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Joel R

What Is The Engagement Trap (And What To Do About It)?

This is the November edition of my 2019 Year of Community series to help Invision Communities of all sizes build successful communities.  Today’s article focuses on the engagement trap - a beguiling trap that more activity is always better.  Learn how to avoid the engagement trap with community management principles and product education. 

Read other community management articles and company updates in the Invision Community Blog, a free service to help Invision Community clients start and manage successful communities.  

The engagement trap is a race to community activity for the sake of activity.  It's usually measured by simple aggregate numbers like the total number of posts, topics, likes, or members.  

You don't want members to chat.  You want members to learn, to advocate, to innovate, to educate, to support, to problem solve, and to enlighten.

Many community managers and webmasters enjoy spouting engagement numbers.  It's an easy number to brag about.  It's an easy number to find.  It's also, unfortunately, a terrible metric to measure. 

Engagement metrics are exhausting since you're aiming for higher-and-higher goals, which grow into unreasonable levels over time.  It's misleading, because it's not indicative of information exchanges or quality resources.  And it's ultimately harmful, because it encourages participation in socially-charged conversation that are ever more entertaining, more controversial, and more extreme.  You don't want members to chat.  You want members to learn, to advocate, to innovate, to educate, to support, to problem solve, and to enlighten.

Engagement metrics are marketing numbers used to measure audience size and a currency of the attention economy where you're the product.  It's an entirely wrong metric for online communities where the goal is not how big you can get, but on how you can help your members.


Your Metrics & Your Strategy

There's a famous management quote from Peter Drucker that says, "what gets measured gets managed."  What you want to measure, and therefore manage and improve, is a reflection of your community strategy and your objectives. 

Here are some ideas of what you could measure:

  • The number of questions or feedback requests that were answered in high-value boards of functional content
  • The number of educational resources that were added to a certain category 
  • The number of new topics that were posted in a growing section
  • The selection of special keywords or tags that you want to track
  • The number of informative reactions that were given out in a certain period 
  • The participation of high-value experts in your community

Segment Your Community

Not all parts of your community should be treated equally, especially if you have a large and dynamic community with several apps and categories.  Your community may have a mix of one or more of the following:

  • Educational and functional-value boards
  • Social and member-based forums and boards
  • New sections that are growing
  • Mature sections that have leveled off
  • Different content types and reactions  
  • Different groups of members

Instead of evaluating your community as one entity, segment your community.  This allows you to hyper-focus your attention and grow specific areas that match with specific objectives.  For example, I always measure the number of new topics in boards that are educational and informative, since they're high-value functional content.  I don't pay attention to mature sections that have reached saturation, but I aggressively track new sections.  

Measurement & Analysis

Invision Community ships with a powerful set of Statistics in the ACP that cover every application.  I personally spend more time in Statistics than any other part of the ACP, because it gives me the data and research to inform my decision making.  It helps me focus my attention on the sections that matter the most to my community strategy and reveals unexpected insights.  

Screenshot of Forum Topic Statistics from the IPS Admin Control Panel

The ACP won't have all of the fine-grained filtering or data reporting that you may need.  Maintain your own recording, even if it needs to be manual.  


Trying to boost engagement is a race that you'll never win.  It has nothing to do with your community strategy; it doesn't measure the value you give and receive from your audience; and it can push you to drive empty traffic with unintended consequences.

Independent communities that focus on the hard, difficult work of offering communities of indispensable value will always find growth.  It will be the right kind of growth, in the right areas of your community, with the right audience.  That's a race that will meaningfully empower your members and your community to the finish line.  

What are the most important metrics that you measure?  Or are you in the engagement trap?  Share in the comments below and see how other IPS clients can help.    

Are you looking to start a successful community powered by the statistics and content management of a modern community platform?  Get in touch with IPS, Inc. for a discussion and product demo

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