I recently received an interesting email from Greg of Absolute Spain Forum, who wrote:
What do you think about “forcing” members to first introduce themselves before being able to post in other sections of the forum? I feel like after the “biggest hurdle” of getting them to come to your site and then register, the next “biggest hurdle” is to stop them from going crazy! A huge amount just blatantly promote and abuse the site. Would forcing them to introduce themselves regulate this?
It’s certainly an interesting issue, and one I want to address in this article.
Breaking the ice
Think about when you arrive at a party full of people you don’t know – you want to get involved, but are a little hesitant, a little unsure of yourself. This is perfectly normal – after all, you don’t really know the culture of the group. You want to be liked, you want to be popular. New members of online communities are no different. They need an ice-breaker. They need to be introduced, or they need to feel comfortable introducing themselves.
An introductions forum
I think it is important for new online communities to have a place where members can introduce themselves, or be introduced. There are two ways of doing this:
1) Keep an eye on the member list and introduce new members
Whenever a new member joins, create a thread for them in the introductions section of your community. Welcome them, and invite them to introduce or share some information about themselves. Just make sure that your new member gets to see this introduction thread – it may be a good idea to send them a private message welcoming them to the community that includes a link to the thread you have started for them.
The potential problem with this is that you (or your staff) need to keep a very close eye on the new members that join – you don’t want to leave anyone out. You also need to put in more of a time investment as you need to manually watch the member list, manually create a thread for them, and manually PM the member welcoming them and bringing their attention to the thread.
2) Have an introductions forum
Having an introductions forum allows new members to introduce themselves should they so choose. No thread is created for them – rather, they start their own thread in order to introduce themselves to the community. I favour this approach because:
- The member goes through the process of creating a new thread
- The member posts under their own terms, if they so choose
Before I continue with this article, let me say this – there is no point in having any kind of introductions forum if you and your members do not welcome new members. Of course, not all your members will have a whole lot of interest in welcoming every single new addition to your community. However, some will and some should. At the very least, you need to be publicly welcoming those new members that have taken the time and effort to post. This is your member’s reward for introducing themselves: acceptance.
Introduce yourself or be gone!
Now, Greg is wondering whether he should force members to introduce themselves before they post in other areas of the site. In response, I would say that no community manager or developer should limit the opportunities their members have to post, create content and encourage interaction. By preventing members from posting because they haven’t introduced themselves, you are cutting your nose off to spite your face.
Your latest member may not feel comfortable introducing themselves just yet – they may want to make a few posts in the off-topic areas of your forum first. They may want to post their solution to a viable alternative to oil as a fuel. Who knows what they may want to contribute? You’ll never know if you stop them from posting!
I see many members in my communities get involved long before they ‘formally’ introduce themselves. If I had forced these members to introduce themselves before they could post in other areas, I would have lost their content and perhaps lost them as a member.
I would even doubt the effectiveness of forcing a member to introduce themselves as a way of reducing abuse. It doesn’t take much effort to write a few words of spam in the introductions forum in order to gain access to the rest of the site.
A pro-active alternative
Encourage members to introduce themselves, but don’t force them to. If you want to increase the number of members that introduce themselves, do the following:
- Edit the system-generated welcome email to include a link to the introductions thread, and invite them to introduce themselves
- Send a private message to new members welcoming them to the forum and invite them to introduce themselves
- Ensure that those who introduce themselves are welcomed at the very least by the community managers and moderators. Ideally, other members should also welcome your newest members
Do you think members should be forced to introduce themselves before being able to access or post in other areas of the community? Have you tried this approach yourself? How did it work? Share your thoughts, ideas and experiences by leaving a comment below.