As a newcomer to a community, you don’t want to be left to your own devices when it comes to figuring out what a community is all about.
That’s why having a well-thought-out onboarding process is a vital part of community building. It’s to make sure people settle in well and can understand how the space works as soon as they join.
A lack of a smooth onboarding process can be detrimental to the member’s experience, and it’s indicative of a poorly functioning community. If you’re not providing a good first impression, the rest of the experience will likely be lacking too.
In this article, we’re going to cover:
- What onboarding is
- Why onboarding is important
- What to do before you start onboarding members
- How to onboard new members
- What comes next
What is onboarding?
According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of onboarding is as follows:
“The act or process of orienting and training a new employee”.
This definition comes from the recruitment side and is likely something that any working professional will understand already. When it comes to community member onboarding, it’s more about that orientation aspect.
It’s more accurate, in this case, to describe it as “the act or process of familiarizing a new member with the community space, its purpose, and how to use it”.
New community member onboarding covers:
- Welcoming members
- Setting up a profile
- Learning how to use the community platform
- Getting oriented with navigating different channels
- Becoming familiar with community managers
- Understanding what to post and where
Why is a smooth onboarding process important?
Imagine you’re hosting an event. You want to set up some snacks, set up the cups and have games ready for people to enjoy - of course. But you won’t just let them in without showing them around. How else would they know what to do, where to go, and feel welcomed?
You’ve got to greet them with a warm ‘hello’, tell them where the snacks are, explain how the games work, and even offer them a drink or introduce them to the other partygoers! That's how you make sure guests settle in well and can start to enjoy themselves.
It’s the same with onboarding new community members. A seamless welcoming experience is what guarantees your members kick-start their community experience with all the right information. It takes the pressure off of them to figure everything out themselves, and it shows them what the community is all about.
With a smooth onboarding process, you’ll find members start their journey all the more ready to get stuck in and engaging.
What to do before you onboard anyone
Before you even think about letting anyone join your community, you’ve got to make sure the onboarding process you’ve established works.
Not only that, but you’ve got to put yourself in the shoes of a potential member and try out the system first to make sure it’s all running smoothly, and they won’t find themselves being tripped up by anything.
Practice the process of signing up, joining the group, engaging, and exploring - all from a test account and with the mindset of a total newbie. If there’s anything that’s a bit clunky, or you don’t get sent the right message - you’ll spot it here and you can fix it before you actually start letting people in.
It can also be helpful to create a user flow. This is the path that would be taken by the average user, from start to finish of the process.
Here’s an example:
- User starts on our site.
- They click on our community tab
- They complete the survey on this page, to join the community
- From there, the survey directs them to a link to join the community
- User clicks in to join the community
- They’re taken to our community hosting platform where they create an account
- Once they’ve created the account, they are now a member of the community
It doesn’t need to be overly granular, but it should outline the steps taken so you can have a birds-eye view of the steps they’re taking. Understanding this can help you to accurately provide the right information at each step, so they don’t get stuck at any stage.
In your user flow, you should consider:
- What are they trying to achieve?
- What is important to the user?
- Have we provided all of the necessary information for them to complete the task they’re aiming to achieve?
- Is there anything that might block the process, or hold them back from achieving the task?
With all of these questions answered and a basic plot of the actions a user will be taking, you can be all the more certain that your new members will have a much better first impression of the community.
This is the first and most important step. You can’t get any members in if they don’t have the means to sign up, right?
Add a clear landing page for your community members to say ‘Join our community’.
It’s a good rule of thumb to ask for a few details before you let people into the community. Firstly, because it gives you more information about who they are so you can see who is coming in, but secondly it’s going to be a barrier to anyone spam-joining or not really coming from the relevant background.
At the very least, you’ll want their name and email address, so you can follow up with a welcome email or a note to ask them to check in later on.
Of course, make sure you use this information wisely - don’t start sending them your marketing materials without asking them to agree to it first.
After collecting that information, direct them to the link that will take them to the community platform. There, they can create an account and get involved.
Greet new members with a warm welcome. It doesn’t need to be too long, but it needs to cover the immediate basics. It’s their first taste of the community, so make sure you’re as lovely as possible.
An example of this could be:
“Hey there! Welcome to CLA, it’s great to have you here.
