14 Hacks to Reverse Employee Community Engagement Decline

The "Big Bang Theory" is a TV show, not a community theory. Prevent engagement decline by gradually introducing your employee community. Credit: Talk Social To Me

The "Big Bang Theory" is a TV show, not a community theory. Prevent engagement decline by gradually introducing your employee community. Credit: Talk Social To Me

Does your company have an employee community or enterprise social network that is seeing a decline in engagement? Engagement decline is a serious problem that community managers have the power to address (or prevent if your community isn’t yet introduced!). Whether your engagement decline happens in the first two weeks or the first 100 days, it’s an early warning signal that you have more work to do to make the community indispensable for employees.

Why does your community engagement drop? There are many factors: the excitement of the new community has worn off, employees are busy and have stopped posting, they don’t know why to continue contributing. Perhaps your executives aren’t engaged or employees have technology fatigue. 74% of employees confirmed the existence of change fatigue in their companies, according to a 2015 Ketchum study on Maximizing the Business Impact of Change.

Engagement decline is real and employees tend to return to whatever captured their time and attention before the online community arrived. At the same time, a drop in engagement is normal. So - have hope, community managers! There are many ways to plan for and even prevent community decline. Here's what we recommend over at Talk Social to Me.

Decline Prevention Hacks - making sure you minimize engagement decline

  • Start with a Handshake. As you introduce the community, think of it as just that:  an introduction, not a “launch.” Communities run alongside the business and grow over time. They aren’t launched, they’re introduced. Teach people to talk about the community as something infinite for the business, rather than just another technology campaign.
  • The Seatbelt Sign isn’t on. You're not flying an airplane, so stop using the word “pilot.” Employees rarely invest time and attention in a program that might be discontinued. Be mindful of human nature and create a new way to pitch your experimental community. For example, call the first groups you enable “scout” or “inception” groups. This creates a sense of exclusivity and responsibility among the first wave of your users who’ll know (from the language) that their role is to help future users.
  • The Big Bang Theory is a TV show, not a community strategy. Introduce your community gradually instead of all at once. This warms people up to shifting their communication and helps get early adopters on board first to champion it. Your vendor may think otherwise; push back.

Correcting Hacks for Decline - once you're headed down, here are steps to climb back up

  • Find Your Advocates! Every company has senior leaders who encourage their people to use the community for work or learning. Advocates also regularly meet with executives and can encourage them to get involved—listening first to employee conversations and then investing time to answer and contribute. Advocates “influence up” to the CEO and “down” to their direct reports. Find them, listen to them, and empower them with the best information available about engagement. Their activity will create positive waves.
  • Middle Management is the Critical Link. Sit down with middle managers, one by one, to invest in a permanent communication change. Convincing them to shift work-related communications to the community will pull their people along and give purpose to employees seeking out what’s in the community.
  • Walk the Management Catwalk. Teach group leaders and middle managers to openly model collaborative interactions with each other. Employees don’t often know where to get started and will watch from the sidelines until they see their leaders walking the walk.
  • Incorporate Community Activity into Employee Performance. Partner with HR to incorporate community activity into performance evaluation criteria. For a faster “win,” ask your C-level executives to email a thank-you note to the best 3 collaborators each quarter, making sure to copy recipients’ supervisors.
  • Create a Community Hot Seat. Reach out individually to disengaged users to understand why they left and assess what needs they have that the community didn’t solve. Use their feedback to pursue improvements and ask for their help to drive engagement as those needs get met.

Fast and Furious Tactics - community managers can execute on these immediately

  • Host a Random Coffee Connection. Invite 30 users to meet up in person and host a fun, brief matchmaking session for professional networking. Encourage attendees to share their community experiences. Bridging online and offline activities solidifies your community’s value and makes it more “real.”
  • Find the Bright Ideas. Have a senior leader ask for product, service, or internal improvement ideas in a group dedicated to ideas one time each quarter. She can select 2-3 ideas to implement and community leaders can report back on progress. Making ideas come to life is one of the best ways to re-engage a community because it shows executive interest and business impact.
  • Let’s Do Lunch. Host 1:1 meetings with team leaders, program managers, and project leads over lunch to support their team’s move to the community in a low-pressure environment. The friendly, simple nature of these meetings is a simple grass-roots way to build engagement one small team at a time.
  • Weekly Roundup. Highlight interesting threads, interesting people and highly engaging content from across the community in a “Weekly Roundup” post that is sent via email or in the community. Link all content back to its source in the community, mentioning authors and contributors for their work. These roundups offer a glimpse of what disengaged users might find if they join – and they recognize contributors across the entire organization.
  • I Spy Campaign. Recognize generous acts of employee support (like training, or offering advice and time) that are happening in the community by thanking the participants in intranet articles, newsletters, or in senior level communications. Include the back story and a link to the activity in the community to show that the company takes pride in community-generated support.
  • Spring Cleaning. So, you have 5,000 groups in your community? We bet most of them aren’t active. Do a Spring Cleaning of your groups with fewer than 2 people and those that haven’t been active in 90 days. Archiving or deleting these groups will push people into more collaborative spaces and increase engagement.

Avoid These Tempting Tactics

There are a few incentives that don’t work. We encourage you to avoid these as you aim to open up or re-invigorate your community:

  • Gift cards as rewards. This approach motivates the wrong behavior. You want the employees engaging for the community's own sake, not for a free cup of coffee.
  • Employee adoption contests. When you pit teams or regions against each other to see who can create the most employee adoption, it never works. This tactic creates a one-time swarm of activity followed by burnout when the novelty wears off or the contest ends.
  • Executive song and dance. Bringing in an executive for one live-streamed town hall or Q&A session only works if it happens on an ongoing basis. Employees want to see executive participation beyond a one-time or token activity. It needs to be a regular occurrence.

The lesson? All engagement activities should drive value (to the business and among employees) over time and on an ongoing basis. What are the tactics and the programs you have used to reverse engagement decline? We want to hear from you!

Rachel Medanic, a community manager for Talk Social To Me, is an online community, content and social enthusiast. She's worked with Cisco, Intuit and startup companies on their community and audience relationships. Rachel loves word play, puns and creating portmanteaus on the fly.