One of the best ways to attract members for your online community is through the quality of your content. If you have high quality, unique, relevant and up-to-date content then you are far more likely to attract members. The same goes for blogs – if you are writing quality articles, you will naturally attract visitors. You can convert these visitors into regular readers and members by encouraging them to use the commenting system.
The problem with social networks is that in comparison, they are far more closed. Most content is generated through profile pages and the internal messaging system, so how do you attract members?
Convey your community’s purpose clearly and effectively
I come across a number of social networks that all look alike. They use the same scripts that all the other sites are using, and the same default design. If you want your social network to succeed, it needs to look different and be different. If your budget only allows you to purchase an off-the-shelf script, at least customise it to make it different from all the other social networking sites out there.
Your site needs to immediately convey what it is about. Visitors to your site will form an impression (negative or positive) in less than a second. Use images, use symbols and use words to ensure that a visitor can be in no doubt as to what your community is about.
Not only should your design make your site’s purpose clear, you should also tell visitors why they should register and get involved. Sell the benefits of your community to every visitor. You have 1,000 spider collecting enthusiasts? Make it clear! You are the only social networking site for discussion on dog pooper-scoopers? Ensure this fact is displayed prominently on your site.
Offer visitors access to as much of the site as possible
You’ll struggle to attract members if visitors cannot see what your community has to offer before they register. Offer visitors as much access to your site as possible.
If people can only view limited areas of your social network, they will not have much of a chance to determine whether your site is for them. Rather than take a gamble and register, most will simply seek out your less secretive competitors.
Analyse your social network. What pages can you make visible to non-members? I would recommend opening up as much of your site as possible. Allow visitors to view profiles, allow them to use the search function – you will engage the visitor and really tempt them to take the plunge and register.
Allow users to take a tour of the members only features
Of course, there is only so much of a social network that you can make accessible for non-members. Of course, you can’t open messaging systems (or at least, you shouldn’t!) and it is perhaps advisable not to offer users access to a member control panel. What you can do though, is take visitors on a ‘tour’ of your site. Either record a video taking visitors through your site’s members only sections, or offer screenshots and a description of each area.
Depending on your coding abilities, you could even offer access to a sandboxed account for a user to play around with (just make sure they are unable to modify any settings or contact other members).
Every action you take to show exactly what you can offer helps to convert a visitor into a member. You want to be making it harder and harder for them to say ‘no’, but easier and easier for them to say ‘yes’.
Leverage and promote
As will all websites, you will need to promote your social network if you want to attract members. If you have other websites, leverage their traffic and promote the community on them. If you already have a website on the same subject as your social network, consider incorporating the social network right into that website. Exchange links with relevant websites, consider paid advertising, include your website in the signature of your emails and any forums you are a member of (subject to each forum’s terms).
Members are the best referral tool you will ever have. A recommendation from a friend is far more effective than any form of paid advertising you can do. Ensure your social network offers the facility for members to recommend profiles or the actual site itself to friends by email. You may be surprised at just how many new members your existing database can bring you.
Have a human face
When you join MySpace you receive a message from ‘Tom‘ who has a public profile and invites people to contact him with any questions. In his profile, he comes across as a regular guy who is just as involved in MySpace as other members. He gives MySpace a human face. This makes new members feel far more comfortable – there is a visible support mechanism from a guy who seems to be a regular Joe.
Have your own profile on your social network. Share information about yourself. Use your own social network. If you don’t want to get involved, why should you expect new and existing members to do so?
Do you run a social network? How do you attract and retain members? Do you have any advice or tips to offer in addition to those I have come up with? Do you disagree with any of my ideas? Share your thoughts and opinions by leaving a comment below.