How to Get the Engagement that You Actually Want



It’s every product manager’s and community manager’s dream to know and visibly see how much their product and platform is loved. You know what to look for: Engagement is high – much higher than you expected! Users are spreading the word without you even having to ask. Numbers are growing day by day.

But, in the back of your mind, you know that something’s not quite right. Engagement is high, but it’s not quite what what you expected. Perhaps the tone of conversations is off. Maybe it’s a handful of people driving most of activity, but only with and among each other – everyone else is shut out. Or, you sense a lack of quality. Worse yet, the community isn’t using the product as intended. One such prominent example was Secret, an anonymous sharing app turned gossip and bullying platform.

The good news is that all is not lost. The remedy is to act as quickly as possible to course correct. One approach is product and design, to rework the means by which people engage entirely. For example, Secret did away with content cards for a text-based threads (among other updates), which made content flow more ephemerally and discouraged dwelling on specific pieces of potentially negative content.

But for quicker fixes and for those without the means to redesign, build and deploy a platform on command, there are plenty of other approaches to get the engagement that you’d like.

Reset Expectations (Head On)

Recently, we saw an example in which a highly-engaged community member became overly involved in the governing of a community in a way that was pesky rather than helpful. He was well liked within the community, though set a bad example for others by ignoring guidelines, overstepping boundaries and generally having a bad attitude towards leadership. After numerous attempts to intervene with constructive feedback, it was time to make a drastic change.

This was a prompt for us to revisit community guidelines and past communications — had we properly set expectations? What dynamic in our community made this member feel that this behavior was ok? Ultimately, we decided that guidelines needed a refresh. Additionally, prior to rolling out the updated guidelines, we directly reached out to the member and head-on addressed the situation, paraphrased:

“We’ve observed X behavior. We realize that perhaps we did not properly set expectations, though going forward, we would like to see Y behavior. This change will go into effect in our community guidelines in Z timeframe. We very much would like you to continue to participate though ask that you do so in context of our updated guidelines.”

Lead by Example & Rally Support

The best way to get the engagement you want is to actively demonstrate the behavior that you’d like to see. Yes, that means using your own product (as you should!), but it doesn’t end there. Here are additional ways to demonstrate desired engagement:

  • user stories
  • tutorials (assuming that this is a stop gap for product updates)
  • directive copy instructions

Don’t be afraid to get others involved as well! One approach is to reward, encourage and highlight other members that are already engaging in the manner that you’d prefer. Another effective approach is to reach out to a trusted group of members, give them the inside scoop, and let them know what actions they can take (and how frequently) to help.

Adjust Copy

Design is still about words. The smallest tweak to copy can be incredibly impactful. For example, by changing the name of a content contribution from “status update” to “response,” a more in-depth and topically engaging contribution is elicited. That, or perhaps the content contribution will feel much more cold, depending on the specifics of your community. You’ll have to test to see!

If you’re not getting the engagement that you want, change the terms of engagement. It’s up to you.