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How to increase online community engagement in 6 steps

Learn how to increase online community engagement and boost participation in 6 steps. Includes a tutorial on how to build your online community in Podia.

TL;DR

Create a strong online community to grow your business

Online communities are ideal for learning and building connections, but they’re only effective when members regularly participate. Here are six community engagement tactics to try:

  1. Beta launch your new community to generate content, test the functionality of your online platform, and get feedback
  2. Create a thoughtful welcome email
  3. Connect new members with existing members
  4. Create a consistent posting schedule
  5. Show up as the group leader
  6. Include live activities, either virtually or in-person

An engaged online community can bring value and joy to your audience. By staying active, you can connect with your audience long into the future.

You want to start your online community, but you’re worried that members won’t interact or stick around. An online community feels like the perfect next step in your business, but the fear of lackluster participation holds you back.

Or maybe you’ve already created an online community around your niche, but it’s not taking off. Despite your best efforts to share helpful content, your group doesn’t have the buzz you hoped it would.

Whether you’re starting from scratch or reinvigorating a group that’s grown quiet, you know that amping up engagement is key to a successful online community.

This guide will cover six ways to increase online community engagement, as well as tips for setting up your online community in Podia.

6 ways to increase online community engagement

Online communities are becoming more popular every year. They’re a place to learn new skills, get questions answered, and form connections.

66% of people join online communities to meet others who share their interests. After all, nerding out over video games, tandem bicycles, or bonsai trees alone is nice, but it’s way more fun to do quirky deep-dives with enthusiastic friends.

By building an active community where members feel at home, you can make your brand stand out from the crowd. Here’s how to do exactly that.

#1: Beta launch your community

Before promoting your online community to the world, consider launching with a limited beta group. A beta group, also known as a seed group, is a small subset of people who are highly interested in your community topic. These will be your founding members.

Imagine that you just joined a community about your favorite hobby. You sign in, excited to get started, and crickets. It feels weird to join a group where no one is posting, and you’ll probably lose interest fast.

For new members to feel comfortable, discussions should already be happening when they arrive. Your founding members make this possible.

Here’s why you should launch your community to a beta group first:

  • The beta group will get conversations going, which builds up an archive of content for new users to explore.

  • It makes the group feel more active and established to new members.

  • You can test different engagement methods and posting schedules to see what resonates with your audience.

  • You’ll learn how people naturally navigate through your site.

  • It allows you to fix any technical or community management issues before launching on a large scale.

  • You can get feedback about what members enjoy and what they could do without, saving you time and energy down the road.

To find people for your seed group, start by asking friends and family members if they’re interested. You can also use social network platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram for new member outreach.

If you already have an audience, include them in your community-building efforts. Send an invitation to your current email subscribers and social media followers. Let them know how they’ll benefit from joining your community and why you’re excited about it.

Make the beta group free to join and set a time limit.

At the end of the beta period, send out a survey to members asking for feedback. You can also ask for testimonials to use on your community signup page.

Essentially, your beta group will help you iron out the kinks and fill your community with valuable discussions. Up next, it’s time to take your community to the masses.

#2 Send a thoughtful welcome email to onboard new members

When someone joins your online community, they should immediately feel excited about what’s inside. Affirm their decision and show your appreciation by sending a thoughtful welcome email .

Welcome emails have an open rate of about 86% compared to the average email open rate of around 25%. On top of that, welcome emails have a clickthrough rate of about 24%, making this an excellent opportunity to engage your new members.

Your welcome email is a key element of your onboarding process. It should familiarize new users with your brand and explain what they can expect in your community.

In your message, give new subscribers a community overview. Tell them what topics they’ll find and how they should engage in discussions. It’s also a good idea to outline the rules for group participation, just so everyone is clear upfront.

Set expectations by sharing how often you’ll post new content and when challenges or events will occur.

You can also let members know who to contact if there are any questions. 57% of customers say that good customer service makes them feel loyal to a brand, so don’t skip this step.

Finally, your welcome email should include a strong call to action (CTA). Direct members to helpful resources in your community or an activity they can participate in.

The software app You Need a Budget does this in their welcome email .

Their message includes a link to helpful “Getting Started” videos and a CTA to join a one-week Bootcamp challenge.

They also let the reader know that they’ll receive more emails over the next few days. The email is friendly and includes instructions for contacting support if needed.

With your welcome email ready to go, let’s take a look at community engagement strategies you can use inside your community.

#3 Connect new members with existing members

The next way to increase engagement in your online community is by connecting new members with existing members. New members are essential for bringing fresh ideas, and existing members are encouraged to share their experiences and create a welcoming environment.

To start, when new friends join your online community, there should be a clear pathway for them to follow to get the most value from the group. One way to do this is through a “Welcome” or “Start here” area.

In this section, you can include FAQs, helpful resources, and a place for new members to introduce themselves.

Here’s how we do introductions in the Podia Creator Community. Learn more about the Podia Creator Community here .

In addition to a new member area, some creators use engagement tools like buddy systems, mentorship programs, or mastermind groups.

For example, Podia creator Jay Acunzo runs a membership community that includes breakout groups and live sessions where members can meet one another, regardless of level. Here’s what one of their members had to say.

