What community tools / features do you consider most essential for driving engagement, and why?


(Jen Thoroughgood) #1

Would love to get some insight from all those expert CMs out there!

(Sarah Hawk) #2

Top of my ‘most essential’ list is a robust notification system. It needs multiple options (push notifications, on-platform notifications, email with options for frequency) and full flexibility so that people can set their preferences to match the way they work.

Another powerful tool which I use a lot is the Invite feature. I use it to get people into topics without a public call-out. Here it’s a bit limited by our SSO, which means that I can’t invite external people by email, but it still works well for existing members.

Then would probably come the ability to customise content on the homepage so that the latest, relevant content is displayed.

I’d also add to that list the ability to see who is online at the time (from an Admin perspective, not necessarily a user perspective). That way I can call people into topics while they’re here.

(Travis King) #3

I’m a big forum kind of guy, so I need robust forums that are easy to use and have a lot of the tools mentioned by Sarah. For those that don’t like to use forums then a useful and interesting newsletter can do the job. And for those that hate newsletters and forums, then a site wide banner or notification system is essential.

Of course notifications and newsletter alone don’t really promote sustained engagement, so we always try to drive them back to the forums or another area where they can be a part of the conversation.

(Jen Thoroughgood) #4

Thanks Travis. This is interesting, especially to think of a newsletter as an engagement tool rather than a content distribution channel. It implies something 2-way, which I think would really inform how you selected and created content in order to drive response. Regarding forums, are there any platforms you favour? Do you think a forum plug-in or a standalone forum site tends to work best? Thanks again!

(Jen Thoroughgood) #5

Super helpful! Thanks Sarah. It’s interesting that these tools are all about precision - about getting the right information to the right people at the right time. I work mainly with publishers, who are much more familiar with mass communication. I think they have a lot to learn from the community management world, where there seems to be greater emphasis on quality of interaction rather than quantity… does that resonate with you?

(Nick Emmett) #6

Agree with all the above so far - as @Hawk says, notifications are mega important and I know a lot of people rely on them for keeping up to date with things. similarly being able to send/receive summary/digests of what’s been going on at a frequency that works for you is also important. Ties in a little with @Travis newsletter thoughts too.

Another thing for me that is so important is the ability to @mention someone - it’s an assumption I make that the leading, if not all, community platform vendors do have but without it life would become more difficult to pull people in to conversations that a) they can add value to and b) get value from.

And finally (for now) the ability to Direct Message people privately is also pretty essential. I use it in my own community to reach out to Community users and build a relationship with them there, get to know them a bit better, and be able to understand what might help them become more engaged, what topics might interest them, what value they’re looking for, but also just from a relationship perspective - it just helps engagement when you like people you’re engaging with.

If I think of others I’ll come back to this one for sure.
And thanks @HAWK for using the feature you mentioned for inviting me to the convo!

(Mark Baldwin) #7

I agree with everything mentioned so for. Can’t underestimate the value of notifications & the ability to direct message people. I manage a large Facebook community and there’s a great too there which is called “when your fans are online” I’ve found this invaluable for reaching the biggest audience I can with my posts and this can vary from different days in the week.

(Jen Thoroughgood) #8

Thanks Mark. I haven’t used Facebook for community so it’s good to get insight into that as a tool. The ‘when online’ thing does sound really useful. I use GoSquared real-time analytics for a similar purpose and it really does make all the difference. As with Sarah’s response, precise targeting really does seem critical.

(Travis King) #9

We started with our own custom made forum, but after some time it was hard to get any Dev time to make improvements to it. So we recently switched to Discourse. It has a lot of nice functionality already built in and an active plugin community. So we’re happy with the switch.

Integrating Discourse forums with the branding of our site may prove to be a bit difficult, but that’s what we’re working on right now :smiley:

(Jen Thoroughgood) #10

Thanks Travis. Will be really interested to hear how you get on with the Discourse integration. Please do report back!

