5 Ways To Make Your Members Feel at Home in Your Online Community
Have you ever attended a party where you knew no one? Chances are you felt a little lost and alone. You needed to figure out where the bathrooms were, start conversations with strangers, locate the bar… and all the while you were trying to put your best foot forward to make a good impression.
While that’s a bit of an exaggerated example to compare to engaging new members when they join your online community, the basic concepts are the same. Your members are a little lost when they first arrive. They need to discover new groups, make connections with new members, figure out where the resources are and more.
We put together a list of community engagement basics based on the things we do to engage people when we meet face to face. These concepts will help you get your new community members involved online as well.
- Be a good host. When you invite a guest to a party at your house, you greet them, get them a drink, introduce them to other guests and show them where to put their coats (very important for those of us in Wisconsin). Online guests deserve the same. Your community should send out welcome emails, provide suggestions for connections and point out all the wonderful features of your community.
- Help your guests look their best. A robust and complete online profile helps members get to know each other. Take the time to make sure your members upload their casual photos, update their bios, and include relevant links. Provide useful tags or suggestions to your guests to help them “define” themselves. Help your members build an online personality (or guess what? no one will talk with them). Members with a “shadow person” avatar don’t make a good impression, and other members are less likely to engage with them if they have an empty profile..
- Plan fun party games. We’re not talking about online Indian leg wrestling, but you need to have something for people to do once they join your community? Will they have discussions with thought leaders? Will they ask questions of their peers? Have a poll or just give them interesting content to read. In the beginning you’ll need to do a bit of work to seed the content with examples of what you hope others will continue to contribute. Set the tone. Have others help you out. Whatever you hope they will do, you need to ask them to do it and make it simple, easy, and worth their time. And when all else fails, ask them what they want.
- Invite other hosts to the party. An online community succeeds when leadership and momentum comes from multiple directions. Identify 5-10 industry leaders outside your organization who are passionate about your online community. Include people who write blogs or who are active LinkedIn members and even ask the media. If it’s an event community, be sure to have your presenters active and online in the site. Get people who are already online and active — Seek them out in their neck of the internet and ask them to help. These will be your initial rockstars and champions who are eager to for another opportunity to build their online brand. Train them on how to start conversations, respond to participants and keep the community active. Give them assignments (you watch the bar, you watch the dance floor, I’ll greet newbies, etc.). You don’t have the time to do everything yourself, and you shouldn’t have to.
- Play well with other communities. Your members are probably networking on public sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter (even if you think your members aren’t online). Integrate your community into these established networks by publishing updates to those sites. Likewise, your live events are communities in and of themselves. Find ways to weave your live and online content together.
Realize you might have some lulls in your community. It’s okay to have some ebb and flow. Ups and downs are healthy. They give your members something to look forward to. Just like a house party where the guests create their own festive atmosphere, your online community takes on a life of its own when members feel comfortable and start engaging. And as the host, you can simply look around the virtual room and smile at the conversations, shared resources and connections that your online community fosters.
PS – And, be sure to thank your helpers every now and then.