How to turn newcomers into active community members

Growing up, I was the new kid quite a bit. The US Army moved my family around several times, once in the middle of a school year. (No, not really fun.)


So I know what I'm talking about when it comes to joining new groups.


There is a definite process by which "new kids" incorporate themselves into an existing community. 


Recently, I came across this study from Wiley , which posits six ways people legitimize their membership in a new online community. Wish I'd known these when I was in fourth grade and trying to fit in!


As a community manager, you should be aware of these ways people move from newbie to regular, so that you can facilitate the process each step of the way. Keep in mind that each new member has a different personality, and different reason for participating in the community, so you'll need to be open to all of these concepts.


What do I mean by "legitimize?" I mean that the newcomer's post is replied to, and they begin to be seen as "one of us" by the existing members. This is the first step in forming relationships and habits of returning to the community.


Six Ways People Legitimize Their Membership In a New Online Community


  1. Contextual - new member references older posts within the site to provide context, and shows that he/she is aware of the content that already exists. Facilitate this by offering a "reply with quote" tool or other ways to easily reference existing content.
  2. Testimonial - new member shares personal information with existing members, and tends to use the personal pronoun when posting. Even better if the personal information is also contextual (i.e., relevant to the community). Facilitate this by creating a safe place for self disclosure, and perhaps providing a way for members to introduce themselves in a specific way (rather than asking for a Bio, ask specific questions).
  3. Lurking - member states that he/she has been "lurking" for x amount of time, and thus is aware of the shared history of the other members, relationships, social norms, and context of the community. Facilitate this by displaying member Join dates (which may pre-date their first post by quite a span of time).
  4. Geographical - new member mentions specific place names that are relevant or familiar to the other community members, giving some personal disclosure as well as knowledge of context. This could be especially powerful in a regional community, where a new member can mention neighborhoods or street names and prove that he/she is a local. Facilitate this by offering a way for members to share their geographic location in their profiles. Consider creating a generalized map of members.
  5. Cultural - newcomer uses professional jargon, acronyms, or slang that is relevant to that community, proving that he/she is knowledgeable in that field or culture. Facilitate this by creating tags or categories that group relevant content together (for example, in a medical community, create a HIPAA tag).
  6. External - new member refers to his/her outside social networks, blog pages, websites, or businesses, in order to establish who they are. Existing members can go independently "verify" that the newcomer is in fact who they say they are. Facilitate this by allowing members to use signatures or profile fields to share external information.


How does your community move new members toward becoming regular participants? What tools (technological or psychological) are you using to help that process?


I'd love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, or connect with me on Twitter.

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