The welcome email can be a formidable community building tool

by Martin Reed on 6 January 2011 in Articles

crafting the welcome email

The two biggest challenges facing online communities are:

1. Converting visitors to members.
2. Getting members to contribute to the community.

Many communities focus on point 1 before point 2. That’s all well and good, but why go to all the effort (and expense) of attracting new members if they don’t contribute to the community?

When a member registers at your online community, they receive some kind of welcome email. These are pretty standard across the board – they thank the member for registering. In many online communities, that’s all the emails say. What a waste.

Sure, some communities customize these emails to some extent. I’ve seen some urge members to introduce themselves and some that remind the new member of the community guidelines. You can do much better.

It can be a good idea to encourage new members to introduce themselves in that welcome email (make it easy and include a direct link). The problem is, new members are unknowns. They don’t have any social standing in the community. Introducing themselves would be like walking into a crowded room and telling a bunch of strangers their life story. Nerve-wracking. That’s why many new members won’t do it. If all you’re asking new members to do in your welcome email is introduce themselves, you’re missing a great opportunity.

You want to make contrinbuting to your community irresistable. Don’t expect to write the welcome email and leave it at that for years to come. See the welcome email as something that is constantly evolving – just like your community. Draw attention to fantastic content, great members and irresistable discussions. Keep it up to date and relevant.

Which welcome email do you think is more likely to encourage new members to contribute to the community?

Welcome email A

Hello

Thanks for registering. We are glad you have chosen to be a part of our community and we hope you enjoy your stay.

All the best!

Welcome email B

Hi <NAME>

Thank you for joining our community – it’s great to have you as a member. You can get started right away by clicking the link below and introducing yourself. Say hi, tell us about yourself or why you decided to join. What you choose to say is up to you!

<DIRECT LINK>

We’ve got some great conversations going on right now that I think you’ll love. Feel free to take a look and get involved – it would be great to hear your thoughts:

Why London isn’t actually the capital of the United Kingdom
<DIRECT LINK>

Men are from Mars, and so are women – PROOF!
<DIRECT LINK>

The internet will be switched off in 2012
<DIRECT LINK>

My name is <YOUR FULL NAME>. I’m the community manager and it’s my job to help build and develop this community by encouraging members to get involved and share their ideas and opinions. If I can be of any help, or if you have any feedback or suggestions, drop me an email at any time: <YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS>.

Other members are always about to offer a helping hand, too. <NAME OF COMMUNITY REPRESENTATIVE/HELPFUL MEMBER & DIRECT LINK TO PROFILE> loves to offer new members guidance. Feel free to drop her a line any time you like.

Thanks again for joining us. I look forward to seeing you get involved in the community!

<YOUR FULL NAME>
Community Manager

***

I am guessing you went with email B. So why don’t we see welcome emails like this? Probably for two reasons – welcome emails are overlooked, and customizing them takes effort.

You no longer have the first reason as an excuse. As for the second reason, yes it takes effort, but if you can lure in a new member and get more activity and engagement from them, it’s effort that will pay off.

Feel free to use the email I crafted above. It’s not perfect – it took me about ten minutes to put together and I’m sure you can come up with something better – but it’s interesting. Lure those new members in. Encourage them to get active. Make it easy for them to get active. Show them great, relevant content.

As for what to avoid in those welcome emails:

  • Anonymity – Address the new member by their name. Try to get their real one when they join.
  • Invite friends – Members rarely invite their friends to online communities; particularly ones they’ve only just joined themselves.
  • Community guidelines – You’re immediately telling the new member to watch their step.
  • Invalid email addresses – Hold out on using a ‘DoNotReply’ email address for as long as possible.

Don’t waste this opportunity. Welcome emails can really help get more members active and involved in your community. Put the extra effort in and you’ll see what a difference they can make.

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{ 19 comments }

Michelle January 6, 2011 at 7:50 pm

I like it. I’ve been trying to figure out how to welcome people better but I struggle with what to say if they haven’t filled out a profile or posted anything yet. With just a user name to go by, it’s hard to find something to connect with to say more than “welcome”. What you have there is good and can be used even if you know nothing about the person.

Thanks!

Michelle

Souxi January 6, 2011 at 11:19 pm

Good idea Martin. We have so many members who never contribute, and you know this is something that has concerned us all. Sending an email like that is a great idea, and can only help to really encourage new members to get involved in our community.

I agree Michelle, it can be hard to know what to say to newbies. You have to try and think of something different each time. You have to look and see if they have filled out their profile and go from there. Sending an email as Martin has suggested makes things a lot easier.