Food Blogger Pro is a paid community that includes videos, case studies, and step-by-step tutorials for aspiring food bloggers. Members have access to forums, Q&A sessions, and collaboration opportunities with others in the industry.

In the testimonials section, many reviews mention the value of this community collaboration piece.

For new food bloggers, getting to network with experienced creators was a huge factor in reaching their goals.

Give your members the same resources for success by connecting new and existing members right away.

#4 Create a posting schedule

If people stop posting, an online community can quickly feel stale. Prevent discussions from losing steam by posting new topics on a consistent schedule.

Here are some examples of recurring prompts you can post:

  • Share what you’re working on

  • What have you accomplished recently?

  • What challenges are you facing right now?

  • “Ask me anything” threads with you or other experts in your niche

  • Engagement activities like games, contests, challenges, and quizzes 

For example, the travel hacking Facebook group 10xTravel Insiders has a Friday thread where members can share their weekly wins.

Unsure of what to post? Ask your members what they want to talk about. One perk of having your own online community is that you can get ideas directly from your target audience with just a few clicks.

Learn what your community needs through an online survey, quiz, or questionnaire directly in your community.

Frequently adding new posts to your community encourages members to return often and gives them more content to enjoy when they do.

#5 Play an active role as the community leader

As the community leader, you should have an active presence in your group. You’ll likely be the main person bridging the gap between subscribers who don’t know each other, at least at first.

A big perk for your community members is greater access to your knowledge and experience. When you answer questions quickly, give thoughtful advice, and facilitate conversations, you build trust.

Authentically engaging with your community creates an emotional connection between you and your members.

Studies show that customers who feel emotionally connected to a brand are more likely to recommend it to others and have a 306% higher lifetime value . Moreover, 36.5% of customers are willing to pay more for products when they feel a sense of brand loyalty.

It’s also important to keep an eye on things so your community stays aligned with your values.

A 2021 study found that people turn to online communities to get away from the negativity of social media platforms. They prefer communities because these spaces feel more uplifting, productive, and positive.

Maintaining an active presence is a great way to make sure every member of the community is playing by the rules.

#6 Consider including a live component

Some of the most effective communities I’ve experienced have included live connection opportunities. Doing live zoom calls, webinars, breakout groups, social hours, or mastermind sessions can increase online engagement by helping people put names to faces.

For example, Kathy’s Cooking Club is a community membership program that includes two live classes per month. Students love the personal connection with Kathy from their real-time cooking sessions.

Similarly, the Brand Attraction Society by Podia creator Mallika Malhotra includes live group calls twice per month in addition to training courses, products, and discussion forums. Members rave that Mallika’s hands-on approach makes the program stand out from competitors.

Finally, you can consider creating offline experiences and meetups if it makes sense for your audience. While online connections are powerful, meeting people in person can take your community to the next level.

How to build an engaged online community with Podia

One of the most important elements of an engaged online community is the platform you use to house it.

At Podia, you can run your online community on the same platform where you sell digital products , making it an easy addition to your creator toolbox.

Also, I may be totally biased here, but I think our Podia community platform looks gorgeous.

If you don't have a Podia account yet, sign up today and create your online community for free .

You can also check out this article if you need to move your community over from another platform .

Here’s how to start building your online community in Podia:

From your Podia dashboard , click “Community” in the upper navigation menu.

You’ll be prompted to give your community a name and create your first membership plan. Community plans can be free or paid.

You can create additional plans later by clicking on “Settings” and scrolling down to the “Plans” section.

Next, create your community topics. These should align with the categories you talk about in your business. For example, a cooking community might have recipes, ingredients, kitchen utensils, and cooking memes as their topics.

To add topics, click on “All topics” in the left-hand sidebar, then select the purple “New topic” button.

In addition to your main niche topics, we recommend making one topic called “Start here” or “New members” so people who have just joined the community know where to go.

This section can contain frequently asked questions, links to important resources, and a place for new members to introduce themselves.

Next, we’ll set up your welcome email. To do this, head to the “Email” tab in the top navigation. Click the purple button that says “Create” and choose “New campaign”.

Give your campaign a name like “Community welcome email”. Under “Entrance condition”, choose “Subscribed to plan”. Then, select the community plans that should be included.

You can select “Community name (all plans)” if you want the welcome email to go to everyone who joins, regardless of the plan they choose.

Scroll down the page, and you’ll see an area to write your email campaign content. Once it’s ready, toggle on the “Email is active” button and click the purple button that says “Start campaign”.

The last thing to do is add posts to your community. Create a handful of posts for each topic so your earliest members have enough content to interact with. You don’t want a member to click on a topic and find nothing inside.

Podia makes this easy by allowing you to schedule posts in advance. Many creators prefer to bulk schedule posts into each topic for greater consistency.

With that, your community is ready to go. There are endless possibilities when you start with a strong foundation, and we can’t wait to see what you do next.

Ultimately, online communities are a powerful tool for creators. They create space for you and your target audience to collaborate and connect. This leads to brand loyalty, authentic connections, and deeper learning.

By prioritizing online community engagement from day one, you’ll be on your way to building a happy, helpful corner of the internet that your members love.

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About the author

Nicola is a content marketer for Podia, an all-in-one platform where online courses, digital downloads, and communities scale with their creators. She lives for lizards, loves to travel, and can often be found cooking up new recipes in the kitchen.