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So, I'm building a science and tech forum website and I need recommendations on how to make the experience for the members more engaging so that more of the membership will return, and become more active. To date, we have not seen the level of activity from current members that we'd like.

I would especially appreciate interesting ideas that folks have seen work in other communities that perhaps might not be a common best practice.

More background: Someone asked for more info on my intended community. Okay, so it's basically going to be a science and tech forum community coded from scratch by us (I'm not using any forum software), we already had it online since last year but it's still on beta version presently, and we currently do not have a good level of engagement/activities from users (i'll blame that on the uncompleted version of our forum community), so we will be finishing up our forum community hopefully ending this month, any ideas on what we can implement on the site to make our tech community stand out from others and be more social and engaging, attracting more users thus growing the community will be very much appreciated.. We do have unique contents i.e tutorials, guides etc

My question: How do we make users: both male and female engaged to our community, our community is focused on science and technology and we plan to have a sub domain where we can blog about science and tech stuffs too i.e blog.example.com...

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    This is pretty broad as written. Could you edit in some more details about your intended community? Size, demographics, level of technical engagement and Internet savvy, social properties (info site vs social network; that's a spectrum), type and depth of content -- all that stuff factors in. Please tell us more about your project. – Monica Cellio Feb 4 '16 at 23:36
  • @MonicaCellio Okay, edited :) – Tunero_Uchiha Feb 5 '16 at 8:17
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    Thanks for the edit; that helps. One more suggestion: I think you'd be better of splitting the registration question in your last paragraph into its own post. It's better to have one question per question, and this one is about attracting and keeping your audience. Conversion (getting visitors to actually sign up) is a related but different problem. Thanks. – Monica Cellio Feb 5 '16 at 14:26
  • @MonicaCellio Done! Thanks for the info.. – Tunero_Uchiha Feb 5 '16 at 14:52
  • Thanks. Please do ask your other question too when you get around to it. – Monica Cellio Feb 5 '16 at 20:13
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Thinking in terms of how to help a new viewer of your virtual community become interested enough to continue reading, return, and become motivated to react or even contribute content is the way to approach this question.

Typical social media factors would apply here. What's an optimal percentage for your community depends on the nature of your audience, and as you mentioned, the features of the actual experience. But think of it in terms of, for every 100 viewers (consumers) of content, around 10 will react (engage), and 1 will contribute. Of the 1 out of 100 (or so) that contribute, 10% of those will contribute regularly, basically becoming your super members.

Now you mentioned the expected topic areas, and thus implying the audience, but you did not mention the purpose of the community. Why does your community exist, and why would someone of your target audience want to join your community? Nailing this question is the most important part, and then understanding the nature and preferences of your intended audience is the second most important part.

For example, I help manage several Apache Software Foundation communities. The purpose of these communities is to collaboratively build open source software, and help the users of this software. We use a variety of old school, disconnected tools for collaboration and communication such as email distribution lists, git, Jira, and a wiki. Its the preferred way that a lot of our typical contributors and users want to interact with each other, and they are familiar with the tools.

So, after designing for your purpose, and your intended audience, here are other factors that will matter in creating a more engaging experience so that you can reach your optimal engagement and contributor ratios:

1. Content Good content is key to an online digital community. You won't get the viewers, and you certainly won't get them to return or motivate them to engage if you don't have good content to start with.

2. A corps of dedicated super users and experts This is partly where your good content comes from, and its with these people that new users will be motivated to interact. If this is a new community, I wouldn't go live without a commitment from 10 to 20 expert folks to post interesting, relevant, and thought provoking content on a regular basis, and to come to the site frequently and interact with content posted by the other members of your starting super user committee. These people do not need to be moderators or have any other responsibility beyond acting like the engaged, contributing super-user you seek to have more of.

3. Social interaction features that allow members to show creativity and personality. I realize this is probably the crux of your original question, but I'm going to avoid a laundry list of features. You can look at any social media service, or forum or community software and get a whole bunch of feature ideas. There's benefits and drawbacks to all, and what and how many you choose really don't matter so much as long as you have one, or a few ways to interact.

Similarly, "likes" and votes are a form of engagement, but from a community building perspective, they do little to create contributors, which should be the most important goal of building your community, unless what you are really discussing is an ad-driven media site.

4. Ways to serve relevant content to viewers quickly This would include trying to guess what a viewer might be interested in. In advanced cases, maybe you can guess a topic that drew them in, and you can suggest similar articles related to the topic they're reading. You would want to make the content searchable, and make use of strong meta information such as topic and relevance tagging, author linking, and trying to guess the nature of the users context. For example, for new users, they might come to the site as a result of a google search, or response to a social media post. The topic relevance will suggest other articles, and the experience will also ask them to log in to react to a post if they are an existing member, or find out how they can learn more about their topic of interest by becoming a member and creating a login.

As an example, I recently saw that 75% of Netflix views came from recommendations of the system to the viewer.

5. Communications Once you have contact information from your members, the best way to get them to return is to make sure they see what they're missing by not being logged into the site. In fact, in the case of the members of my communities, they don't want to be logged into a site. They'd prefer to just interact with each other over email.

You'll want to allow configurability of outbound communications so that users can decide how much "chatter" they'd want to see in their email, or text message, or social media feeds, or however you might choose to communicate. A reasonable default would be a daily digest of what's new and hot, and a weekly curated newsletter.

6. Mechanisms and ways to deal with bad experience problem-makers This would include spam, which is a never-ending issue for online forums, and trolls. These are well covered in other questions, but just know that you should plan to have a way to minimize and deal with these problems quickly when they arise. If not, this will cause your engaged members to become disengaged, and cause others to never return.

If you have an answer for all these factors: know and design for your purpose; know and design for your audience, and follow the 6 general practices, you will create an engaging site.

As far as coming up with compelling unique ideas, I'd tell you to look at your purpose, your audience, and your content to find the unique and compelling idea. For example: online editing of videos makes sense for youtube, but it would be silly for The Apache Software Foundation. The ability to annotate comments on a soundtrack makes sense for SoundCloud but will go unused on Yelp.

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    Thanks... you nailed it!! :) – Tunero_Uchiha Feb 6 '16 at 22:07
  • Mark it as answered :) – Greg Chase Feb 6 '16 at 22:08
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    done.. if only we have people like you to give us advice... well, thanks for the invaluable knowledge you've shared with us. – Tunero_Uchiha Feb 6 '16 at 22:10
  • I'm actually in a community building phase myself. And my preference is to choose a service or established software rather than build from scratch. However, I've seen big communities run out of just a github. – Greg Chase Feb 6 '16 at 22:14
  • Yeah i understand, but we're going to be a science and tech forum and we're programmers too who love to build things by ourselves... – Tunero_Uchiha Feb 6 '16 at 22:16

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