Crap, it’s happened again. You’ve arrived at a party where you don’t know anyone, and the host is nowhere to be found. The anxious tango begins. Are you supposed to just walk in? Who do you approach? Is everything in the kitchen? Why is it so loud (yet impossible to understand a word anyone says)? Is that Ashley from college or a doppelganger you have never met who will look at you in confusion when you ask where the punch is?
Then it hits you… OH NO. WHERE IS THE BATHROOM?
Matt catches your eye right before the panic wave crashes over you. Finally, the host, in all his glory and knowledge — he’s here to save the day and your bladder! He greets you warmly and shows you around the place. You note exactly where the bathroom is before he brings you to a group of familiar faces. It’s Matt’s friends you played volleyball with that one time! You’re instantly at ease, chatting with people who share your interests and Matt, the host with the most.
Walking into a party without your host can feel confusing, alienating, and frustrating. And for your customers, joining a new community without onboarding is just as bad.
You want to make sure your new members…
- Don’t feel lost or overwhelmed
- Have the information, resources, and tools they need at their fingertips
- Discover new facets of the program or community they weren’t aware of before
- Connect with the Community Manager, so they feel supported
- Have the right expectations and understand what the journey holds for them
Here are 5 easy ways to engage your new community members from the beginning and ensure their long-term success.
Never underestimate the power of a good welcome email series. In most cases, it’s their first impression, and we all know you don’t get two of those.
In the first email, you should welcome and congratulate them, re-introduce yourself, and inform your new member about what to expect. Sure, they know who you are, but give them a bit more insight so they can truly start to feel that connection build. Be the reason they’re excited to dive in, in fact — be their hype-human! Make sure they know you’re excited to meet them and make it as simple as possible for them to access what they’ve signed up for — and in some cases, paid for.
In the following emails, you should aim to empower them and set expectations. They’re in a new world, and with the help of your emails, they will become self-sufficient and be more willing to establish connections with members on their own, rather than having you establish those connections for them. There’s nothing like seeing someone dive in headfirst!
Use these emails as an opportunity to share resources, invite them to events, challenge them to perform an action like introducing themselves to the community, and implement exercises to help them stick to their goals. Do this throughout a couple of weeks, don’t try to fit this all into one email unless you want them to ignore 75% of what you say.
By the end of your series, they should know exactly where to start, the next steps, where to go, who to talk to, and exactly where all of the amazing value in your community comes from!
By now, Zoom has infiltrated every other part of our lives, so why not onboarding too?
If you have the bandwidth, a weekly onboarding call can be a fantastic way to welcome new members. With a video call, it’s easier to connect with your members because you’re practically face to face, and they can get questions answered by a real, live human. Or aliens, I won’t judge anyone from Mars trying to get in on the onboarding game.
For a simple structure, try…
- Introduce yourself, how they can expect to interact with you, and the help you provide.
- Set expectations for the call, including time, etiquette, and participation.
- Create a portion specifically to have them introduce themselves, let them brag about how great they are, and share why they joined. It’s a wonderful way for them to meet other new members and for you to understand their “why.”
- Walk them through the best way to get started. This could be a set of videos they can watch, community resources they should check out, exercises to complete, or even something as simple as a challenge to participate in 5 discussions their first week.
- Discuss Community Guidelines and what the culture looks like.
- Bonus points if you can have them leave with a small win like earning a badge, a highlight in a future post, or even just a shout-out!
- Set aside time for questions at the end, great for feedback!
After the call, your new member should feel well informed and have a task or three to complete for a nice sense of direction. Introducing them to other members and giving them the rundown you’re setting them up for success helps prevent churn and instills a feeling of belonging.
This strategy is a new one to me but an easy favorite. You can use a video service to allow your member all of the benefits of a live onboarding call without commitment.
Using Tolstoy you can provide your newbie with a smiling face, easy-to-understand instructions, interactive conversation, and an easy way to get started on their own schedule and comfort level. It’s a Choose Your Own Adventure without turning to page 374 for the big payoff at the end.
