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How and why to engage with your community

How do you engage with your community on social networks? Is it as simple as re-posting popular memes and regurgitating slang? No. Not by a longshot.

Meaningful engagement between a digital publisher and their online followers is a great deal trickier than that. It’s the business of knowing who makes up your community online and learning how to speak to them directly.

Get engagement right and you’ll have a clear way to connect with your followers. Get it wrong by speaking in a fake or forced way, and your life will be much harder.

Building a meaningful connection with your digital community doesn’t happen by accident. It’s something that takes planning, thought and time. Simply broadcasting announcements at your community is easy to do, but building a direct, interactive relationship takes work. It’s the difference between talking at and talking with someone.

In this article, we’ll run through some simple ways to help you better engage with community. From discovering crucial aspects of your brand to nailing the tone of your communication. It’s all right here.

So let’s jump in:

Two girls on the sunset with their thumbs up

Define why are you trying to engage with your community.

To help define what meaningful community engagement means for you, you’ll need to think long and hard about your identity. Knowing who you are and what you do is vital for everyone from major companies down to single content creators. Building an interactive relationship with your community isn’t possible if you don’t know who you are.

By nailing down your identity, you’ll be able to speak with a clear, recognisable voice. To cut through the noise and make an impact, digital publishers have to deliver something unique and compelling. This is why forming a strong digital identity is so important. Digital publishers of every size and stripe can benefit from this.

Here are a few questions and tips to help you engage with community:

1. What are you attempting to accomplish?

Your unique goals should inform everything about the interaction between you and your digital community. Community engagement without goals is sort of like a conversation that doesn’t go anywhere. From how you interact with your community to the images and information you share, your goals should always come first.

What are you hoping to achieve by building a relationship with your digital community? Is it to spread awareness of your new book? Or perhaps you’re a small business interested in learning about your customers. By putting your goals first, you’ll be able to shape the tone and nature of the interactions you have with your community. Let your goals take centre stage and meaningful interaction with your digital community will follow.

2. How do you want to be perceived by digital communities?

When it comes to connecting with online communities, the way people see you is hugely important. Thinking about perception can help you reach your goals. It’s the process of looking outward to see if your voice is resonating in the right way with your community. Successful perception is less about trying to look hip or trendy and more about reflecting your goals and values. Remember, when it comes to meaningful engagement, your goals should inform everything you do.

Start by compiling a list of attributes you want to express through your community engagement. Words like strong, honest, lighthearted, fashionable, savvy and knowledgeable should come to mind here. Narrowing down perception goals with identifying descriptors can help you better interact with and understand your community. Engaging with these words in mind will allow you to build a positive public image for your brand.

With community perception and your identity in mind, go through some of your recent engagement efforts. Take note of areas in your communication and presentation that align with your identity as well as ones that don’t. This will help you focus on the successful areas of your engagement and highlight room for improvement.

3. Establish a safe platform for multiple voices to speak through.

Once you’ve nailed down your identity, goals and perception needs, it’s time to establish a consistent voice that’s completely your own. For any brand, business or group that has multiple people and teams communicating to and engaging their community, establishing a clear and consistent voice is paramount.

Getting this right will establish a familiar, recognisable voice for your brand, which is one of the most effective ways of building trust with your community. This is not to say that multiple perspectives should be buried and that everyone should sound the same. Instead, speaking with a consistent voice should aim to be inclusive by leaving room for various viewpoints.

To achieve this, create a list of community engagement guidelines that addresses things like content and tone as well as your goals. These guidelines will take the uncertainty out of what to share and how to interact with your digital community. Your guidelines may range from overall statements about how you want to come across (eg. “We’re confident not cocky”), all the way down to specific words you do and don’t use to describe your brand or business.

If you need some inspiration to get this started, take a look at MailChimp’s voice and tone guide. That’s a great place to start.

Boy shouting in the microphone

Here are some things to avoid when you try to engage with community.

Knowing who you are and what you want to say to your community is important, but only if engagement is genuine. Community engagement that misses the mark can result in more than just wasted time and money for content creators.

In some cases, it can lead to irreparable damage, especially for major brands and celebrities. Getting to the heart of what meaningful connection with digital communities means is vital for creatives, brands and politicians alike.

To help you discover what genuine community engagement looks like for you, let’s start with some examples of bad digital outreach and what not to do:

1. Forced content.

This happens when brands, celebrities, creatives and small businesses pump out content simply for the sake of it. The result is usually boring white noise that fails to make an impact. Millennials are deft at spotting this stuff a mile away. When a content publisher doesn’t know their identity or goals, engagement typically comes off as forced.

