If you want to increase engagement, you have three channels open to you.
This is by far the most common (and least effective) approach.
In this approach, you improve what you’re already doing. You might improve and upgrade the design of your community, develop a better journey for newcomers, initiate more exciting and engaging discussions. You might work with top members to deliver, better, quicker, responses to community questions.
This is still definitely worth doing, but there’s a law of diminishing returns at play here. You can spend a huge amount of time and resources to see paltry returns. Once you have gotten your community to a high standard, there are better channels to increase engagement.
This is where you try to get more people to join the community (it’s worth optimizing before growing). You need to ensure the community is featured prominently on your main site, integrate it deeply within your products/services (it should only ever be a click away), and craft newsletters or emails to your audience driving them to the community.
You can also try paid social ads, influencers, and advertising in other channels to drive more people to the community. Undertaking an SEO audit and optimizing for each is also a wise idea in many (if not most) types of communities.
Again there is a law of diminishing returns here. Once you’ve reached most of the people likely to join, you’re either reaching the same people again or reaching people less likely to join.
The third approach is the most strategic and most successful. If you want more engagement expand the focus of your community so there are more things they can engage in. In most communities, people only visit when they have a question. It doesn’t matter how nicely you ask them to participate, they won’t if they don’t have more questions to ask.
This is why you need to expand the topics your members can ask about. For example, a community focused on a software product for project managers might also create channels where project managers can ask and talk about broad project-management related topics. You might target specific audiences (newcomers, veterans, people working in specific fields) and create unique groups and areas for them.
Your goal here is to expand the value of the community to satisfy more people in your audience. Sure, they might not always be talking about the intricacies of your products and services, but they’re constantly talking in a place you control and being influenced by your biggest supporters.
This approach is research-heavy. You use a survey to develop your target audiences, identify each of their needs, and gradually expand the concept of the community to cater to each of them.
The catch is you can’t expand too fast. If you don’t have enough activity to sustain a critical mass at the topics you’re covering today, then expanding won’t help. But if you’re managing a larger and more mature community, expansion is usually the way to go.
These steps are generally sequential too. First, you improve what your community is doing today. Second, you get more people to visit the community. Third, you expand the focus of your community to satisfy more needs of more audiences.