A community manager’s job can feel daunting. Once you have the online platform set up, and the members have been invited, suddenly, a group of highly accomplished professionals is waiting on you to start a lively and engaging conversation.
What will happen? Will the conversation be boring? Will two members start arguing with each other? Worst of all, will nobody participate? What you ultimately want is spirited and valuable engagement. But the formula for that can be mysterious and elusive. It’s likely that members will want different things from their interaction with the community, and it falls on the community manager to make sure everyone gets what they want. Just posing questions and hoping for responses might not cut it. Here are some great ways to spark engagement from your corporate alumni network:
Get people to tell stories.
Every community will have people who are naturally engaging, comfortable being the center of attention, well-connected, well-liked, or are gifted storytellers. Find these people and lean on them when conversations or discussions start to dissipate. Once you’ve found some performers, entice them with fun prompts that will elicit compelling experiences. Others are likely to empathize and feel safe sharing something similar or something totally different. Stories can be magic for sparking discussion, not all of which have to be work-related. Communities grow more cohesive when there is room to be casual, funny, and at least a little irreverent.
Spotlight individuals’ expertise
Some members will be reluctant to engage. It happens in every community, they’ll feel too busy, unmoved by the discussion, or believe that all sides of a debate have been covered by other members. A great community manager will know how to engage these platform wallflowers. Pose a question meant for a specific person, someone whose expertise could be really valuable to the community. This form of flattery is effective at eliciting a response but can also be genuine praise and a great example of positive engagement for the entire community.
Utilize community expansion
Many in your online community may not contribute much but will jump at the chance to flaunt their networking skills. Give them that opportunity by occasionally asking, “Does anyone know someone more versed in this topic than we are?” You may be surprised who in your community perks up and suggests one or more people bring new expertise to the community. As you add them, your community grows stronger and more valuable to everyone involved.
Plain text is not everyone’s favorite medium. People in your online corporate community are likely to be reading all day and may not want to keep up with another online conversation. Spice it up with images, videos, gifs, memes, emojis, and other multimedia implements that speak better than words. Images also allow more nuanced, humorous, and tongue-in-cheek communication around which a distinct culture can form. For an advanced form of image use, try gamification. This means applying elements of game design to non-games to increase engagement, happiness, and user loyalty. For an alumni platform, a simple concept might have a small group broken given a problem to solve along with a set of digital buckets and marbles where the group moves marbles from the “ideation” bucket to the “in progress” bucket and to the “finished” bucket as the group progresses.
Be responsive to questions, requests, and feedback.
A good online community has a range of views, including about how the community itself should run. Some might feel the discussions aren’t valuable or that one member is dominating the conversation. Some might even feel offended or attacked. The community manager’s job is to be as responsive as possible to all types of feedback, good and bad. You may need to arbitrate disagreements or highlight inappropriate comments. No matter the situation, being responsive is critical to maintaining a positive, free-flowing atmosphere where everyone feels free and safe enough to share and engage with each other. A corporate alumni network can be an explosively valuable resource for your company, especially with a great community manager at the helm. Just like people, communities require constant care and nurturing. They typically won’t thrive on their own. Keep these tips ready for when you need them, and your network will only get better.