How to Welcome New Online Community Members
As the manager and host of your online community, it’s your job to see to it that all participants have everything they need to become positive, productive members. You should remain alert to make sure that no one is wandering aimlessly with no one to talk to and that everyone is comfortable enough with their new memberships to start or participate in conversations on their own.
Being a welcoming community manager means encouraging all members, including newbies and lurkers, to start conversations and participate in existing discussions. Being welcoming also means you have to see to the housekeeping to make sure that all your informational folders are up to date and all policies are still relevant.
A few best practices ensure that everyone is on equal footing, and no one feels left out:
Notice new members. If you notice a new member taking part in a discussion, say hello. Welcome the new member to your community and encourage her to visit your Welcome folder and introduce herself. Also direct her to the comment policies and other guidelines, and make her aware of your contact details. Let her know that you’re at her service if she has any questions.
If this type of information doesn’t fit in with the discussion topic, don’t hijack the conversation thread. Instead, take it private via direct message or e-mail.
Make sure that all your brand information is up to date. Review the page that provides information about your brand. Also review contact details. If your brand’s mission statement has changed or you’re refocusing or rebranding, you’re going to want to make adjustments. It’s a good idea to check back every month or so to make sure that nothing is old and outdated.
Check guidelines and policies often. Your comment policy and frequently asked questions (FAQs) page are the most important documents in your community. It’s essential that you keep these items up to date and enforced, because policies, guidelines, and FAQs are the first places that new community members visit. It is a good idea to make a guidelines check part of your monthly housekeeping.
Offer a place for new members to check in. Welcome areas should include a place for new members to introduce themselves and receive welcoming messages from the community manager and other members. This is mostly the case for forums, e-mail groups, and other communities allowing sticky (static) or threaded conversations. Facebook and Twitter don’t allow for stickies or threaded replies and don’t generally have Welcome folders.
Send e-mail welcome messages. If your community requires signups and requires e-mail addresses, you can send a welcome letter to new members automatically.
Keep a calendar open. Both new and old community members appreciate knowing any important dates to remember. If you have special promotions and contests coming up or you want to commemorate members’ birthdays, launch dates, and other special events, use a calendar app that your members can check for key dates.
Make sure that content is appealing. The most important way to welcome new members is to ensure that your content appeals to everyone (or at least to everyone within your niche). Don’t take sides, join community cliques, or allow prejudice, and keep negativity at bay. When a new or potential member comes in and looks around, you want him to think that your page is well-designed, active, and welcoming.
Make introductions. Online communities provide important networking opportunities. When you get to know the different members of your community, you can introduce members to those with whom they might build important and beneficial relationships. If you notice two or three members who have the same types of ideas, get them together to see whether they can work magic on their own.
The success of your community depends on a new member’s first visit. Think about the best ways to make a great first impression and run with them.