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The Case of Flat Hillary: How TheCR Network Kept Members Engaged and Connected During a Slow Time

Depending on your community, you may be heading toward a drop in engagement over the holidays. Community members are busy shopping, cooking, and hosting or attending holiday parties. While communities aligned with these activities may see higher engagement around the holidays, many communities will see a drop. As a community manager, you are probably busier than normal as well, and a drop in engagement is not what you want to worry about right now.

So don’t. Instead prepare appropriate content, align expectations by providing context for leadership who may not like seeing the drop when reviewing analytics, and take advantage of the quiet time to plan and build community initiatives.

The reality is that most communities will see a drop in engagement at some point during the year. Since every community is different in culture and demographic, it will vary accordingly.

At TheCR Network, our peer network for community and social professionals, we see things quiet down considerably during summer vacation and holiday season. Our community focuses on professional development and networking and we find that our members align their participation with their own work schedules. It makes sense that during prime vacation times things quiet down around the TheCR Network.

Last summer we were aware this would happen and so I set out to create an initiative that would help keep a baseline of engagement, but would also appropriately match the general tone that comes with summer and vacations. I wanted it to relate to our common variable — our work in the professional community space, but it also needed to match the fun, break from routine feeling that comes with summer vacations.

Inspired by an activity I did with my kids based on the popular book Flat Stanely, I created Flat Hillary — your friendly, flat community manager FlatHillary1-150x150ready to take a trip around the network. I introduced Flat Hillary to the community with a fun letter that laid out the rules.

  1. Take a picture of Flat Hillary, helping with your community work,
  2. Post it in the network,
  3. Sign the back, and
  4. Pass her along to the next host.

My goals for the initiative

  1. Our network is global and most of our activities are virtual and so many of our members have never met each other. I wanted to create something tactile, a physical representation that the network exists and connects our members. We all know the importance of connecting face-to-face and while Flat Hillary could not replace that, I thought receiving something you could hold in the mail would help provide a feeling of connection.
  2. I also wanted to create “member collisions” (as Jim Storer refers to it.) Hosts had to reach out to the next interested member, ask for a mailing address and send Flat Hillary along — creating more opportunities for recognition and introductions. (Oh hey, I follow him on Twitter and I think we were on a call together recently.)
  3. A third goal for the initiative was to make our community work visible. Community work can be very diverse. At times it’s sitting at a computer, but it can also be organizing and attending face-to-face meetings and events. It was really interesting to “see” where other people worked and what they chose to highlight through the pics added into the network. Some pictures elicited a response of recognition from other members (That looks like my listening station!), while others pictured highlighted an interesting facet of a member’s roll that belongs uniquely to them. It added another dimension to our connection, recognition and comfort with each other.


Flat Hillary was an immediate success. A diverse array of members signed up to participate right away and as the pictures started to roll in more members came to comment and join in the fun. As I had hoped there was a feeling of enthusiasm and fun around participation. While we were learning more about each others’ work and connecting, there was also a lot of laughter.

Flat Hillary is still making her way around the network though the engagement with the initiative was definitely higher in the summer and I think that makes sense. People were willing to engage, but it had to match their pace and headspace of summer vacation. In this example, adding a little fun was exactly what people needed to stay connected. While we found it harder to get members on roundtable calls in mid-July, we had no problem getting people to post pics and comment on Flat Hillary’s adventures.

The Flat Hillary thread is a popular discussions in the TheCR Network.

Final thoughts

We usually don’t recommend micro-analyzing your community metrics to avoid panicking at natural lulls in engagement. Instead, keep a big picture view and find trends of high and low engagement. And while a drop in engagement can be perfectly normal (and unavoidable), understanding trends will allow you to plan and create appropriate content and programs.

As you become aware of quiet times in your community plan for it. During times of high activity you may spend a good portion of your day in reactive mode and have a hard time working on strategy or moving bigger projects forward. These quiet times are the perfect time to plan, write and build uninterrupted.


TheCR Network is a membership network that provides strategic, tactical and professional development programming for community and social business leaders. The network enables members to connect and form lasting relationships with experts and peers as well as get access to vetted content.

TheCR Network is the place to collaborate with and learn from social business practitioners.  Join today

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