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How to Acquire New Members Into Your Online Community

Discover the vital mechanics of acquiring new members for your online community. Gain insights on building effective acquisition strategies, messaging, and frictionless onboarding.

How to Acquire New Members Into Your Online Community

You probably know the benefits of starting a branded, private, online community.

But when it comes down to the actual mechanics of starting a community, where does one start? What are the challenges?

I like to simplify running a community into two core activities:

  • Bringing NEW members into the community (acquisition)
  • Keeping your EXISTING members in the community (retention)

Each of these core activities have their own unique strategies and challenges. In this post, we’re going to focus on the mechanics of bring NEW members into your community.

Let’s assume that you’re an established brand. You have a solid base of customers and you want to start a private online community for them. Let’s also assume you’ve figured out your community strategy, technology platform, and all the resources you’ll need to manage your community.

Now you need to launch a campaign to acquire members into your newly built community!

After doing this for so many years, it still shocks me when people forget about building an acquisition strategy for their community. You spend lots of effort developing a community charter, planning out the sub-groups, and creating a content calendar… but if you haven’t invited anyone to this new party venue that you’ve built, what’s the point in throwing a party in the first place?

If you’re launching a community, but haven’t thought about a plan to acquire new members, here are a few challenges that you should consider as you’re launching your new community.

Think like a marketer

You’re introducing a new channel to engage your customers. To get them to join your community, you’ll need to convince and convert them.

Just like you would with any marketing campaign, you’ll need to stand out from all the noise on the Internet to get them to join your new community. And just like any marketing campaign, you need to segment your audience, develop the right messaging and content, and give them a frictionless path to conversion.

When we launch campaigns to acquire customers (not prospects) into new online communities, we usually set an initial goal of trying to acquire 50% of the customer base into the new online community. If we fall short of this goal, we optimize our messaging, segmentation, and funnel strategy.

When you on-board these customers to your community, you need to put your Community Manager hat on, but when you’re trying to bring them into your community for the first time, you need to wear your Marketing Manager hat.


Message the WHY of the community, but leave a sense of mystery

If you’re thinking like a marketer, you’re going to be building campaigns to generate awareness of your new online community. Once you create awareness of the community, you’ll need to convert it to an opt-in. To do this, you need to have a very strong mission statement for your community.

It needs to succinctly describe the WHY of the community. Why does it exist? Why should your customers join?

But you also want to leave a little bit of mystery about the community. In your call to action, you want to mention there’s content, information, and special events that are only available to customers who join the community. Leaving a sense of mystery encourages them to check out the community and jump into it to learn more for themselves.

This is similar to how we think about email marketing, when we don’t need to convey everything in the subject line, we just want to tell them just enough to entice them to open the email.

When you’re sending that email or text message to tell your customers about the community, leave just enough mystery to encourage them to jump into the community and learn more about it for themselves. Once they’re in the community, it’s the role of the Community Manager to expose them to those ‘mysterious’ things you message as you were trying to acquire them into the community.


Provide a frictionless on-boarding experience for your community

This is a critical step that most new community leaders overlook and it has a lot to do with the technology that you’re using the power your community.

A good example of a frictionless experience is integrating your community platform into your CRM or Membership Management system so you can employ Single Sign On (SSO).

Using SSO increases community acquisition because they don’t have to remember another username and password to get access to your community. If there is a lot of friction in the experience, there is a good chance that your customer will abandon the process to on-board to your community — even if there is a ton of value for that customer.

In fact, with many of the communities that we’ve launched, employing SSO is a key technology consideration that we always try to implement.

Just think about a landing page’s design that hasn’t been optimized for conversion. If there is a poor user experience for the prospect, there is a good chance they’re going to bounce from that landing page. Having tools like SSO that allow for seamless on-boarding of your community is critical to acquiring new members into your community.


Get community members comfortable with your technology platform

Once you’ve gotten your customer interested in your online community, made them aware of it, and converted them to an opt-in, you need to make sure they’re comfortable with the community platform you’ve on-boarded them to.

If it’s a platform like Facebook Groups, your community members may already be comfortable navigating their way around the platform. But if you have a community platform that is new to the members, you may need to provide additional content to show them around the new community.

This includes pinned posts telling them about the sub-groups, a welcome video giving a guided walkthrough the community, or even chatbots to guide them through the community platform.

Having a solid on-boarding experience completes the acquisition cycle, but also sets you up really nicely to retain that new community member.


Re-marketing to people who are eligible, but NOT in the community

A lot of our clients forget that we need to “re-market” the community to the customers who have not opted-in. I mentioned earlier that we try to launch with getting 50% of our customers into the community. This implies that we still have a lot of work to do! Even if we hit 50%, there are still 50% of our customers that we need to get into the community!

Typically what we’ll do is segment out the customers who are already in the community and start to develop campaigns specific to those who did not join the community. We’ll use different messaging like “check out what all of our customers are doing in our community” or “have you missed out on this great member benefit?” Creating a sense of FOMO can help drive these types of campaigns.

The tricky part to this is finding a way to consistently do this type of re-marketing, without coming across as spammy (a definite no-no with your customers). To avoid this, use data from your CRM to understand who is engaging with your communications, but NOT opt-ing into the community. If you’ve touched this contact a few times, they’ve engaged with your communications, but aren’t opting-in to the community, it’s probably a good sign you want to exclude them on any future community re-marketing campaigns.


Wrap Up

There’s tons of effort in developing a community strategy and preparing for the community launch, but many new community leaders fail to think about acquiring members into the community. This needs to be a focused effort and you need to be extremely careful with how you communicate, because these are your hard earned customers.

In a way, you almost need to start the marketing funnel over again with your customers, because you need to convince them that your community has value and hopefully that turns into a conversion or opt-in to your community.

So if you’re planning to launch a new community, don’t forget to put together an on-going plan to acquire new members into your community.

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