Converting newcomers into active, longtime members of your community doesn't happen overnight. Less than 9% of new unique visitors will ever register for your community, and just a tiny portion of those newcomers will sign-up and stay awhile. BUT, if you get in the habit of measuring and tracking the newcomer journey from day one through day 180, you will gather the insights you need to divert would-be lurkers into core contributors. In this Q&A session, Richard Millington, founder of FeverBee and author of Buzzing Communities, answers a dozen crowdsourced questions on how to craft a new member strategy with warm, welcoming content that will help you captivate and cultivate the best members for your community. 

Imagine the conversion process as a sales funnel.

From the top down, you have your first time visitors, returning visitors, registered members, first time contributors, regular contributors, and longtime contributors who are still participating six months later. Now, imagine that people are dropping out all along. You can use data to look at where people are dropping out, and test different interventions to improve the ratio.

The thing about converting newcomers into regular members is that if it's not going well, it's a problem that you don't see. Unless you're measuring your data. Unless you're looking at where members are dropping out. This could be something that's happening in your community as well. You could have a lot of members that are visiting your community's home page, and a lot of members that are dropping out along the way.

We looked at a variety of different data points and what we discovered was that for every 1000 members that visited the landing page or home page of the community, only one of them was a regular member six months later.

One of the easiest and quickest ways you can improve your conversion ratio -- and build a much bigger online community than you have right now -- is by identifying and inviting the people who are already talking about your topic. Seek them out on Twitter and LinkedIn, point them to an interesting discussion that's going on in your community and invite them to join.

The conversion process doesn't stop at registration.

It's not enough to simply promote your community. When you're trying to grow your community, you have to give yourself more time to convert these newcomers into regulars. "For every one minute you spend recruiting someone to join, you're going to need an extra three minutes to convert them into a regular member," says Richard. "It's a rough, but probably fairly accurate ratio." The point being, newcomers need your time and they need your personal attention. BUT, not every member is worthy of a personal introduction. Data shows that it's best to hold off until a member has made her first contribution. Engaging with and amplifying a first post will go a lot further than a quick 'hello.'

Design your home page to encourage engagement. 

Latest activity should always be at the top of the homepage -- the first thing a visitor sees. Many organizations bury the important stuff beneath the fold -- the point where you need to scroll down to see what happens. Bold images and logos may look attractive, but they push critical information too far down the page. If the exciting things that are happening within the community are always visible, newcomers will be more inclined to participate right away. It's also a good idea to tweak the positioning of featured discussions, modify the layout, and change the call to action. Over time, if you're measuring your data, you will learn what works and what doesn't.

Be specific.

Make sure the welcome email highlights something within the community. Don't give new members ten things to look at, focus on one specific thing that you want them to do next. That initial post will get her caught up in the notification cycle where she will be more likely to continue participation. Community managers should redirect their energy on getting newcomers to make that first contribution right away. After that first post, it will be easier to build interest, engagement, and connections within the community.

Slow, steady growth is key.

You don't want an explosion of growth or one major promotional push. It can destroy the sense of community that already exists. Imagine if you visited your favorite community tomorrow and no longer recognized any of the contributors? Worse yet, they're all re-posting on topics that were talked through in previous months. If members are introduced to the community on a rolling basis, it is much easier to bring them up to speed and socialize them with existing model members. Facilitating these types of interactions early on will cement the foundation for the types of collaboration that make the community thrive. 

Don't promote the community. 

Promote something that happens within the community. That way, visitors are primed to participate in something straight away. You have a relatively small window of time to encourage participation. If the engagement doesn't happen within the first few hours or days, it's far more likely for a new member to become a lurker and far more difficult to provoke future contributions.

The six month mark.

You want newcomers to be participating in your community six months later. Six months is the standard amount of time someone has to participate in a community before they can be categorized as a regular.

You can improve these metrics quickly by measuring a newcomer's journey. The important thing is that you analyze new member behavior regularly and use those insights to calculate your next intervention. For more insights, watch Richard's webinar on Converting Newcomers into Active Community Members. And, stay tuned for an overview of how to use Google Analytics and member data to track member activity from registration through the first six months.

For more community management best practices, download half of Buzzing Communities: How to Build Bigger, Better, and More Active Online Communities for free, then thank @RichMillington!

Optimizing The New Member Experience: Q&A is the sixth in a series of Community Management Talks with FeverBee founder Richard Millington, who has already shared strategies for generating activity, managing growth, facilitating member engagement, converting newcomers into active members, and the science behind it all. 

To be alerted of upcoming Community Management Talks, email Allison with the subject line "Add me."

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