Writing effective short-form engagement copy for your online community

Writing effective short-form engagement copy for your online community
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If you’ve ever been to a party where you didn’t know anyone, you’ve probably experienced the awkwardness of standing on the sidelines. Usually, what determines if you end up heading home early or sticking around is simple: whether or not someone makes an effort to invite you into the conversation. Online communities are no different. Read on for tips on how to write engagement copy for your online community.

Inviting community members into the conversation

When your members first join, they’re similar to that lone guest at a party—except sometimes, none of them know each other. As the community builder, or “host,” you can help your members get situated by being that friendly face who invites them into the fold.

This is usually done through prompts: short-form engagement copy posted by the online community builder to help set the tone and invite new voices into the conversation. There’s a bit of an art to writing engagement prompts, and in this article, we’ll break down some of the core elements that make great ones.

Use a genuine, casual tone

The tone you use when writing your blog or newsletter for your business versus texting your friends is different. Just like any medium, writing prompts will require you to hone a particular tone you’ll use when writing in that channel. This can vary depending on the context of the community, but usually a casual, conversational, and positive tone is appropriate.

If you’re an experienced writer, you may find it easy to switch between writing in different tones. If not, it can be challenging to spot the elements of writing that influence tone. Here are a couple of examples of how you can keep your writing friendly and conversational:

  • Use contractions when possible: replace “I am” with “I’m,” etc.
  • Use simple, straightforward language: replace “commence” with “start”; “utilize” with “use”
  • Write to “one person”: replace things like “I wanted to let our community members know…” with “I wanted to let you know…”

With practice, you’ll get the hang of writing in this style, and it’ll start to feel natural. Remember—this writing style should feel approachable and inviting but not immature. Avoid leaning on things like excessive emojis, exclamation marks, or informal acronyms.

Give context

Short-form engagement copy for your online community should always include some context to help members get situated before they respond. This can also help members who aren’t up to speed. Think of this as if you were chatting to someone new, and you wanted to ask them a question about a TV show you were watching. You’d first ask them if they’d seen the show. If not, you’d probably explain the plot before moving on with the conversation.

Giving context can be as simple as providing a couple of sentences of information in your own words before asking a question, or it can mean linking to a short article or video that members should look at before responding. Just remember to keep the context short—they should be able to read the post and be ready to respond within a minute or two.

Linking to long or complicated context, or introducing totally new ideas in your prompts may cause members to get lost or confused. If you find yourself wanting to do this, that could mean it’s a great candidate for a workshop or guest speaker within your community.

Include a “call to connection”

You’ve probably heard of a “CTA” or “call to action”—the button on a page or email that asks readers to take some action (like subscribing to your newsletter or buying your product) after providing valuable information. The best community engagement posts have this, but we refer to them as a “call to connection.” Basically, a call to connection is just a question you ask members to invite them into the conversation. A call to connection should specify how you would like members to respond (i.e., by commenting, creating a post, or registering for an event).

As a rule of thumb, community posts usually have a single call to connection. Many community builders make the mistake of asking members a long list of related questions in a single post. This will usually overwhelm members and cause them to lose interest. Try to pick the most relevant or engaging question, and save the others for future posts (Pro tip: Keep a spreadsheet of questions or topics you’d like to post about that you add to continuously).

Lead with value

Your goal with any engagement copy for your online community is to draw people into a conversation. But, don’t forget that the goal of engagement is to create value for your members and your business. Don’t try to to garner engagement for engagement’s sake. Many community builders accidentally fall into the trap of “stirring the pot” in their communities. Or they create controversial, “click-bait-y” prompts that may be designed to get lots of interaction, but don’t deliver actual value.

A good way to avoid this is to imagine what the thread you’re starting would look like if only five people respond. Is there enough to discuss with a small number of people? Does the prompt leave room for responses that are relevant enough that a member who doesn’t respond might find value from reading them? Using open-ended questions (like “what do you think about x?” or “how would you approach y?”) are more effective than closed questions with single answers.


Annotated example

Now that we’ve explored some best practices for creating engagement prompts for your community members, let’s take a look at an example prompt for Teachable’s own community, teachable:hq. In this example, we’ll imagine the community manager is trying to start a conversation around email marketing.

Hey, teachable:hq! Happy Friday. I wanted to start a conversation about something I hear you talking about a lot here: email marketing. Email marketing is a really important way to build an audience for your online course and help them get to know you before you try to sell anything, but it can be hard to get subscribers.

A strategy I know a lot of you use is lead magnets (or, giving something valuable away for free in exchange for an email address). Today I wanted to ask you to share your most popular lead magnet in the comments (plus, why you think it’s so successful). Excited to read through these and see what patterns emerge!  

Let’s break down this example a bit:

  • Casual tone, simple language, contractions where possible, and addresses a single reader
  • Shares context that explains what “email marketing” and “lead magnets” are to any readers who may not know
  • Clearly invites members into the conversation, and gives them one single action to take (share their most popular lead magnet and explain why they think it worked), and explains where/how (in the comments)
  • Valuable even to those who don’t respond. It’s easy to imagine some readers may not yet have a lead magnet or email list, but they’ll still gain value from reading the responses of those who do.

Final thoughts

Now that we’ve walked through how to create effective engagement copy for your online community, you may be wondering how often you should be posting things like this. The answer is a bit flexible—it depends on how frequently you want members to visit your community. Usually, especially near the inception of a new community, your posting cadence should mirror the habit you want your new members to build.

However, before you assume that every community wants members to visit daily, return to what we learned about leading with value. Don’t just focus on garnering a high volume of engagement for its own sake. Instead, think about what type of engagement style will add the most value.

There are many scenarios where a community’s membership may be extremely busy. In this case, it might be helpful to assume they’ll visit the community once a week. On the other hand, some communities require daily practice of a new skill, where you might expect members to visit more often.

Engage with intention

Overall, it may be helpful to keep in mind that it’s absolutely OK to take breaks from your posting schedule. Most communities display noticeable seasonality in their engagement patterns. For example, they’ll tend to slow down during the summer or around the holidays.

As a community leader, letting your members know you’re taking a break to recharge with your family, and encouraging them to do the same can actually be a powerful way to build trust and a genuine connection with them. “Always on” isn’t realistic for anyone, and our communities should reflect that.

Lastly, it’s important to keep in mind that every prompt you create is a small test that can help you learn more about what resonate with your community. If you do these multiple times a week, you can learn a lot. In addition to these practices, you’ll also be testing what topics interest them. This could give you some great, pre-validated ideas for your next course launch. Good luck, and happy engaging!

Noele Flowers

Noele Flowers, Noele Flowers is the former Community Manager at Teachable and an expert in building communities. She's currently at Commsor building education for community managers. In her free time, she loves cooking, writing music, and home brewing kombucha.

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