Learning DutchFour years ago, I moved to the Netherlands. I’ve been trying to learn Dutch ever since. The first couple of years, I “tried” via osmosis: I listened real hard and managed to pick up the basics.  When I started working with Dutch companies, I hoped that the translation work I was doing would magically transform my speaking skills. And there was improvement. I could understand the gist of what was being said, but I couldn’t have more than simple conversations.

About a year ago, I started dating someone whose parents didn’t speak English. The embarrassment of attending family gatherings as a mostly-mute was enough of a trigger that I decided to come up with a real plan.

When I thought about how I had previously improved other areas of my life, my yoga practice was the first thing that came to mind. In the beginning, the poses were hard and my muscles were sore after every class. But as I practiced more regularly, I was able to do more and the soreness decreased. Eventually, I even taught classes myself.

So I applied the same technique to learning Dutch and added studying to my daily routine. Every day, I wake up, do yoga, make coffee, and then study. By doing it first every day, I make sure that nothing else gets in the way. So while my progress is still very slow, there is steady progress.

This rationale can be applied to just about anything we want to improve. So when community managers ask my advice for improving engagement in their communities, I advise setting aside a portion of time to work on improving something every day. Even if it’s something small, there will be progress:

  • Add new resources
  • Highlight upcoming events
  • Respond to unanswered questions
  • Ask people to contribute
  • Improve the look & feel
  • Acknowledge someone’s contribution or achievement

Of course, while every update doesn’t need to be significant, it should be valuable. An online community is successful when it offers members something they need. It’s important to review your goals, and make sure that the content you are updating is in alignment with the needs of your community.

For example, if your community functions as a resource hub, focus on adding new documents to the library or highlighting important files to your users. Or, if you want to create a better networking environment, focus on creating “community” or just making it easier for members to find each other.

The important thing for making progress, is to do a little every day. “Alle beetjes helpen, zei de mug, en ze piste in de zee.