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From the beginning of time, community engagement has been the core of humanity. It is what first connected humans together, formed lasting civilizations, and brought us to the 21st century. What is fascinating and beautiful about community engagement is how it shifts and changes over time. Today in this digital age, online community engagement is your greatest asset. 

No matter what type of business you have or group you are involved in, online community engagement is crucial to thriving among the ever-changing and vastly overpopulated internet. Competition is everywhere and it is necessary that you nail this fundamental aspect of your brand before doing anything else. 

It is only through connecting and developing your online community that you can set yourself apart and discover your brand’s identity. Engagement is essential for everyone from a brand new YouTuber to the number one streamer on Twitch; from the latest hopeful Etsy seller to the burgeoning tech giants. 

The harsh reality, though, is that developing virtual community engagement is challenging, overwhelming, and, above all, daunting. If you don’t know where to start, I completely understand and you’re in the right place for the first step. 

Over the years, I’ve been involved in expanding communities online for various brand new or rebooted websites, such as GameRevolution. In addition, I contributed to the rise of already existing places like Digital Trends. I’ve seen the ups and downs of engaging with various communities, and the hard lessons that come with it. 

I’ll cover:

What Is Online Community Engagement?

At its core, online community engagement is effectively communication. This is one of the foundational traits of the human race and it is the binding agent for everything that happens online. But let’s break it down even more for a moment. What is community?

A community is simply a place where one or more organizations or individuals work together. Community engagement takes that a step further, dealing with the process in which every community member communicates and interacts with each other in a space. Sometimes the process even involves a common goal or purpose. 

How do online communities fit into all of this? Just like people can gather in the real world physically and interact with one another, so can they in the digital space. This happens every second all around the world through the use of the internet. Countless websites, social media platforms, services, and more are the cornerstone of this process.

Online community engagement involves a variety of people and roles throughout society and businesses. There are key figures from a company who will interact with their fans. Customers will engage with the creators of their favorite products or services. Communication through various formats is the heart of it all. 

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The Purpose Of Community Engagement

Engaging communities is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. The best way to engage your community will vary depending on the community itself, the issue you're trying to address, the community engagement platform you’re on, your market research resources, and capacity of your organization. 

Community organizations take many forms and you will need to customize your community engagement strategy to meet your specific needs. 

Through online engagement, organizations can develop trusting relationships with the people they serve, learn about the needs and assets of those communities, and work together to identify and implement solutions.

However, all community engagement efforts share a common goal: to build relationships and create opportunities for people to work together to improve their lives and their communities. 

Online engagement can be used to achieve a variety of outcomes, including: 

  • Expanding the overall online community. 
  • Developing relationships directly with fans or customers. 
  • Bring together diverse people who share a common idea or desire. 
  • Increasing public awareness about an issue or announcement. 
  • Building support for an initiative.
  • Generating new ideas and solutions to address issues.
  • Mobilizing people to take action.
  • Connecting the most important stakeholders.
  • Improving the general well-being of the community or fan base.
  • Advocacy for underserved members in the group. 
  • Strengthening relationships between organizations and the communities they serve.
  • Empowerment of people to have a voice in the community they are part of. 

The Importance Of Community Engagement

The greatest success stories online typically involve excellent online community engagement. The difference between a good company or content creator and a great one is how they handle their community. Above all else, tuning into the people who look to you and understanding who they are will make a massive impact on your success.

Developing trusting relationships with the people that you serve is crucial. For instance, take an example in which there is an up-and-coming YouTuber who makes cooking videos. Right now, they only have 500 subscribers, nowhere near the coveted 1000 subscribers needed to monetize their channel.

At this point in time, their community is quite concise but likely quite loyal. An ambitious YouTuber with the goal of making it big would choose to interact even with this small select number of people. They can do this through their personal social media accounts, replying to comments on videos, and so on. 

These are all forms of online community engagement as they involve interacting directly with the fans. Should the YouTuber choose to engage with their community, what they will find is that the viewers will take notice of this. They will be more inclined to watch new videos, comment, and spread word about you. 

Trust and loyalty will begin to increase among the small community, which is vital to growing the community organically. Others will find out about how interactive the YouTuber is and want to be part of that. This is how some of the best YouTubers out there, like Doobydobap (one of my current favorites) succeeded so quickly. 

On the other hand, let’s say that the aspiring YouTuber does not engage with their community and just does whatever they like. Their fans will feel neglected and might even begin to think that the creator does not understand what they are there for. This can lead to stagnation and perhaps even a decline. 

It works the same for corporations, too. Clear communication directly with the customers will help them to be informed about your products and feel the human side of it, such as what Oreo does with its TikTok, rather than the robotic and emotionless nature of certain companies out there. 

