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Community Building Tips: Fostering Engagement Within Your Membership Site

Introduction

Building a thriving membership site or online community takes more than just great content. To retain members over the long haul and have them actively participate, you need to focus on community building. Membership sites live or die based on the strength of their community.

Community is what transforms a membership site from a simple content repository into a vibrant ecosystem. It takes your members from being passive content consumers to active participants who engage with each other and your brand.

But fostering a sense of community takes work. You need to carefully cultivate it through your platform design, community management tactics and facilitation. Do this right, and you’ll enjoy higher member retention, engagement and satisfaction.

This guide will walk you through proven tips and strategies for building community within your membership site or online community.

Choose the Right Platform or Software

Your community platform and software lays the foundation for the type of community you can build. The right tools make it easy for members to connect and interact in different ways. Here are some factors to evaluate when choosing a platform:

Communication Channels

Make sure your platform provides built-in communication channels like forums, private messaging, chat rooms, comments, member profiles and activity feeds. The more ways members can interact, the stronger your community bonds will be.

Customization Options

Look for highly customizable platforms that allow you to tailor the community experience to your brand. You should be able to create a unique look and feel through colors, logos and themes.

Engagement Features

Engagement features like badges, karma points, reputation scores and achievement levels boost participation by recognizing and rewarding members.

Multimedia Sharing

The ability to share photos, videos, music and documents makes communication richer. Media sharing also helps members express themselves and connect on a more personal level.

Mobile Friendliness

A mobile-optimized platform is essential, since a growing share of community activity happens on smartphones and tablets. The experience should be seamless across all devices.

Data and Analytics

In-depth data, analytics and management tools provide the insight you need to track member behavior and fine-tune your community-building tactics.

Set Clear Community Guidelines

Strong communities require ground rules. Clear guidelines establish standards of behavior and expectations for how members should interact. Some key things to address in your community guidelines:

Be Respectful

Remind members to be kind, polite and considerate of others in discussion posts, comments and private messages. Outline what type of behavior and language will not be tolerated.

No Self-Promotion

Explain your rules related to advertising products, services and websites. Consider designating an area specifically for appropriate member promotions.

Keep it Relevant

Discussions and comments should relate to the community’s purpose. Establish which topics are on/off limits to keep conversations productive.

Use Proper Etiquette

Share guidelines for good etiquette such as not typing in ALL CAPS, keeping videos and images appropriate, and being cautious with humor/sarcasm.

Report Problems

Instruct members how to properly flag inappropriate content or behavior and where to report any issues or concerns.

Protect Privacy

Clarify how members’ personal information will be handled and shared to ease privacy concerns.

Follow the Law

Remind members to abide by all applicable laws regarding copyright, intellectual property, licensing and more.

The guidelines should strike a balance between setting standards and allowing creative expression. Keep policies flexible so moderators can exercise good judgment.

Design for Engagement

The way you design your membership platform is just as important for driving community as your guidelines. Look for ways to integrate opportunities for engagement throughout the member experience.

Welcome Sequence

Guide new members through a onboarding sequence that familiarizes them with the community, prompts profile setup and encourages an introductory post.

Discussion Formats

Include focused forums for exploring specific topics in addition to an open social-style feed for casual exchanges. Don’t forget chat for real-time bonding.

Virtual Events

Webinars, live Q&As and online meetups give members a chance to gather around shared interests and interact with each other live.

Facilitated Activities

Coordinate regular activities like new member spotlights, themed projects, contests, and collaborative documents to unite members around shared goals.

User Profiles

Detailed member profiles allow visitors to get to know each other on a more personal basis, fueling familiarity and trust.

Notifications

Email and in-app notifications about replies, mentions and new content keep users engaged and informed. Let them choose notification frequency.

Badges & Rewards

Gamify community participation by awarding badges, points and other rewards when members complete desired actions like posting, commenting, sharing, reacting and visiting.

Content Sharing

Allow easy sharing and embedding of community content on members’ social media and external sites to help spread the word.

Appoint Community Moderators

Moderators help maintain a healthy community environment by monitoring activity and upholding your guidelines. Select detail-oriented members who reflect your brand values. Define their responsibilities:

Reviewing Content

Delete spam, offensive language, harassment and other policy violations promptly. Use good judgment when editing/removing member posts.

Welcoming Newbies

Greet new members, answer their questions, and guide them through the onboarding process.

Spotlighting Discussions

Draw attention to interesting conversations by featuring or bumping them up to more visible positions.

Engaging Members

Post questions and comments that keep conversations active and on-topic. Personally recognize member milestones and achievements.

