The Community Engagement Problem

If there’s a sharp drop-off between the number of people signing up for your community, and the number of people who continue to use it, then you have an engagement problem. 

This blog series will cover some of the most common reasons that members don’t engage and some ways that you can fix them. Today’s focus… poor onboarding.

Set the right expectations

A member’s onboarding experience begins before they even sign up. In recent years, we’ve seen a big growth in online communities which means there’s a whole wealth of other brands/projects vying for people’s attention. That means, we need to get specific about what our community offers members. It’s no longer enough to boast that your community is a place to “learn and connect” with other members. Instead, what specific value can member expect to get? 

A community should be solving a real problem for members. This is its raison d’être. 

The three big questions

If your community’s raison d’être was enough to encourage people to sign up, the next step is to help them answer the next three questions as soon as possible:

1. Am I in the right place?

To avoid a member churning immediately, they’ll need to feel like they’re in the right place. Straight away, they’ll be thinking:

  • Does this community meet my expectations?
  • Is the community built for people like me?

Your responsibility is to make sure they answer both questions with a “yes”. This can be achieved by making the core elements of the community easily discoverable. Think back to your community’s raison d’être. What would it take to prove that to your new member?

If your community promises to help people get their support questions answered, how soon can you make that a reality? If it promises a way for people to meet others with the same health condition, how quickly can people do this? 

Get the support you need as an indie community builder

Lifetime Free Access for the first 50 people on the waitlist. After that, new members pay €9.99 a month.

2. What are the rules?

Once you’ve established you’re in the right place, the next thing you want to understand is how to behave. It’s a best practice to have explicit rules or expectations posted somewhere in your community, but the answer to this question is actually more subtle than that. 

Whenever we enter somewhere for the first time, we’re heavily alert to the social cues that highlight how we should act and whether we fit in. In an early interaction, it’s not always clear what the social hierarchy is, whether there’s a particular etiquette to adhere to, and whether there any special rules you should know about.

Until people have clear answers to the above, they’ll be hesitant about taking action. So how can you help make members feel safe enough to engage?

  • Show don’t tell: it’s one thing to tell people the rules, but it’s something else entirely to see those rules embodied in every post. Make sure the posts highlighted at the start are high-quality posts that set an example of how to use the community. 
  • Give people permission to interact. To avoid rejection, many of us will stay quiet in a new place unless we’re openly invited to talk. So don’t be surprised when your members are doing the same. If you want them to engage, be explicit and give them clear ways to do so. That brings me on to…

3. How should I engage?

If possible, a new member should be encouraged to take an action as early as possible. Like any group discussion, the longer a member goes without participating, the more effort/tension amounts when it comes to eventually breaking that silence. 

So think of a way that members can interact on their first visit to the community. “Introduce yourself” posts can work, and have performed well in the past, but they’re increasingly common and therefore increasingly ineffective. Especially in B2B or support communities where people aren’t there to “make friends”.

Newcomer groups where new members can feel safe asking questions are a good example. Each interaction a member makes is a micro-investment into the community which adds up to the perceived value of it. Plus, these interactions work as fantastic hooks to bring a member back again. If a member gets a series of replies in response to their action, that’s extra incentive for them to check back in and engage again.

The Personal Touch

The last thing to consider is how soon a member can get a warm interaction with another community member. Most of us aren’t looking for an automated message, nor a clever bot, but a real-life human to greet us, to answer our question, to show us that we’ve been heard. 

There are a few ways to do this. When starting out, that might come down to you as the community manager to greet people as soon as possible. As the community grows and that becomes unsustainable, I’ve seen communities like CMX successfully use a “Welcome Committee” of volunteer moderators to give newbies a warm welcome. 

At the very least, try to signpost new members to an active thread where their questions are likely to be answered or take them to a “New Members” space where they feel comfortable asking questions. The quicker they get a personal response, the quicker they build a personal relationship with the community. 

Keep tweaking

It’s important to make the onboarding process as frictionless as possible because every point of friction represents a moment when a member will drop off. Walk through the entire member journey from the moment they learn about your community to the moment they take their first action and ensure it’s as smooth as you can make it. 

Keep a close eye on where people drop out of your onboarding process and keep tweaking it until you see it improve. 

Don't miss the next article in the Engagement Problem series

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email