How Are You Welcoming New Users to Your Online Community?

Community Hello

Being welcomed by an online community can often be an unintentionally bad or awkward experience. Too often there is has been no thought about the new user welcome experience and/or in conjunction an online community onboarding program. When new users sign up for your online community does the welcome experience make them feel like they are being greeted by the fake Darth Vader from Back to the Future or like they’ve just got off a cruise ship stepping foot into the Bahamas? In some new user welcome experiences a new user might be become so lost they have no idea where to get back to the community or even if their account was activated. Here are some basic items and tips for improving your new user welcome experience for your online community!

New User Welcome Experience Step One – Review Phase

Audit all avenues, messaging, click-streams and interaction touch points of your existing new user experience from multiple perspectives in mind (various key user types, community manager and with your community strategy and vision in mind)

Review Checklist – There is a lot more but here are some basic ones to get you going

  • The macro for reviewing is to get a clearer understanding of your new user 360 in auditing for pitfalls, removing friction, optimizing all interaction touch points, missed opportunities and getting users more quickly to being highly proficient in using and getting the most of your online community. You want your new user welcome experience which is the front door for your onboarding program to have a clear and optimized process for getting them from your desired step “A” all the way to your final steps and removing or editing any that aren’t working effectively
  • At the end of your sign up process and getting set up on your online community will new users be in referring others to also join?
  • An additional macro item when reviewing is auditing the experience for will what you currently have in place help to push new users past their user bubble of activities? If you want users participating above and beyond their initial aims and desires you will need to map this out as otherwise they will stay in their bubble and not be as likely to stray outside of it. An example of this is a community member may only want to sign up for a online community for their own needs of having a question or questions addressed. They might initially have no idea of what else the community provides or other things they can do there and/or not really care past their initial user bubble of activities. For someone online communities that might be find but often we don’t want them to stay in that bubble we want them to do at least one or more activities beyond this to as close as we can organically get them to participate fully in the community
  • Is it easy to find where to join?
  • Is the messaging for joining clear? What type of message is it sending? Would it attract your key target audiences? Does it send the wrong message at any points? Are you unintentionally at any point causing potential new users to run in the complete other direction?
  • Is the area where you have a link, button, banner or other consistently in the same place throughout all your online community themes or does it jump around to different places on the page depending on which theme a user is on?
  • Is there any value proposition with messaging for why a new user should join? Does that messaging match the community vision and clearly set expectations and accurately reflect what joining the community can offer? Would it prompt anyone to upon reading it to sign up?
  • Is there a site tour which walks new or potential new users through what your online community offers, community vision and a basic understanding of your community and its features
  • Is there any starting point area (often a “getting started” section) of your online community as part of your onboarding program that has content (Wiki, videos, training, blog, etc) aimed at helping new or potential new users? How effectively will your getting started section get new users up to speed on what is possible, acceptable and having a clear path to understanding what your community is about? This section should also expand a new users vision on what else they can do and the many activities that are possible. For example if one of your main goals is to get more users to help each other is that drive articulated anywhere in your new user welcome experience or getting started section?
  • Have you mapped out a clear primary click-stream with corresponding pages and system emails that walks a new user through signing up, activating their account, basics of the community to a core set of basic activities you hope they complete: selecting an avatar, updating their profile, referring others, sharing they joined up on other social channels, connecting other social channels, posting new content (Blog comment, forum thread reply, new forum thread, etc), using search, participating in an upcoming community activity and/or existing campaign.
  • Have you review your “now what!?!” scenarios for new users in the welcome process and phases? There is often a “now what” with the social network sign up syndrome: I’ve joined the community, activated my account replicated my social graph and “now what?!?” What can I do next? How is your community different from countless others I can join? Are you giving me things I can immediately do and am one click away from doing towards the end of the new user welcome experience or are you dumping me straight back to the main community webpage with zero guidance?
  • Are your community guidelines included anywhere either referenced in content or linked to at any stage of the new user welcome experience?
  • Analyze the sign up process for messaging, consistency, anything broken, dead ends, common points of confusion and missed opportunities
  • For the sign up process are you using it straight out of the box or have you updated it to match your framework, needed fields and any needed click agreement? Do you have too many required fields? Have you tested it out to make sure no parts are broken? Are there any points of potential confusion that would cause users to drop out before completing? At the end of the sign up process is it clearly stated for any additional actions they still need to do like checking their email as a last step and clicking on a link in it to activate their account? Any dead ends at the end of the process instead of linking them and directing them to the new user “getting started” area of your online community?
  • If your sign up process is tied into an overall single sign on for your company are there any parts of it that would confuse and disorient to the point where it feels like they have clicked on a bad link? Have you made sure to tie in community messaging (as applicable) in this combined sign up process? At the end of this combined sign up process are there any dead ends so instead of them being able to be re-routed or linked back to your “getting started” area or even online community they are pointed back to the overall parent company site and/or micro site?
  • Have you updated the default system email that is the first thing a new user gets when they signed up for your online community? This can be often overlooked and it can often include completely incorrect messaging, branding and be entirely confusing. You need to make sure the first communication a new user gets when signing up for your community has the proper messaging, branding and calls to action in pointing users in the right direction for getting started so they can make the most of your online community. If there is only a simple link back to the main online community you are leaving it entirely up to the new user to make up their mind what their next steps should be and so many other missed opportunities! New user system emails are typically two: the first one usually has an activation link or code they need to complete before their account is fully active; second one is your primary hello and welcome email confirming they signed up but more importantly a huge chance to properly say hello, expectations, establish the community vision and push that user down the right path to getting started. Make sure you update both system emails accordingly and especially cross referencing or linking to vital key resources they should be aware of
  • How much friction does your overall new user welcome experience have? At the end of the day the overall 360 for it should feel transparent. The more they feel lost or constantly going on virtual speed bumps the more heartburn they will feel and thus likely to either not complete signing up or to sign up and have little motivation to recommend your community to others and participate further
  •  Do you offer any live online training for new users on a regular basis that they can check out, meet other new members and get a hands on workshop from you and/or your team?
  • Do you offer any training materials for new users? If you do have training materials (often found in the getting started section) is it all text? One thing to keep in mind is in using a variety of media to help educate, train and get new users up to speed. Look for providing a video training series which covers a variety of beginner to advanced topics. You might also consider a new user welcome podcast which can run in various lengths that hey can download to listen to on the go.  Do you offer learning PowerPoint presentations, white papers or eBooks (even those this is still text some may prefer to print something out they can read later or on the go in a more traditional publication format)? Are there complimentary visual aids and pictures that compliment your messaging so you have visuals offering complimentary understanding to points you are communicating?
  • Do you offer a community blog? A community blog is great not only for existing users in communicating upcoming events, maintenance alerts, etc, but also for covering a variety of new user topics, tips, tricks and best practices as well as offering community driven content where you can even have guest authors or power community members sharing their insights on getting started. Most importantly a community blog can centralize and offer a channel where you can re-purpose all your existing content including training videos, podcasts and more!
  • Do you have a forum setup on your community where new or existing users can ask questions specifically about technical questions involving your community, how to do things, wish list items they want to see and more? If provided is this forum easy to find and cross referenced and linked to from other key sections and touch points?
  • What new user activities does your online community provide to new users? They’ve activated their account and now what can they do as part of the “now what!?!” usual make or break participation passage of so many online communities and social networks. As part of their new user welcome experience do they have a clear path to quickly editing their profile, settings, adding friends, having an avatar, being pointed to the community blog which has specific new user content in the form of tips, training, videos, podcasts or other? Do you have a forum thread where new users can introduce themselves? Is there an ongoing regular live chat (either video, through a forum thread or other) they can attend to more quickly get up to speed that is clearly referenced and linked to?
  • Lastly have some key conversion touch points in your mapped out new user welcome experience which can help you with actual data and metrics be able to tell you: how many are dropping out during the sign up process, how many are getting to a desired point after signing up (ie – filling out a profile or other), how many start to be active (participating in creating new content or indexing the site with its core set of social signals which is especially aimed for the reader user types). Then as well some bench-marking and key conversion touch points for post 30 day activity. Have a user funnel where you can clearly tell through your existing data to help show X numbers from newly signed up all the way down to power users. This will help to show areas of improvement and where success is happening at each stage of your users.