Gathering Feedback

Solicit member opinions through polls and surveys to identify problems and improve the community.

Reporting Abuse

Ban abusive accounts and report suspicious activity to group administrators immediately.

Communicating

Inform members about policy updates, address concerns, and notify administrators about issues needing attention.

Add More as Needed

Get multiple moderators to share responsibilities as your community grows. Rotate assignments so they don’t get burned out.

Seed Initial Discussions

One common membership site mistake is opening the doors before creating any community content. Without activity, your platform will feel ghost town empty. Seed some discussions so members immediately see what engaging looks like.

Share Your Vision

Create a post introducing the community and its purpose. Outline the types of topics and rules of the road.

Ask for Introductions

Invite members to post introductory messages with their backgrounds, interests and goals. Lead by example with your own thorough intro.

Get Conversations Started

Share questions and observations that align with your community’s focus and get members reflecting and responding.

Recap Events/Activities

If your community revolves around live or offline events, start threads recapping key takeaways, memorable moments and photos.

Feature User Content

With member permission, repost interesting content they create like articles, images and videos to demonstrate participation.

Spotlight Members

Create introductory posts highlighting your founding members with quotes and fun facts about what makes them unique.

Share the Rules

Post your community guidelines and parameters for acceptable content and conduct. Explain why the rules exist.

Send Regular Engagement Emails

Don’t just expect members to spontaneously start engaging without prompting. Use regular email nudges to actively facilitate participation according to the cadence that suits your community.

Monthly Recaps

Send monthly newsletters recapping popular discussions and new members. Include stats showing total posts and comments.

Weekly Digests

Curate and share highlights of top community content from the past week to keep everyone in the loop.

Ongoing Prompts

Pose new conversation starters and discussion questions on a regular basis to spark dialogue.

Polls & Surveys

Solicit member opinions and feedback through quick polls and surveys on ways to improve the community.

Live Event Reminders

Hype upcoming webinars, chat sessions and online meetups through email campaigns reminding members to attend.

New Member Alerts

Welcome new members by sharing a bit about them and inviting existing members to give them a warm hello.

Milestone Celebrations

Congratulate members on tenure milestones, profile completeness and activity levels to recognize community commitment.

Jumpstart Discussions with Questions

Well-crafted questions are guaranteed to get members talking. Keep the conversation going by regularly posting new discussion prompts aligned with your community’s purpose.

Icebreaker Questions

Fun, lighthearted questions about personal tastes, hobbies and experiences allow members to open up about their lives.

Get to Know You Questions

Pose questions that encourage members to share background details like where they live, work and grew up.

Goal-Oriented Questions

Ask members to share their aspirations and goals related to the community’s topic. Follow up by asking for progress updates.

Current Event Questions

Tie into what’s happening in your industry or the world by getting opinions on news, trends and events.

Problem-Solving Questions

Present hypothetical situations or product-use cases and ask how members would handle them.

Surveys & Polls

Post quick multiple choice or short answer polls to uncover member preferences and feedback.

Calls for Content

Prompt members to share content like photos, videos, links or documents related to discussion topics.

Reward and Recognize Top Members

The most active community members deserve to be recognized for their contributions. Find ways to consistently reward and highlight your all-star participants.

Featured Member Spotlights

Showcase model members through Q&As and profiles on your homepage, newsletter and social channels.

Badges & Points

Award badges and reputation points for milestones like making a first post or earning 100 likes. These act as visible status symbols.

Prizes & Giveaways

Send top contributors thank you gifts or randomly select winners from your most active members when giving away free products/services.

Ranking Systems

Create leaderboards or member rankings based on number of posts, helpfulness votes and other participation metrics.

Physical Rewards

Send members who hit certain milestones special edition T-shirts, mugs, stickers or other branded swag.

Digital Rewards

Unlock gated content, early product access, extended profiles and other premium features for top-tier members only.

Public Praise

Recognize outstanding contributors by name when recapping activity or sharing highlights from the community.

Host Live Small Group Events

It’s important for members to interact in real-time too. Complement your discussion forums with live events that give members a chance to meet and mingle in small groups for a more personal experience.

New Member Coffees

Host virtual “coffee chats” where new members can meet staff and ask questions in an informal video call.

Guest Q&A Sessions

Invite industry experts, authors or celebrities to show up for a live video call and field member questions.

Demonstration Workshops

Hold live video workshops where members can follow along as you demonstrate a skill or technique step-by-step.

Mastermind Sessions

Organize video roundtables around specific topics so members can share advice and brainstorm solutions together.

Virtual Happy Hours

Consider hosting online happy hours where members can gather after work to socialize and get to know each other better in a relaxed atmosphere.

