4 Secret Ingredients for a Vibrant Community

Denise Henkel
February 19, 2019
January 26, 2024

Imagine being in charge of a vibrant community where members are in touch with one another and constantly creating new ideas and initiatives. Full of life and no need for you to constantly push for activity! It does not have to be a dream, it just needs a functioning system.

Many of us have been in a situation where one aspect of our community is thriving, while another is barely breathing. For example, a customer service community in which nothing happens where no questions need to be answered. As a result, a moderator or one power user must answer the questions. No member stays for long enough to also turn into a helpful member.

Another example is a Facebook group for professional events for women. The only activity happening was shortly before or after an event. Apart from that, there was barely any activity in the group because the admins didn't create opportunities for their members to get to know each other casually, so members didn’t stick around for very long.

How can you as a community manager provide more diverse activities and encourage engagement?

Frameworks such as CMX's Social Identity Cycle help build a solid foundation for your community. In order to permanently fill this structure with life through a variety of activities, I have developed what I call the "CHAI" framework.

At the Facebook Communities Summit Europe in London in February 2018, I first introduced this framework to a larger audience as part of the Community Engagement Workshop. The participants were very impressed by its simplicity and transparency, and encouraged me to illustrate the model's workings in an article.

The Four Aspects of a Vibrant Community

C: Creativity

If no questions need to be answered or events have to be planned, the members of a community want one thing above all: Entertainment. Give them the opportunity to get creative, preferably in a fun way! Puzzles, word games, and image exchange actions are all low-barrier activities that are fun for both newcomers and experienced members.

This way, community members get to know each other better informally and are inclined to stop by the community again. A good example for a community allowing for creativity successfully is the Giffgaff community. They are a customer support community for a mobile network and they have a very lively Off-Topic section.

H: Helpfulness

When one person helps another, both end up feeling good and engaged in a positive relationship with each other. Benjamin Franklin already discovered this effect and used it for his diplomatic relations.

Give your community members the opportunity to help each other by not answering their questions yourself, but by putting helpful members to the task. If nobody is asking for help, you as a community manager can be the one seeking help. This way you and your members end up working on a project together which forges a strong bond and involves you as a member of your own community.

Here is how I did it in the community I manage: We had a 10-year anniversary for many groups in our community. I wanted to make this event special, so I asked the members of a VIP group for help. The VIP members ended up congratulating the admins of those groups. Not only were the group admins happy, but it also forged a strong bond between everyone who was involved in this.

A: Affirmation

Discovering similarities with other people always leads to a small moment of happiness. Give your members the chance to feel this by asking them about their hobbies or pets. As a result they will feel less lonely and more like a part of something bigger than themselves.

Or you can start a discussion thread around positive affirmations in which members can support each other. For example, start talking about a positive change you plan to make in your life or which you successfully made. I did this once in one of my groups by starting a thread around my plan to take part in a 5k run in which I asked for moral support. I then gave regular updates on my progress and the members cheered me on and gave advice.

I: Inspiration

Every human being longs to break out of habitual patterns. That's why we embark on journeys to distant countries or watch documentaries about backpackers. We want to be inspired so that we too can grow beyond ourselves. You do not have to be a globetrotter to inspire others.

In fact, every one of us has one or many little life stories to inspire others. As a community manager you usually have a good personal relationship to all or some of your power users, depending on the size of the community. You know the stories they could tell.

I once managed a community with the aim of beta-testing a driving app. There were few members and I knew them well. One of them drove a hybrid car and told me a lot about it. I asked them to write a blog post about hybrid cars for our community which was very interesting for our members.

Think about what will inspire members of your community, and give them chances to share that inspiration[/caption]Your intuition tells you which stories could inspire your members. Choose a member with an inspiring story, put them in the spotlight of your community to share their story with the others. As a result, you will have wonderful dialogues in which more inspiring stories reveal themselves.

My most successful strategy with this has always been that I would start a topic where members could exchange inspiring stories and I would already have contacted a few members beforehand who I knew would be able to add great stories. This way the thread had a great start.

As a Community Manager, You Determine the Nuances

Depending on what makes your members tick and what the main goal of your community is, one aspect or another of the CHAI framework will dominate in your community content. For example, a community where teachers share best practices should focus more on helpfulness and inspiration. Teachers don't have much time for small talk and will only take part in a community which provides them with helpful advice and inspiring examples around teaching methods. Nevertheless, this professional community needs a dash of creativity and affirmation to remain attractive to its members.

To make sure the combination of the four aspects fits your community, you can use the following grid in an Excel spreadsheet when planning your content:

The sum of the numbers in each column will ultimately show you what your focus is and if it fits the mission of your community.

Try It and Share Your Experiences

Give it a try and put your existing content into the grid. What does the result look like? Is there a focus? Does it fit your community or not? I look forward to reading about your experiences!

Denise Henkel
February 19, 2019
January 26, 2024

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