Designing The Perfect Newcomer To Regular Journey

August 22, 2012Comments Off

Perhaps the biggest benefit of using your own platform is you get to control the journey from newcomer to regular participant. Facebook, Twitter, white-label software, and even many enterprise platforms don't let you do this. 

We've covered this before, but let's try to present it as the 'ideal' journey for a newcomer. Treat these each as unique steps. You can optimize each one in turn. These steps are also listed in the priority of importance. If you get the first one right, the rest might just take care of themselves. 


Step 1) Awareness

Goal: Motivate members to participate in a specific activity within the community

This step usually gets ignored. How do people hear about your community? Do you wait for people to join or approach them? The biggest influence upon someones likelihood of becoming a regular participant is their level of interest in the topic.

This means two things. First, you need to make sure you have a tight (very focused) community concept. A community for social media professionals working at humanitarian organizations in Geneva than a broad social media community. If in doubt, tighten the concept. 

Second, you need to reach out to members with the strongest level of interest in the topic. Don't wait for members to join, proactively seek them out. Identify people that have taken actions in the past (such as blogging, tweeting, participating in comments of blogs, linkedin, facebook groups) that have shown they have an above level of interest in the topic. 

What you tell these prospective members is important. Don't invite these members to join. Don't tell prospective members that there is a new community. People don't care about this.

Tell them about activities taking place within the community. For example, invite prospects to participate in an interesting discussion, or an event/activity, or to contribute an opinion/collumn in response to a previous contribution.

You want them to be in the participant mindset before they even reach the community platform


Step 2) First Visit

Goal: Ensure members find something to participate in

In the first visit, members need to see something they want to participate in. Too frequently we focus upon getting members to read. That's easy. Getting them to particiapte is more difficult.

Once members visit you know to show them the latest activity taking place within the community. This means ensuring you always have popular, interesting, discussions at the top of the page. You need to use sticky threads to achieve this. Don't waste space on large graphics or hide the community behind a communtiy tab. 

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If you're really clever, you can show a different page to newcomers than you do regulars. The single goal at this stage is to help visitors find an activity they can participate in. Keep the latest and most popular activity above the fold on the landing page of the community.

Prospective members should be able to find a discussion/activity they want to participate in within the first 30 seconds of visiting your community. If they don't, you're either attracting the wrong people, poorly positioned your interesting discussions/activities, or don't have interesting discussions/activities taking place


Step 3) Registration and Participation

Goal: Get members ready to participate within 1 minute

Speed is the key element of this stage. Any longer than 1 minute and you lose a lot of people. The ideal journey goes like this: a member clicks on a thread they want to reply to, they click reply, they are taken to the registration page, they enter their name, e-mail, password and an anti-spam question (e.g. "What colour is a banana?"), then they're taken back to the thread to reply. 

Most of all, just keep it simple. 

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In practice, few platforms have optimized this. Too many ask for more information than they need. If you have a platform that can't take people back to the same page, then take them to a specific page created for newcomers that highlights an activity they can participate in straight away. 

If you have to use a confirmation e-mail, then edit the content of that e-mail to direct members to a community activity they can participate in. 

The goal at this stage isn't to persuade members to create an online identity for the community. Don't ask any questions that don't relate to the name, e-mail, and password. The goal is simply to get them through this stage and back to participating. Letting members register through FB/Twitter accounts works well too.

Don't write personal welcomes from the community manager to every member. That's not very effective. Focus on making a difference. Either write personal messages to members that have made one contribution already and are likely to become regulars, or members that haven't made a contribution so you can put them on the right path. Be systematic. Collect data and figure out if it's working, if it's not, stop doing it. 

The registration to participation process is extremely quick. Every extra second loses a lot of members. If you reduce the time this takes and direct members toward a specific activity, the number of active participants should skyrocket. 


Step 4) Return visit

Goal: Secure a second contribution.

The biggest influence upon whether a newcomer becomes a regular (after their first contribution), is the speed and quality of the respond to their first message. If they don't get a response within 24 hours they're gone. Give priority to ensuring newcomers (the people with a 1 post count) get a quick response. 

The quality of response also matters. The response needs not just to answer the question but to continue the debate. You want the newcomers returning to respond to further questions. This means asking a further question and encouraging the contributor to return to respond. It also means soliciting the opinions of others in the conversation. 

In addition, make sure your notification e-mails are opt-out by default, are short, originate from an individual, and have a clearly identifiable subject line. Don't use summary e-mails unless they're specifically requests. The click-through rates plummet with these. Make sure the body of the e-mail is very short and there is a clear call to action to click the link. Measure what works, refine the copy, length, and language. Long-winded notifications with multiple links are destined to be ignored. 

Getting the second to visit a second time depends entirely upon getting a quick response to their first contribution. The speed and characteristics of this response are important, but so is the process by which contributors learn their contribution has received a response. 


Step 5) Continued Participation

Goal: Socialize members, build strong relationships between participants. 

To turn a newcomer into a regular, they need to be socialized.

They need to get to know other people in the community. They need to visit the community out of habit, not out of necessity.

This is where sense of community elements matter. You need regular events and activities for members. You need to highlight and facilitate self-disclosure related discussions between members.

You need to write content about members in the community (not just the established members, but newcomers too). Every member should feel like they have influence within the community. Provide opportunities for members to have ownership and influence over areas of the community. 

Finally, provide an informal of social ladder which members can claim through increased contributions. Reach out to the most active and rapidly rising contributors for support. Feature these members more frequently. Gamification can help for established communities, but it's not essential. 

You need to move heaven and earth to ensure members interact with each other, and not just with you. Shared events, self-disclosure discussions, content about members are the pillars. Other useful elements include creating a shared history, initiations/rituals after members have been around for {x} months, and {something else}. 

Most communities have terrible newcomer to regular conversion ratios. If you can improve this, you can rapidly increase the number of active members in your community. Most other problems you think you have in your community pale in comparison to a terrible newcomer to regular conversion process. 

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