Start Your Community Relationships with the First Hello

And then you arrive at the front desk.

The office manager doesn’t recognize your face or name, so phone calls are made to determine where you should go. Your new boss is travelling this week and the rest of your team has yet to arrive. You're sent to the waiting area, and sit reading outdated issues of magazines.

Does this look like the start of a healthy, long-term relationship?

Consider an alternate reality:

  1. A large banner in the lobby welcomes you on your first day
  2. The HR director greets you at the door with oatmeal and fresh fruit (you mentioned your regular breakfast during the interview process)
  3. You watch a one minute video on how to complete your HR forms
  4. The HR manager walks you around the office and introduces you to everyone
  5. Over lunch, colleagues host a roundtable discussion about the different groups in the company, along with “who does what”
  6. After lunch, the HR manager provides you with intranet training, showing you how to make requests to different departments of the company

Sound better?

A healthy and long-term employer/employee relationship begins in the onboarding process. The same holds true for member engagement in online communities. When a new member joins your online community, the first hour, the first day and the first week are critical. Let’s consider tips for community managers to engage members during the onboarding process.

1. Publish a Welcome Message

Provide a “what you ought to know” article to help new members get the lay of the land. Use your online community platform’s publishing system to post it, then feature it prominently on new members’ initial logins.

Make it easy for new members to understand how they can make their first contribution. Whether it’s posting an update to the activity stream or submitting a new discussion topic, give them the ideas, then watch them perform.

Enable commenting on the welcome message, so that veteran members can chime in. Perhaps you forgot to mention a key element of the community. Commenters can fill in the gaps. When that happens, update the original post with the new information, giving credit to the person who provided it.

As with new employee orientation packets, you need to strike the right balance between providing useful information and providing too much information. You want to avoid the tl;dr (“too long; didn’t read”) phenomenon on your welcome message.

2. Facilitate Connections with Other Members

I once started a new job in which I’d be working closely with Dottie. During my first week, Dottie walked me around the office and introduced me to other people with whom I’d be interacting. She then sent out an email to these same people, to provide my contact number and the location of my desk. Finally, she scheduled one-on-one meetings for me to get acquainted with all of them. I hit the ground running and never looked back.

Community managers ought to model Dottie: make introductions and facilitate connections. A healthy community is built atop an interconnected web of one-to-one bonds. For new members, building and establishing these bonds early on makes it more likely that they’ll return tomorrow, next week and next month.

3. Look for a Member’s First Contribution, Then Respond Quickly

I once started a new job and emailed a few people I met during the interview process. “I’m here!” it said. No one replied. Perhaps there was a long meeting and everyone was tied up? Nope. A day went by, two days went by. No reply. You could consider that email my first contribution on the new job. And it went unaddressed.

Richard Millington, founder of FeverBee (an online community consultancy), has performed research around members’ first contribution. Millington reported that “if you respond within the first 15 to 25 minutes, there is 90 percent chance of a second contribution.”

Let’s repeat that result: a 90 percent chance of a second contribution. That’s fabulous! But it raises the bar for community managers: you’ll need to respond to that first contribution 15-25 minutes after it’s been posted. In his post, Millington also provides recommendations on how community managers can craft responses to members’ first contributions.

4. Check In On Selected Members (Data-Driven)

A member made their first contribution. You responded in 15 minutes and they made their second contribution soon after. That’s great! But now what? You’ll want them to make their third, fourth, fifth (and so on) contributions.

So take a selected set of “members who made two contributions” and study their subsequent behavior. Did they drop off after two? Or do they now have 50 contributions? For those whose contributions dropped off, are they still logging in and consuming content? Maybe you need to point them to some unanswered discussion areas that are up their alley.

5. Check In On Selected Members (Personal Touch)

On a personalized, one-to-one basis, check in with two sets of members: those who joined the community this week, and those who recently made their first or second contributions. The “check in” should happen offline, whether it’s a face-to-face meeting or via phone. Ask members what they think about the community.

Ask them what they like and what could be improved. Ask them what would make them return more often. And finally, ask if you can use elements of your talk to publish a “new member profile” post in the community. You’ll find these posts to be a great onboarding tool.

In an online community, new member signups should be cherished and celebrated. Look at these signups as the beginning of a healthy, long-term relationship. You want members to progress from signup to login to first contribution to ongoing contributions. Get them hooked early on with a compelling onboarding process. You’ll soon find a day (years later) when you interview longstanding, active members. They’ll tell you, “You had me at hello.”

Title image by Nathan (Flickr) via a CC BY-SA 2.0 license