How To Convert Newcomers Into Regular Members

January 19, 2012 Comments Off

There are a few golden rules for converting newcomers into regular members of your community. Here are 5 rules that should help. 

 

Golden Rule 1: The community concept must closely match the member’s interest

In studies undertaken by Lampe and Johnson (2005), Arguelloe et al. (2006) and Kraut et al. (2008), the single biggest determining factor in whether a visitor became a regular, active, member was their strength of interest in the topic.
 
You determine this when you’re conceptualizing your community. The more your community concept fits their interest, the more they will be interested in that community.
 
If you already have a community that’s struggling for participation, you can narrow the interest to a stronger interest shared by a more specific group of people. Then you can approach people in that group to join the community and establish momentum.
 
For example, a history teacher in London is far more likely to participate in a community for history teachers in London than a community for all teachers or even teachers in London.
 
Be exclusive when developing the concept for the community. You need to narrow down the audience and match their interests are tightly as possible. Remember, in most categories, you will be competing with bigger, more established, communities. By excluding a large number of people you ensure that those that do visit are more likely to become active. 
 

Golden Rule 2: Promote things happening in the community

If you’re like most community managers, you wait for visitors to stumble upon your community then throw the kitchen sink at them to keep them active.
 
This doesn’t tend to work well.
 
The key to getting a high conversion rate is to ensure that your visitors already know what they’re going to participate in before they join the community. You can’t do that if the only visitors you get are drifters. You need to be more deliberate in your growth strategy. You need to reach your members before they visit your community.
 
 
Reach members before they visit the community
There are, broadly, four channels of growth (1) Direct invitations (2) Word-of-mouth from existing members (3) Outbound promotion and (4) Search traffic.
 
If you want a high conversion rate, you need to identify discussions, activities and events taking place within the community that others might want to participate in. Then you need to promote these discussions, activities and events through these channels.
 
For example, you can directly invite 5 members a day who have mentioned an interest in something relevant to a topical community discussion. You might find these on Twitter, comments on blogs/news stories/Facebook etc…You can ask them to share their opinion on the issue and send them the link to do so.
 
Another approach is to create a community eBook of top advice on your community’s topic. You can ask members or anyone with an excellent tip to join the community to make a contribution to this eBook. Then you can publish the eBook with links included to areas of your community to discuss the topic further.
 
You can set up an event with a well-known VIP in your community’s ecosystem (perhaps your company’s CEO?). You can solicit questions beforehand from members and ask top bloggers/influencers if they have any questions for the individual – which in turn might gain you coverage on their platforms. Your target audience has to join to ask a question (and visit to see the response).
 
You can initiate a poll/discussion on a very topical issue which people in your sector feel strongly about. You can promote this poll/discussion to your audiences on Facebook/Twitter/Mailing lists and ask them to vote/give their opinion. As the poll spreads, more people can join to submit their opinion on the issue.

 
Golden Rule 3: The conversion process neither begins nor ends with the registration page

As we have just covered, the conversion process doesn’t begin with the registration page – it doesn’t end with the registration page neither.
 
The registration page is as a primitive counter than a genuine attempt to gather useful information. Beyond, possibly, the member’s e-mail address and ensuring they use a consistent name throughout the community, what else do you genuinely need?
 
We need to focus on how many active, participating, members you have. To do that, we need to focus on what happens after the registration page. 
 
Beyond registration
The conversion process involves optimizing the journey. To optimize this journey we need to understand its major milestones.
 
In most communities, members must register before they participate (it’s actually better if they can submit their first contribution before being asked to give a username, password and e-mail to register). After the registration page, it’s essential that the very next page is either the activity they have chosen to participate in or an invitation to participate in a topical discussion.
 
For example, after a member registers they might be taken to a page which reads: “Glad you joined, we’re eager for you to get started. Perhaps you can tell us if you believe that {opinion} on {topical issue}?” This should include a link to the discussion. You can also include this in the confirmation e-mail if it’s easier
 
The principle here is you absolutely must do everything in your power to persuade the newcomer to make their first contribution within that first visit. Once they make a contribution, they enter into the notification cycle. They’re told about people who reply to their contributions. They’re motivated to see how people responded to their contributions, and make further contributions themselves.
 
Remember to update the topical discussion on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. You can test different sorts of discussions to identify which has the highest conversion ratio (see rule 5).
 
Sustaining contributions
A single contribution alone isn’t enough. You need to keep members active for 3 to 6 months. Only a high level of contributions over a sustained period of time will ensure they become regular members of your online community.
 
This is where you combine social and technological processes to optimize the conversion process. Lets begin the technological processes.
 
The goal isn’t just to drive interactions, but to ensure the members feel a greater sense of community over time. One tactic to accomplish this is e-mail reminders. There are two types of e-mail reminders. The first are e-mail reminders after members have been a member for a certain period of time, or made a certain number of contributions. The second are e-mail reminders after members have been absent for a period of time.
 
