In the fast-paced world of business, communities have become the epicentre for knowledge, sharing invaluable insights, and networking opportunities. Joining a community or being an early member is like walking into a social gathering and not being aware of what’s where. It can be awkward not knowing anyone followed by a feeling of “maybe I should leave”, which isn’t a good sign. What if there was someone who greets you, welcomes, and introduces you to a couple of folks? Now that tension isn’t there, you’re comfortable and confident enough to explore and interact with folks on your own.
This is sort of what onboarding really is. Effectively onboarding new members is crucial. It sets the stage up for a member to be engaged right from the beginning and there’s a usually golden period that persists between curiosity and disinterest. Effective onboarding is the only way to convert curiosity into action. The sooner you deliver value, the sooner members get activated, and on a much bigger scale, this increases the total percentage of active members in the community. What’s more, the value that’s realized sooner has a lingering effect on members and gradually results in better retention too.
At the same time, it’s important to realize that there’s a lot going on in communities, and not everything is essential for a newcomer. You have to break things down into priorities and share them little by little. Your onboarding should be precise such as to not overwhelm a member when they join the community. What helps as a first touchpoint is to just introduce yourself and say “Hey, here’s a familiar face” so the person at least feels acquainted.
We’ve also spoken to community builders who’ve nailed onboarding. Let’s design the perfect onboarding experience, drawing insights from these interactions.
When Steve Klein, Community Manager at LaunchNotes, started building the Launch Awesome community, there wasn’t a lot of emphasis on the functional side of things. Initially, they took to LinkedIn and Twitter, asking folks to be a part of the community. About 200 or so people joined over a few weeks, but only about 10 of them really replied or posted a message in a span of 6 months. This is when Steve realized that onboarding comes before growth.
Sure, it might seem unscalable to focus on onboarding rather than numbers but sometimes you have to go the extra mile trying to do things that don’t scale, and surprisingly enough, growth will happen as a byproduct of doing things that lay down the foundation.
Having a landing page for your community is like having an enticing summary at the back of a book. It’s what excites someone to take the next step which is to join the community. Also, this is the first touchpoint of your onboarding flow, and also the first opportunity to make a great first impression. Let’s look at a few things to keep in mind while designing a landing page that converts -
LaunchNotes’ community landing page is a great example to draw inspiration from.
Introduce yourself so members can recognize you as a familiar face; become someone people can rely on or go to when they need something. A great way to nail that introduction or the first touchpoint is to send a friendly email as soon as they fill up the request to join form.
This is how you pick subtle moments throughout the onboarding journey to gradually acquaint yourself with the member and build a certain sense of trust that creates a familiarity bias, making them more comfortable approaching you when they become a part of the community.
You can use tools like Zapier, Mailerlite, etc. to set up an automated response that goes out as soon as a person submits the request.
It’s recommended that you follow a 30-day onboarding flow because it’s detailed but at the same time not too intrusive. People also don’t like to be constantly bugged, so it’s good practice to break down your interactions over a period of time. This way, you can also steer clear of overwhelming members with information overload while maintaining friendly interactions with them over a considerable time period.
A great example of onboarding can be something like this -
A great onboarding experience improves key metrics too for your community -
And some things go beyond metrics. When you engineer a value that delights and excites members, you’re also engineering serendipity.
Shreman Shrestha, the Community Lead at Friends of Lenny’s, also has a fragmented approach to member onboarding. He focuses on not overwhelming the members but at the same time prioritizes a goal-oriented approach that is much more likely to become actionable.
“It’s important to not just ‘feed’ information so I like to be extremely careful to not overwhelm or overtalk. You want them to gradually feel the community, you want them to gradually do a few core things maybe over a period of time. And slowly let them discover the community on their own. That’s very important”, said Shreman. “I’ve been a part of a lot of Slack communities myself where I’m not very active because I feel it’s just not worth my time. I don’t want others to feel that way when they come to my community!”
Hear from Shreman himself as walks us through his entire onboarding workflow in-depth, and shows us why it works.
Looking at the big picture stuff, onboarding is a small but impactful part of community building as it focuses on creating value for members as soon as possible. This value is what catalyzes a member’s participation in the community. Onboarding basically bridges the gap that lingers between inactivity and contribution. Facilitating meaningful connections and making members feel like they’re home are surefire ways to establish their trust early on.
The pursuit of ‘perfect’ onboarding is neverending. You can always one-up yourself and experiment with ways to make onboarding even more personalized and intricate. Consider mentor programs or peer groups that can elevate deeper personal connections. This can also be a concept of ‘objective-based’ onboarding that concentrates all the attention on singular goals and might be much more likely to engage members right off the bat.
Remember, onboarding can be a lever that facilitates growth and community impact in the long run. It can lead to a domino effect - one small thing affecting something larger than you could’ve imagined.