A Welcome Folder for New Online Community Members - dummies

A Welcome Folder for New Online Community Members

By Deborah Ng

Unless you manage a hobby online community or a community for a special interest, such religion, parenting, or politics, the majority of the people who become members are there to network. If your community is big or extremely busy, it can be difficult for members to find out about one another as individuals. This is where your Welcome folder comes in.

In the real, noncyber world, if you start a new job, enter a new community, or go to an event where you don’t know anyone, you either introduce yourself or someone else makes an introduction. This introduction doesn’t always happen for online communities because people can’t always tell when you enter the room or no one there knows you. In these cases, it’s up to new members to introduce themselves.

Welcome folders don’t work for every community, however. Facebook pages, for example, don’t allow for a sticky type of folder. Also, introductions don’t often work in normal Facebook conversations because after a few other conversations, each post falls from the page, and the introduction isn’t the first thing that new members see anymore.

Online forums are perfect for Welcome folders because they allow you to pin a sticky folder to the top of the forum. This type of folder never moves, so the information never drops off the front page. Most Welcome folders are situated inside a forum’s welcome area. To start the ball rolling, put up an Introduce Yourself Here folder. The title of your folder should make clear what it’s about.

Some forums have a single thread (discussion topic) where new members make their introductions. Others have a specific folder that allows each new member to start a thread for his or her own individual introduction. Each method has pros and cons:

  • Group introduction thread: A single introduction thread allows for a single conversation. New members come in, introduce themselves, and add a few tidbits of what they feel is pertinent information. If they want to, veteran members respond to each new member by saying hello and adding a few words of welcome.

    The problem with a group introduction thread is that a single conversation can become hundreds of pages long in a large community. No one is going to start at page one to read every single “Hello” and “Welcome” comment.

  • Individual introduction threads: When newbies post their own threads, members can drop in at any time to say hello and leave a message.

    The benefit is that no one has to navigate a long discussion thread to catch up on new memberships and welcome messages. It’s also kind of cool because members can pick out a specific aspect of a newbie’s introductory thread, such as a job or hobby, and start a discussion based on that aspect. Each discussion is contained in one area and is easy to navigate.

    The downside is similar to that of the group discussion thread. Because each discussion is a different thread, members have to navigate multiple threads to find out about new members and say hello. Also, many pages of discussion threads ensue, and it becomes impossible to read older members’ introduction threads without investing hours to read each and every one.

Both types of introduction threads have their benefits, and new members love either option as they have the ability to introduce themselves and say a few words about who they are. Also, they don’t feel funny about just jumping in to an established community discussion topic if they’ve already introduced themselves in another area.

It’s perfectly normal to see only a couple of regular community members act as the official welcome wagon.

Even if regulars don’t use forum introduction folders, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. As community manager, you should schedule welcoming new members as one of your daily tasks. Some days, you won’t have any new signups. Other days, especially following a promotion or news, you’ll have several. It doesn’t take much time to say a few words to each new member.