For example, after a member has made their first contribution, you might like to set up an e-mail which explains a little more about the community. It might reveal the history of the community, or mention a top member, or highlight another activity the member might like to participate in. It should include links to ask questions about the community or of a community elder.
 
The more members participate, the more they learn about the community. This should not be overwhelming. You may begin with establishing an automatic e-mail after members have made 5 contributions, then 20, then 50.
  
Social processes
Finally, there are various social processes you can implement to keep members engaged for a sustained period of time. Some communities run an adopt a buddy programme in which a volunteer group of members adopt newcomers and slowly guide them through the process of becoming an active member of the community. This works well, but you need a large group of willing members to participate. That takes time to cultivate/nurture. 
 
Another process is to have newcomer related threads, beginner tips, beginner questions, graduations and awards. Create activities specifically for newcomers. You might, for example, give specific threads to newcomers at an early stage of the community process. You might host beginner tips where experienced members can give advice to newcomers – and you can direct newcomers to that advice. You can set up a beginners live-chat about the topic where newbies can ask the experts. 
 
You can have a newcomer of the month award, as voted by other members, in which newcomers who have made significant contributions to the community can win a small prize. Or you may have a ritual/graduation for newcomers who have reached a certain level of contributions or been a member for a specific amount of time. You can congratulate them in a newspost or newsletter, give them access to a unique area of the community or include them in a list of regular, active, members – perhaps even add something to their profile page (or let them customize something – say an avatar).
 
 
Golden Rule 4: Help members overcome their social fear of participation

Members of a community have an inherent social fear about participating in a new community. We all do. We might not be conscious about this fear. It’s not a fear that keeps us up at night. It’s just an ever-present fear of social rejection or individual irrelevance.
 
It’s a fear that we will ask a stupid question, or wont receive a response to our comment. It’s a fear that we don’t know as much as other members. It’s a fear that member will criticize us for asking something stupid. This fear reduces the number of participations we make to a community and stops newcomers from posting anything of importance. They feel they might never be accepted as members of the club.
 
You can help members overcome these social fears. There are five steps here.

  1. Ensure every discussion receives a response within 24 hours. If we see that every discussion receives a reply, we don’t have to worry about looking foolish that no-one responded to our discussion. It reduces this fear to zero.
  2. Send members unwritten rules of the community. Lampe and Johnson (2005) note it’s important for members to know the unwritten rules of the community. How can they avoid looking stupid on their first posts? What questions have been asked often and should be avoided? How do people frame a discussion? In short, write down the unwritten rules of the community (you can let existing members do this) and send them to newcomers.
  3. Ask newcomers to start a discussion. This sounds obvious right? But you can ask members to start a discussion on a certain topic. In your automated messages, or to the broad group, you can invite them to start discussions from a newcomer’s perspective on a unique topic. You can provide them with a list of possible topics, if it’s easier and ask them to reply to these existing questions.
  4. Feature highly active discussions. You can increase the motivation to make a contribution. You can feature the top discussions in the most prominent areas. This acts as social proof to others. This shows others how to participate and the benefits from doing so.
  5. Turning initiators into heroes. Like the rule above, you can turn those initiating discussions into heroes within the community. You can frequently mention great contributions by name – and you can take special care to refer to individuals who make a great contribution as their first contribution. The greater the level of social proof, the better.

 
Golden Rule 5: Let your data be your guide

We’re not living in the digital dark-ages anymore. We have an insane amount of data to guide us. This is a simple rule, let your data be your guide.
 
You can measure every single step of the journey. You can pinpoint with an insane level of accuracy the exact moment where members are dropping out. You can test and refine different stages of the process.
 
Don’t make assumptions about what is/isn’t working, drill deep into your data to pull out the relevant insights. Some data you might like to collect, includes:

  • New visitors to the platform. This shows the success of your promotional efforts.
  • New registered members to new visitors. This shows how many people make it through the registration process.
  • Newly registered members whom make a contribution. Self-explanatory, this shows how many members make a contributions. It highlights how motivated they are to participate and the level of social fear.
  • New members who initiate a discussion. This is important. It shows how many are moving to a stage where they feel comfortable making a contribution. 
  • New members who remain active after 3 months. You can use a sampling technique here. Look at 100 members from 9 months ago against 300 members from 6 months ago. How many are still active after a certain period of time?

I’m not going to cover this rule in detail, lets save data for another day. This link might help for now: measuring an online community
 
Summary
If few of your members are remaining active, it's probably because your conversion techniques are limited to a welcome e-mail and a dull greeting from the community manager. If you follow these rules, your conversion ratio should increase considerably.

p.s. We've just reopened registration for The Pillar Summit's Professional Community Management course. More information at www.pillarsummit.com.

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