online community expertsI recently had the pleasure of interviewing two folks, one from an association and another from a nonprofit, about how they leverage an online community to connect with their members and achieve their organization’s goals. I met with Todd Laudino, Senior Program Manager of Strategy and EdTech Solutions at the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), and Elle Lindley, Community Manager at the Climate Reality Project (CRP). 

The NASSP community that Todd manages was developed specifically for advisors who work with student leadership for individual chapters of the National Honor Society, a program run by the NASSP. Todd shared that this community is interesting because it’s focused on activities that fall outside the participant’s primary job role. The advisors have a primary role as educators and serve as a National Honor Society advisor as a secondary role. 

Climate Reality Project’s community is called Reality Hub and it was created for individuals who have taken a training with the organization’s founder Al Gore and have been trained on how to lobby, advocate and communicate with elected officials, peers and people in their community about the climate crisis. The community helps those people find new ways to get involved in the climate crisis and share their experiences with one another. 

We covered many interesting topics during the discussion, but here are some of my top takeaways: 

1. The Most Engaging Content Comes from Your Users  

When looking at the posts and topics within the community that perform the best, Todd found that this content mostly comes from other participants in the community, and not from his or NASSP staff. He found that giving a nudge to certain users was really helpful. “You get a lot of traction with your posts…are there other topics that you would like to share or discuss?” 

Elle agreed that it’s helpful for her staff to be engaging in the community regularly to keep the conversation going. This includes sharing relevant news and resources to educate users and ensure that they’re making the most of the community. Elle shared, “We have found that the more you put into your community, the more you get out of it.” CRP’s Community Coordinator will put draft summaries of news articles and post them in the community, which will drive a lot of commentary and input from community users. 

2. You Get to Connect People Who Likely Wouldn’t Meet In-Person 

Todd shared the NASSP’s advisor community helped reduce advisor turnover. His team realized that if they could meet with these people and engage them early in the process and give the more tenured advisors the opportunity to provide mentorship to new folks, this helps form a type of collective among advisors across the country. Todd shared that there was no connection between advisors prior to the community.  

Historically, National Honor Society advisors from different states likely wouldn’t meet one another unless it was at an in-person conference. The community allows people to connect from across the country…and do so when they’re available. Not everyone is able to attend a live virtual or in-person event. The posts and comments in the community are added to throughout the day so that people can check in and leave their thoughts when they’re free. 

3. Your Community Can Serve as a Safe Space 

Elle shared that the community really functions as a safe space for users in a way that’s different from a social media platform like Facebook. Because her organization is focused on an issue that has become a partisan or polarized topic in recent years, CRP users may not feel comfortable sharing their views or opinions on a public platform. Users within the community know that the other people there are equally invested in this issue. 

But Todd felt the same way about his community. Advisors often use the community to crowdsource ideas and elicit input. They can share their issues and experiences with one another and not be concerned about principals, parents or other stakeholders seeing this content before their ideas are “fully baked” and ready to share with a larger group. The community is a reliable and trustworthy area for advisors that is unlike any of their other digital channels like their website, social media, etc. 

4. The Community Helps Quantify Value for Donors and the Leadership Team 

In addition to providing connections among their users and inspiring them to take action, Climate Reality Project’s community helps them compile monthly data for donor reports about the number of members who are advocating to legislators, reaching out to media, hosting events in their community and more. Elle shared that the community reinforces the value of the organization to their donors and shows where their money is going. 

5. The Pandemic Changed How People Engaged in the Community 

It sometimes seems that the pandemic changed nearly every aspect of our lives, and the online community experience is one of them. Todd shared that there were significantly more conversations in the NASSP community over the past year about, “How do I do X, Y or Z virtually?” He said that having other individuals in the community who are going through the same things as you and seeing them share their successes and strategy was enormously beneficial for advisors. In fact, he saw more of his advisors proactively share how they pivoted their programs to virtual events and shared links to private Vimeo files or examples of how they have made a virtual setting work, in the hopes of providing support to their peers. 

Elle shared that, before the pandemic, CRP conducted in-person trainings only. When they moved to offering virtual trainings, the team received more than 10,000 applications, which was a huge increase over previous training events. While there was a bit of a learning curve to ensure that their systems could handle all of the new folks joining the trainings and interacting in the community, they’ve seen significant benefits overall.  

Historically, the organization tended to attract users who were fairly similar to one another in terms of race, age and gender. By moving to virtual training events, the organization’s user base has grown and become more diverse and there are now a wider range of perspective and points of view within the community. CRP’s leadership team has had many conversations around equity and inclusion for their program, and how to ensure a diverse group of people are able to join and participate. And the virtual training events and subsequent growth within the community has helped them move closer towards this goal.  

Learn More  

If you’re interested in hearing from Todd and Elle directly and viewing the full discussion, you can watch the on-demand webinar. In this session, you’ll learn: 

  • Why these organizations chose to launch an online community and the unique goals of this platform versus other engagement tools 
  • How they encourage participation and engagement among members and stakeholders 
  • Their biggest challenges in growing and maintaining their community 
  • The metrics they use to track engagement and measure success 
  • And much, much more. 

Watch Now