When you are responsible for bringing new members into your online customer or member community, there is no such thing as a second impression. In a world where first impressions are often the only impression that you get, the task to crush it in one interaction can feel daunting.
It is like speed dating in that way. People go to speed dating events voluntarily, just as they do to your online community, but you only have a few seconds to get people to want to learn more about you.
However, in online community management, your first impression usually involves never actually coming face to face with the person you are aiming to impress. I'm talking about the all-important welcome email.
The welcome email that is sent to people when they first join your online community is your opportunity to get new community members to like and understand your community enough to want to learn more.
There are plenty of generic, 'Welcome to the community' emails out there that send automatically after members register for your online community. However, an outstanding community manager like yourself can do better than the norm.
Why Write an Awesome Online Community Welcome Email
Why bother? First and foremost, we live in an era of countless options where answers are just one Google search away. The first website doesn't have what we need, so with one click of the back button we are on to the next with no intention of returning.
Keep in mind that every communication coming from your online community is competing with all of the other emails and websites thrust in front of your community members every day.
Goals of Your Online Community's Welcome Email
This is your first chance to engage new members and start them down the path toward becoming regular contributing members
Common goals include:
- Guiding members to an active discussion
- Connecting new members to active members in the community
- Guiding their journey and relationship with your organization
- Establishing the habit of going to the community for helpful information regularly
Your online community's welcome email is competing against hundreds of other emails in community members' inboxes. Take the opportunity to stand out.
Writing an engaging and creative welcome email can have a significant impact on new member participation. This is your new community member's first experience with your community (and sometimes your organization), so take the time to make your welcome email meaningful, memorable, and actionable.
Writing the Perfect Online Community Welcome Email
When writing your welcome email take time to evaluate your online community's audience. The tactics that work for some communities may not work for all. As with any materials in your online community, you need to consider what makes the most sense for your goals and community members.
Researching the best onboarding strategy for your online community may lead you to conclude that there is a better form of first contact than a single email, such as a welcome video, series of emails, or a phone/email cadence. Or maybe you consider adding some attachments to your email. For smaller communities Rich Millington, founder of FeverBee suggests creating a Welcome Pack for members.
Regardless of how you choose to structure your first communication there are three major themes to avoid. These are three "don'ts" of online community welcome emails.
Don't Automate It Completely
I know that you are busy and managing an online community is often a full-time job. However, take the time to personalize this first contact.
Personalization and relevance are paramount when it comes to customer engagement. Tools that allow for dynamic content and personalized fields in emails are easy to use and can make a big difference.
In addition to making the email itself personal, you can also customize the cadence of communication. If you are sending a series of welcome emails (we'll talk more on this later), you can pull reports in your online community software platform that allow you to mention a specific action they have already taken or a new action that you would like them to take that they haven't yet.
For example, if your member has viewed particular discussion forums, but has not yet posted. Your next email to them could encourage them to try that module and include a quick how-to.
Don't Make New Community Members Introduce Themselves
We've all seen online communities where you say thanks for joining and then direct new members to the "Introduce Yourself" discussion to post their name and a fact about them. These things are already visible on their member profile and new members don't usually know about enough about the behavioral norms of the community to feel comfortable contributing a meaningful post.
This action can sometimes alienate people and often doesn't result in any real feeling of connection with the community. Instead of this tired tradition, do the connecting for them. Set them up with a few thought leaders and advocates that you know will eagerly welcome them. You can also connect them with someone that is industry or interest specific.
For example, instead of sending them a link to a popular discussion forum why not send them an email introduction looping in the new member and the industry thought leader. New members can be too shy to approach established community members. This is natural and to be expected. By taking the fear out of the interaction, you've sent a domino into motion. That thought leader will go on to introduce them and help you involve that new member in the community.
Don't Overwhelm New Community Members
Some community managers choose to send a single welcome email to new members, while other send a series of welcome emails. The right model depends on your community and its membership. The advantage of sending multiple welcome communications is that it saves you from sending a long email that can overwhelm new community members and hurt your chances of getting them to get involved in the community then and in the future.
However, if you choose to break up your information in a series of emails avoid sending too many too quickly. If you flood their inbox, some of that helpful content will be overlooked and deleted without so much as an open.
Additionally, consider a timeframe that makes sense for your members. It could be that you send them a weekly email inviting them to try a feature that they haven't touched or maybe two emails the first week and then just weekly after that.
As you are engaging new members, be sure to keep good metrics on what members do and do not respond to. If your click-rate starts slowing down, it may be time to offer something new.
Creating an Effective Subject Line for Your Online Community's Welcome Email
The subject line of your welcome email is the real first impression that your community will make on its new members. The goal is simply to get people to open your email. Keeping that in mind, create a subject line that stands out in their inbox and creates enough curiosity about the value inside the email to get community members to open it.
Here are a few examples to get you started:
- You Read the 2015 State of Email Report, now try these resources [Litmus]
- We're pleased to meet you! [Headspace]
- Thanks for joining, Katie [CNET Insider]
Avoid creating a subject line that doesn't relate to its contents. However, feel free to get a little creative and test various approaches, always keeping your members and what makes sense for your community in mind.
Online Community Management Takeaway
Getting new members in your online community is a never-ending process. Writing a compelling welcome email is just one of many tools used to engage and encourage members to participate. However, by shifting some of your focus to engaging those members who have recently joined the community, you can make a measurable impact in the health of your online community.