As online community builders, we spend a lot of time focusing on attracting new members to our community. However, the biggest mistake I see is the lack of attention given to the onboarding experience for new community members.
When someone new joins a community, they may feel lost or overwhelmed, especially if the community is large or has a lot of content. It’s similar to the feeling of arriving late to a party that’s already in full swing, and feeling shy or awkward introducing yourself.
At the most basic level, on-boarding new members is the process of introducing them to the community and helping them become active and engaged members. On-boarding provides new members with the guidance and support they need to become familiar with the community and start participating. If you do on-boarding right, can help new members feel welcome, valued, and motivated to contribute to the community.
Remember, the easy part is bringing new members to your community. The hard part is getting them to engage and stay active. Here are a few tips to create an awesome onboarding experience:
Give your New Community Member a Welcome
Providing a welcome message is a simple but effective way to make new members feel valued and included in your community. Ideally, this message should be personalized and come from a community member or current member. A welcome message can go a long way in making a new member feel at ease and more comfortable participating and contributing to the community.
Examples of content that you can include in the welcome message are a brief introduction to the community, an overview of the groups/sub-groups they can join, links to important resources, and an invitation to ask questions.
Ideally, on-boarding new members through direct messages is the way to go. However, if you are on-boarding a large number of members simultaneously, you may need to come up with a more scalable strategy.
To accomplish this within platforms like Mobilize, I suggest creating a sub-group dedicated to newly onboarded members. Within this sub-group, you can create a “Highlights” post — this would be a welcome message that you pin to the top of the sub-group. This helps move your community member along the Commitment Curve (see below) and gets you those crucial quick engagement hits right when they join.
If you can encourage newly onboarded members to read the post and engage with it (e.g. leave a comment to introduce themselves), you will have achieved two types of engagement right from the start: (1) Click and read/view a post; (2) Post a comment.
Give Your Community Member a Guided Walkthrough of Your Platform
Now that you have achieved some initial engagement, it’s time to give your new community member a tour of the venue. A tour for new members allows them to explore the community in an organized way, so they don’t feel like they’re randomly clicking or tapping around the platform to see what’s available.
You can point out how to find sub-groups, how to access specific resources, and even direct them to a poll to increase engagement. The idea here is to avoid just dropping them into the community and expecting them to find their way through it.
The easiest way to do a walkthrough is to record a video using tools like Loomly or Vidyard. When recording these videos, don’t forget to use sub-titles!
Technology platforms like Mobilize also have a great feature called “Custom Flows” which allow you to build chat bubbles with call outs that direct your members to specific parts of the application.
I have used custom flows with several of the communities I manage, and it has been an invaluable tool for engaging our new community members. As previously mentioned, we add all new members to a “New Member On-Boarding” sub-group. Inside this sub-group, we have developed a series of around 8–10 custom flows that guide new members through the platform and ask them to perform specific activities, such as answering a poll.
Best of all, we can get metrics on how well people are engaging with the custom flows. We can also determine where people are dropping off from the guided walkthrough, as we receive reporting on how far someone has progressed through the series of 8–10 custom flows.
Here’s an example of a Custom Flow from Mobilize
Think of guided onboarding as taking someone by the hand at a party, showing them around the different rooms, and even introducing them to other party-goers. As you can imagine, this helps a lot in getting the new member comfortable in the community.
Get Your New Community Members to Start Participating
So, you’ve welcomed a new member and given them a tour of your community. Now it’s time to get them to start participating! As a seasoned Community Manager, you know that most people are “lurkers” in a community, and your job is to encourage them to stop lurking and start participating. This is one of the most critical steps to successfully onboard new members to your community.
To encourage new members to participate, give them specific calls to action in the Welcome Message and Guided Tour mentioned above. In the Welcome Message, ask for participation and provide a bulleted list of activities to start engaging with the community. If you are using something like Custom Flows, use the technology to better highlight the activity you want them to do, as the Custom Flow requires them to take action before moving on to the next step.
After figuring out how to present a call to action, consider the specific activities you want participants to undertake. Here are some suggestions for easy activities to request:
- Vote on a poll
- RSVP to an event
- View a post
- Submit an intro post
- Reply to post
- Start a private conversation
- Post a question
- Answer a question
- Download a resource
On-boarding new members is essential to building a strong and engaged community. By providing a welcome message, offering a guided tour, and encouraging participation, we can help new members feel valued and motivated to contribute. It’s crazy how often Community Managers forget about this crucial step. Effective on-boarding takes time, but it can set the tone for a positive and successful community experience.
What types of on-boarding rituals do you create for your community members? What works? What doesn’t work? I’d love to hear!
Need more ideas on how to acquire and engage new members to your community? Check out my monthly Members Welcome (Spotify) podcast.