Online community challenge: every week you post the same prompt asking members to participate.. maybe it’s Failure Friday, Motivation Monday, Gratitude Tuesday. The first few times you post, you notice people are eager to share and connect around the prompt. You find it’s a great way for members to get to know each other and the post brings energy to the community. As you continue to post weekly, you notice less people are participating. The same people always answer and some are only engaging as a thinly-veiled attempt to promote themselves.
What has gone wrong and how can you fix it?
A community feels comfortable for members to return to when they know what to expect. Surprise and novelty are important, but it’s the traditions that you build together that make people feel like they know the place you’ve created and that they belong. Building in regular activities that members can expect is a good thing, but why do they so often start to feel stale after a few iterations?
What might be happening is that an activity that started as a ritual has become a routine.
Here are some definitions I really like from from Esther Perel:
“Routines are concrete repetitive actions that help us develop skills while creating continuity and order.”
“Rituals are routines elevated by creativity, driven by intention, and imbued with meaning.”
Rituals add intention, creativity and meaning while routines are about doing the same thing over and over.
Is there’s anything you do regularly in your community? Think of weekly prompts mentioned above, events with a similar format, automatic 1:1 matching of members, weekly recap emails. How can you add intention, creativity and meaning to something that might feel like just a routine?
Here’s what I’ve come up with, using the weekly prompt as an example:
- Before you write the post, check in with yourself on why you’re doing it. What’s the purpose of the weekly prompt and how does it connect with the purpose of your community?
- Weekly prompts are about giving people a way into the conversation. Who are the members who can most use an extra push to participate? Think of them as you write these posts.
- Use different formats. Instead of always having a written prompt, invite members to share videos with a tool like Athena (similar to Instagram stories but collaborative and private for your community).
- What if once in a while you hosted an impromptu event instead of just posting a question. You can then showcase the answers of the members who showed up.
- Don’t just write the same thing every week. How can the post be an opportunity to reflect back the collective mood of the community? Can you include something you read, something a community member mentioned, a fun visual? Remember it still has to be meaningful, so don’t just add a silly GIF every week.
- Can you highlight examples of the prompt that you’re already seeing in the community? That gives people an in to participate, even if it’s to celebrate the members being featured.
- Can you phrase the question thoughtfully every week. For example, for a weekly wins thread, take the weekly prompt as just a theme and vary the question:
→ What is something you made a tiny amount of progress on this week?
→ What was something that brought you joy this week?
→ Tell us about someone in your life that helped you get a win this week.
It's such a hard balance to create consistency and tradition while making things feel fun and new. If as the community leader you're feeling bored by something, that's often how it'll be received.
The good news is that having regular opportunities to check in with yourself about adding intention, creativity and meaning to everything will not only encourage more participation from your members, but will also make your job more fulfilling.