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5 Nuggets o' Wisdom for Online Community Engagement

5 Nuggets of Wisdom for Online Community Engagement

When it comes to online community engagement, there are many things to think about. Here are my top 5 nuggets of wisdom that I hope you’ll serve up with a side of fries and a large Coke!

1. Heat Seeking Missile like Focus

Think about what action you want people to take on your page and make this the focus of your activities. I have previously spoken about focus and using marketing tactics to achieve meaningful online community engagement. If you want your community to register an account so that you can build your community database, focus on that. If you want them to contribute to a discussion, focus on that. It’s simple… tell your story, provide a compelling reason why they should take an action and then make it easy (refer point 2) for them to do so.

2. Relevance, meet Attention Span

The Internet has made us lazy! We don’t like to read lots and lots of “stuff”.  Shame on us all, but it is a reality that all online community engagement practitioners have to deal with.

So, let’s start here. CUT OUT THE CRAP… or at least make it less prominent on your pages (refer point 1).

I have two points to make here.

  1. I’ll define “crap”. It’s anything that isn’t interesting or relevant to the people you are trying to engage with. In other words, if it’s not going to directly impact on their lives (point 4), they’re probably not going to give a _ _ _ _ about it. So think about your content from your community’s perspective, not your CEO, or your Mayor. Your Community!
  2. My next point relates to attention span and the time people have/make to read web pages. A study conducted by the Nielson Norman Group in 2008 found that “on the average Web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely”.  The more words you use, the less they read. This image from the article is a great case in point.



3. Location. Location. Location!

This is an important one and I’m not talking about where you should be investing in property.

I’m talking about the placement of content on a page. We know that keeping visitor attention is a challenge, and scientific studies show that people generally “scan” web pages in a pattern referred to as the F-Layout.  This basically means that they read the screen in an “F” pattern, focusing on the top, upper left corner and left sides and occasionally glancing to the right side of the screen.


So when it comes to your engagement site, think about how you can use the F-Layout concept to maximise the website. In particular, think about:

  1. How your banner, its messaging and design fits into the equation.
  2. Where your calls to action sit on your page.
  3. Providing links to the relevant information (links score high on the “clickability” scale)
  4. Integrating your “less viewed” content (via links) on the lower right side of your page to the areas within the F.

There is a great article that delves into the F-Layout in more detail here.

4. Incite emotion

breast2Image credit

Take a minute to think about the last time you took action on something? I’m guessing there was an emotion attached to that decision. Am I right?

Point being. Our emotions drive our actions. The advertising and publishing worlds know this and have made it part of their DNA for decades.

Even the scientists dig this one. I’m particularly fond of this quote from world-renowned Canadian Neurologist, Donald Calne, “the essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action while reason leads to conclusions”.

So how do we make this work for us in the world of online community engagement? Here are a few thoughts.

  1. Get a bit controversial.  Engage on the topics that scare you most – they may end up being the most rewarding and genuine outcomes you have.
  2. Get down and dirty. Engage on the things that MATTER to your community. Asking them to read an 80-page plan on the “Future Of The World As They Know It” is going to get you snooze-worthy results at best. Tease out the hot topics and refer to points 1, 2, and 3 above.
  3. Think about how you can use rich media, imagery and thoughtful questioning to incite a bit of emotion.

5. Plan for Sh*t Happening.

shit_happensImage credit

You’ve got to have one. A plan in place for sh*t going wrong.  It’s not so much a plan, but a bit of common sense when it comes to working with technology.

And sh*t can be any number of things. It could be the way you’ve set something up not working as you had imagined/planned, a bug in the technology (heaven forbid), a site going down. There are any number of things that can crop up unplanned, but what you can do is give yourself some room.

My advice. Test, test and test some more, and give yourself, as well as your humble technology supplier (wink nudge) some wriggle room. Launching a major project at 5pm on a Friday is not the greatest idea and doesn’t get anyone into a Zen state for the weekend if something does go wrong.

So there you have it. My top 5 Nuggets O’ Wisdom when it comes to engaging your community online. I’d love to hear your thoughts about these, or others that should be on the list!

p.s. This post originally appeared as a guest post on Becky Hirst’s blog – you should check her out. She’s a bit of a Goddess when it comes to community engagement…and wine!

Thanks for getting all the way to the bottom! Subscribe to our monthly digest newsletter if you’d like to be kept up to date about community engagement practice globally. Take a look at our two product websites: EngagementHQ if you need a complete online engagement solution, and BudgetAllocator if you need a participatory budgeting solution. Or get in touch if you have a story idea you think is worth sharing.

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