Use the video adventure to empower your members with knowledge, introduce yourself and other moderators, show them where to go for their needs and what to expect moving forward, show off some of your favorite areas or conversations, and leave them with a plan to start engaging. By the end of the video, they will clearly know what’s next and how to be your new best friend.
Encouraging your members to introduce themselves in a comfortable environment without a big commitment through an introduction thread is a simple and common way to accomplish your goal. Personally, if onboarding means I don’t have to be on video, then it’s even better, and I’m more likely to jump in headfirst.
You can create a discussion channel dedicated to introductions or a ritual post that welcomes new members and encourages interaction. It’s great for a small win; every win makes churn less likely.
Going back to the imaginary party from earlier, this thread is the host’s first stop when someone walks through the door. You want to let your guests know where to find the refreshments and essential facilities and help them find people they’ll vibe with.
An easy way to do this is to tell them exactly what they need to know and what you want to know.
- Introduce yourself
- Direct them to any goodies that are helpful for newbies
- Encourage them to introduce themselves and provide some points you would like them to hit.
I am a big fan of simplicity, so I have a nifty welcome video with a CTA in our main Group, DM Engage for Lab Members. I tag in all new members to chime in and just give them an idea of what they’re about to get into.
For some additional inspiration, check out what Orbit asks when you join their Discord Server.
This is a wonderful way to dip your toes in the community water and build rapport.
Additionally, the Orbit team practices something I consider to be non-negotiable…
They respond, and not only with a “welcome,” but with a thoughtful response to what you’ve written! It showcases they’re listening and if I had written something they could have helped with, I guarantee a resource would have been sent my way.
If you encourage your members to share but then don’t acknowledge and engage yourself, you’re leaving them hanging, and the coolest kids at the party know you never leave a bud hanging.
Peer Welcome Wagon
A wonderfully effective way to onboard new members and make sure they’re fully immersed is by setting them up with others. Your secret weapons even…
Collect a crew of Super Users, Volunteers, Moderators, Evangelists, and other words for people who are invested in the community and raised their hands because they want to help others have the same warm fuzzies.
Have these volunteers be an extension of you by being your eyes and ears when you’re doing something important, like making your sixth cup of coffee.
- Participate in every welcome post
- Introduce themselves to new members once they raise their hands
- Respond to “lonely posts” that don’t get the love other posts do
Walking into a room where you’re the stranger is difficult, but then imagine doing that and getting up the courage to introduce yourself to everyone you see. Very scary. If all your brave newbie hears is crickets, it’s a terrible experience and makes them less likely to interact or post again. With a welcome wagon, that scenario is a thing of the past!
Mix n’ Match
For a truly powerful experience, do more than one of these. In fact, customize this until you have your own beautiful Franken-Onboarding.
Everyone interacts differently. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and there shouldn’t be! Test, measure, and experiment until you have something totally unique that works for you and all of your new best friends.
What Happens After Onboarding?
The next step after onboarding entirely depends on your community’s needs and your mission for your community, but here are some tips that can help inform the best path to take.
- Collect feedback and act upon it, or explain the why behind your choice not to make a change. Feedback is only helpful if you use it to make informed decisions and it fits your goals/mission.
- If you have a perfect member, someone you would clone if you could, collect their feedback specifically. What did their member journey look like? What made them stay? Where do they get value? What would they change? Etc…
- Continue to empower your members with knowledge. Remind them about the extras in your community like events, tools, and resources.
- Create a 30/60/90 day plan of what they should accomplish or complete based on your research, and include how you can help.
- Never stop onboarding. That’s right, continue to engage them, check in, interact, and make sure they feel heard. Onboarding happens all the time, you just have to keep an eye out.
Communities constantly evolve, so review your onboarding process every now and again to ensure it’s still accomplishing what you want it to. Take the feedback seriously but also with a grain of salt; not all feedback aligns with your mission, and that’s fine.
Remember that not every community is for everyone, you will experience churn, and it’s all a part of the learning process. As long as you take care of your members and give them what they need, you’ll have a party that no one stops talking about and can’t wait to attend again.