Using experts to get real engagement in online communities

Online communities are about engagement, between consumers and between them and the brand. They bring huge benefits for and brand or organisation, from rich insights through innovation and ideas to word of mouth and advocacy. The question we are often asked is why the consumers would take part. Why would they take part in your online community.

My presentation at the Marketing 2.0 conference in Paris earlier this week addressed this very issue and discussed different ways in which you can incentivise people to take part and which of these we have found to be most successful at FreshNetworks.

1. Pay people to take part

We've discussed incentives in online communities before and the simple truth is that if you are building an online community that is about long-term engagement and real dialogue then they don't necessarily have the impact you want. Online communities are about social interactions and social dynamics. Once you pay people or incentivise them to take part (by giving them, for example, vouchers or entry into a prize draw for completing a minimum number of actions each month) you shift the member's mindset from this social one into a market one. They make a judgement on what you are giving them and how much effort they are willing to expend for this. And the end result is typically that you don't get the kind of involvement that you want. Some people may do slightly more, but these will be fairly transactional contributions. And you may even dissuade some people from doing as much as they would otherwise.

2. Feedback from the brand

There is a definite benefit in online communities to real feedback from the brand. You are not leading the online community but taking part in it alongside all of the other members. With this in mind you should take part and respond to people in your online community. Feedback is essential and an online community won't work, won't grow and won't meet your objectives if you don't take part. It should be seen as a normal part of community management, and the way that you reward people for their comments and contributions. They want to know you're listening and responding so do this.

3. Using your brand's expertise

Over and above the importance of listening and responding, there is a real power of using the expertise that is inside every organisation to give something back to your community members. All organisations are experts in something - you may be an insurance company that has a lot of information to help home-owners, or you may be a travel firm that has expertise in travel and making the most of your holiday. Whatever your brand and whatever your product you will have expertise that your customers can use. And there is real power in this. By putting yourself forward as experts you are giving people an insight into your brand and an opportunity to engage directly with you. By answering questions from community members, you are incentivising them within a social dynamic rather than giving them money and making their behaviours more transactional. And video brings all of this to life a lot more.

At the conference, I presented a video we have made to showcase how you can use expertise in a community, and you can see this here:

Social media in action - Using expertise in online communities

So our advice is simple. Don't incentivise people with money or anything equivalent to this. Rather involve yourself in the community - give them feedback and leverage your internal expertise. It's the best way to launch, grow and build a real online community.

From the FreshNetworks Blog
Read all of our posts based on the Marketing 2.0 Conference here

Matt Rhodes

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