At our office we have a whiteboard in the employee lunchroom. Every morning someone on our staff writes a question on it. Some are deep philosophical ponderings; others light-hearted crowd-pleasers, but either way it gets the employees talking to one another and exploring their similarities and sometimes differences. It’s fun and interesting.
You can do the same on your online community. Ask a question. Any question. Answer it yourself first in case your audience is on the shy side. You can encourage your staff to check the question first thing every morning and add their answers as well so there are always answers. Asking people their opinions is a great way to foster and encourage connections between your members. It gives them something in common and something to talk about (Much the same way that conference attendees ask complete strangers what they thought of a particular speaker. It’s a safe subject where they can exchange interests.). It also makes members feel closer to you. You value their opinions after all and just as it stimulates discussion amidst your membership, it also gives you something to talk about the next time you see one of them. “Your answer on best dog name made me laugh and laugh.”
We do a lot of talking about asking your members what they want and molding your offerings around those preferences but there is still a partially self-serving tendency, “What do you want OUR next event to be?”. When you are asking them about their favorite sitcom from the 80s, you are asking about them only. That just feels good.