10 ways to keep your online community engaged (or to throw a great house party)

ouse party and good times. Picture by Eric Nopanen

House party and good times. Picture by Eric Nopanen

There’s nothing like a good house party, right? You’re not alone. I feel you.
Well, let me tell you there are at least 10 ways a good online community is somewhat like a good house party. For clarity, and as program manager, I will use the example of Maze X, an impact startup accelerator based in Lisbon, Portugal, to explain how we have succeeded in getting the party started and going. I hope these action-oriented tips help you to create great community engagement — or throw an amazing house party after the pandemic.

Set the scene, guests are coming

Preparation is the mother of a good party, right? The same goes for a good community. Decide on where your party, aka your community, takes place, who takes part, and why anyone should be part of it in the first place.

  • Why? At Maze X, we come together to make a positive impact on the people and the planet.
  • Who? Impact entrepreneurs, advisors, experts, and the Maze X team.
  • Where? Zoom calls for in-person status updates, a slack workspace for ongoing discussions, and follow-ups.

If you cannot answer these questions, it’s time to have a look at this community canvas and fill it in. It helped us a great deal and is available for free.

Give people gentle guidance and context

“Friday 10 PM at my house. Theme: All White Everything” might be an invitation to a friend’s theme party. In slack it sounds like this:

Image for post
Welcome message to the MAZE slack community with startups

Three things I do here:

  • Mention the purpose of the community: Impact
  • Showing who else is here
  • Giving guidelines & set out values

These things are important so people know what is happening. An overview of channels can also help new arrivals to know where to find what. Coming back to the house party analogy: you wouldn’t put your guests in a room without saying anything, would you? You would welcome them and introduce them to one another. The same goes for the online experience. Matchmaking and building bridges are very powerful.

Note down who’s participating

I am a fan of the saying “what doesn’t get measured, doesn’t get managed”, so if you can get hands-on numbers (messages, participation, interaction, community event feedback) this might be very helpful. Just like you want to measure how many people are coming to your party, you would want to do the same for your community. No need to make a science out of it but if you see that there are members that are not participating much, act upon it. Next, you want to include them, which I will elaborate on in the next tip.

Be proactive in checking in on members

“Oh my gosh, is everyone doing well at my party? Do we have enough drinks? Who doesn’t have a drink in their hand? Who is standing outside a circle all alone?” — Yes, I am that kind of host when it comes to parties. I recommend doing the same for managing a community. Be proactive in checking in on people individually. Do they have everything they need? Can you make their lives easier somehow? Is there anything missing in the community or the community channels? It is worth checking in on them every once in a while, especially on the ones that went silent. That’s how you activate members and develop your community — because members always know best what they want to see in the community. You are there to serve.

Don’t be top-down, or your party will go belly up

Giving guidance is good, but playing the strict host will make you a party pooper. Don’t be a party pooper. Be a party rockstar. For that, you got to be smooth and gentle to guide people or make them aware of how certain things are dealt with. “Are you looking for the bathroom? It’s actually over there.” This party situation translated into your community conversation looks as follows: When people post something on the wrong channel, you could tell them “That’s a great question for channel X. Let’s follow up there”. This is much smoother than calling anyone out.

Have fun, darling

Enjoy what you’re doing as host and express it in any way you communicate. During the party, walk around with a smile and be attentive. Same for an online community. Even through a platform like slack, people can sense a smile. At least the tone of someone being happy. Keep that in mind and say “cheeeeese” while typing 😊

Have a common lingo

Do you have tech friends? If you do, I am sure you’ve experienced the common lingo aspect of a community already. For me as a non-techie, it can be hard to follow a discussion about SDKs and IDEs (don’t ask me what that means, I have no clue. I just pulled it in from here). However, you can see how techies enjoy it. They enjoy the jargon. And that is the whole point. People love a common community language because they feel heard and understood. They feel good about themselves as members of the community. Our community is talking about impact (that is social and environmental good for the world) and so the lingo I use as a community manager is also framed in this direction. Every week I wish everyone a good week with a good impact for instance.

Do the unexpected

The best parties are always the ones where things happen that no one expects to happen. Do the same with your community. For Maze X, we once had a surprise startup pitch in front of teenagers. No startup was expecting it but everyone loved it. It’s certainly something our community will remember. Try to bring in moments that are unexpected but special. Those are the ones people will remember and carry around in their hearts.

Celebrate

That’s right fellas, that’s why you came to the house party and I double down on that for a good community. You would want to celebrate your victory and laugh about your failures. That’s what creates trust and makes you a meaningful community. At Maze X we have a #kudos channel (kudos to Melanie from Panion for bringing it up). There we celebrate each other’s successes. Lots of ❤❤❤ in there.

Build a habit

Okay, you’ve had this one-time party. What’s next? Let’s do this every month or every year? Everyone loves the annual Christmas celebration or New Years’ Eve. Why? Because you can count on it and it’s great consistency in our lives. Building a habit is powerful in creating trust and comfort within a community. Again, what goes for parties certainly goes for communities. At Maze X, we have a weekly meeting with the startup cohort, a weekly workshop, and a weekly inspirational talk. Always at the same time and usually the same duration. This is a habit that contributes massively to the purpose of the community — impact.

If you liked it, leave a clap or two. See you at the next house party 🎉

Inspired by Get Together: How to build a community with your people by Bailey RichardsonKai Elmer SottoKevin Huynh. Kudos to them!

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