Onboarding your first 30 community members

Onboarding your first 30 community members

Starting out

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If you're reading this article, you probably don't need me to tell you how much onboarding experiences matter.

So I'll get straight to the point.

This is a mix of what I'm doing with Soapbox Project and what I wish I'd done. Our membership community makes it embarrassingly easier for you to make positive change in the world. Also it's super fun and very affordable.

I thought that would be enough to get people in the door and keep them, but turns out my onboarding experience was an epic fail. Out of the 40% of community members whose stats say they're inactive, the majority easily falls into the category of "Nivi totally ignored them when they joined".

Join me on this journey of my successes, failures, lessons learned, and more failures! 🎉

6 onboarding strategies for your founding community members

  1. DO NOT AUTOMATE. I said this before in my article on how to find your founding members in the first place. And I'll say it again and again and again and again. YOU. DO. NOT. NEED. A. DRIP. EMAIL. (yet.) When my first 5-10 members signed up, I basically ignored them and figured they'd post stuff. After all, I recorded a video for them and everything! I pinned examples of intro posts! I did everything to make it easy! Well, not everything. The turning point came when I started lurking daily in my Outseta dashboard. (Outseta is the payment gateway I use; I found their pricing to be far more founder-friendly than the Member...whatevers and Patreon.) Every time someone joined, I'd email them personally and ask if we could set up time to chat. To date, I've talked to almost every single member of our Soapbox community 1:1. The ones I've never talked to are the ones who have churned.
  2. Make an individualized welcome During our 1:1s, I'd really take the time to listen and tell people specifically how to engage with our community. For example, for people that are new parents, I'll send them resources and posts specifically sharing things like wooden toys, secondhand marketplaces for kids' clothing, and stuff that wouldn't be relevant for just any community member. If a member doesn't take me up on a 1:1 phone/video chat, I'll still ask some questions via email so I can really get to know them.
  3. Set expectations early on Community guidelines just floating around aren't enough. For Soapbox, since our content is inherently political and social change-oriented, we spent our first community gathering crowdsourcing expectations. I walk new members through these guidelines and ask for their thoughts so we can continue setting and building expectations as a group.
  4. Screenshot of community guidelines
    Screenshot of community guidelines
  5. Tour them through the community You might be thinking, "I've already sent them the community tour video!". Nope, sorry. Take them through it after you know about them. Use their lens when you do your community tour. You're basically a real estate agent at this point. If you're with a family that loves the ocean, you'll spend more time talking about your beachfront view than how big the bedrooms are, right? Also if you don't have a community tour planned, you need one unless you have only 1-2 channels. To reiterate: if you have any channels greater than an intros space and a general chat space, do a tour. This visual element helps people really put themselves in the space and ask questions like: how can I get involved? What if I want to start my own channel?
  6. Make it very clear WHERE to post stuff I thought my early members weren't posting in the community because they were shy or didn't have things to say. I was wrong wrong wrong. After the first month of our community's existence, members would email me things that I felt belonged in our online forum. After all, wasn't this the point of having a community? It turns out that there were just too many channels. I spent an hour undoing my days, if not weeks, of hard work. I deleted a bunch of spaces. (Read this guide.) Then I made it very clear that if you didn't know where to post something, you can always post it in our "chat" channel.
  7. Tell your new members how to engage with the community On the lines of what I said above, most people's challenge is simply not knowing what's fair game. Some people like posting things. Some people simply enjoy reading what's posted. For the Soapbox community, I learned that people were looking for live events and in-person opportunities. In each intro call, I make sure to ask about people's communication/engagement style and tell them about specific, upcoming opportunities. I give them something actionable to do, like "come to X event on Y date" or "make A post in B space when we end this call". The first move is always the hardest.
  8. Check in regularly for the first 2 months Contrary to what I thought, onboarding doesn't end with the first interaction. I haven't quite mapped out our "community member journey" with any fancy tools, but I think 2 months is an appropriate window to consider someone "new" to the community. Follow up with them. Keep following up. You're not annoying them by checking in — chances are they're just looking for a nudge/tips to participate. (Otherwise they would have left.)

The first handful of members will really define your community's culture, and your onboarding is a great way to build in a memorable moment.

What are your favorite communities and their onboarding experiences?

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