One colleague is frustrated because the forums on her membership site are getting little traction. She’s set up “pull” options for people to get e-mail alerts to new conversations. She’s posted notices to her LinkedIn group. She’s reminded people at in-person meetings. But there’s little activity.

Another colleague is frustrated because the discussions for another membership site have migrated from the online forums (where they got little traction) to a members-only Facebook group. The problem is she’s not on Facebook.

There’s no secret sauce for success.

Finding your engagement sweet spot requires a lot of trial and error.

In the first example, people aren’t joining this network for access to online forums. They’re joining to connect, in person, with other like-minded entrepreneurs. There’s no critical mass of members and no compelling reason to post questions to a discussion thread. In fact, I can think of three groups I’d go to first for the same kinds of conversations that she hopes will happen on her site. And that’s just me.

Before you send out notices, you have to give me a reason to log in. And to log in the next time too.

In the second example, the community initially formed online. It’s made up of people who are social network savvy. They’re already using Twitter, and Facebook, and probably at least one or two other social networks as well. So it makes sense that members want to have conversations where they’re already hanging out.

You can’t make everyone happy, and you could go crazy trying.

I’m sorry for the woman who’s not on Facebook. Yes, she’s being left out of conversations happening there. But that’s her choice. It doesn’t mean setting up a way for people to connect on Facebook was a mistake. In fact, judging from the robust discussions, it’s been quite successful.

Most networks don’t strike lightening in a bottle. Google+ has millions of members, but it wasn’t until Google enabled groups that I found any real value in spending time there. Whether your online community is made up of a handful of Nationals fans or half a million brand enthusiasts, your engagement sweet spot is going to depend on where your audience is and what they’re looking for from you.

Photo by pasukaru76 (Flickr)