This is a cross post from the blog, Newspaprgirl. Author Janet Thaeler asked me to share my top five rules of community engagement and I was happy to oblige. Janet is currently working on a book about online marketing.

Have you ever struck up a conversation with a complete stranger in the checkout line at the grocery store once you both realize the line hasn’t moved in the last ten minutes?

Perhaps you’ve locked eyes briefly with a parent as you both painfully watched another parent manhandle their screaming 3-year-old at the park.

The connections you make with strangers in these types of situations are based on a shared experience. Something that affects you both and has no bearing on whether or not you were previously acquainted.

These are the same connections we can make online, and sharing personal experiences is one of the most effective ways to engage an online community.

As a community manager, I have employed many tactics to engage members and encourage participation. Some work better than others but nothing seems to resonate more than a personal story. When you share something personal, it evokes emotion and prompts others to share similar experiences.

When I blogged about the anniversary of my father’s death, stories about dad’s who’d died too soon poured in and the level of sharing was unbelievable. The same thing happened when I recounted a time in high school when I almost froze to death while waiting for the city bus. It was as if there was suddenly a competition to see who had endured the worst winters and could recall all of the gruesome details.

If you ever want to start a conversation fast, sharing something personal will get the job done. If you share something from your own life, it is almost certain others will follow suit.

It is what I consider one of the top five rules of community engagement.

Here are the other four:

Stroke a few egos
Flattery will get you everywhere. It is imperative that you go above and beyond in this department. When you have constant contributors, and people who are vested in the best interest of the community, you have to express your grattitude. and tell them how much you need and appreciate them.

Ask questions
Never underestimate the power of a question. Ask members what they think about current events, or potential changes in the community or forum.Find out what they think about local and national issues. Ad don’t think your questions have to be intellectual. Sometimes something as simple as “What are you cooking for dinner tonight?” can create a major dialog.

Acknowledge good work
See, “stroke a few egos.” Acknowledging good work publicly is good for everyone. It encourages the contributor and shows your appreciation of their time and efforts

Accept and respond to criticism
This simply shows that you’re human. Building an open honest relationship with your community is key. When people know that you are accessible and available and willing to hear them out and respond, you build a level of respect that cannot be bought. It also illustrates your commitment to the community and how much you value their presence.

Today’s consumers are faced with infinite choices, and if you don’t provide an experience worth their time, they won’t be back.
Remember, we are living in the conversation age, where the number of choices online are infinite and the audience that was once easily bought must now be earned.

You can find out more about engaging online communities in my new book, “18 Rules of Community Engagement: A Guide for Building Relationships and Connecting with Customers Online.”

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