Increase Online Community Engagement by Featuring Real Customer or Members

There are a host of reasons why members join private online communities. They’re likely looking to capitalize on a specific value proposition that your community has to offer—unique content, access to resources, networking ability, etc.

However, joining a community and participating in a community are two very different actions with differing motivators.

Our friend Rich Millington at Feverbee recently ran a post about the tiers of motivation for participating in an online community. The very first tier is “immediate ego gratification,” which Rich defines to mean that members want two things:

  1. Validation
  2. To be unique

One simple way your online community can help your members achieve this tier of motivation for participation is by systematically giving community members recognition.

Highlighting real people from the online community as a way to humanize and bring members back to your community can be as simple as giving them the chance to envision themselves in the featured stories, profile articles, and videos you post that feature other members. By being able to see themselves as featured members someday, new participants might be motivated to further their own participation in hopes of achieving the same level of recognition. This is how they foresee their own uniqueness contributing to the community.

While featuring members can be a big draw for new members and increased engagement from current members, haphazard recognition misses opportunities for engagement and runs the risk of petering out over time. Increasing customer or member engagement by highlighting community members should be part of your overall community management plan.

Here are a few guidelines to get you started.

Where Should You Feature Members?

Blog Posts

You could consider creating a formal “featured member blog” or including a short feature in your main community news blog. How you choose to incorporate featured member into your blogs will likely depend on the frequency and scope of the honor. Is this a weekly recognition or basic member spotlight? Or, is it a more thorough profile piece?

Email Newsletter

Highlighting members in your email newsletter can be a great way to drive members back to the community. Let’s say you post a featured member blog post. Include a link and short preview in your email newsletter to motivate members to check out how and why that particular member was highlighted. Stories about real members is one of the top reasons people visit private online customer and member communities.

Community Homepage and Landing Pages

If your community spotlighting members on a regular basis, such as Member of the Week or Month, make sure you include a content widget on the main community home page or a sub-community landing page to feature your members front and center. Don’t forget to include a link to the full blog post or article.

Who Can You Feature?

New Members

A great way to welcome new members to the community (and give them that validation that their ego craves) is to feature them in the community. This can start their networking off on the right foot and make them feel more welcome in the community (sense of community is a very important metric). It can also accelerate their journey from new member to contributing member.

New Active Members

If you have a new online community member who has shown particular initiative in participating, reward their activity by highlighting their story. This demonstrates that their participation is not going unnoticed and will highlight the fact that engagement is recognized to other new members.

Most Active Members

Featuring members who respond in the forums, blog a lot, start relevant discussions is a great way to reward members for their engagement. Again, simple recognition can go a long way in showing members that your community values the time and effort they’re putting in.

Helpful Members

Specifically highlighting how members are engaging and contributing in the community is another great way to recognize strong participation. If you have certain members who are regularly answering questions in the discussion forums or frequently adding great content to your resource library, featuring them as a model community member can show your appreciation and motivate others to do the same.

External Recognition

If one of your community members has recently achieved something notable outside of the community, such as an industry award, continue that recognition within your community. Not only does it demonstrate that you’re paying attention to member accomplishments, but it opens the door for further networking for your members.

Working on Interesting Project

Similarly, if one of your members is in the middle of an interesting project, has disclosed a recent accomplishment, or is working on notable research, showcase their work by making them a featured member within the online customer or member community.


Let your members in on the process by allowing for nominations for featured members from the entire membership or specific sub-groups and committees. Leverage built-in survey feature in your online community software platform to manage nominations.

Event Attendees

Not only does featuring recent event attendees applaud event attendance, but it also brings further awareness to your event and the various ways members can get involved in your community. Tip: This tactic can also work to highlight an upcoming event by featuring a volunteer event organizer, like the sessions chair, and giving them a chance to talk about the event.

How Can You Feature Members?

Standard Profile

A profile piece would be your basic “getting to know you” character summary that you typically see in magazines or newspapers—the standard background info that highlights the base facts about your featured member.

Standard Set of Questions

In this approach, you ask the same 3-5 questions of all your featured members. Some might be casual or silly (like guilty pleasure or first job out of college) and some might be serious, but the overall goal is to show a little more human detail about your member than their online community profile might share.

Video Interviews

In order to “put a face to a name” of your featured members, video interviews can allow them to show a little more personality and become more than just their profile picture to the community. They are easy and quick to produce and load into your online community platform.

If their online community member profile speaks for itself, you can simply feature them with a brief blurb and a link to their profile. This might motivate other members to update and enhance their profiles when they see such great examples.

Companies or membership organizations are commonly stymied by the prospect of motivating customers or members to be features, provide a case study, or get more involved their customer advocacy program. They ask, “how can we entice our customer or members to be highlighted when it also helps us grow our community and meet our goals?”

This question is relevant when it comes to featuring members in your private online community. Organizations often think that since featuring online community members serves to drive sustained engagement in the community (a primary goal of the organization), they need to provide monetary rewards or additional benefits beyond the basic recognition of the feature.

In truth, this is a decision your community will have to make for itself. Some online communities do reward featured members—whether it’s with a gift card, discounted event registration, or a credit to the online store—and it works well for them. However, for most online communities (and customer advocacy programs in general), monetary compensation is the wrong approach.

If you are planning to include a monetary reward, consider these four arguments first:

#1) You Don’t Have To

Most of your members are not participating in your community for the small payoff that would come with a monetary reward. They’re more focused on being accepted and recognized, building a personal brand, and helping others in the community. Giving customer, partners, or members a chance to tell their story and highlight their accomplishments is usual the only value proposition they need.

#2) It Changes the Dynamic

A reward takes the focus away from the reason they’re being recognized and muddies the waters of both your motivation for featuring them and their contribution to the online community.

#3) You Can’t Afford Them

While the gesture is appreciated, paying an executive or STEM professional with a $25 gift card or store credit can seem disproportionate to the how they value their time. The gesture can diminish the value of your online community in the eyes of members.

#4) Some Members Can’t Accept Gifts

Some of your members might not even be able to accept a reward in exchange for being featured in your private online community, particularly if they’re government or NGO employees. This creates an unnecessary complication when you can reward some featured members, but not others.

Featuring Members to Increase Online Community Engagement Takeaway

Highlighting real members (community members’ peers) in your online community is a great way to get busy members’ attention and drive them back to your online community.

However, when you first approach a customer or member about being featured in your community, stress that you want to highlight their story and their accomplishments.

While featuring members helps your community by promoting engagement and encouraging further participation, you also want it to be seen as a brand-building and recognition opportunity for your members.

Create a system of featuring members that works to the advantage of both your community and the deserving participants in your community.