5 Tenets of Engagement Success

By Nate Rentmeester posted Sep 08, 2014 09:50 AM


5 Tenets of Engagement Success

How important is user engagement to the success of your site? If you said “very”, then you are like most Higher Logic users whose focus is to provide a community where members create value through interaction. How do you get users to engage in the activities on your site? If the answer isn’t as clear for you, the following 5 tenets of engagement success will arm you with a common sense framework for building a successful community.

1 - Define the purpose of your community

This is a crucial first step that people often glance over in the excitement of launching a new community. It’s so important that I don’t want to put it off for another minute. Before you read any further, stop what you’re doing and answer the following two questions about your community:

Who are we?

What actions make our site valuable for our members?

Make it concise – A focused identity makes it easy to communicate your message and forces you to concentrate on what is really important. Look at your answer and start crossing out words until you have only the most crucial aspects that can be communicated in two sentences or less.

We are a global community of nurse practitioners who are divided into 7 sections, and 50 chapters, providing thought leadership to our profession”

Members come to the online community to share events and news that is relevant to the nursing profession. They are part of communities where they engage with other members and have discussions about user generated topics. Members also come to network with other members by making contacts.”

Make it clear - When your members read this, they should identify as part of the WHO and quickly understand WHAT they should be doing on your online community. This helps them understand what your site is for and why it is valuable to them.

This will serve as the driving force for many of the decisions that you will make along the way. It will help you focus your energy on what will have the greatest impact on success, and serve as a beacon when you stray too far from the path of your purpose.


Your logo should be the visual answer to the “who” part of the question. Include the “what” in a tagline along with your logo. This will allow users coming to the site to quickly get a sense for its purpose. The example below from the Cosmetic Executive Woman uses a prominent tagline that highlights specific actions to communicate the purpose of the site.

2  - Grow active users before segmenting

When you have a large number of members being integrated with your Connected Community, it can create the illusion that you’re launching with a large community. This often leads clients to prematurely start segmenting their members by creating a number of communities and sub-groups. The truth is that you are not segmenting your total membership, only the ones who are actively participating. The danger is when you initially launch, over-segmentation spreads the initial activity too thin and prevents the community from generating crucial interactions that attract members and keep them coming back on a regular basis. In this way, it often stunts the growth of active users.

Loading your membership onto your online community helps remove the initial barriers to entry, making it easy to start taking action and getting value right away. It’s like planting seeds that have the potential to grow into engaged community members on your site. Initially focus on nurturing these seeds by making sure members are viewing discussions, creating posts, replying to threads or taking other actions that indicate they are getting value. Once you have a healthy population of active consumers and contributors, then look for ways you can further segment your membership to provide additional value.

3 - Make it really easy for your users to act

Your site is more than just a home for your community; it’s also the facilitator for the activities you want to take place there. Your site is a machine, fueled by your members—it converts their motivation into activity. For those people who are extremely motivated, it’s pretty easy to get them to act. However, if you want your machine to maximize activity, you need to make it very efficient so even users with little motivation will become active. The best way to improve the efficiency of your site is to maximize clarity and make it effortless for your members to start doing the things that motivated them to come to your site. Here are two concrete ways you can accomplish that goal:

Simplify. Reduce the number of available options so that fewer decisions are necessary to take action. Have fewer navigation options and communities, and create a focused home page to ensure you won’t overwhelm your first-time visitors or force them to make too many decisions. Complexity is the enemy of action because it increases the chance that a user will get frustrated trying to find what they are looking for. If the user isn’t highly motivated, even slight frustration might cause them to leave and not come back.

Provide Call-to-Actions (CTA’s). The key to a more efficient website is providing effective direction with clear signage. Well-designed CTA’s are like expressways that funnel users directly to the places where you want more participation. This reduces the effort required to search for and initiate an action. CTA’s are most effective when they are clear, clickable buttons that tell the user exactly what they will be doing.


Use your community identity as a guide for the actions you want to encourage. Make sure each of those actions have clear and prominent CTA’s on your home page. The example below from the HUG shows some of the prominent and colorful CTA’s that are part of the new bootstrap template.

4 – Focus on measuring outcomes  

Measuring the effectiveness of your site is absolutely crucial if you want to maximize value. Some of you may have just grimaced at the thought of having to generate reports and analyze data, but don’t be intimidated! The key to conquering “Big Data” is simply to focus on the things that matter. Follow these steps to find the key stats you can use to measure engagement on your site.

Set goals – Revisit your site purpose and use it to define the specific goals you have for your members. Each goal should answer to the question – How does a member get value from our site?

Example: A member gets value by participating in discussions with their peers.

Choose the right metrics – For each goal, choose 1-2 metrics that will help you determine whether or not you are successfully achieving the desired outcome.

You Try! What are some ways you can measure discussion participation on your site?

Focus on action – Choose stats that help you determine a course of action that leads to success. If you are not achieving your goals, the metrics should help you determine the things you can do to make improvements. Avoid wasting time on “nice-to-know” stats so you can focus on things that will help you achieve your desired outcomes.

Make it routine – Make this a manageable amount of work so that you can commit to gathering the data each month. If it becomes too time-consuming, reduce the number of metrics you are tracking by creating more focused goals. It’s better to track a few things consistently than nothing at all.


Measuring the success of your CTA’s is a great way to understand how well your website is facilitating action. You can use tracking codes or short links on your CTA links in order to measure how effectively they trigger user engagement.

5 – It’s not failing, it’s just fine-tuning

A common misconception is that with enough careful thought, consideration, and deliberation, all the “right” decisions can be made about how to configure a community site. The truth of the matter is that it’s impossible to predict how your members will interact with your site. As a result, you’re going to get some things wrong. The good news is that you’ll be in excellent company! The best designers in the world don’t get it right all the time either. What makes them so successful is their commitment to identifying problems quickly and making changes.

Growing a successful online community is a process of learning what is most valuable for your members and developing a site that best meets their needs. Failing and making adjustments is a necessary part of the fine-tuning process that turns your site so it’s a well-oiled, activity-generating machine. Don’t become so invested in any decision or idea that you allow it to hold you back from accomplishing your goals. If you commit whole-heartedly to making changes when needed, then any failure is just a bump in the road to success.


When you run reports each month, be sure to reflect back on your goals and ask yourself “Are we achieving the desired outcomes?” If the answer is no, identify ways you can make adjustments that help you achieve success. By tracking your goals over time, you can see how you efforts contribute to building a better community.