Definitive Guide to Onboard New Members to Online Community
Onboarding new members to your community is a critical socialization process. Note that I have used the term socialization as it is very similar to going to a place, meeting new people and adopting behavior relevant to that place.
A solid onboarding process helps community owners to fully leverage the precious time that a new member has spent in joining your community. The general goal is to deliver an engaging experience from the very beginning to make them come back to participate on a regular basis. However, it is often underutilized and sometimes even skipped.
This post is a detailed take on why this is significant and what are the different tactics to onboard the new members.
Significance of the on-boarding process
Think of a party you have organized -- when your guests arrive, what do you do? You never leave them alone or let them explore the place on their own! You would always greet them with a welcoming message, chat a little, show them around so they know where to go when they need something and introduce them to people you believe have similar interests. This is exactly what should be done in online space as well.
Here are some of the key benefits of onboarding new members:
- Helps in setting the right expectations for both the new member and the community owner.
- Keeps the member aware of the community culture and guidelines.
- Provides new members with the tools and information necessary to get the best out of the community.
- Helps the members discover peers with a shared passion so that they can form networks and add value to each other
- Allows the community manager to make the new member realize the value of the community so they return to the community
Different ways to onboard new members to your community
The right onboarding program is not a one-shoe-fits-all type of program. It varies depending on the type of community, the goals associated with the onboarding process and a certain level of expectations with which members join. Managing those expectations with the right expertise and specialization is what makes the onboarding process efficient.
The right onboarding process will have the following characteristics:
- Simple, precise and valuable information
- Must have a mechanism to drive member engagement
- Introduce the community and content guidelines along with the culture
- Provide standardized and personalized onboarding instructions
Now let's check out various ways to onboard the members:
This is all about giving a walkthrough to the new members and explaining some of the critical starting points for the community. The explainer text should be highly specific and explain the clear benefits of the sections or actions that you would introduce to the members. The goal here is to eliminate any kind of confusion from the very beginning.
For example, you could use the guided tour to point them to the starter thread, show an introductory video, and prompt them to take immediate action.
Videos are highly engaging in comparison to other content formats and the recent social media trend around video consumption clearly shows the importance. You can create a short video welcoming the members and explain how everything works in the community.
Pro tip: Add a testimonial from the existing and successful member to reinforce the value delivered by the community.
Emails are your swiss army knife of communication -- you can use them to onboard, update, notify, and engage the members. Coming to the onboarding part, you can use an automation tool such as Intercom to set up
Your email sequence should be personalized based on the member data you collect and the member activity. Instead of putting together a lot of information, it is a good idea to slowly introduce content in smaller chunks in an easy-to-consume format. This also helps in ensuring that the member would look forward to these email engagements.
Check out Feverbee to get some good examples of onboarding email sequences.
Introduction threads in the discussion section of the community are great to get the ball rolling. It can be welcoming, give a sense of the peers, other new members, and break the ice. This has been a common practice of many online communities. Check the following example to understand how codecademy handles the introductions.
Pro tip: Gamify the whole process by asking the members to share something fun and interesting. Then, reward the member to get the most number of likes.
New member group
Your new member group in your community is yet another place to form early bonds and allow the new members to get comfortable. It can contain useful FAQs specifically for the new users, rules, code of conduct, and a resource library for them to get started.
Buddy or superuser program
We know that there some people who love to talk to others and enjoy providing guidance in a friendly manner. Your online community superusers or certain members from the superusers can also be assigned a set of new members. These new members would get guidance and get their formal and informal questions answered. This is a great way to forge networks inside a community and enable powerful member discovery.
You can also arrange a webinar specifically for the new users to have real-time interaction, solve the queries, share how your community works, and understand them better.
If you have a small community or starting out with the community consider having personalized calls or chats with the new members. Try to learn why they have joined your community, their goals, their special skills, and figure out if they can add value to the members.You can take questions from the members to gain insights on things that you would not have thought of otherwise. Use this information to improve community management efforts.
What happens after onboarding?
Once you have set up your onboarding process, it is time for you to measure the effectiveness and optimize the same. Consider this as continuous onboarding, not just onboarding. Testing the onboarding process on real users is the only way to successfully improve the member experience and boost retention.
Set up 30, 60, and 90-day check-ins to understand if the members are on the right track and how much your onboarding process has influenced the same. Here are some methods you can use for analyses.
After your new members have joined collect feedback by running surveys. Two simple and effective research tools are NPS (Net Promoter Score) and CES (Customer Effort Score). You can run these surveys based on specific actions they take and the number of days they have been in your community.
Study members with visual data
There are multiple tools to get screen recording of the members, generate heatmaps, and take screenshots. Use these techniques to see if the new members are actually moving in the direction in which you wish them to move with the existing onboarding process.
Analyze the member activity
Set up micro-goals for the members -- it can anything from completing profile data to posting content in the community and reacting to content. Now analyze how your onboarding process is helping them (as a trigger) achieve these goals by tracking the community activity.
It's an iterative process
As discussed earlier onboarding process is never complete because communities evolve with time. As the community changes and your target audience change, your onboard process must also reflect the change. That's the reason why you should keep iterating and improving the experience.