Sometimes tiny tweaks can make a profound impact upon a community.
A situation like this is common:
An organization is struggling to get people to participate. They initiate plenty of discussions but few people respond.
Overwhelmingly, the most common problem here (especially in branded communities), are the discussions themselves. They suffer from one of five problems:
1) Boring topic. The discussion itself is too boring. It’s usually a conveying-information discussion. These get a weak response. The discussion might also be based around a topic which isn’t relevant enough to members. Try status-jockeying/bonding-related discussions. Make sure the discussion is based around a topic members have stated they are interested in.
2) Dull subject line. The subject line of the post doesn’t draw people in. There is a difference between a descriptive two words on what the post is about and then a subject line that draws people in.
3) Too formal/inhuman. The post sounds too much like corp-speak or fake-friendly. You may laugh, but this is the second most common problem we come up against. Online we’ve forgotten how to act human. A related problem is it fails to connect the question to a motivation on behalf of the sender. For example, the initiator doesn’t explain why they’re asking the question. They need their own relevancy/experiences to the topic/experience.
4) Too long. Posts that are too long don’t get a very high response. People will read hundreds of short posts before they read one long post. Keep discussions short.
5) Fails to ask a question. You might be surprised, but there are a lot of posts that simply don’t ask a question for others to answer. Don’t be coy about this, have a clear question for members to answer. Vary between open and closed questions. Closed questions tend to be better for newer communities.
If you’re trying to start a discussion, make sure you ask the question in the topic, keep it interesting to members, keep it relatively short, explain why you’re asking the question, and act like a human being.
Also, be on the lookout for discussions that are rising in popularity or have obeyed the rules above and consider making them stick threads. They’re likely to get a far higher level of response.
Simple stuff, but effective.