Five Easy Ways to Foster Active Online Communities

Article 4 min
Engagement is a core responsibility of a social media manager. Having an authentic presence on social media can help you to draw people in, drive valuable conversations with your audience, provide essential information and open you up to relationship and community building.

Fostering online engagement can seem daunting at first, but there are some best practices you can follow to make the job easier. Before you begin, consider your audience and the social media platform you are using to disseminate information. Your audience on Facebook can be vastly different from your audience on LinkedIn. Understand your followers and the demographics and psychographics for each platform you are utilizing. 

A focused approach on engagement will help you meet your leader's communication objectives and help to increase understanding about new policy changes, missions or programs.

If you keep your content fresh, educational, inspirational and exciting, you'll have an audience that wants to be part of your conversation and will show up to see what's next!

Incorporate the following five best practices to foster your online community.

Foster a Community

Use labels along the top to progress through scenarios. Click the learn more button for more in-depth information.

Community Best Practice #1


  • Candid
  • Credible
  • Inspirational

Use your platforms to connect on a personal level with the families, friends and communities that matter to you. Social media is an environment where most people are only showing the highlights and carefully curated moments. It can be tempting to play along and only share the most glamorous images, but viewers want brands that are genuine and willing to share real moments.

Tips for showcasing authenticity

  • Share candid photos and videos that showcase your command's personality.
  • Build credibility by giving access to moments your audience wouldn't see otherwise.
  • Speak directly to your audience in a friendly way.
  • Show your audience things they wouldn’t normally see with unique stories and behind-the-scenes images.
  • Personalize your message.
  • Speak from a “we” perspective.
  • Establish a voice/persona for the platform that stays consistent through personnel changes.
  • Share inspiring stories of your unit making a difference.
  • Remain transparent with your audience.
Be Authentic
Community Best Practice #2
Your Format

Your Format

  • Video & photo reels
  • Try templates
  • Use stories

Your goal is to make your audience stop scrolling and interact with your content. People may be online looking for something specific, like information or a product, or they may just be online because they're bored and passing the time. Watch for trends related to the day of the week, time of day and type of post. If you notice that you are getting more reactions to videos over images, then you know that your audience prefers information disseminated in a video format. Humor might work mid-day or Friday afternoons but falls flat mid-week. Don't be afraid to tinker with different combos.

Tips for adding variety

  • Use short videos on your page and in your stories.
  • Mix videos and photos in a reel.
  • Repurpose content in different content types.
  • Let pre-made templates do some work for you.
  • Grab still photos out of video clips for use in other mediums.
  • Let a video and a photo carry the same message on different platforms.
  • Share "in the moment" content.
  • Post the first 15 seconds in stories and then link to the full video.
Vary Your Format
Community Best Practice #3


  • Real-time interaction
  • Effective for events
  • High-risk

Live streaming is high-risk and potentially high reward. When you live stream, you give the audience an opportunity to attend an event virtually and get involved. Because the event is live, you can interact with the audience in real-time. Live streaming can be used for town halls and panels to take questions and give answers, but it's also an effective tool for training exercises and competitions where friends, family and other service members might tune in. If your community knows that you live stream interesting content, they'll subscribe, so they don't miss anything.

Live video is inherently risky, so careful planning should be conducted to mitigate potential issues that could lead to low-performing events or a negative impact on your unit's reputation. Before you get started, take some time to discuss if a live video is the best fit.

Tips for live streaming

  • Say hello to commenters by name and reply to their comments.
  • Answer questions or reference comments on-air.
  • Pin the best comments to the top.
  • Plan for other organizations to share the live stream.
  • Arrange to have subject matter experts (SMEs) in the comments section.
  • Plan specific replies or use links to things that help explain your topic. For example, “Follow this link to learn more about this new policy.”
  • Use polls to get people talking.
  • Vary the platforms and types of discussions; utilize Twitter Spaces and Facebook Live, and conduct online town halls and #AskMeAnything talks.
Go Live
Community Best practice #4


  • Create a schedule
  • Drive expectations
  • Platform-specific

Consistency drives expectations and keeps your audience coming back for great content on a regular schedule. For example, if you always post on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, stick to that rhythm. Social networks reward content with high engagement over relevance, so use analytics to help you determine when your audience is online and active. How often you share content depends on the platform and your comfort level. If you're a beginner, 2-3 times a week is fine. You can increase your postings as you get more comfortable and have more content.

Tips for Being Consistent

  • Use the schedule setting to post when users are most active.
  • Match your frequency to the platform (up to 5x for Twitter, 1x for Facebook).
  • Create a backlog of content that you can use for slow days.
  • Monitor analytics and adjust accordingly.
Post Consistently
Community Best Practice #5


  • Add personality
  • Encourage followers
  • Monitor conversations

One straightforward way to foster a community is to engage your audience directly. Always monitor the page activity for comments/questions that need attention, but be selective about who and what you’re responding to. Remember, fight the message, not the messenger, if the comment is unpleasant. Follow the guidelines in DoDI 5400.17 before you consider deleting.

Tips For being responsive

  • Like and reply to comments.
  • Use messenger to show there’s a person behind the page.
  • Tag other pages and groups and encourage them to tag you.
  • Add hashtags to your post to follow the conversation.
  • Correct misinformation if and when your audience shares it.
  • Encourage your audience to take the next step, i.e., a signup form or a link to read the rest of the story.
Be Responsive

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