Community Engagement

Engage to succeed. Disengage to fail. Our online communities director, Sabrina Qureshi, explores how best to keep community participants motivated and productive…

Why do people join communities?

For the money, because they are bored? Happily there’s generally more to it than that. Having asked a lot of members from various communities why they decided to join, the feedback is regularly: ‘I’m interested in finding out more about the brand.’ It’s always a relief to know that members are not just driven by the monetary gain and it helps to emphasise the difference between a community and a panel. It also provides the fuel to convince teams that engagement is important. In fact, the success of the whole community relies on it.

Engagement benefits

Engaged communities provide an altogether better working model: better retention, higher volume of responses, richer content and you can set more demanding tasks. It ensures less cost to manage, increases efficiencies and inspires stronger insights. It’s a no brainer.

There’s a lot at stake

When you create a branded community it is an extension of your values, expectations and, yes, your brand. So, if consumers get a bad experience, it won’t just affect your research but the brand as a whole. Conversely, if you succeed, you can reap the rewards of positive word-of-mouth. If you’re creating a non-branded community, members don’t have the pull of a brand to help engage, (even more so if it’s a low engagement subject), so you need to work even harder to create a worthwhile and fun environment for participants.

Engagement tactics

There are many elements that can help to engage community members, from scheduled incentives and the look, feel and personality of the community, to the quality of the actual research work itself.

- Brainstorm all areas of the community when thinking about engagement

- Build up an engagement bank early and keep updating it

- Keep the ideas relevant and unique to your brand/members; one size doesn’t fit all

- Think creatively; make it fun

Share back

If you want participants to share with you, share back with them as much as you can. It’s incredibly important to provide regular feedback from the business on the impact the members are making. We know this is not always possible, as things take a while to develop in-house plus confidentially may be a factor, but share what you can, as often as you can. This could take the form of video updates from the brand team, emails or content published on the community platform.

New friends

Members want to feel like they are part of something, so add in a range of activities to encourage them to get to know each other. Introduce them to each other with personal on-boarding sessions and member spotlights. Introduce your team and whoever is running the community, and share your answers to questions. Schedule face to face group meetings, Skype chats or live online focus groups. Try to treat everyone as an individual, send them a birthday card or reminder of a brand discount. Remember this is a long-term relationship – aim to make friends!

Enjoyable research

If the research schedule is busy, make sure each project is as engaging as possible. If you’re sending a long survey (try not to!), add a forum on the back to get people talking to each other. Gamify response options with quick fire questions or task and points-based activities. Split longer activities over multiple days. Add in tiered incentives for multiphase projects. Use engaging tech platforms to help, not hinder. Ask paeticipants if they enjoyed it, and what you should change.

Work schedules

Most communities go through stages of high and low volumes of research activity. It’s extremely useful that your community managers own the activity schedule and help to organise it. When there’s a gap or a project cancellation it can be a scramble to get anything onto the community. If you build up your engagement bank at the start you can be prepared with activities to fill the gaps as soon as you need to. These could take any form – a timely forum debate, weekend photo task, scheduled live chat etc…

Mutual benefit

We talked about this in the recruitment stage, and it applies throughout the life of the community. What are participants, as well as you, going to get out of community membership? This doesn’t need to be something physical, but it could be a new friendship, a wider understanding about their fellow members, learning about a life hack. It could be support on their new business, or a feeling of being part of something that influences new products and service design. Try to achieve a fair value exchange.

In it to win it

Extrinsic incentives are always a fail-safe basic for ongoing engagement, but try not to use points that link directly to money, as this encourages a transactional mind frame. Create a monthly prize draw with multiple vouchers prizes, and preferably individualise the vouchers to the personal interests of the members. Get up to speed local market best practise, as in some countries not all vouchers are acceptable. Audit the assets the brand has and use them to surprise and delight especially engaged members. Gamified engagement points can be used to create tiered systems where members graduate up, and in return get extra benefits (additional prize draw entries, surprises, early release content, influence over future research topics).


Time spent engaging members sometimes fails to be adequately prioritised when running communities and often involves more input than initially envisaged. But with the right guidance and planning it can become an extremely symbiotic aspect of helping your community to succeed.

To find out more about engagement, get in touch.

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