This fall, we talked with more than 75 leaders to inform the next issue of our Practice Papers—from C-Suites to program managers. Across these interviews you’ve told us that engagement is mission-critical yet there are no standards and few common practices.

Through December, we’ll continue our research, and in February we’ll publish these combined insights along with tools you can use. As we move forward, our research is centering on a set of ideas we want to share and invite your participation in.


Invest in the ties that bind.

Our interviewees described methods to build community that range from self-organizing teams of users, to rewarding gig economy workers for taking the extra step to help their customers. In each case, the organization is creating lasting connections between audience members—rather than just your brand—to deliver measurable results. Those that enable audience interactions beyond the core service are reaping returns when it comes to loyalty and influence.


Listen for the whispers.

Some of the most engaged communities we’ve studied formed around the things people are afraid to talk about. One interviewee phrased them as “whisper communities”. If you can hear what your audience is whispering about, from personal finance to sex lives to food insecurity, community will likely form. The challenge for you is the ability to create a safe place for those whispers to become authentically shared stories around which communities can coalesce.


Find what people will do, not just say.

Organizations are still relying on what people say they’ll do—as captured in surveys, user data or NPS scores—only to watch them do something very different in real life. Some of you are pushing the limits on user research through ethnography, in-market pilots, prototype testing and gamification. These practices bring qualitative insights into a traditionally data-heavy environment. What constitutes a best practice is still TBD, but the trend to move from hard data to human behavior is clear.


Community measurement needs a playbook.

Many of the leaders we spoke with agreed that the old metrics tell a limited story. Clicks and user behavior can predict my next transaction, but do they tell you what I need to find belonging among other users? We heard time and time again that a new “playbook” is needed that reflects the demands and dynamics of your community—one that develops buy-in and aligns internal teams, but also requires new skill sets and organizational sophistication.


Help us explore these ideas further.

First, if these insights resonate with you, tell us—a quick email works. Second, we have a few interview slots remaining—can you recommend one more person we should talk to? Send us your introduction.

Thank you for helping us advance the field of engagement.