One of the tips that's stuck with me over the past few weeks was one from Lindsay Starke, Online Community Coordinator from Professional Photographers of America, who did a fantastic session on the psychology of community management. The tip is something I've seen many times in various communities but which I'd never given much thought to until I heard her explain how and why her organization does it.
She explained that creating a thread in their main forum called "New Members, Introduce Yourself Here" has been their single most successful member engagement strategy. How could something so simple be so effective?
Lindsay explained that creating such a discussion addresses one of the biggest hurdles new communities can face: people's fear of jumping into conversations. If you picture it like walking into a crowded party or networking event, how many people feel comfortable just walking up to a stranger and initiating a conversation? Not that many. So, when people join an online community, that same fear is there, which can seriously impact engagement and people's adoption of the community. If everyone is equally fearful of jumping in, then there isn't going to be much, if any, engagement.
However, by being instructed to enter a special space with specific instructions: "introduce yourself" -people know how to do that and are comfortable with doing so. Perhaps without realizing it, by posting their first message, they have just jumped into a 10k person conversation - but since this is what they've been specifically instructed to do, as have others, it's more than welcomed. When you consider that members who have posted at least one message are the ones most likely to post again, it's not hard to see why using this type of discussion as the launch pad into their community has been a huge success.
What's the best way to ensure that new community members know to go to this thread and know what to do when they get there? I'd suggest creating a New Member welcome box on the community's home page, with a specific call-out for new members to log in and introduce themselves.
In addition, as part of your new member onboarding process, you'll ask them to update their online profile and introduce themselves by responding to the thread. Rather than sending them to the regular "reply" page, create a copy of it and add some custom welcome text to the top of it. This new page will be the landing page that your new members will be directed to as part of their onboarding process. Explain how the thread is the "Welcome Area" of your community. Lindsay pointed out that giving specific instructions can really help with this call to action. Specifically, ask them to introduce themselves and explain what they hope to achieve from joining the community and tell everyone one fun fact about themselves. Perhaps link to a couple of examples to see what others have posted previously.
You'll be sure to have your regular "ambassadors" (welcomers/champions) who you can rely on to respond directly to the individual to welcome them to the community and help make them feel at home. Hopefully others will do the same as well. But in terms of providing the warm and fuzzy first experience and promoting the sense of community, as well as adding to the ongoing self-sustaining engagement, this type of thread is a huge win-win.
While none of the above is new in a community management world, what did strike me was her rationale for doing it, and the success it's brought the community.
Have you implemented a similar discussion thread in your community? If so, did you experience similar success? Any other tips you'd share, either around getting newbies engaged or the single most valuable piece of community management advice you'd give?