6 Tips for Engaging Online Research Communities

Charlotte Duff

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Emily James

    One of the main questions we get asked about research communities, is ‘how do I get members engaged and joining in?’ There’s a whole host of different strategies for getting your members engaged but the vast majority are underpinned by the same thing – communication. Never under-estimate the value of communication in any part of research but especially, online communities!

    To give you a good starting point, I’ve come up with 6 of my top tips for engaging members in an online research community. This isn’t by any means the complete list; it’s just a few ideas to get you on your way.

    1. Keep it Simple

    Perhaps one of the most important and probably the most commonly forgotten points is the importance of making it easy for people to join in. Explain what’s involved and what’s expected of them from the start. Make it easy for them to log in to the community and once they’re in, to find their way around.

    If someone is having difficulty getting involved, make it a priority to help them. Here at FlexMR, we respond to member calls for help ASAP to capitalise on their enthusiasm and get rid of that barrier stopping them from getting involved.

    2. Allow Members to Talk Freely

    I would always recommend, whilst setting some boundaries of what’s acceptable and what’s not, giving your members free rein to talk about topics of their choosing alongside your research led discussions.

    Allowing them this freedom has two main advantages: firstly, your members grow comfortable in the online environment, becoming more eager to join in research. Secondly you will find out the issues and topics that matter to members without having to prompt and probe too much.

    3. Encourage Shared Interests

    Naturally, we’re most comfortable talking about familiar topics; use this to your advantage for your community engagement. If you know there some members with the same interest, get them talking about it; their passion for the topic will help overcome any fears they have about posting.

    4. Remember to Say Thank You

    When people respond, take the time to reply to their comments, even if it’s just a quick ‘thank you’. Those posting then know there is actually someone reading their comments, rather than disappearing into a big vat of nothingness. If they know you’re interested in what they have to say and feel valued, they’re more likely to keep coming back.

    5. Take Off the Researcher's Hat

    On a research community, you will be seen as the person asking the questions. Occasionally, rather than posing the questions, be seen to be sharing your own personal experiences in the discussions they start; your members will see you in a different light and they’ll be more inclined to answer your questions.

    The BlogMR area is the ideal place to take off the researcher’s hat and just be another person joining in with the community chat.

    6. Beware of the Over-Engaged

    In a large online community, there’s a high probability you’ll have the odd member who shouts louder than others; if not carefully managed, rather than having a positive impact on the community, they can actually have the opposite effect and can put other people off posting. If you find yourself with some members like this use them to your advantage and give them a purpose.

    Make them community ambassadors; give them the responsibility of welcoming new community members; encourage them to not necessarily post first on a new discussion but perhaps bring an older discussion back to life or raise a counter argument; get them on your side and get them to police the discussions, bringing any concerns to your attention.

    As I mentioned at the start, this is just a select few of my top tips; I’ve not even touched on rewards, incentives and gamification and how you can incorporate these to maximise your engagement. If you’ve got any of your own top-tips, please share them with us; or if you want to know more about how we engage our online community members, please do get in touch.

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