The 5 “Must Haves” for an Engaged Community


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If you’ve been following the buzz on consumer communities, you’ve heard that knowing how to achieve a high level of community member engagement is a very BIG topic that isn’t easily mastered. In an effort to simplify priorities, I thought it would be helpful to highlight the top 5 ‘must-haves’ for an engaged community that you can rely on for feedback about your products and services.

1. Make it Real

Creating a highly engaged community first starts with realizing you are in a relationship – with each and every member of your community. Think about your significant other, your Mother, your child, your best friend… what makes that relationship work well? (assuming it works well!)

Trust. Kindness. Open Communication. Setting Expectations. Admitting when you are wrong.

Your relationship with community members needs to be the same. Building trust and setting expectations starts right at the beginning of the relationship – when you recruit community members. Explain what they can expect by being part of your community and what you expect of them. For example, how many activities do you want them to participate in? Will it mostly be surveys? What other types of activities will they participate in? Will they receive a newsletter? What kind of rewards will they enjoy?

To build trust, make sure you deliver on what you promise, and be open and honest, when you can, share your business challenges and how the research your conducting will help.

Be Kind. Think about the activities or surveys you are asking them to complete. Would you ask your friend to fill in a 35 minute, 10 grid survey on the topic of widgets? Be nice.

If you make a mistake – there was a computer glitch and everyone got 3 emails instead of one, or you sent out a survey some considered insensitive. We are human, we make mistakes. Say sorry – send an email and apologize.

Finally, recognize that a relationship where you don’t know the person very well will require more effort to build – so blind communities where the sponsor is an unknown is going to be harder to ‘engage’ then a branded community. Think “would you like to join a beverage community” vs. “would you like to join the Coke community”?

2. Content is King

Content throughout the community needs to be thoughtful and interesting. Otherwise, why would someone bother to read it? or to participate?

The content you write for the community website is critical – this is the place your members call ‘home’ and you need to give them a reason to keep coming back. Share, share, share information – about your company, about your brand, about how the last survey they did made an impact on the business. 73% of members join your research community because they enjoy taking part in surveys and want to know they are making a difference in how you develop your products and services. I hear this often “but we can’t share because the information is private – we don’t want to let the cat out of the bag ahead of the campaign, no spoilers, etc.”. I totally get it, there are ways around this: add a few questions to the end of a survey where the information is important but can be shared, do a survey just for the members where the information collected isn’t going to jeopardize anything, and finally, share the information after the critical campaign is over -it’s not too late.

Also think about the content of each activity you ask a member to participate in – the topics for your discussions need to be interesting and catchy. How can you reword to draw in your members to participate in the topic? Be present – there is nothing better than having the Brand Manager participate by generating content for the website, or by personally asking members to probe on specific topics.

For surveys, provide thoughtful surveys that are well crafted, and an appropriate length. Ask your friend, Father, sister to do your survey, do it yourself! If they hate it or you hate it, so will your members. Be conversational in everything you present to members – whether it’s a blog, an article, a discussion topic, a survey invite, a survey question. Remember, you are in a relationship.

In all content you provide, be relevant – to the brand, to the member themselves, to the world if you can. The ultimate way to build high engagement is if you can show your members how being part of your community can benefit and be relevant to them.

3. Offer the right Incentive Program

If you must ask your members to participate in something boring, or lengthy, then be sure to offer the right extrinsic incentive. One entry into a draw to maybe win 100 bucks is not going to cut it for a 30 minute survey on the topic of widgets. Same for qualitative reports, if you want members to spend 3 hours of their time each week taking pictures while shopping, spending 20 minutes on an online diary every night and then participating in a 30 minute discussion, it will be important to pay them for their valuable time. Even your Mom wouldn’t participate in all that without some incentive (I know I wouldn’t!) The rule of thumb is think about how much time you are asking of your member and then provide an incentive appropriate for that length of time.

Knowing what the right program to offer – be it points, sweeps, judged contests, charity donations, cash, is very important on the road to high engagement. There are pros and cons to each type, suffice to say, you need an incentive program for an online community – but also make sure it’s the right one.

4. “Just Right” Timing

The amount, frequency and recency of activities are all important. Treating your members right for max engagement means sending just the right amount of activity invites. Too few and they forget who you are, too many and they feel you are not treating them with kindness. The right amount tends to be around 4-6 times per month. Humans are creatures of habit, so setting a regular cadence is also important (setting expectations). Create a calendar of events so you stay on a schedule.

5. Communicate using Next Generation Tools (platform)

Finally, you need the right community tools to be able to build an online relationship with members and ultimately benefit from a highly engaged and active community. There are many new tools out there – most platforms can’t do it all, so choose the platform that fits the majority of your needs, then supplement for the rest. Is your community more quantitatively focused? Then you need a platform with a killer database, survey and reporting tool. More qualitatively focused? Then you need a platform that can not only handle in-depth online discussions, but also has features that allow members to interact with one another and that can categorize members into status levels – so you can track how active they are and reward them appropriately. An ability to manage extrinsic rewards is often forgotten, but essential – can the platform handle points programs? Regardless of qualitative or quantitative needs, a platform that can be customized to your brand and to make members feel welcome and invited is most important.

Julie Paul
Julie Paul is a strategic leader with a proven track record of success in online custom and access panel research and global operations management. She has been responsible for conceptualizing, planning, and launching multimillion-dollar revenue centers and expanding market foothold to create industry leaders.


  1. Julie –

    These are terrific, and timely, operational elements. Having online community members, whether MROCs or customer-based for purposes of promotion and communication, feel emotionally rewarded, included and engaged is often overlooked. The same, from my perspective, applies to employees, another key stakeholder group. You might be interested in one of my recent CustomerThink posts on the subject:


    Michael Lowenstein


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