(Sarah Hawk) #11

Yes! That is a fairly recent change though. CMs traditionally were all about the numbers, because KPIs tended to be things like “x posts per month”. We used to create fluffy topics to generate high engagement, rather than focusing more on closing the loop on problems to make them valuable for members in the future (with the added benefit of SEO boosting).

(Jen Thoroughgood) #12

Would love to hear more about this. We are definitely focused on the problem solving aspect of community. Is this about tools for collaboration or simply about having useful discussion? Is it content, tools or both that encourage the sharing and solving of problems…?

(Sarah Hawk) #13

There are two sides to problem solving.

In support communities there are lots of people signing up to get one problem solved – and once it’s solved they leave. It is often a case specific problem, or one that has been asked and answered many times.

Communities of Practice work hard to avoid those kinds of interactions – they don’t hold value for the organisation and rarely for future members. In CoPs, rather than problems, it’s challenges that we want to unearth and solve. Those challenges tend to be more common to bigger groups of people, and the solutions are often pulled together from the knowledge of the group.

In the latter, it is content, tools, and modelled behaviour that encourage the sharing and solving of challenges.
In the former, I think it is context and tools.

(Delfin Vassallo) #14

For me, the absolutely must nowadays is to have a robust gamification System. Of course, the strategy on how to do it and what do you want to achieve - which behaviours you want to encourage - comes first.

But very few community platforms offer a clear and scalable solution that motivates users to do things and move up in the ranking. Be it badges, points or ranking levels, the ability to recognise and award desired behaviours is essential for both actual members and lurkers who might fall by chance on the community (to entice them to sign up)

On my previous communities, a crucial piece was to tie up virtual goodies (badges) to real benefits in the real world. We did it for some years manually, until we figured out the way to automate it, then the corporate bureaucracy came in, and well the rest is history… but still a good gamification system is essential.

(Jen Thoroughgood) #15

Hi @Delfin_Vassallo. Thanks for your comments. This is really valuable feedback. I have been having some conversations with my team about this very topic, debating the value of gamification. (I for one am in favour!) Would you mind telling me about the audience for your community? Was it a business / professional audience or a consumer audience… and do you have a view on whether this works better for some audience types? Thanks!

(Sarah Hawk) #16

If you want to learn about gamification from an expert, you need to read Dr Michael Wu’s stuff. It’s pretty heavy going (I once did a workshop of his and I have never felt more stupid in my life!) but incredibly valuable.

(Jen Thoroughgood) #17

Thanks @HAWK. I’ll look forward to feeling stupid!

(Jordan Tompkins) #18

@Hawk, I love that description. Any recommended reading on this? I’ve read some about CoPs, but I haven’t come across the point for generalizable questions yet. I think this is what my community is missing…we have been covering topic areas (breast cancer, colorectal cancer, disparity populations) more than things that are generalizable to our defined audience (cancer control researchers and practitioners). Our CoP is supposed to help people implement more evidence-based programs into practice, so I wonder if we should focus on recommended components/phases of implementation. I think a mix of topics and implementation phases would be good now that I think about it though.

(Sarah Hawk) #19

Wenger does a lot of writing about effective ways of knowledge sharing through CoPs. @richard_millington will probably have other suggestions – he’s very well read.

(joel galbraith) #20

Jen, you touch on what we observed too with Zapnito in our review. I personally struggled to understand Zapnito’s knowledge network model. For our community, knowledge and expertise were much more distributed amongst members and necessarily found in superstar experts–indeed, we don’t want a community of experts and novices, we’re trying to move everyone to expert mode. We still hope for quality interactions, but I sense we’re floundering a little at the moment in that regard. If our stinkin’ platform had any useful analytics, I’d have a better handle on that. We’re hoping a dedicated Q&A forum (w/Q&A features) will solve some of our need for getting quick newbie questions answered by those who already know–recognizing that we need a mix of deeper dialogue as well as the shallower–but useful/helpful–Q&A type dialogue. We really need to be a place for both.