Neglecting the art of engagement

“You have to be careful with the community because you have to manage member engagement. You have a duty of care; otherwise, as a resource it becomes over-used and its value can, ultimately, decline. You have to keep it healthy.”



Understand what makes your audience tick…

For communities to offer value, you need to recruit the right people – and those people (just like the most talented employees) aren’t always the easiest to keep.

“Brand fans” might be easy to recruit, but chances are it’s your other customers (or competitors’ customers) that you need, to give your business greater insight.

Sustaining a relevant and useful community population is definitely achievable but it takes effort. If you don’t design a solid strategy to retain your members, your community will gradually lose its power.

One beauty brand manager we interviewed shared a fairly extreme example of the consequences of getting this wrong:

“We had a community for years but over time, we were just not talking to our core group anymore. Our brand is young and female. Our community members were increasingly not. Our core just didn’t stay; the conversations were no longer what they wanted. In the end we stopped using a community. The community lost its relevance when they lost our audience”.

Other practitioners had more success, but were clear about some principles they used to avoid this pitfall.

The Head of Segmentation Research and Insights at a telecommunications business employed exclusivity and a sense of challenge to invoke continued engagement from members.

The community is involved in a host of product and communications development challenges and the members are treated like an extension of their business.

Treating customers like an extension of your business isn’t appropriate for every challenge. If your main priority is looking at brand perception, this type of relationship could skew the results.

In Professor Nicholas Ind’s research into online communities and co-creation for Oslo School of Management and ESADE Business School, a 2-way relationship was a key attribute of an engaged community.

His research for the book ‘Brand Together’4 suggested that while financial incentives are a useful motivation to get people to join communities, they are far less useful in sustaining long-term engagement.

A brand demonstrating it was listening and creating a feedback loop to share the impact of the community’s work was up to 6 times as powerful in sustaining engagement (and preventing member attrition) than financial incentive alone

However, extrinsic rewards like incentives do play a role, often as rationalization for the time investment, rather than as a core driver.

As suggested by Frederick Herzberg, “the difference is that you can only create satisfaction through intrinsic factors, but you can create dissatisfaction by failing to pay sufficient attention to extrinsics.” Or in other words, you can’t neglect rewards, but also don’t expect them to be enough to keep people truly satisfied.

Design the right value exchange

Don’t neglect the “duty of care” to your community.

To avoid participatory drop-off, the European Consumer and Market Insight Director for a global technology company suggests a “duty of care with engagement.”

He has successfully demonstrated to the wider business that his set of customer communities, is “a valuable tool for listening and understanding what consumers are thinking in a rapid way”. However, he now “ lacks enough capacity as everyone in the business wants to use it.” As a result, he is wary of running too many projects and activities due to the danger of burning the community out and driving members away.

Ultimately, keeping your community healthy and useful comes down to thinking through what kind of experience will motivate members to participate. There are entire papers devoted to this subject.



Design the right value exchange for your members.


Don’t over-work the community. It creates diminishing returns.


Provide regular, transparent feedback on how the input of the community is being used, whatever your audience.

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