If you want your online community to be successful, you need to engage with your members and encourage interaction. During your community’s early development, this can be difficult to do – with a low member base you may find there is a lack of interaction. If this continues, you will not attract new members, and the members you already have will soon grow bored and leave.
Interaction is vital for any online community
You cannot call your website a community if there is no interaction. You may have a forum with 5,000 members, you may have a social network with 10,000 members, but if none of your members are talking to each other you do not have an online community.
A community is a coming together of people to share ideas, thoughts and opinions amongst one another. Even if you only have ten members, if they are talking to each other, you have a community. A successful community is not necessarily the one with a huge number of members – it is the one with a huge amount of interaction.
If your members aren’t interacting and creating content, you need to do something about it. It’s no good logging into your forum every day and getting depressed that nobody has posted any new content. Have you created any new content? If not, then why should you expect your members to?
The easy method for encouraging interaction
When your community grows, you are able to take more of a back seat when it comes to encouraging interaction and creating content. Until this happens though, you need to take action and work hard if you want your community to succeed.
The most effective way of encouraging interaction in a young or sparsely populated forum is to ask your members questions. I always recommend establishing an ‘Introductions’ section in a young forum – this gives your new members an easy way to make their first post and also gives you (and your other members) the opportunity to get to know everyone who joins your site.
When a member introduces themselves, make sure you respond – a new member will immediately feel valued if they receive a personal welcome from an administrator or other high ranking member of the community. Not only will your new member feel valued and welcome as you and others welcome them to your site, you will also have the opportunity to engage and interact with this new member.
Ensure that your welcome is personal to that specific member – if they leave any information in their profile (such as location or occupation), mention that in your welcome. Ask them questions, and when they answer, ask more!
Don’t take this too far, as your new member may end up feeling like they are being interrogated – however, by asking questions you are immediately encouraging your new member to continue posting. Not only are they responding to your questions, they are becoming familiar and more confident in the process of making new posts in your forum.
Of course, this method doesn’t apply solely to new members – you should be getting involved in as many threads as possible. In the early days of your forum, you should be getting involved in every single one – and in every post you make, you should be asking questions.
By asking questions you are preventing that thread from dying. All too often I have come across forums with threads that contain only one or two posts – these are what I call ‘failed threads’, and they have only failed because the developer of that community allowed them to fail.
Lead by example
You should always lead your community by example. If you are friendly and welcoming to all new members, the vast majority of your other members will follow your lead. If you show a sarcastic sense of humour and love to use irony, you will notice your other members mimic you. If you show an obvious interest in all your members and ask questions in every post you make, your other members will do the same.
Questions require interaction. You could write the best new content ever seen in an online community, but if you don’t ask questions you are not encouraging interaction. If you are not encouraging interaction, you are not going to attract success – are you?!?