The anatomy of a great post

No more crickets

It’s Wednesday, June 14th, and today we’re talking about the elusiveness that is community engagement. Specifically, why even the most brilliant conversationalists fail.

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The Main Idea

I posted this on LinkedIn yesterday, and it was my least-engaged-with post in a very long time.

Ironic, eh? Let it be a monument to how tricky this stuff is.

Picture this: You're at a lively gathering surrounded by inspiring individuals who share your interests. The conversation flows effortlessly, laughter fills the air, there is lively chatter in every corner, and you leave with a stronger network than when you arrived. Transport that scene to the digital space, and suddenly things become a tad more complex.

In digital communities, we can't rely solely on the spontaneity and non-verbal cues that enrich in-person conversations. Moving into the virtual world calls for an adaptation in our approach, but more often than not, people assume that they can simply type what they would say in person and get the same response.

I’ve made a lot of community posts in my career. Some have been highly engaging, and some have been flops. Maddeningly, there was no correlation between effort and engagement, only between structure and engagement.

There were times I had been thinking long and hard about something quite personal and poured a lot of effort into articulating my thoughts, only to be met with apathy such as the LI post above.

There are other times that I had an off-the-cuff thought, gave it far less effort, and it was met with fanfare:

The structure is what matters.

But before we get there, a quick list of the reasons I think so many people (especially community managers) fail at crafting compelling posts:


Lazy posting. Received zero responses.

Yeah, this may be a harsh thing to say, but it's true. Whether it's fluffy inspirational quotes or shared content without context, there has been no real effort to either:

  • Give the sort of details people care about -or-

  • Pay enough attention to the community to understand what they really care about

It's worth noting that I see a lot of lazy posts by community managers who are just trying to check "engage in the community" off their to-do lists. (I swear if I see one more "what's everyone trying to accomplish today?” post…)

Lack of context

Online, context is more than king; it's a win-win act of efficiency. Context allows people to give way better answers and lessen their cognitive load.

Ambiguity: Speaking of cognitive load, if you want great answers, make it easy to get them. Don't post a novel about your idea and say "what do you guys think?".

What do we think of what? Your writing style? The taste of Yoohoo? Ask for specifics.


Zero comments. Zero cares.

Teaching mostly belongs to content strategy, not community interactions. People join communities because it fulfills something deeper than what they're fed on social media channels.

A misunderstanding of digital conversations

This is a big one and requires more elaboration:

Any rudimentary research on what makes a good conversationalist will turn up the same sort of results, mainly:

  • Be interested in the other person (to be interesting, be interested).

  • Listen more than you speak.

  • Hold direct but non-confrontational eye contact.

  • Ask open-ended questions.

  • They practice active listening.

  • They are well-read.

But the majority of these do not translate well to digital conversations. We can't listen more than we speak or hold eye contact. Well-read? Sure, but most people will Google before responding if need be.

The most paradoxical piece is that of being "interested to be interesting". In a face-to-face conversation, I can turn to you and say, "Have you got any exciting plans this weekend?", which isn't the strongest subject but will get a response and likely lead to more conversation. That same sentence, when posted in any intelligent community, is likely to be met with silence.

This is because there is a sort of rapport chasm inside virtual communities. People don't know you. They can't see your expression and get a sense of your character. They’re not stuck in a room with you. This makes this kind of questioning move from a sign of high EQ to a sign of mediocre EQ. It starts to feel phoned in at best, intrusive at worst.

So what does work?

As mentioned above, the structure of a good post matters. I break it down into four pieces:

  1. Hook

  2. Background

  3. Vulnerability

  4. Clear ask

Hook: I hesitate to use this word since it’s so often used when talking about content, but it’s accurate and honest: if you want people to care, you need to open with something clear and compelling.

Background: What led us here? What do people need to know? (key word: need; as Wes Kao would say, start your story right before you get eaten by the bear.)

Vulnerability: This part is optional because it doesn’t fit every post, but when it does, it is the fulcrum that will tip engagement in your direction. You’re human. Be one. Be transparent. Be vulnerable. Be squishy.

Clear ask: What do you want? Advice? Stories? Anecdotes? If you’re performing a soliloquy, don’t expect much.

My vulnerability has always been a superpower. It’s not so much that I am unafraid to be vulnerable, it’s more that I don’t think about an alternative. It accidentally pours out of me (which sometimes sucks), but I can say with certainty that it has also opened the door for some of my most memorable conversations and connections.


A few things I’ve read this week that are worth soaking in:



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