a role in low participation, don't be afraid to test that out — just because you started posting it on a specific day doesn't mean it's make-or-break for that ritual.
While consistency is important in community rituals, it shouldn't come at the expense of trialing a better option (in this case, posting on a Friday).
"I'm strongly in favor of testing everything," Noele says. "If you have the instinct something isn't working, there are many reasons that this could be the case. It might be time you're posting, the way you've phrased the post, or simply that the ritual isn't a good fit for your community."
"The way you figure that out is by experimenting — tweaking one variable at a time over a few weeks."
Another option is asking for feedback from several members. They might be able to provide a perspective on the ritual that you haven't considered yet.
Don't overdo it
Rituals are most effective when they're used sparingly. Noele suggests choosing one or two rituals per week at the max — which might mean that you have to ditch a lesser-loved ritual if you come up with a promising idea for something new.
"Over-reliance on rituals will make your community feel inauthentic and lacking spontaneity," Noele says.
Do know when to press pause
Sometimes you may need to hold off on rituals during times of crisis or events that may impact some of your members.
"If you usually have a weekly goal-setting ritual going out every Monday, but then come into work one Monday and there's been a major world crisis, you should pause that ritual and prioritize addressing that issue, if appropriate," Noele says.
"Strategy is there to help us reduce guesswork, it's not there to force us to do things that make no sense in the moment."
What are your go-to rituals for your community? Head over to this thread to add yours, and get some great ideas from other community pros.
Want to learn more?
The above is one of the concepts we unpack in C School, our 12-week Community Manager program. In this hands-on course, we offer education, mentorship, and independent practice — everything you need to land a full-time job in community.
If you’re interested in applying for a C School cohort, apply here if you’re looking for your first job in community. If you're already a CM, apply here. These are rolling applications, so you can apply now even if you want to participate in the future.
You can also email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. This program was built to help community folks break into this field and make their start in a way that enables long-term growth. If it's up your alley, we can't wait to hear from you.