I am lucky to work with some of the best community managers in the business and over the years, we’ve learned a lot together about how to encourage and inspire engagement. Interestingly, to get valuable engagement you need a focus on both the high-level community strategy and how that is translated into policies, governance, and guidelines but also maintain a micro-focus on the tone and construct of how you write.
What I’ve noticed over the years is that perfection is the enemy of engagement – and that, more than anything, is difficult for people to accept. In our culture and our organizations, we are so often judged when our grammar is poor, when we don’t do the research to answer our own questions and when we say something perceived as dumb because we lack experience…. ironically all the things that encourage engagement in communities.
I’ve started my own lists of things to do and things to avoid – and I’d love to hear from others if you have similar lists.
- Share an opinion or disagree by using phrases like ‘In my experience…’, ‘My perspective is…’ or ‘From my point of view’ – this signals that there is room for other people to have a different perspective or set of experiences and opens the dialog in a way that is respectful, even though you disagree. This is critical online because others cannot see your body language.
- Give people the benefit of the doubt and assume good intent – often, even if the intent is not exactly positive, by assuming good intent you will help the other person to engage in a constructive conversation vs. a confrontational one.
- Use pictures – especially in unexpected ways. Instead of simply writing ‘Have a good weekend!’ include a link to a picture of a beach, or a cocktail or something else you know the other person will be doing. Why? Getting the other person to smile will give them a positive association with you and your interaction.
- Use plenty of emotional markers – whether those are exclamation points or emoticons. This can seem silly but again, when people can’t see your body language these markers help them understand your emotional position and when you seem open, friendly and excited they are more likely to engage with you.
- Be aware of what your digital body language is projecting. I wrote about this awhile back and you can find many other points of view with a quick search.
- Ask questions and be curious. Even if you have just answered a question, there is no need to close the conversation – follow-up and ask why the person is asking or ask for additional clarification – you might be surprised that what they need is not the answer to the question they asked but a different thing altogether because they didn’t really know how to ask the question they needed answered.
- Be open-ended – suggest that something ‘might’ or ‘could’ work – unless you are speaking about a technical, urgent or specific thing where there is a clear correct answer and even then, it is often best to get a subject matter expert or peer to be the definitive voice.
- Ignore a conversation. If you are a community manager or executive, once you step into the dialog you can very easily shut it down because of your perceived authority so ignoring the conversation may be the best way to help it take off.
- Use words like ‘no’, ‘but’, ‘should’ and ‘you [are wrong/should/think]’ unless you really have to. All of those words and phrasing can have an arresting effect on conversation and make people more defensive than they would otherwise be.
- Be more declarative than you have to be. This is tough – in business, we are encouraged to be declarative and assertive but the more we complete thoughts and arguments, the less room there is for other voices, especially if you are an authority figure.
- Add fuel to fire. Always verify what you are hearing before you pile on to good or bad news.
- Assume you know what another has experienced or is feeling – ask and don’t judge.
- Make promises you can’t keep. Listen, acknowledge and ask questions but do not try to solve problems that are beyond your control or make promises that are dependent on others before you’ve confirmed that it’s possible.
What other techniques do you use or you’ve seen used effectively?