Growing your own engaged community
However you define your community, it’s essential that real people are playing an active part and moving things forward.
Meeting people face-to-face remains a core activity in maintaining a sustainable community. Shaking someone’s hand and giving them a card or leaflet yields results in terms of getting them to come along to your next event or meeting. Nowadays, ‘face-to-face’ is no longer restricted to the physical realm. Social media platforms enable person-to-person and person-to-people video interaction to become part of your toolbox. It’s a highly competitive space with regular new innovations designed to entice users.
This presents community organisers with opportunities to easily tap in to the social media users on each platform, making them aware of your own niche community group. From the comfort of your own home, you can siphon off new members from social media platforms.
Third Sector focus
This post concentrates on voluntary groups and charitable organisations sometimes referred to as the Third Sector. These organisations often face significant challenges in achieving their aims. Resources, in terms of skilled and committed personnel as well as funding are not always available. The importance of fostering an active community can not be understated. Success in this area impacts directly on the level of activity the organisation can perform and contributes to the ability to attract grants and other support. Third sector organisations often have a crucial role to play in the provision of vital services so efficiently establishing and maintaining a membership is a key task.
I don’t want to give the impression that you can build a thriving community group overnight. It takes hard work in both the real and virtual world. It’s useful, however, to remember that you are not competing with the social media giants. What you are providing is niche with added value for your community.
Building your list
Consider the social media giants as a sports stadium filled to the rafters, busy with frenetic activity and thousands of people speaking at the same time in dozens of different languages. Some are selling, some are spouting off on random issues, some are playing loud music, etc. Your offering is completely different. A small quiet room where like-minded people gather and focus on a specific topic of interest to all it’s members.
Building your community means accumulating names and addresses; people filling in paper or website forms. Being clear about the community’s area of interest and what it means for people who come on board, encourages positive responses to your invitation to join.
Social media platforms are useful for driving interested people towards your website. Your website should seek to cover all a visitor needs to know about the area of interest and will naturally form the backbone of an ongoing campaign. A formal presence on social media platforms for the purpose of promotion and gaining the attention of prospective community members is required.
Aim to maintain a steady flow of engaging, clickable material going out from your website to your chosen social media platform(s). Include shared blog-type posts that feature media (images or video), directly uploaded media and occasional related content from other sources. Keep it as visual as possible. Make sure you present site visitors with a clear call to action for them to join / sign up / subscribe to your community.
Are your members referred to as subscribers, are they a league of friends, members or affiliates? Whatever they’re called, look after them. They are each worth 8 social network followers*. These are special people. You know them. You can contact them directly.
It is quite an achievement to have enticed a user to your website and converted them into a member of your community. A round of applause for that. Your task now is not only to keep them but to give them every opportunity to become an active participant.
Depending on whether your community is a local political party, chess club or business network, participation will mean different things. So, to illustrate what can be achieved, let’s look at a project I have been working on as an example.
Third Sector Example
The Gower Heritage & Enterprise Foundation is a registered charity based in Telford, Shropshire, UK. It’s goal is to bring the Gower Old School House back into use after many years being left to decay. The website provides formal, organisational information as well as details of ongoing activities in support of their overall goal.
- History – A comprehensive document as well as individuals memories
- News – Reports of happenings, forthcoming events and articles in the media
- Gallery – Events and activities recorded in pictures
- Friends – The community. People who support the aims of Gower Heritage & Enterprise Foundation can sign up to become a Friend of The Gower.
- Opportunities – Fund raising events, hands-on help and volunteering
- Calendar – Dates for the diary
Engaging posts start with a picture
In our example, there is an abundance of content to allow for a rich campaign of ongoing promotion but even the most modest sites can find effective ways to attract visitors.
The first rule is to always include an eye catching image to accompany a succinct explanatory headline and 100 characters or so of enticing description. Again, enticements will vary and relate to what it means to convert a user into a community member.
How frequently you share content from your website will vary but certain principles should apply in all cases. In many ways, it can be considered a ‘numbers game’. The more links to your website exist, the more likely users will click and land on your site. Greater success is achieved through regular and ongoing activity. For some, regular will mean daily for others weekly. Search engines favour sites that are kept up-to-date with new content. Content should be tailored and targeted at the most appropriate platforms for your particular community.
Keep an eye on the competition
For the uninitiated, it might seem somewhat daunting to decide where to concentrate your efforts. It is always a useful exercise to ‘spy’ on your competitors or other organisations in your space. In a short time you can gather which platforms will work best for you and what type of content gains the most engagement. A blend of different types of content works well, upload images directly, share pages from your website as well as link to information or other content that is useful for your community. I am quite prepared to give specific advice on these matters to help you get results quickly.