Nobody Loves a Learning Curve
A lot has been written about how busy today’s working professionals are – and you probably know already that your members don’t have a lot of free time. Nobody has time to read complicated instructions or documentation just to use the tools or services they purchased to help make their work easier. They want to be able to jump right in with minimal tutorials and start using their products to improve their day-to-day.
Online experiences, including association community platforms, are no different.
Why the Design of Your Online Community Matters
It’s not enough just to have an online community for your association. What it looks like, how easy it is to use, how inviting it is, how useful it is, and how quickly members can find the content they’re looking for all play critical roles in how willing members are to engage with your community and how regularly they’ll return to it.
Thoughtful and ongoing effort should be put into the design (or redesign) of your community to drive the strong engagement metrics associations are looking for.
Your Community Should Be Modern and Intuitive
It’s not going to instill a lot of confidence in your organization if your community platform looks like something from the dawn of the Internet boom. Having an outdated or disorganized community sends a signal that the community is not something the association invests in. And if an association isn’t willing to put time into updating their community, why should members put time into visiting it?
Modern community design doesn’t have to be hard or over the top – usually it involves clean, straightforward design and easy navigation. Members also aren’t going to spend a lot of time – through trial and error – trying to learn how to get value out of your community. They have other demands on their time. Functionality and content paths should be easy and obvious.
A modern and intuitive design is also particularly important as we all approach the challenge of attracting and retaining the incoming generation of members and staff. Younger members are likely technology natives – they’ve grown up in an environment with information and technology at their fingertips. They will have zero tolerance for poor online experiences.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
Take inspiration from other successful sites of online congregation, like social media. Think about how to incorporate things like activity feeds, easy access to their profile, clear sorting mechanisms, the ability to flag favorites and other similar features. As thought leader Reggie Henry noted in a recent episode of the Member Engagement Show podcast, your members aren’t just comparing your community experience to other online communities, they’re comparing you to every online experience they have, from their smartphones to Amazon. So why not use other popular sites, or other communities you love, to give you ideas for your own community.
Check out our Community Lookbook right now for some examples!
Leverage Community Strategies That Encourage Participation
Getting members to engage can be challenging. As noted above, the time they have available for anything besides direct work tasks is limited. Maybe they don’t feel qualified to share their opinion on a community thread, or maybe they don’t want to ask a “dumb” question. Plus there can be an overall desire to remain anonymous, especially in some fields.
You want to do everything you can to remove any friction that would stop those members who want to engage, and to inspire those who might be more reluctant.
Having community digest emails (especially ones that are personalized) that remind members of the conversations happening in the community can be a great way to drive members to log in and contribute (or, if you have the functionality in your community digests, contribute right from their inbox).
Using gamification tactics (like you see on health and fitness apps like Fitbit, language apps like Duolingo, and productivity apps) can also trigger people’s innate competitive side and incentivizes them to participate. This can include things like offering a leaderboard or giving members badges, rewards, or the opportunity to “level-up.”
Tips for a Better Online Community Experience
Short of a complete redesign, there are some things you can do right now to improve the community experience and increase member engagement:
- Have an inviting logged-out homepage that makes both members and prospective members feel welcomed and informed.
- For prospects, provide a fast, easy, and fun path for them to learn about the many benefits of membership, including the peer interactions and learning that happens in the community.
- Utilize a feed similar to what users see on their favorite social media platforms – it’s something they’re already familiar with and being different just for the sake of being different is sometimes a stumbling block.
- Use quick links to help members get straight to the resources or conversations they care about most. You can personalize their experience by targeting the links by demographic.
- Highlight jobs, news, and events, but don’t overdo it. If everything is important, then nothing becomes important.
- Activate community polling to give their members a chance to weigh in and tell you how you can improve their member experience.
- Use the Search Terms report to find holes in your navigation and create links to some of the commonly searched parts of your site.
- Institute a system that rewards engagement, which can include things like engagement leaderboards, badges, and assigned levels of expertise. These are the things that inspire not just engagement, but frequent and ongoing participation.
- Have a space to highlight recent blog posts and content highlights. The best practice is to place top-performing content in this space because you already know it’s of high interest to members.
- Make sure the look and feel has been customized to align with your brand. It can be jarring and evoke suspicion when a community platform looks like it’s not even a part of your association’s website.
- Use dynamic features that deliver different messaging to different members segmented by their data and activities. This could include a special block on the homepage reminding members it’s time to renew, thanking new members for joining, or informing members interested in a certain topic there’s a new blog or webinar on it available.
Better Engagement – By Design
An association community is one big welcome mat. Figuring out how to participate should never be a burden that’s placed on a member or prospect. They simply don’t have the time or patience for it. And over the years, user testing has surfaced the design tactics that work and those that don’t when it comes to UX. Associations don’t have to undertake designing or redesigning their community alone. Existing platforms from vendors like Higher Logic have already incorporated all the elements that make communities thrive – in fact, Higher Logic’s platform is called Higher Logic Thrive for that reason!
All that’s left is for you to implement the engaging community experience your members want and deserve.
For inspiration and ideas you can use when setting up your community (and examples of how Higher Logic Thrive makes it easy), check out our Community Lookbook.
Consultant, Strategic Services
Kristen is a Strategic Services Consultant at Higher Logic. She helps online community customers grow their community engagement and marketing automation customers develop impactful emails and automation streams. Kristen has a Master’s Degree in Entertainment Business from Full Sail University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing and eBusiness from Towson University.
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