Online communities are not an easy thing to build, whether you’re just starting out or an established brand. There are a lot of resources and planning involved, from the builder’s perspective. Some think it’s all about bringing people in to talk about your product, or service, and let them go from there, with no direction at all. No, there needs to be a solid structure in place, which then will allow your community to operate on its own. And yes, it’s WAY more than just talking about a product. It’s not easy, but developing structure will make member entry easier and your community much more vibrant.
Most online communities operate in their own unique way and on different platforms. Some congregate on forums, separate websites/webpages, private groups or even just on public networks like Facebook and Twitter. Regardless of where you meet up, there should be a structure in place for moderation, interaction and learning. Below are a few ways to help new members grow in your communities as well as how to keep balance with everything.
Lay out the “Welcome” mat
For starters, you may want a low barrier to entry for your community, whether it’s a simple signup with email or even just following a hashtag. Registration should be easy. If there is a specific webpage your members go, offer a “Welcome” tab or send a “Welcome” email that offers a layout of how the community works. Include guidelines, contact info, all the places members can get involved, an introductions forum, events, updates and how moderation works, just to name a few. This will help people understand how the community operates and what they are able to do.
In some well-established communities, moderators will assign “Welcome Buddies” or “Mentors” to help with onboarding of new members. This is a great way to help noobs, as well as grow relationships, throughout the community. When people are cared for and appreciated, retention stays low and participation stays high.
If there isn’t a dedicated Social Media or Community Manager, it can be difficult to keep your community moving forward and fresh with content. You need to establish moderation protocols so the community understands what is going on.
From the very beginning, inform the community of how you plan to add updates, moderate and respond. That way people know what’s going on. If the moderator falls off, the content will get stale and people will lose focus of what is going on and may even leave. Even worse for new members, who only see that for the first time and get the wrong impression. Consistency is so important.
Set tabs on the page, which allow people to meander deeper into the community. Tabs might include Welcome, Discussions, Product Suggestions, and Calendar of Events, just to name a small few. Build everything in such a way that people can log in, browse around, ask questions, interact and register without problem.
If your brand is so lucky, you will have a few power users or strong brand loyalists. These are the people you need to get into your community right from the start. Over time, as the community grows, sometimes it helps to shift some of the power over to your power users. That takes some of the weight off your shoulders and also is good for the community. Shows that you as a brand, are not just selling the entire time, but working together with your community to help grow and enhance the brand and product for the better.
Brands have sometimes selected a “Community Advisory Board”, which is made up of power users. They help with moderation, answering questions, beta tests and so on. Very valuable people to have in your community, if you’re ever so fortunate. The key is not to shy away from shifting power because it will do more good than bad. Word of mouth and brand loyalty is so powerful.
What are your tips for creating an environment where new members feel welcome?
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