Multiplayer Game Nights

Leverage multiplayer online games as venues for members to casually connect while having fun competing or collaborating.

Book/Film Clubs

Pick a book or movie to watch or read then host an online discussion where members can analyze themes and share reactions together.

Onboard New Members Purposefully

How you welcome new members impacts their entire future experience in your community. Make a great first impression by guiding newcomers through a structured onboarding track:

Personal Welcome

Have the community owner or manager directly welcome each new member to show you care. Share your own story and ask about their interests.

Introductory Email

Send new members a nicely formatted onboarding email explaining how the community works and highlighting key areas to explore like their profile and recent discussions.

Orientation Webinar

Host an orientation webinar open only to new members to walk through navigating the platform and demonstrating how to participate in discussions and other key activities.

Connect to Guide

Appoint greeter/guides to contact new members directly within their first week, answer questions, and introduce them to other relevant members.

Profile Customization

Prompt new members to upload a profile photo, fill out bio details and specify notification preferences to complete setup of their account.

First Post Welcome

When new members make their first post or reply, give quick words of encouragement in public comments and “like” the activity.

Milestone Check-in

Follow up 30 days after a member joins to see how they’re finding the community so far and if they need any assistance getting more involved.

Facilitate Member-to-Member Connections

The strongest communities form when members build personal relationships with each other, not just the brand. Playing matchmaker can lead to rewarding interactions between members.

Group Direct Messages

Use direct messaging to connect small groups of members based on commonalities like location, profession, experience level or interests.

Share Contact Info

Enable member directory listings with contact info so those interested can self-connect on other channels. Always keep listings opt-in only.

Coordinate Meetups

Suggest, arrange and promote in-person meetups based on geographical proximity like grabbing lunch in the same city or getting coffee before an industry event.

@Mention Connections

When you see two members with shared interests commenting separately, @mention them to directly introduce them to each other.

Forward Member Requests

When a member seeks help/advice or offers assistance, look for other members with similar needs/knowledge who may want to connect directly.

Share Related Content

When you come across a post you think may interest or help another member, share it by forwarding or mentioning them in a comment.

Make Introductions

When appropriate, personally introduce members to each other through private messages or emails with a note about why you think they would benefit from connecting.

Spotlight User Generated Content

The content regular members create is just as valuable as official posts. Repurposing and showcasing UGC shows you value member contributions.

Re-share socially

With permission, repost particularly useful member contributions to your external social media channels with attribution.

Newsletter features

Ask standout members if you can include their content like photos, videos or posts in your next newsletter spotlighting community activity.

Promote outside the community

Look for member contributions like reviews, tutorials or case studies that would benefit visitors beyond your core community. Repost them on your main site/blog with a backlink.

Recognition comments

When you re-share member content, add a comment thanking them publicly for their contribution to encourage more.

Embed & link out

Embed or link to helpful member resources like videos, audio clips and slide decks within relevant community content.

UGC digest

Curate and send regular digests of top member contributions like discussions, images, videos and documents so others don’t miss them.

Showcase events

During webinars or live events, feature relevant and on-topic content, tools or resources your members have created.

Survey Members to Improve the Experience

The best way to enhance member satisfaction over time is to ask for direct input on what’s working and what’s not. Keep your finger on the pulse through regular surveys and polls.

Onboarding survey

Ask new members targeted questions right after signup about their initial impressions and ease of getting started.

Net Promoter Score

Measure member loyalty regularly by asking “On a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to recommend our community to others?”

Perk polls

Ask which types of perks or benefits members value most, then use the data to shape your rewards program.

Discussion quality

Pose rating questions on the quality of various forum topics and the overall health of community discussions.

Feature requests

Solicit ideas for platform features or content additions members want to see you add.

Event feedback

Following virtual meetups and webinars, survey attendees on what they found useful and suggestions for improvement.

Support check-ins

Reach out to inactive members to find out why they disengaged and if they need assistance reconnecting with the community.

Annual reviews

Conduct in-depth annual reviews exploring member satisfaction across all facets of the community experience.

Conclusion

Building community requires ongoing nurturing, but the effort pays off through increased member engagement, loyalty and word-of-mouth referrals. Let the strategies in this guide help you bring members together into a tribe of passionate supporters rallying around your purpose. By being thoughtful in designing your platform, facilitating connections and communicating consistently, your membership site can evolve into a thriving hub for meaningful conversations and relationships.

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By Dani Davis

Dani Davis is the pen name of the writer of this blog with more 15 years of constant experience in Content marketing and informatics product, e-commerce niche.

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