What’s the first thing you do when meeting someone for the first time? I am betting that you immediately start to ask questions about them – you engage with them. You do this to find things you have in common with that person. When you find something you both have in common, you will both feel more at ease and comfortable communicating with each other. The exact same process occurs in online communities.
Never ignore an introduction
When someone introduces themselves in your online community, they are reaching out. They are reaching out to you and every single member of your community. They are taking a risk. If they are ignored, you might as well have told that member to get lost, to never come back and to tell their friends never to come to your community. I physically cringe when I come across online communities where members introduce themselves and receive no response. What a failure, and it’s so easily avoided.
An introduction is the beginning of a conversation, and the start of a relationship. You can’t have a community without conversations or relationships. It’s just not going to happen. You need to be involved in your online community. You need to reach out to your members, and you need to find out what you have in common.
‘But I don’t have anything in common with my members’
Rubbish. I developed and currently manage an online community for women. In case you didn’t know, I am a man. Does this mean I have nothing in common with my members? Not at all.
To encourage visitors to register and become members, my registration form is very short. I ask for:
That’s it. So if a member doesn’t give much away when they introduce themselves, how do I find potential things I have in common with them? Well, I also have a more comprehensive profile section (see my profile for an example) that members can fill out after they have registered. When new members join, their welcome email invites them to fill out their profile. I also personally welcome all new members via the private messaging system a day or two after they have joined (whether they have introduced themselves or not). If they haven’t filled out their profile or introduced themselves, I encourage them to do so.
You can find something you have in common with every single member of your community. If I find people that have decided to go to university as a mature student, I mention that I did the same. If someone loves reading horror books, I mention that I enjoy reading Graham Masterton. At the very least, if someone mentions they are from the UK I’ll tell them that’s where I am from (originally) and develop further conversation from there.
Initiate new relationships
Your online community shouldn’t revolve around you – it should revolve around your members. Yes, you need to be a visible presence and you need to know who your members are. You can use what you know about your members to initiate new relationships within your online community. Did a new member mention they enjoy stitching? Tell them that you know ‘Member X’ shares the same interest, and drop ‘Member X’ a message telling them about this new member. It could be the start of a beautiful relationship and your community will be all the better for it.
Find out what you have in common with your members. ‘I have nothing in common with them‘ is an excuse for being lazy. If you disagree, then perhaps you are either managing the wrong kind of online community, or aren’t cut out to be a community manager. Use what you have in common with your members to identify with them and make them feel more comfortable with you and your community. Match up their interests with those of other members and start introducing. You are an online matchmaker, after all.