A recent article claiming that 84 percent of one’s Facebook page fans are lurkers raised an interesting question for me. How does one get communities to “gel” online? What are some of the tricks of the trade that help web communication professionals engage their audiences?
The ideas below are based on my experiences with organizing meetups, including NetSquared Boston; producing news content for an online community of graduate students and professors; and building the audience of an energy-related newsletter.
1. Make Your Most Important Content Visible
Journalists know that the first few seconds of reading will determine whether your audience reads the whole article or puts down the paper. Your title, subheading, and any content that is highly visible will attract readers’ attention.
Here are a few tips:
- Choose clear, attention-getting headlines
- Test your web content using the Five Second Test
- Think about the first sentences you use
- Choose interesting topic headings
2. Organize Your Site Logically
Take a look through a website usability guide and use those principles to organize your content clearly. Will a new visitor to your site know where to find information? Try to keep the number of levels in your site map to a minimum. This will make it easier for website visitors to find the content they need.
3. Use Your Audience’s Favorite Media
If you know how your audience already finds information, you can communicate with them using their preferred media. For many audiences in the United States, e-mail is still the best way to present information. If you make your content conversational and entertaining, you can also use Facebook to reach a large audience. Sites like Twitter and Quora can give you access to professionals in specialized fields like journalism and IT. Some audiences spend long hours on YouTube.
If your audience isn’t RSS-literate, they won’t subscribe to your blog’s news feed. On the other hand, if your audience knows how to subscribe to your meetup calendar, they may be watching all of your events without even being members of your meetup. Twitter users may add you to private lists without following you openly.
4. Build Your Niche
What does your website provide that other websites do not? Is your meetup unique, or is it the same as another meetup in the next town? Like running a business, running an online community requires that you provide added value. You should make your content easy to use and worthwhile.
If you have a niche for which there is not much demand, recast your focus so that it addresses needs that people know exist. You may be absolutely convinced of a need that others don’t see or recognize; this will make your job more difficult. I’ve seen scientists experience this problem often. Simplifying your message and making it convincing can help your website gain support.
5. Know Your Audience’s Priorities
Knowing the priorities and values of your audience can help you move your website into their “to visit” list. What do they need to know? Can you make their lives easier by providing networking or useful information? If your site looks like a resource library, you should work to make your content more immediately useful and action-oriented.
Some audiences dislike spending time online and will not surf in search of resources. Other audiences may own mobile phones but not computers. The more you know about what matters to your audience, the easier it will be for you to integrate your site or community into their everyday workflow.
Ask your audience what they want to see. You may be surprised. I used a poll in a meetup recently. I discovered – unexpectedly – that most of the respondents wanted to do outdoor activities this spring and summer. Because I did this poll, I’ll schedule the kinds of activities they requested.