Where are the calls to action in your online community?

by Martin Reed on 31 March 2011 in Articles

encourage activity in your online community

A lot of people email me to ask why more people aren’t joining their online community or contributing once they’ve joined. The reason is often simple – there are no clear calls to action.

When a new member arrives at your community, what do they see? In a forum environment, then’ll typically see a list of categories. When they click on a category, they’ll see a list of topics. When they click on a topic, they’ll see a discussion. When they’ve read the discussion that interests them, they’ll leave – unless they decide that joining would be beneficial to them.

I’ve seen forums with copy such as:

If this is your first visit, be sure to check out the FAQ by clicking the link above. You may have to register before you can post: click the register link above to proceed. To start viewing messages, select the forum that you want to visit from the selection below.

Nobody is going to click the FAQ. Why should they? That takes time (and effort). Plus, it doesn’t sound particularly interesting. Being told that registration may be required isn’t really good enough, either. You either need to register, or you don’t. At least I am told how to view the content (this should be intuitive anyway). At no time am I told why I should join (besides gaining posting privileges), or what compelling content I need to read without delay.

What a waste of an opportunity.

You need to have clear calls to action throughout your community. When a visitor arrives at your community what do you want them to do? I’d suggest the following:

  • Find and be dazzled by your best content.
  • Recognize that they can share their knowledge and be admired.
  • Join the community and contribute.

So, how do you get visitors to go through these steps? Here are my recommendations.

Have a news section on the community homepage. Highlight your best content and your best members. Share community news and encourage site exploration.

Example:

Melanie turned 50 today. Happy Birthday — you look great! James recently wrote about the conflict in Libya and raised some fantastic points; you should check them out. Natalie recently got a new dog but is worried that she’s in over her head. Marc has submitted some great photos to the monthly photo project. Can you do better?

NB – Links in the examples above and below are blank and have been inserted for illustrative purposes only.

You could also include a report on what other members have done in the community, similar to Facebook’s activity feed. The activity feed is probably one of the main reasons why Facebook overtook MySpace in the social networking space. We’re naturally nosey – we want to know what others are up to so we can stay in the loop. We don’t want to get left behind, either – we’ll mimic activity with additional activity of our own.

Encourage visitors to join and contribute to discussions on the content pages. Flatter your visitors – make it clear that you want to see what they have to say and that what they say will be valued. Tell them why they should join. Use testimonials.

Example (this is taken directly from the Female Forum topic pages):

Join the conversation – become a member of Female Forum today! Real testimonials from other members:

Everyone is treated equally and accepted for who they are – Chatterbox
Female Forum is just like one big happy family that I’m proud to be a part of – Souxi
Female Forum is a real community that welcomes everyone and respects everyone’s opinion – Flutterby
Theres no nastiness. Female Forum is just a nice place to come for a chat. You seem to be respected more on here and people get to know your personality – Cat

Click here to join now – it’s free! Already a member? Lucky you! Sign in here.

Then, we go one step further – once a visitor reaches the bottom of the page, there’s another prompt:

We’d love to see you get involved in this conversation. Click here to join Female Forum and share your wisdom today!

Make posting obvious and easy. Although many forums and social networks are designed with similar user interfaces, that doesn’t mean you should assume everyone knows how to use them. I still get emails from new members asking how to post. They either don’t see the ‘New Topic’ button, or they don’t know where to look. Just imagine how many people are joining your site only to leave without contributing because they don’t know how to post.

Highlight the post buttons. Encourage members to use them. This can be as simply as a short line of text alongside the button:

encourage members to post

Get started now. Load your community website. Log out, and forget everything you know about your community. Ask yourself the following questions:

1. Is it obvious there is a community here?

Too many websites hide their community – don’t put it behind a link. Bring elements of your community onto the homepage, or ideally put the entire community there. If people can’t find the community or they think it’s not important to you, how can you expect them to join?

2. Is it obvious what the community is about?

When I get emails from people frustrated that nobody is joining their community I often have no clue what the community is supposed to be about after taking a look at their site. Make sure that your community’s purpose is made clear. Visitors aren’t going to join (or even browse) a site that is irrelevant to them.

3. Where is the best content?

Draw attention to your best content. Make it easy to access, and always credit the author of the content.

4. Why should I join?

Visitors won’t join to satisfy you. They’ll join because there’s something in it for them. Figure out what that is, and convince every single visitor.

5. How do I join?

Don’t have a tiny ‘register’ link buried away somewhere. Splash it around liberally. Make registration easy.

6. What do I do after joining?

Make sure new members know how to post and are given a clear direction on what to do next.

Joining a new community (online or offline) is tough. It takes courage and it takes effort. Make it easier for your visitors by guiding them through the process.

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{ 1 comment }

Woc April 2, 2011 at 7:27 am

Hi there

Long time since ive posted, you are right, it has to be simple people are not going to wade thru pages to signup, they just wanna sign up usually lol.

Communities like other sites are quite different because often people are wanting to connect with others, and people dont want to wait around either, so if you have a quiet community, they will be off quickly unless you grab their attension somehow.

Woc