The good news is that the forced content problem can be addressed and remedied, but it takes work. In addition to knowing exactly who you are and what you want to accomplish, solid engagement takes effort.

2. Off-brand and unexpected content.

Genuine community engagement is tricky. Speaking clearly with a tone your community relates to is essential, but this doesn’t mean every topic is worth exploring.

For example, in 2013 SpaghettiO’s urged its digital community to “Remember Pearl Harbor.” The internet became so enraged that the company was forced to apologize and remove the post.

Addressing historical events isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but it should be approached delicately. This is where thinking about how you’re being perceived is crucial. Considering things like context, tone and respect for your community can help you stay on brand.

Part of the reason SpaghettiO’s post was received so badly is because it seemed to have come from nowhere. There was no context or previous brand connection with serious historical events, so it came off as strange more than anything else. Greater attention to tone and goals would have prevented this debacle.

As a rule of thumb, everything you share online should be done with a great deal of thought, planning and care. Mindlessly posting something can you get into major trouble––even if it’s not offensive or controversial on the surface.

A copied and pasted blog, funny meme or racy photo could translate to a major disaster if you’re not careful. The main question you should ask yourself when you want to engage with community is “How will this be received by my community?” This will help you get to the heart of who you are and how to engage with community.

People laughing gathered around a laptop

How to engage with community the right way.

Those were some examples of what not to do. Now let’s take a look at some of the things you can do to build genuine, lasting community engagement.

1. Base your voice on the areas you have authority to speak about.

Knowing exactly who you are and what you want to achieve is essential in knowing how to speak to your community. What do you have expert knowledge on? How can you provide value for your readers? Why do people from your digital community seek you or your brand out specifically?

This knowledge can help you draw up an engagement roadmap to help you figure out how to speak to your community. This is where your goals as a publisher meet the needs, wants and unique characteristics of your community. It’s the part of the conversation where you lean in and listen to what your community has to say.

Learn who your audience is and why they have an interest in you, and you’ll find the best way to interact with them. Provide valuable content that answers your readers’ questions and you’ll make sure they keep coming back to you when they’re looking for answers.

2. Establish a brand and focus on producing on-brand content.

Knowing your expertise and why members of your digital community trust your unique talents is essential for staying on message. Keep this in the forefront of your mind during interactions with your community and natural, solid engagement will follow.

Theoretically, you can talk about anything with your digital community, but why would you? Knowing what you have to offer your community will help you to speak to and with them in ways that matter the most. It’ll also help you make sure you’re always providing value to your readers. Staying on-brand is crucial when you try to engage with community.

3. Write about what you know and what you care about.

Putting yourself in the shoes in the members of your community can help you best understand them. When you follow a brand or celebrity online, what posts and interactions do you value the most? Chances are, things like captivating photos and interesting blog posts resonate with you. Blurry pictures and boring blogs don’t help to engage with community because they show that the publisher doesn’t care.

If this comes off as a bit superficial, it’s because it is. People are too busy and distracted to look past grainy images and boring blog posts to find a deeper connection. Simply having a lot of people in your community doesn’t mean that they’re engaged or even interested in you. Meaningful engagement is something earned through trial and error over time. Learn to see things from your community’s perspective and you’ll have the best chance at reaching them in a meaningful way.

4. Understand your audience and find topics that matter to them.

While some digital publishers suffer from posting too much information, others lose out by doing exactly the opposite. Chances are that your community does care about who you are what you have to say. You just have to find interesting and engaging ways to convey relevant, meaningful information to your community.

Let’s take two brands from two different sectors as an example: a rock band and a real estate agent. You may be thinking that it’s much easier for a rock band to publish exciting, engaging content than an estate agency. The rock band’s out on the road, travelling the world and playing sold out shows to stadiums full of fans. Exciting stuff, right?

But, equally, an estate agent can capture people at an exciting time in their life: searching for their first home, or renting a flat together for the first time. And this point is really important. When it comes to digital publishing and community engagement, you need to understand your reader’s state of mind. What’s important to them right now? How can I write about something that really matters to my audience?

Disciple community management platform helps people build independent, valuable and trusted communities in a safe space that they own and control. Engage with community with your own community app.

Mike Harrower in
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Mike Harrower in Community engagement
Mike Harrower in
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