Getting More Engagement From Your Online Community: An interview with social media expert Patrick O’Keefe
Patrick O’Keefe is the founder of the iFroggy Network, a publisher of websites. He has been managing online communities since 2000 and is the author of Managing Online Forums, a practical guide to managing online communities and social spaces, and Monetizing Online Forums, a blueprint for monetizing them the right way. He has been responsible for the creation and cultivation of communities like KarateForums.com and PhotoshopForums.com. Patrick blogs about online community at ManagingCommunities.com.
I had the opportunity to interview Patrick recently and pick his brain about how to increase engagement from our online community.
Patrick, I think that just about everyone is aware that social media is an important element of their organization’s marketing efforts. However, it seems that most organizations, mine included, don’t get as much engagement through social media as we would like to have. Could you offer three ideas for increasing engagement with blogs and microblog platforms like Facebook and Twitter?
It all goes back to simple things. There really aren’t any secrets. First, create great content. In a world filled with surface level, throw away content, truly passionate, meaningful and helpful content stands out and gains a following that engages with it. Second, share your spotlight. Highlight the work of others in your community (the people who engage with your content) and do so through your content and platforms. Third, respond to comments and express appreciation.
Your strongest area of expertise is in building and managing online forums. What types of organizations do you think could benefit from adding an online forum to their social media mix?
Organizations that want to go deeper with their community and don’t want to be held hostage by third party providers. I love Facebook, Twitter and other platforms but when it comes down to it, Twitter owns twitter.com/you. You don’t. You need to build spaces that you own. That could be a forum, it could be a blog, it could be a great website. But hosting a forum of passionate members is deeply valuable and since you host it, you are able to decide where to take it, what to add to it and what changes you can make. You aren’t locked into someone else’s platform.
Not every organization should start a forum. Not by a long shot. Most probably shouldn’t. They are hard work. But for those that have the type of following or community that would have an interest in going deeper and in engaging in a more meaningful way, they represent a great opportunity.
What are a few benefits that online forums add that an organization is less likely to see from other social media platforms?
On other platforms, you are limited by what those platforms allow you to do – especially third party platforms that you don’t control. When you host a forum or online community, you have access to the members and to the database of content and, as such, can do whatever you want with the platform. Want to add a feature? You can. Want to upgrade your software? You can. You have the flexibility and the ownership to actually make deeper connections with your community.
I don’t mean to use the term “surface level” again so soon, but that’s what a lot of interaction on the social web is. A retweet there, a meaningless click of the follow button. When people actually visit your community and engage in a platform that encourages discussion, you are talking about a different level of power.
Could you offer a few simple first steps for starting and building an audience with an online forum for a leader who sees the benefits of adding and online forum to the organization’s website?
Understand that you do not cater to everyone. You cater to a specific audience. Pursue them and allow all of your decisions to speak to that pursuit. Commit to the long term. Online communities can take years to be really successful. At least commit to 6 months. If you can’t do that, it’s probably best to not pretend that you have an interest in fostering community. Launch with community guidelines and policies and be ready to moderate. Finally, launch with people. Identify people that will contribute prior to launch and will help you get the ball rolling.
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