8-min read
Apr 17, 2022

Onboarding New Community Members: How to Scale as Your Community Grows

Andrew Claremont

Create a smooth onboarding experience to turn more of your lurkers into casual members and casual members into regulars.

Table of Contents

1. Raise awareness and attract new members

2. Make registering a smooth process

3. Personalize your welcome messages

4. Set expectations upon joining

5. Help new members get acquainted with your community platform

6. Roll out the welcome wagon

Thriving communities are wonderful things. But what about the newcomers? How do you make them feel like the community is just as much for them as it is for members who’ve been around for a long time?

There are plenty of resources on the web covering how to get your new community up and running. Most of that work, especially in the early days, depends heavily on personal outreach and interaction.

As a community grows, that one-on-one relationship gets harder to scale.

It’s one thing to greet each new member as they join, introducing them to existing members. It’s another thing entirely when you have hundreds (or thousands!) of members joining every week.

Here, I’m sharing some tips that you can implement to create an onboarding experience for new members that will scale with your community as it grows.

Before you begin to onboard even a single new member, take a step back and clarify the basics.

Who is your community for? Communities are connected groups of people with something in common. Who are these people? What do they have in common?

Why are you bringing people together? What’s the purpose for your group? Are you working towards a specific goal, or pursuing a specific mission?

What do members get for registering? Is there something special, something exclusive, that’s only available to community members?

There’s a good chance that you’ve defined the motivation and laid out the membership perks already. If not, now’s a good time to lock it in.

Next, you need to make it easy for potential members to join.

That’s where prominent calls-to-action (CTAs) come in — the most important action you want a visitor to take. You’ve seen them before: Request a quote. Book an appointment. Go to your cart and check out. For a community site, it’s ‘Join’ or ‘Log In’.

👉 Actionable Tip

Place these CTAs on a sticky header bar on your community’s website/landing page or a section of your brand’s/product’s website.

You should also use contextual links inviting people to join your community across different touch points. Wherever a potential member might feel the urge to join, you want that option to be obvious and easy. Don’t make them hunt for it.

  • Mention your community in a newsletter? Add a link to join.
  • Instead of comments on your blog, invite readers to join your community and pick up the discussion there.
  • Add a link in your email signature (you could advocate for the link to be included in the signature for every teammate across departments).
  • Make a blog post, landing page, or community website to spell out exactly why someone should join your community, and link to it from external sites.

The more steps you add to your registration process, the more friction you’re creating in the process. Every additional step can dissuade potential members from joining.

That’s not always a bad thing. Not enough friction can also open you up to bots, spammers, and other low-quality users.

That’s why Facebook Groups lets you add screening questions for new members. If someone isn’t willing to answer a few questions, are they really going to contribute anything useful to the group?

It can take a while to strike the balance between too many and too few steps. Experiment and iterate. Maybe you start with a frictionless registration flow at first, then gradually add more steps as your community grows?

Some things to think about when setting up your registration process:

  • What do you need to know about them up front?
  • How much information can you gather later?
  • Do you want to let members sign in with third party accounts like Twitter, Facebook or Google?
  • Do you want to screen new members?

We’re on to the fun stuff: what happens after someone registers.

Let’s start with email. Chances are your community platform sends out a notification email to either validate the new member’s email address, or to confirm that they’ve signed up.

That’s great, but it’s little more than a receipt. You can do better!

What about a personalized email welcoming the new member to your community? An email that shows them where to go, how to get started, and what first steps to take?

You can add this information in the email itself or, if your community platform is configured to send direct message alerts via email, drop that messaging into a DM to bring them back into the community experience.

Send new members a welcome DM even if they’re getting the download in a welcome email. This way they’ll have all the information they need when they’re in your platform and won’t need to go back to their email every time they want to find a link or figure out what to do next.

Community guidelines are one of the first things — if not the first thing — that your new members should check out.

Your community guidelines should clarify:

  • What is and isn’t allowed in your community
  • How members can flag offending content or users
  • How rules are enforced and how enforcement gets escalated

I like to think of this as a helpful companion to your Terms of Service, Privacy Policy, Code of Conduct, et al. It’s not a replacement for those docs, but it’s certainly easier to grok for daily use.

Put this in a prominent place and link to it from your welcome message. Refer to it often, update it as needed, and cite it when making moderation decisions.

Video games usually include a few introductory tutorials or levels to get new players acquainted with the game’s interface and mechanics. Consider doing the same for your community platform.

As with the community guidelines, this is a helpful companion to more in-depth FAQs and documentation (see below). Place this information in a prominent place, link to it from your welcome messages, and keep it updated.

👉 Actionable Tip

Some things to include in a short guide to help new community members:

  • Wayfinding, knowing where to look for different content.
  • Key features of your platform, like bookmarking posts or sending private messages.
  • User settings, like profile customization and display options.

Show new members where to find help

Members may have even more questions than what you can reasonably cover within your community guidelines, welcome message, or new member orientation. Where do they go for help?

Even if members are familiar with your platform, each community is designed with a unique architecture — channels and nomenclature will vary from community to community.

Set up a separate place for questions — a section, forum, or channel — and keep the name straightforward. It works like a public inbox for meta community support and feedback.

If someone has a question about how to use the community, or an idea for a new feature, point them there. It’s also a good place to talk about your community’s platform updates, such adding new third party integrations to your Slack community.

We’re nearing the end here. (Phew.) Most of my recommendations so far have been on the passive side — things that are evergreen and automated.

What follows here is very much not that.

Welcome your new members by announcing their arrival

It breaks the ice on their behalf, and it’s a nice personal touch to boot.

Granted it doesn’t scale all that well if you have a ton of new members joining every day, but you could still set a threshold of some kind, like calling out new members who’ve made their first post, or who’ve been active in the community for at least a month.

If you’d love to go the extra mile and announce each new member, even in a large and active community, you could choose to accept and onboard new members in cohorts so you’re welcoming a specific number of people each week.

Create a place for new members to introduce themselves

The Community Club’s Slack community is a great example of this. I love jumping into the #introductions channel and seeing who’s recently joined the group. Create a section like that, link to it from your welcome messages, and keep an eye on it. Greet everyone who joins.

Call out new members in your newsletter

Assuming you have a newsletter, call out the members who’ve recently joined your community and invite existing members to give them a warm welcome.

This pairs nicely with the above suggestions — either linking to the announcement thread or to the place where folks introduce themselves.

The point of all this is to show new members that you are paying attention, and you absolutely care that they’ve joined. First impressions matter — your new members are more likely to stick around if they feel welcomed.

Bottom line? It’s all about smooth progression

I’m a gamer at heart, and I think of community management within the context of gaming. Just as a player progresses through levels, your members progress through different phases in your community.

They start as a one-off visitor. If they like what they see, they become a lurker. Eventually they may want to participate, becoming a casual member. Then, if they keep participating, a regular.

Creating a smooth onboarding experience eases your members through each phase, ideally turning more of your lurkers into casual members and casual members into regulars.

As they progress, as their investment in the community grows, the value they bring to the community — and the value they get out of the community — grows as well.

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