Online communities have become popular among associations looking at the possibilities that come with them. The secret to enjoying the benefits of online communities lies in the ability to sustain engagement among users. An online community is interactive unlike a static website. Your organization’s cause will be supported through your community if you learn useful ways of engaging your members. It all starts with a clear understanding of your audience. Once set with the best software for your online community, here are proven techniques that you can use to propel your organization.

1. Take the Lead
Don’t take a back seat in your own community. Take it upon yourself to identify your members and help them realize that they are part of something bigger thing than themselves. Lead by setting the tone. Encourage members to interact and share meaningful content guided by your example. You will soon create an online community that delivers.

2. Make Life Easy for Everyone
Provide members with options. I would advise you to choose a software platform with various entry points such as newsletters, emails, discussions, and so on. Let members feel your participation by making the community a regular part of your daily communications. It will motivate them to get involved too.

3. Welcome New Entrants
Be keen to welcome members on board. Where possible, do a one to one contact to help build strong foundations. Every time a member does something, thank them. You don’t have to do this all by yourself. You can build a group that reaches out to these new members. Orient them and be clear on how they should engage and guide them to start making connections and postings early.

4. Provide the Right atmosphere for Interactions
Let your online community be a place where members can take part in light-hearted engagements and in a non-threatening manner. Make it easy for members to build a comfort level with one another prior to engaging in more sensitive matters. Encourage idle chit chat at times. This opens doors to more serious and helpful conversations.

5. Engage Members
When members see you engage them, they are encouraged because they realize someone is listening to them. Respond to the comments they make in discussion forums and interact with all members at different levels. Check Green’s 3 Ways to Engage More Association Members in Your Online Community to gain more insight on this.

6. Post Content to Inspire
Once you’ve perfectly communicated your cause to members, your posts should aim at supporting that cause. If you don’t focus on content that inspires people towards the objectives of your community, members may feel cheated and out of place. This may affect continuity with your organization. To help you, have a set goal of publishing at least 2 posts per week.

7. Promote your Top Users
This requires a careful look into the performance of your members. Once you’ve identified some members who are highly useful, get together with them as co-conspirators and equals. It will help you bring many more volunteers into the community. Understand what they are good at and use them to help you solicit new ideas that match your goals and objectives.

8. Post Images of Your Organization In Action
There is no content that is more relevant and encouraging than this. To get this right, I always advise people to create a resource section or a gallery for photos from the organization. Track the most active members on this activity and reward them based on the frequency and relevance of the content they post.

9. Ask Questions Pertinent to the Community
Yes! Ask questions but in an actionable manner in order to generate discussion. Again, I would like to stress the point of making your questions relevant to the members in your community. Structure your questions in a way that seeks to find out their opinion on certain things. For example, do you like or dislike? Remember to acknowledge them once they respond.

10. Dealing With User Generated Content
Make it your duty and the duty of others that you treat as equals to review any content posted in discussion forums and in other sections. Comment where it is appropriate to do so. Be quick to delete any unsuitable content that may not be in line with the objective of your organization. Inappropriate content that stays for too long without editing or deletion may create some disinterest among members to engage freely and affect your PR too.

The management of online communities through a clear set of goals and objectives is always important in creating healthy interactions. It is your responsibility to lead others into the mission and vision of your organization. Set clear boundaries and protect the interests of all. It should not entirely be about your organization and your ambitions. Make room for members to express themselves freely and give honest opinions about how they feel in the community.