Onboarding new users. Engage, educate, retain

Table of contents

  1. Be ready to compensate for the lack of users of specific type
  2. Provide feedback to all new users’ actions
  3. Always improve new users’ posts by editing them
  4. Remove all negativity towards new users
  5. Nudge new users to take some actions
  6. Help new users adapt to the unique features of the community
  7. How to understand that it is time to move on

Making people come to your platform is just the beginning of the journey. After a person comes to your platform, you need to make sure that they create an account, take some actions on the platform and then return to it in the future.

Be ready to compensate for the lack of users of specific type

Online communities are multi-sided platforms that require users with mutually complementary interests to function properly. A community functions properly when users’ interests are balanced. Before the balance is achieved naturally, you need to compensate for the lack of users of certain types.

Exactly what type of users to compensate depends on your community. The rule of thumb is to focus on compensating for users who create the opportunities to act for others. Usually these are the users who initiate discussions, start topics, post news etc. You need to stimulate the growth of the user base of this type manually, for example, by using paid advertising or sending personal invitations. While you have a lack of users of this type, you need to fill the gap by acting yourself.

When there are still very few users you might need to compensate not only for the selected type of users, but also take any other required actions to maintain the balance of interests, while giving the users the opportunity to act. It means that you need to act if someone has not received the attention from other users after some time.

The essence of compensation is to ensure that everyone who comes to your site gets what they are looking for.

Provide feedback to all new users’ actions

When people start participating in a new community, they usually know little about it. The only way to understand how it works is through trial and error. The most important thing to do to make this go well is to provide quick and clear feedback on every action of a user.

There are three types of feedback:

  • Positive feedback happens when other users react positively to actions of the user.
  • Negative feedback happens when other users express disapproval of actions of the user.
  • No feedback is the situation when the user does not receive any reaction from the community to their actions.

Timely positive feedback is the foundation for engaging new users. Negative feedback conveys information and is better than no feedback at all. The absence of any reaction to a user’s action or a reaction that is difficult to interpret is something that should be avoided at all costs.

If your community already has some regular users, you need to bring to their attention all activities from new users before providing feedback yourself. The end goal is to make sure that all new users receive some feedback on their actions, hopefully, by other users.

Always improve new users’ posts by editing them

People start participating on your platform with some assumptions about the rules. Those assumptions come from people’s personal previous experience. If your community has some unique rules, users will discover them only when they do something in a wrong way and someone brings this fact to their attention.

One of the best ways to help new users adapt to content standards of your community is to correct all of their posts if they are not up to the standard, rather than providing them a list of shortcomings. Editing is positive feedback. When you improve someone’s post, the author sees that in your community users are willing to help others when needed. The regular users who see your edits derive the culture of how new users should be treated in the community.

Remove all negativity towards new users

Any negativity in the community is a red flag for many people. If new users have not yet contributed anything significant to the community nor built any relationships with other users, they have a few reasons to stay on the platform. If they experience any negativity towards them or other people, they leave the community.

A community manager needs to keep an eye on the first two or three posts where each new user participates and moderate all negativity. If you see any issue in how regular users interact with a new user, edit or delete their posts. If you intervene to delete or edit, you need to contact the authors of the posts and explain to them the reasons behind your actions. If the users disagree, kindly ask them to initiate a meta discussion. This helps keep new users in the community and sets an example for regular users on how to deal with new users.

Some software platforms allow administrators to automatically block the content that matches certain filters or route that content for additional moderation. Be sure to configure these filters. A friendly attitude towards each other is the necessary minimum to build a community.

Nudge new users to take some actions

  • Optimize the path from creating an account to creating content. When someone lands on your platform for the first time, they don’t usually know how to find interesting discussions to participate in. Bring to the new users’ attention active discussions that might be interesting to them and where they can show off their skills. An effective way to accomplish this is to display the content that meets certain criteria on the most visited pages, like the home page, and include it in a welcome email that is sent to confirm registration on the platform. The shorter the path from landing on the platform to an action, the more people will take the action.

  • Suggest some actions to new users who have nothing to offer the community the moment they register on the platform. One common way to do that is to welcome every new user and ask them to write something about themselves in a special section. This allows a user to have a complete experience of participating in your community that is most likely to be positive. This kind of self-disclosure also has a positive impact on the user’s engagement.

  • Allow users to subscribe to content by email, rss, etc. Subscription creates a direct, personalized communication channel with the users and helps keep them engaged. Allow to subscribe to both the content on the platform and the content about the community itself.

Help new users adapt to the unique features of the community

If your community has some unique social norms or technical features that people haven’t experienced before, they will be ineffective in the community. To avoid that you need to educate users on how your platform works.

Leave explanatory comments when you see users doing something incorrectly or not doing what you expected them to do. Comments should explain what is expected of the users in particular situations and how to do it effectively. Be sure to accompany each comment with an action so that the users can clearly see what you mean. At some point you will notice communalities in issues that new users experience. It makes sense to create comment templates for those issues.

When drafting comment templates, keep in mind that comments should be written primarily from the perspective of the reader, i.e. the person to whom a comment is addressed. Comments are recommendations, they should not contain any negativity, judgment or criticism. They should be short and clear.

Creating comment templates is a great task for the community. Once you have some examples for the first few templates, initiate a public meta-discussion. In the discussions provide your templates, explain in what situations which template to use and give users the opportunity to suggest improvements. Public discussions will drive adaptation of the templates by users who like to moderate the platform.

Please, note that comments that help users to learn the platform lose their value when the user whom they are addressed has read the comments. You need to clean your platform from those comments sometimes.

How to understand that it is time to move on

In order to be able to work on the next level community building initiatives, the community needs to have a foundation in place. The foundation is ready if your community satisfies the following criteria:

  1. The community has a stable influx of new users with no work from your side.
  2. All content on the platform gets created by the users themselves. You just moderate it and work on user engagement.
  3. The community has a group of regular users who know all social norms, help others to adapt to them and participate in meta-discussions.

If your community meets these criteria, congratulations! It was launched successfully! It’s time to move on to grow it.