Set up your profile with your name and a profile picture, then head to our #introductions channel to let everyone know you’ve arrived.
Don’t be afraid to have a look around, we’ve got plenty of great resources over in our #content thread or you can drop your burning questions in the #questions channel.
If you’re stuck on where to start, check out our #guidelines for the low-down.”
For this stage, you could also try a walk-through video tutorial. People learn differently, and the platform you’ve chosen to host your community on might be completely new to your members so having this available can be a great way to ensure people settle in.
Don’t worry about overcomplicating this either. A simple screen recording of you completing the onboarding process yourself, from signing in, to setting up your profile, to navigating channels and introducing yourself in the relevant channel, is enough to help guide new members.
It’s always a great idea to have an introduction channel, specifically for encouraging that first act of engagement. It won’t be the first time your member will have had to introduce themselves, so it’s a good way to ease them into interacting.
Make sure you’re regularly checking in on this channel and reacting or replying to the messages being shared. This way when new members join and send in those first messages they’re reassured that someone is happy to see them and can start to feel a part of the community.
Since you’ll likely be asking them to introduce themselves here in your welcome message, you can even take it a step further by outlining what you’d like to see in their intro. You can do this by asking them to share a fun fact about themselves, or even by giving them an introduction message template so they can fill it out with minimal effort.
New member channel
When you join a new community, it can be overwhelming to feel like everyone else is settled in and you’re not. To help alleviate this feeling, it’s good to take the pressure off of new members by connecting them with others like them.
New member channels are designed to be a less intimidating space for only newcomers. You can include FAQs commonly asked by the newest members, as well as resources specific to getting familiar with the new platform and guidelines of the community. Since all the members are joining from a similar position, it can feel a bit more comfortable to start connecting with others there.
Ask veteran members to help
After a while of growing a community, you should start to build up a small army of dedicated pros who know the space like the back of their hands. This can also be a very useful tool at this stage.
They’ll have been there a while longer, and can help show new members the ropes. Think of them as mentors, who can be a great point of contact for a newcomer who wants to learn more about the community from someone who has been in a similar position to them.
It’s a great way to get people networking and can help alleviate some of the pressure that comes with onboarding newcomers for community management.
Host a welcome session to get new members interacting out loud and networking with other members after they’ve joined.
The focus of these should be to introduce newcomers to community management, as well as to walk them through how the community works and answer any questions they may have.
You can invite super users, so they can share their own experiences, or even ask those in your team who are creating resources for the community, like the content creators.
Plus, you may find that even those who have been around for a while might want to hop onto the call as well to refresh their understanding of the space - or just to boost their networking opportunities.
You should now have hopefully set up a straightforward and informative onboarding process, but it’s vital that you check in with members to understand how they found it.
With their input, you can gather actionable insight into what works well and what doesn't.
You’ll want to be checking in a few weeks after members have gone through the onboarding process. You can send out a survey or a poll asking what they loved, and what should change.
Of course, this is valuable to you as you’ll be learning more about how best to onboard members. But, letting members know you really care about their experience is useful for reminding members that you care about their experience and appreciate their feedback.
Take what they say seriously, and make sure you’re using it to continually improve the onboarding process as you go.
Check the stats
As you measure the success of your community throughout its growth, you’ll undoubtedly be keeping an eye on the numbers.
Don’t forget to keep the onboarding process in mind as you evaluate the analytics around your community activity.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- How are people engaging after onboarding?
- Is there any point during the onboarding process that people seem to drop out?
- How can you make sure you’re checking in at the point just before people tend to check out?
- What are the goals you want your community members to hit at different intervals after joining?
Use this information to guide your decision-making when adapting the onboarding process. As we mentioned earlier, it’s a good idea to establish some user flows - these statistics will be a great guide in how you build these.
Onboarding is a process that should be continuously evolving throughout the growth of a community.
As you scale, and welcome in new members, you’ll learn more and more about how best to bring them in and get them engaging.
Don’t shy away from adapting as you grow and refining the process along the way.
To sum it up
Onboarding is your chance to make the best first impression possible. It’s the way you can ensure your members come in knowing what to do, where to do it, and what’s expected of them. Plus, it’s the best way to make sure they’re able to start engaging and participating straight away.
With as smooth a process as possible, that you’re evolving and shaping as your community grows, you’ll see your members settle in well.