Beata Aldridge January 7, 2011 at 2:36 pm

I love e-mail B, and while I always encourage users to get in touch at the bottom of the email, I think the rest of the email is too long. No one is going to read that much. (I didn’t even read that much on the first go-through.)

How do you balance length and effectiveness?

Martin Reed - Community Manager January 9, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Beata – If only 10% of new members read email B in its entirety you’re still going to see a higher contribution rate than sending email A to every new member.

Remember, email B was just a quick example. You should be writing your own email for your own community. I’d suggest cutting out the introduction of the community manager and link to a community representative if you’re worried about length.

Keep in the calls to action and irresistible content, though.

Mick St James January 11, 2011 at 6:43 am

Interesting, I’ve never given much thought to the welcome email. Thanks for the insight.

David January 13, 2011 at 2:52 am

I came across this website by accident. But would like to build a community forum for our sports club. We have 800 members but perhaps only 150-200 are regular participants.

Chris Quinn February 21, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Writing the email is sometimes easier then getting the person to read the email. What do you suggest as what to put in the subject lines of these emails? It’s hard now days because people usually just delete emails that they know didn’t come from friends/family/co-workers etc…

Martin Reed - Community Manager February 28, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Chris – Do you not get new members to verify their email address? In any case, if new members to your community don’t care about emails you send then you’re either sending irrelevant emails, or that individual doesn’t care much about the community. Either way, you have a problem that you need to fix.

Leigh March 14, 2011 at 4:22 pm

Just came across this site last night – Love it! I’ll be sticking around. Thanks Martin!

As for emails I think I would have preferred B. Then again, I tend not to sign up for sites I don’t plan to participate in so either email would have worked for me.

Nancy Williams March 17, 2011 at 10:07 pm

Writing the email is sometimes easier then getting the person to read the email. What do you suggest as what to put in the subject lines of these emails? Itís hard now days because people usually just delete emails that they know didnít come from friends/family/co-workers etc

Carla E. March 23, 2011 at 10:22 am

I’m looking to develop an online community for the readers on my work from home site. I’m so glad that I came across your site while browsing through forums. I’m going to subscribe for more updates :)

Frank March 29, 2011 at 4:14 am

I run multiple online communities and I’ve setup multiple sites for people and this is one of the first things i emphasize to them there is no point pulling visitors to an inactive community. a handful of active members on boards will do wonders for converting visitors to members and having them contribute to the discussions.

The welcome e-mail is a great way to make people feel welcome and give a more personal touch to the community which leads away from the generic welcome to our site message people get.

Bruce March 30, 2011 at 1:16 am

Hi Martin,

I am about two steps behind this process. My website is about dog walking, and I am not even sure if I could or ought to build a newsletter/ community for it. I could even make a forum, blog etc but whatever I create it must be easy to monitor, build my client base and provide value to the members.

I know that every website has a different reason to engaging visitors .. but your email is definitely an interesting point, because I am so used to receiving standard emails that do not invite me to contribute any further. Thank you!

Martin Reed - Community Manager March 31, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Nancy – As long as the subject line mentions the site, you should be OK.

Chris May 3, 2011 at 2:52 pm

We just implemented a welcome email for our Real Estate website and found that we actually get our perceptive clients to answer or secondary follow-up emails from a live body. It’s kinda just “breaks” the ice with the lead. Been a great tool for us…

Sharon May 13, 2011 at 5:02 am

Great article, Martin. I’m working on a welcome email right now for one of my communities. While I agree that Email B is better, I’ve had pretty horrid response rates with emails of this length (~1% for any action). What is your opinion on having a single call to action instead? e.g. “Stop by and introduce yourself here [forum link]“

Martin Reed - Community Manager May 25, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Sharon – What do you mean by response rates? People opening the email? People clicking a link in the email? People hitting the reply button? As long as the reader sees something ‘in it’ for them, they should be inclined to respond in some way or another.

Sharon July 5, 2011 at 7:56 am

Hi Martin,

We’re asking people to click a link and post somewhere on the site (review, question, forum).

“What’s in it for them?”… Good point, and I don’t know, aside from being a part of the community. I’ll have to think on this one. Thanks for the advice.

Elli C June 20, 2011 at 1:49 am

Just thought I would share this tip I got from a friend. Use the sign up questions to ask a follow up question or point them in the direction of something on the site their answer indicates they would be interested in – in our case something like ‘ I see you are from Fife – you should take a look at _____’s page, he has some great pictures/blogs from your neck of the woods’ I find the members tend to visit and often email back or leave a message on my page as well to say thanks for the tip.

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