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The Death Of Online Community Engagement (And What To Do About It)

Kathleen Burns
The Death Of Online Community Engagement (And What To Do About It)

If you have ever worked as a moderator or currently manage an online community, you know how difficult it is to keep the community active, engaged, and troll-free (or troll-lite). Communities are the safe harbor for fans of your brand.

A community’s value is not necessarily in how it generates revenue, but to provide insight into how their customers respond to their brand, provides tips, and solve problems. Communities take fans and turns them into brand advocates and takes content contributors to turn them into brand ambassadors.

But what if your community is dead?

Has Your Community Passed Its Expiration Date?

“Our product is a minor character in the story. Your customer is the hero of the story. … We are all the heroes of our own story. To think that I can step into your story and be the hero is both silly and arrogant. Think of this is when you’re putting together you’re marketing materials.” – Ron Ploof, Founder, TheStoryHow Institute

Community managers are one of the most difficult jobs in digital marketing today! Businesses are increasing pressure on marketing teams to provide a solid return on their investment and a community manager must provide results like everyone else on the team. Despite the millions (and sometimes billions) of dollars poured into creating, updating, and maintaining online communities, most of your target audience are never going to respond.

If your community focuses on selling a product and not about the people – you’re not harnessing the power of the people who already advocate for your business and building a relationship with them.

As a community manager, you are responsible for the success of an online community, but without advocates to attract and engage members with new content, social media interaction, and discussion, the community withers and dies. Is it your fault? Sometimes it is.

I’ll share four reasons why your online community engagement is on its deathbed and what you can do to fix it.

#1 What Do Members Want?


Your online community needs to consistently engage your members to survive. If you don’t know what your community wants, then you’re missing the mark on providing value. What are the ways they want to engage with your brand and what interests them to be part of the community in the first place? If you can’t answer these questions with your advocate persona, you need to do more research.

Solution: Conduct a survey or ask for feedback every 9-12 months to make members feel valued and heard. The more time you invest in improving your community, the more your community will engage. Discover what your online community wants and what you can do to be their go-to channel. Use their responses and the analyze the data to find out what is working and what needs to change.


#2 Lack Of Rules for Community


A community manager must set the rules for the community or it will suffer from spammers, internet trolls, or worse - you might spend most of your day policing and censoring members on a whim! Online communities can die from a lack of communication about what a brand expects fans to do, and this can negatively impact the engagement.

Solution: Think of how you want your users to behave. Post the rules in an easy to find area, make new members aware of these rules, and state them clearly. You don’t need to have a rule for every single possible scenario that could happen on a forum, but be ready if something happens and you need to take action.


#3 Trouble Growing Community

A community manager must grow the community. Customers will come and go, but the community manager’s job is to ensure that the community is active. The problem many online communities face is a lack of fresh faces bringing in new ideas, problems, or discussion topics.

Solution: Build general brand awareness through social media and engage with influencers in Twitter chats, Google Hangouts, and LinkedIn Groups. From there, you can recruit these people to become part of your business community, convert them into fans of your business, and discover new brand advocates that already are aware of your company.


#4 The Community Is Too Large

Unfortunately, if you have all of the other things in place, and your community is still dying a slow death from lack of engagement, it’s time for you to personally step in. If your community is too large to handle by yourself, you need to consider if your business must hire new employees to become part of your team.

Solution: If your community is too large for you to manage all by yourself, but you can’t spend budget on new hires, consider promoting the super active community members to moderators and bring them onto your team. If they are still part of your community, that means they value it and want to see it last. Here’s a quick guide to building your moderation team:

Set The Tone In The Community

  • Personally great members, motivate them, and support.
  • Celebrate the community’s accomplishments.
  • Be sincere is more important than being liked.
  • Pause before you post – are you upset? Wait.
  • If you need to make requests, remember your please and thank you!


You Can Save Your Community

If you only use your community to push sales, people leave. The true engagement comes when two or more minds come together to explore, share, and exchange their thoughts. Without letting the community grow organically, your community appears shallow, dull, and unauthentic!

Your community is dying because it lacks a heart and authenticity. It’s a place for businesses to interact with customers on their level, listen to what they say, and respond to it. Your community builds your brand’s voice and provides a space for your customers to react to your brand and provide you with valuable feedback. You just need to listen to what your customers are saying or what they are not saying.

Bonus: This video about the video game industry's community manager positions can be applied to almost every business that has a community. If you're new as a community manager, give this a watch!

Take Action Now

Your community members might disagree with one another, there may be questions that are difficult to solve, and there can be things people bring up that you don’t have an answer to. That’s okay. You can now develop the process to be able to respond to these issues.

Your job as a community manager is to be honest when you assess why your community isn’t reaching your customers. If your community is dying, what are you doing to fix the problem?

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Kathleen Burns is a former Community Manager of SEMrush.
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Michael Striker
All good points about user voices, thanks Kat! What do you make of the current trend toward abandonment of commenting capacity on prominent blogs?
Kathleen Burns
Michael Striker
The Daily Dot editor Nicholas White said "In an environment that isn't heavily curated it becomes about silencing voices and not about opening up voices."

I disagree. I enjoy interacting with the SEMrush readers and writers in comments, and I know that someday the community will grow too large for me to manage all by myself. But I welcome that day.

Despite the spam that may happen or trolls, I feel that not only is the "comment community" valuable to provide feedback for topics, but it's also a place to make genuine connection with an audience that takes the time to login/signup enough to comment. That's more of a commitment to a brand than just a casual "heart", "like" or "RT" on social media. And while those are important, I want to hear what people think, their opinions, and get to know them. Isn't that why brands like social media and communities in the first place?