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The Rules of Community Engagement

March 19, 2018
April 2, 2024

So you want to build a highly engaged community?I get this question constantly.So here's what I've learned works over my almost 20 years of building communities.

Make it earned

When something is hard to get, we want it that much more.Community is no different, and perhaps the simplest way to increase engagement in a community is to make it harder to get in.We see this all around us. Bars always make sure there's a line to get in. If you've waited an hour to get in, you'll appreciate it more when you get in.Many of the strongest communities in the world utilize this technique. You have to try out for a sports team. You have to apply and be accepted to a college. You have to train to join the military. You have to go through a pledge process to join a sorority.Yelp owes much of its success to the Yelp Elite program. Even the name makes it clear that the community is only for their top members. It's successful in large part because it's hard to get in.It's not just about being hard to get in. It's about the shared experience, the shared struggle. If you know every other member had to earn their membership, you'll feel more connected to them. You can relate to each other. You respect each other.Action Items:

  • Review your membership criteria and see if there's an opportunity to set requirements, or develop a process for becoming a member
  • Look for opportunities to create subcommunity of power users that require a high level of community activity in order to achieve

Make it safe

If members are afraid of being attacked for their opinions or "stupid questions", they'll be reluctant to participate.The Inside Circle Foundation goes into maximum security prisons and hosts trust circles for inmates to come together, be vulnerable, and share openly. These are men who have been hardened by the real world and had to develop a thick armor. This is why when they come to participate in the trust circle, they're asked to "take off their armor" and set it aside before entering the room.Then in the group, they're all reminded that anything shared stays in the room and that they will not be attacked or judged for anything they say. This has an incredible effect, and the inmates share and cry openly, in a way they never could before.Action Items:

  • Ensure your community guidelines are crystal clear that your community is a safe space, and any attacks or judgements passed on the individual (as opposed to the idea) is not allowed
  • Create a clear process for moderating in situations where there is an attack on someone who shares openly
  • Look at your own content, and find opportunities to share openly yourselves. As the leaders, you set the example for your members.

Make it aspirational You have to give your members a larger purpose for participating in the community. Make them feel like they're working toward a goal.Fat-to-Finish is a highly engaged community where members are all working together to hit weight loss goals. Religions are all highly aspirational, and members participate in order to get to heaven, find salvation or reach enlightenment. Trump built a following of people who believe they're "Making America Great Again".Action Items:

  • Write down the purpose, or mission of your community and share it openly and often.
  • If your mission isn't easy to remember, and easy to repeat, it's not simple enough.
  • Add your community mission to all of your communications, especially at onboarding.

Make it fun People develop habits when they feel rewarded for their actions. Or simply put, we keep doing things that make us feel good.If a community is super heavy all the time, it won't motivate members to come back.Make it high-energy: members get excitedMake it worthwhile - members get tangible value Make it missionary - members want to invite othersMake it personal - members feel seenMake it a journey - members can advance their status in the community Make it trusted - members believe leadership Make it positive - members are supportive Make it about the whole - members are part of something bigger than themselves

March 19, 2018
April 2, 2024

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