Something I've found lacking in a lot of new community sites that I've come across is personal interaction from the site staff to new members. The old "meet and greet" is often taken for granted, but it really goes a long way in helping new community members feel welcome. Above and beyond that, it opens up a quick and easy avenue for them to ask questions.
When introducing new recruits to the art and science of community management, we at Taunt generally start off by focusing on how to go about greeting new members in your community.
Personally, I make a conscious effort to try and greet a new member or two every chance I get. Fortunately, my existing community members often beat me (and my moderation staff) to the punch, keenly greeting new registrants before they have a chance to do much of anything. This can be a bit of a blessing and a curse, as some of the more enthusiastic members of your site may not be the best suited to do the greeting, but it's still a neat display of intra-site virality. Their enthusiasm clearly isn't lost on new members, and it encourages reciprocity as the newbies feel the need to respond in kind (for the most part.)
So, what's this "greeting strategy" of yours?
Where should you focus your live greetings? (When I say "live", I mean active greeting, not a passive automated email when someone signs up.)
- In the discussion area(s) of your site, particularly if someone's already asked a question or posted an introduction in an official channel, global discussion group, or an area tailored specifically to new users. I find this the most engaging as users have already made the step to interact with your community. Being the first to respond (or the "official" voice) often grants as sense of accomplishment and satisfaction to the new user.
- In your help area, helpdesk tool, or sub-site. If you use third-party tools like GetSatisfaction, UserVoice, or ZenDesk to manage your community support, you should attempt to respond as quickly as possible to outstanding queries, particularly if they're easy answers.
- Via email. I often get email queries about how features work from new users to our general help@ email address, which isn't particularly well-documented. I'll greet new users congenially, and answer their queries promptly. A friendly, personalized reply always helps, as many users expect a robotic or CSR-style response from larger sites.
- On their profiles or personal pages. If your community site allows direct interactions between users before friendships are made or declared (i.e. open or public user profiles), feel free to stop in at new users' profiles and say hello. I find this is the most "viral" of the options above. In open communities where users can see others' profiles without adding them as friends, you'll find that this occurs naturally as your community grows.
- Posting greetings on public and shared objects will often be propagated/promoted through your community's various activity streams.
Unlike active greetings, automatic emails to new sign-ups can feel canned and impersonal. People are used to receiving them everywhere (and I literally mean everywhere), so they'll get filed away quickly into some email folder without a log of thought. Worse yet, automated emails often get picked up by spam filters or mailbox clean-up tools, which may require your address to be white-listed to even show up.
While I do consider it good practice to send new registants an automated email containing their login information and some site usage basics on first sign-up, a personal greeting goes above and beyond.
What are the welcoming "gotchas"?
There are a few key things you'll want to beware of when greeting new members:
- Be sure to disclose that you are involved in the site's management or operation in some way. Many sites send automatic greeting messages from a team member who's not obviously involved in operating the site. MySpace comes to mind (hi, Tom!).
- Avoid sounding overly friendly in your greeting messages. I've seen this happen on sites like Yelp, where a certain community manager was so efficient at greeting folks that she came across like she was hitting on (or creeping on... and on) half of her membership. Oops. (This also goes hand-in-hand with the previous point.)
- Try not to "can" your comments. Use a little variety, or people will ignore you relatively quickly. I personally like to prompt folks to ask questions if they have any, or I try and include a personalized comment based on their early site contributions.
Obviously, this type of welcoming behaviour doesn't scale well to massive user bases, but it's a good start when you're small, and it'll often prompt your community to start doing it without your direct involvement — which scales much better.
You'll also find that users tend to replicate/imitate this behaviour if they see it happening frequently enough (and generating a response.) It's a useful trick for creating conversations out of nothing and encouraging early relationship-building in your community.
So what are you waiting for? Get to it!