The Community Dictionary | Episode 5 – Engage

The community dictionary Episode 5 - Engage

The Community Dictionary | Episode 5 – Engage

Welcome to the Community Dictionary. This series of articles will feature the English version of the Italian spoken podcast hosted by Marta Mainieri, and produced by Produzioni Dal Basso.


First of all, let us clear the field of false beliefs: it is not easy to engage a community. Social media has accustomed us to launching a post online and generating reactions; however, managing a community is not curating a social channel that generally consists of an audience to be entertained. Managing and growing a community means, instead, launching a project, activating people, and getting them to act together. Collaborating, as is known, requires effort because it means devoting time – an increasingly precious commodity – but above all, relating to each other, exposing oneself, and overcoming barriers to meeting. It requires much more than what it takes to quickly respond to a post on social platforms.

Delivering engagement is not a sprint but a marathon

To engage a community, however, it is not even enough to organize a party, events, or a series of webinars. Even the most successful of these meetings will remain an end in itself if it’s not embedded within a long-term strategy.

There are no tricks and no deceptions then: engaging a community is not a sporadic action or even an action linked to a specific environment, but it involves the creation of a complex system of conditions that go through the entire process of community design and management: from identity building to the channels used, its offer, and its governance. And while all aspects cannot be explored in depth here, let us at least try to mention those that, more than any other, can help trigger active member engagement.

What drives engagement?

Engagement is generated, first and foremost, from a narrative capable of identifying a need and proposing a solution through collective action. A simple, easy-to-understand narrative that contains a drive for aggregation and the need to come together to achieve the goal.

    • “Single parents together to share activities, vacations, experiences,” reads the homepage of Gengle, an app dedicated to connecting single parents to share loneliness and free time.
    • “Rome is our home. Join us to take care of it,” reads instead the website of Retake, an association that promotes urban regeneration.

In both cases, a few words are enough to communicate the purpose and sense of what we are and what we can do together. This is the message that, in a simple and direct way, invites participation and aggregation. Not a useless “join the community” appeal: the word, although often overused today, remains difficult to understand and meaningless if it is not filled with the purpose for which it makes sense to join and act together.

The context as a driver for engagement

Engagement, moreover, is also fostered by building a suitable context for the meeting:

    • An environment in which those promoting the community do not communicate in a “top-down” mode but enable peer encounter and conversation.
    • An environment that is easily accessible (usable if it is a digital context), welcoming and comfortable, where members feel somewhat at home, safe, and comfortable to be.
    • A place where it is clear what can be done, who can be met, and what can be talked about. In short, a place where the rules are clear and well-defined.


Engaging through action

In addition, to really engage members, you have to make them do something. It sounds easy, but whenever community managers complain about the low participation of their members, I ask them about the activities entrusted to their members. Most of the time, the answers are often nebulous and unconvincing. Indeed, the engagement of a community cannot be measured only by responses to posts or participation in an event; this, again, is what is expected of a passive audience and not an active community. 

Instead, the participation that should be demanded of a community comes through co-designing the schedule of activities, the offerings, and co-managing at least part of the activities. The more one moves from a dimension of doing for to one of “doing with,” the more the sense of belonging grows. The more this grows, the more engagement grows. The more members are clear about what they can do, what activities to do together, and what responsibilities to take on, the more actively they will feel involved.

The role of Community Managers

Finally, to engage people, you need a good community manager. This also seems obvious, but as you may already know, it is not always the case. Not only because a good community manager is not very easy to find, as it is a new and still poorly defined profession, but mainly because it is necessary to accompany the community manager in defining all the contextual conditions that facilitate engagement, and leave the management and care of the community to him or her.

Indeed, we should be careful not to dump all the responsibility of engagement on Community Managers and to entrust them with the right amount of responsibilities and activities… but that will be the topic of our next episode.


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