It's difficult to initiate a discussion with someone new.
What do you talk about?
This is as much true online as it is in person.
When people arrived to our live event, we asked them to write down their name and one interesting fact about themselves on a label.
It's far easier to start a discussion when you have a clear, safe, topic to talk about.
The curious thing was that even thinking up a fun fact for many people was difficult. It's a fine intersection between being interesting, bragging, and being boring. In hindsight, we should have given a question that would have led to a fun fact.
What was your biggest failure? What is your favourite book? How many countries have you visited? Where are you going on holiday this year?
All these are simple topics to get people to talk between themselves.
If you want to increase discussions both between you and community members, and between the members themselves, it helps to have members highlight their fun facts. You want the facts that people can ask questions about.
By using the right questions, you can guide these. You can mention them in your newcomer welcome posts. e.g. 'This week we welcome Brian who once hitchhiked across Europe, Sophie who can juggle 4 objects at once and Dennis a MD of a rapidly growing company'.