New User Welcome Experience Step Two

Now that you have reviewed your new user welcome experience which can often feel overwhelming plan out your next steps aimed at addressing your frontlines first.

  • Make sure you put your new user welcome experience and onboarding program as part of your ongoing and evolving overall community roadmap
  • Correct any messaging and related touch points aimed at new or potential new users
  • Update your system emails new users get
  • Make any needed updates to your sign up process
  • Make sure you have community guidelines posted
  • Address dead ends


New User Welcome Experience Step Three

You have now gone through the review process and handled some of the basics for updating and/or optimizing the frontlines of the experience for your new users. Now look to:

  • Build out and define your overall onboarding program including establishing your user funnel
  • Build out a getting started section including any needed Wiki, Blog and Forum(s)
  • Build out and start compiling all needed community content to fill in your getting started section and as well any ongoing content
  • Specific to your community blog be sure to establish a content calendar for it and different types of content (including Videos, podcasts, etc) you will need to gather
  • Build out and integrate conversion touch points


New User Welcome Experience Step Four

At this stage address missed opportunities and further optimization.

  • Based on your audit start implementing and defining action items to address all missed opportunities
  • At this stage especially start to address secondary new user actions in the “I’ve signed up now what do I do!?!” category and variety. Make sure to start to make improvements in this regard and to connect new users to these so they are pointed in a direction where they can participate
  • Based on the data your are seeing and what you found in your audit start optimizing all needed parts of the new user welcome experience
  • Build out a training program both with static content (that you can further refine) and ongoing live events (either chat, forum thread based or live through video which you can use in house solutions for or even external solutions like Google+ Hangouts)
  • Create a thread in your getting started section where new users can introduce themselves
  • Engage and interact with new users of your community either online or offline and pay attention to any common questions or feedback that might have as it can give you further insight into areas where you can further improve and key action points you can take to address so future new users don’t experience similar


In Closing

There are many more steps but hopefully this has covered several areas you can consider with action items you can consider. In future posts I’ll cover more topics on new users.


As always…

When in Dallas be sure to check out the Texas Theatre.

If you ever have any topics or anything you would like to see covered let me know!

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