I recently attended an ASAE Idea Swap where the topic was onboarding new members. It was a great discussion facilitated by Susanne Connors Bowman from The Haefer Group and a lot of innovative ideas were shared.
The consensus in the room was that the goal of onboarding new members was getting them engaged and keeping them engaged so that they renew their membership. However, there was a lot of uncertainty around how social media can and should be used in engaging new members.
Based on the questions I heard, here are 5 ways that associations can engage new members using their online member community:
1) Survey New Members
Use the survey and polling tools built into your online community software to collect information about new members. Learn about why they joined, what they want to get out of their membership, their communication preferences, and how they would like to be involved. You can then using this data to shape your online and offline offerings and communication to best meet specific member's expectations.
2) Personalize Their Online Experience
Your member website should present new members with different content and navigation options than veteran members. When a new member logs into your website, they should be recognized as a new member, maybe with a tailored welcome note from the president, and directed to resources to help them become familiar with the organization, get involved, and fulfill the reason they joined the association.
3) Create a New Member Community
Create a community page exclusively for new members. Specific community pages pull in blog content, calendars, group discussions, files/media, and more for specific segments or group within your organization.
A new member online community page, that is easily accessible when the new member logs into your website, can both orient them to the organization faster and get them involved in the community without cluttering up their experience with things that don't pertain to them yet.
4) Offer "Ask Anything" Groups for New Members
Even if you have sculpted the most personal, high-touch new member onboarding process, there is a large chance that your members still have questions or will develop questions in their first few weeks of membership. While new members can post a question in any online group they are a member of, many are intimidated at first by the existing discussions or don't want to be seen as a novice by asking a basic question.
Give your new members a separate place where they can ask anything. Set the permissions on the group so that only new members can ask questions. Then, set it up so that either only staff members can view the group and answer, or so that both staff and veteran members can post answers to your new members' questions.
5) Reinforce Your Online Onboarding Messages with Email
Your membership is diverse and so are their communication preferences. Some members respond best to messages on websites and others are best engaged through email. Use the email engine in your online community software to reinforce the messages that new members are receiving online.
For instance, when a new member logs into your website and is greeted with a welcome message and resources to orient them to the association and online community, the system can trigger an email to that member welcoming them again and providing links to the new member information and tools in case they missed them when they were online earlier.
Don't forget to use the reporting and analytics functionality in your online community to run reports on new member online activity both 3 months and 6 months into their membership. You can use this data to approach new members who are highly engaged about getting involved further (writing a blog post or article, volunteering for a committee, or reaching out to other new members).
The member engagement reports you get from your online community platform also allow you to address those members, who are not engaged, earlier than you can with strictly offline onboarding strategies.
(photo credit: alborzshawn)