5 Tips for Online Community Engagement
Increasingly, associations hear members express the desire to connect with colleagues outside annual meetings and CME events. When one of our physician members at the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM) responded to an engagement survey by saying, “In my rural practice I literally have no one to ask for clinical advice in this field,” we knew that development of a virtual or online community sharing platform had to begin.
Many online community platforms are able to share the data and market research that over time has translated into the best practices for launch and implementation of an online community. We valued this information and followed a majority of their suggestions. We also learned that through our association’s journey of sustaining a successful online community, five tenets emerged that helped guide our daily interface with the site.
1. Feed the Community
Like any other event or gathering, you have to provide attendees with diverse content and plenty of it. We solicited over 100 seed questions from leaders, highly engaged members, and a selection curated from the numerous questions received by staff. While every question was open ended many surrounded a case or patient where a practitioner could use advice, we avoided anything too controversial or politically charged. We posted every day and sometimes twice a day for the first 90 days. Four years later, the pace of discussion has never lagged from those initial days. Members adopted a mentality that if so many of their colleagues were posting, they certainly could too.
2. Everything in Moderation
It was recommended that our association cease formal moderation of our main discussion board after those first 90 days. This practice concerned us. We knew our members would maintain a high level of civility, but what we didn’t want was a post going unanswered, being answered incorrectly, or worse, someone making a recommendation to go elsewhere to find the answer.
We still moderate the main discussion page daily. This allows us to watch for trending topics and to ensure every question is answered. We utilize a committee of members and our Chief Medical Officer to address any query not addressed by a fellow member within 36 hours.
3. Love Your Code of Conduct
When a new member enters the site for the first time they are asked to agree to the Code of Conduct for the site. We also created a mechanism that requires members to revisit and accept the Code of Conduct at each dues renewal. This one-page document has guided everything we allow to be posted to the platform. It is easy to direct a member back to this reference and remind them their post will not be approved and why that decision was made.
4. Be Cautious with Self Promotion
To create a platform where dialogue and collegial coaching was encouraged, it was understood our association could not use it solely as another marketing vehicle. We applied a rule for staff around posts for products, programs, and services. For each marketing post, three strictly non-promotional posts had to go up as well. These could be educational posts, a relevant article link for our field, or an entry highlighting a member who had done something outstanding. This was extremely successful. In keeping our site from simply being a billboard for the association, we encouraged more community member engagement.
5. Inform Your In-Person Events
Our members find value in our online community platform, they rank it highly on membership surveys, and we have surpassed our goals every quarter for number of posts, number of replies, and other member engagement measures. We also use the online community as live survey of our members’ clinical concerns, practice questions, billing and coding confusions, and regulatory grief. We don’t allow conversations to happen in a vacuum; we mine these discussions and translate them into sought-after content at our large in-person meetings and educational offerings.
Utilizing these guiding principles, AAHPM has created a robust online sharing community that allows participation for all members, no matter their technological skill level. We have seen mentoring relationships form and members empowered to provide the highest and most informed level of care to their patients because of complex conversations they had online.
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