So you have your brand new online community and need to encourage visitors to register, and registered members to post. One of the best ways of doing this is to create content yourself – ask questions, create a little controversy and never allow new threads to fail. You certainly don’t want to be anonymous, but you don’t want to appear desperate, either.
Desperation is not an attractive quality – it makes people feel awkward and doesn’t say much about your personality or character. Visitors and members of online communities can tell when an administrator is desperate, and they will not like it. If they see a desperate staff member, they will start to question why that individual is acting as they are – do they feel the community is failing? Do they feel members aren’t posting enough? Either way, if you act desperate you are not creating a positive environment within your online community.
Create content and encourage interaction without appearing desperate
You need to encourage interaction within your online community without appearing desperate. You can do this by observing the following five rules:
1) Do not create too many new threads
You will need to start new threads in order to ensure there is fresh content when your members return. However, they don’t want to see you creating every single new thread. Not only does this appear desperate, it can give your members the impression that they don’t need to create new threads themselves as this is your job. This is the exact opposite of what you want to achieve!
Encourage your members to start new threads themselves – if an existing thread starts to move off topic, encourage that poster to start a new thread with the point they just made. When you welcome new members, encourage them to start a new thread discussing any interests they mention. When you post a reply to a thread started by a new member, give them a confidence boost by telling them what a great topic they have just started.
2) Do not bombard members with questions
Questions are not conversations – they are conversation starters. It’s great to ask questions, and I strongly recommend you follow this strategy to encourage interaction in your community. However, you also need to listen to the answers you get back and then develop a conversation. Don’t just reply to their answers with fresh questions. You want to talk to your members – not interrogate them.
3) Keep out of their PM box
I like to send a personal welcome message via PM to all new forum members. This private message thanks them for joining, invites them to post an introduction thread and asks them to contact me should they ever have any questions, comments or suggestions. That is the only time I will ever PM a member unless they contact me first, or if they break the site rules.
A desperate community developer may be tempted to constantly PM members asking them to post, or thanking them for their posts. Don’t do this – if you do, instead of being a friendly community admin you will be a stalker.
4) Don’t beg members to promote your site
I have come across a number of forums where the admin writes a thread asking members to promote the site for them. This is a sign of desperation. Sure, you can encourage your members to spread the word amongst family and friends but as soon as you ask them to add your site to social networks or promote your community on their blogs, you are crossing a fine line between encouraging promotion and asking for it.
Members don’t want to be asked to promote your site. The will do so of their own accord if your community caters to their wants and needs. I used to work in customer service many years ago and would sometimes hear colleagues asking customers to send a thank you letter to their bosses so they would get praise from their managers. This is cringeworthy stuff – just don’t do it.
5) Don’t criticise your competitors
Businesses and individuals only criticise their competitors when they feel threatened by them. As soon as you start to say bad things about another community or website, you are sounding desperate and insecure. Not only that, but you might even be promoting that site to members who had never previously heard of it.
There is plenty of room online for more than one community in a given niche. Make sure you offer something unique, and be confident in what you offer. Accept the fact that there will always be competition and embrace it as a motivator – use the knowledge that you have competitors to pursue excellence. Don’t badmouth your competitors – it makes your community seem ugly and it makes you personally seem ugly.
Of course, it is very difficult to strike a balance between ignoring your community and getting too involved in it. You should be a visible presence. You should welcome new members. You should be posting from time to time, and creating new threads from time to time. You shouldn’t be pressuring your members to post, and you shouldn’t be the chief provider of content.
Be a visible presence, not an overwhelming one.
How do you encourage interaction without appearing desperate? Do you agree with the points I make in this article, or do you feel that a community developer needs to employ all methods possible to encourage activity? Have you been a member of a community where the staff came across as desperate and demanding? How did that make you feel? Share your thoughts, comments and experiences by leaving a comment below.