Furthermore, online community engagement is important since it can lead to a number of benefits for both organizations and individuals, including: 

  • Improved organizational effectiveness and impact.
  • Greater community ownership and investment in programs and services.
  • Increased participation and connections. 
  • More equitable and effective decision-making for other areas of the business.

What Is A Community Engagement Manager?

A community engagement manager is a professional who plans, implements, and evaluates community engagement initiatives, typically through various online sources and sites. They have a strong understanding of the principles of community engagement

Community engagement managers typically have a background in fields such as public administration, social work, urban planning, or communications. They work with organizations of all sizes to develop relationships with the people they serve and create opportunities for collaboration. 

Their primary responsibility is conducting community engagement activities, but they are also critical team players as they are so close to the customers or community members. The insights they derive can impact all aspects of the organization. 

Community engagement managers are quickly becoming a staple in organizations across the country as more and more companies recognize the importance of online community engagement. Some of the places that community engagement managers deal with include these sites, which all operate differently:

  • Twitter: A solid place for announcements, support, and general interactions on a daily basis. 
  • Instagram: Great for quick shots of what’s going on day-to-day but not necessarily the best place for responses. 
  • TikTok: Quick short-burst videos to keep the community having fun. Not always meant for the serious parts of interacting with consumers and fans. 
  • Reddit: Fantastic for responding to community questions, dealing with issues, and keeping fans in the know. 
  • Facebook: This site can be decent for some announcements and news. It can be underrated for connecting fans to one another in moderated communities.
  • Discord: I think this is the very best location for crafting a moderated and regulated community of fans. One of the best places for making the community feel welcome and part of your organization. 
  • YouTube: It is not the most necessary location but still great for creating video announcements and longer-form deep dives into your company. You can show more of your personality and heart here. 
  • Other online community software: There are tons of niche options for building online community spaces of your very own.

What Is A Community Engagement Plan?

A community engagement plan is a document that outlines the goals, strategies, and activities of a community engagement initiative. It is important to have a clear and concise plan in place before beginning any community engagement effort. 

A community engagement plan should include: 

  • A description of the community you're trying to engage.
  • Where you are interacting with the community online. 
  • The goals of your engagement effort.
  • The strategies and activities you'll use to reach out to the community online.
  • How to measure the public participation and engagement rates.
  • How to handle data collection.
  • The necessary functionalities of each leader. 
  • What the decision-making process is.
  • A timeline for when each activity will take place.
  • A budget for your engagement efforts.
  • A description of how you'll evaluate the success of your engagement. 
  • How to ensure the sustainability of your solutions.
  • A clear path forward depending on results. 

How To Attract And Keep Community Members?

The most important aspect of your community engagement plan is interacting with community members. Community members are the lifeblood of any community, and engaging them is essential to the success of your efforts. 

Here are a few tips for attracting and keeping community members: 

  1. Make it easy for groups of people to get involved. 
  2. Have clear instructions on how to participate in your engagement effort.
  3. Make sure the process is as simple as possible. 
  4. Be welcoming and inclusive to every corner of your community. 
  5. Be responsive to community feedback. 
  6. Reward community interactions with announcements, giveaways, and more to foster continuous engagement. 
  7. Make sure you listen to what the community has to say and make changes accordingly. 
  8. Be transparent about all of your decisions and responses. Even be transparent when you currently have nothing to say yet. 

Community engagement is all about building trust. When an organization meets the community’s needs, there will be reciprocity from the fans. If you're not transparent about your process and decision-making, it will be difficult to gain the trust of the community. 

And without the community’s trust, you might as well pack your bags at that point as you will have missed the entire point of online community engagement.

You might also like: The 10 Best Community Engagement Software

What To Focus On Next?

Overall, community engagement is a process through which organizations build relationships with the people they serve and work together to identify and implement solutions. 

It is an important toolkit for achieving a variety of outcomes, including increased public awareness, greater community ownership, and more equitable decision-making. At the end of the day, the community is your customer. Even if you are not selling a product, like just being a content creator, you are still selling your personality and trust as a person. 

The community is the gateway to success and engaging with them will ensure that you have their trust. The most robotic people and corporations miss out on this crucial aspect. For more on building that trust and not missing out on providing the necessary attention to your fans and customers, be sure to look more into online community management next

Cody Perez
By Cody Perez

Cody Perez is an editor for Venture 4th Media, dealing with editing, general content creation, and assisting with launching new websites. He also writes for a variety of large media companies, including IGN and Destructoid. Cody currently studies remotely for Tokyo International University, focusing on Business Economics and Japanese, which has complemented his 10+ years of experience in marketing, public relations, social media, and content creation.