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How a 'March Madness' Challenge Got My Members Engaging

The community was pretty fledgling at the time, but this got people out in force, Evan Hamilton says.

There’s nothing like a little good-natured rivalry to get folks fired up — and engaging.

It’s a strategy that Evan Hamilton, currently Director of Community at HubSpot, employed to great effect in a previous role.

“I was working at UserVoice, running a community for customer service professionals,” he says.

“I knew that every year, a list of the companies with the worst customer service in America was released. So I decided to make a challenge out of it by hosting a bracket, a la March Madness.”

Each week, people would bet — reputation, not actual money — on which would be the worst companies. The winner was eventually awarded a T-shirt or a gift card.

“The community was pretty fledgling at the time, but this got people out in force — a huge percentage of the community participated,” Evan says. There are several factors that he thinks contributed to the success.

“Firstly, it invited storytelling and discussion,” he says. “Everyone has had a bad customer service experience, and every one of these customer service professionals had opinions about how it should be done.”

In addition, the initiative was a familiar format folks understood, and that format allowed for some competition without significant negativity. It also created a ritual of sorts. “We’d move on to the next stage at the same time each week,” Evan adds. “Plus, there was a clear, exciting end date.”

Interested in running a similar play? “Don’t just go do a bracket,” Evan says. “That might not be right for your community.” Instead, he recommends you:

  • Think about what topic related to your community will generate a lot of personal opinions and stories. “Avoid ‘yes/no’ questions, as they kill conversation,” Evan says.
  • Think about what familiar, fun formats you can apply to this (could a game show or bingo work better than a bracket?).
  • Think about how you can structure it so people will regularly come back to engage.

On the hunt for more handy engagement plays?

Our Community Engagement Playbook features more than 50 of them! Head over here to download it for free.

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Kirsti Lang
Jun 28, 2023

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