I joined an online, interest-based community a couple of months ago. It has a large audience, not Disney big, more like best restaurant in a small town size. Anyway, I joined and I heard crickets. No one came to meet me, no tutorial popped up, no welcome message. I’m a big kid so I took matters into my own hands and after exploring the site and not being able to answer my own question, I filled out the contact form asking how to add content. Should be obvious, right? (I joined months ago and still have not heard back.) After a few days of non-response, I explored the site further and figured it out.
I added a post. I added a profile. No admin messages. No connections. No word. I could see the content on my screen so I knew it went through but it was like my posts were a mirage. Needless to say, I deleted my profile from that community last week.
Don’t start an online community unless you are prepared to:
1. Welcome new members: whether you do so with an auto-response message or connect with a personalized email or phone call, make sure you thank them for spending time in your community. Your members have other places they can be. Don’t give them reason to go elsewhere.
2. Answer their questions in a timely manner: this is tricky as timeliness is in the eyes of the user. We all know about dog years, and one of ours being like 7 in theirs, well Internet time works the same way. To the calendar it may only be a day, to the online world it’s a lifetime. We are all spoiled by instant gratification and acknowledgement. If you are making your members wait a day for a response, that’s probably too long. If you are inundated with questions, you need to at least “receive” each one with an auto-generated message acknowledging receipt and giving a window of response. Then answer them sooner than the time you gave. (Under promise, over deliver.) Pay attention to what your members are asking. Are you seeing any trends? Maybe things aren’t clear in your community and you can prevent future questions by reworking your content or directions.
3. Suggest ways to connect/engage: give them an online tutorial, hit them with a pop-up message or simply lay it out in a welcome email but don’t count on the average new member to find ways to entertain him/herself. People simply do not have the time to explore on their own. Show them why they have to make your site a part of their daily Internet experience.
4. Appreciate their content: most people are not content contributors, they are consumers. You need both for a healthy, lively online community. If most people are content consumers, you should count your lucky stars when you get someone who wants to add content, whether it’s a blog comment or the desire to become a featured blogger on your site. The more content your members are adding, the less you have to do, so make sure that they feel appreciated. If you see new blog posts or comments going unnoticed, slip in there and add a little something. They’ll feel loved and you’ll reap the benefits of a loyal member.
5. Share their content: This goes hand-in-hand with appreciation but make sure you call attention to their contributions. Tweet them, add them to your outside pages with a link back to your community to drive traffic, use creative ways to make them feel like they are the center of your online universe.
6. Dedicate time to the undertaking: If you’ve read these suggestions and thought how in the world am I going to do this along with all of my other tasks?, then you’ve got the right idea. Connecting is time consuming. Think back to college or high school — the people you made friends with were the ones you spent time with. “Love at first sight” might exist but I’ve never heard of anyone gushing about “friendship at first glance.” Connecting and building a relationship takes time and energy so make sure you have some for your community. If you don’t, you may want to think twice before starting one.
You would never invite someone over your house and then ignore them, would you? You know if you did there’s a chance they might not come back. Don’t let your community suffer the same fate. Welcome people in. Thank them for stopping by and they’ll become loyal visitors. Make them feel valued and they just might move in.