One of the biggest mistakes community professionals make is reducing the friction to join the community. When we make the registration process and participation process as simple as possible, you reduce overall level of activity in the community.
You want to drive some members away. You want to drive away those that aren't likely to participate. You also want to convert members into what we can best describe as the community mindset.
When newcomers join a community, they don't have the same level of commitment, knowledge, or mindset that they're joining a collective group of people. At least not yet.
They haven't accepted and embraced the group identity. The challenge is to make that happen without a) overwhelming the newcomer with too much information or b) lowering the barrier to entry for all participants.
The key is to gradually ease newcomers into the mindset that they are participating in an active community. We've outlined some principles below, your mileage with each will vary, use them in your community as you see fit.
1) Get the right members in the first place. Getting the right members is essential. Stronger communities have members that share the same beliefs, values, and (to an extent) personality. You need to deliberately target the right members to join your community, don't wait for people to join. This means outreaching to relevant people, using data from social media to identify who might be a good fit, and
2) Screen/select members (have expectations). You can have a small challenge/task for members to complete to participate, have a criteria that members should meet (something they have achieved, acquired, or skills gained), or have signifiers of the right type of personality. You should have expectations of the people that join the group.
3) Take a pledge / make a commitment. When members join, invite them to make a small pledge/commitment to the community We know from 'low-ball' theory that agreeing to a commitment to the community both increases the likelihood that a member will participate and that their commitment to the group increases.
4) Provide easy first steps (reduce the social fear). Provide easy first contributions members can make. This should be asking for their opinion on an existing discussion, sharing an experirence (e.g. how they became interested in the topic) in a ritual thread that all newcomers post on (please don't use an introduce yourself thread), or a closed, self-disclosure discussion (e.g. do you think that x is right, yes/no?).
5) Respond quickly and positively to early contributions. You probably lose a lot of newcomers after they make their first contribution. At this stage you need to respond quickly, positively (not just a 'thank-you'), and with a question that sustains the discussion. It's remarkably hard to get someone to make their second contribution to the community. A quick and positive response from you and other community members eases them into the community.
6) Educate newcomers in social norms. You can use autoresponders here. You want to gradually increase the knowledge members have about the community. This might mean sending them a scheduled e-mail about the common questions asked, who the top members are, what the goals of the community are. If you can match this to the number of contributions a member has made or time they have been a member, you can avoid overwhelming the newcomer with information. At this stage you're easing them into the group identity.
7) Highlight potential friends. Building relationships with other members, and feeling that they're entering a peer group, keeps members returning to the community to see what's new. It helps to guide members towards others that share their demographics, habits, or psychographics (who they are, what they do, or what they think/feel). Tagging systems can help, but you can manually do they if you have a community with less than 25 people joining a day.
8) Gradually increase abilities/access/status. As the newcomer continues to participate, gradually increase what they're able to do in the community, what they have access to, and begin mentioning those that cross your recognition criteria.
What you will notice about these steps is it will reduce the total number of registering members to the community in exchange for getting the right members to join and participate in your community. That's an important trade-off you need to make.
If you understand the motivations and psychology behind communities, you can use it to build any number of successful communities. If you want to learn this, sign up for FeverBee's Professional Community Management course. Registration closes on Feb 4th.