Community Building

The challenges of onboarding

Managing a community is hard work. You have to keep your audience entertained, motivate members to post their own content, minimize the number of lurkers, and make sure there is a constant flow of new users joining in.

The challenges of onboarding

Tough job!

I’ve recently started experimenting on one specific aspect of community management which is absolutely critical and will define your members’ behavior for the rest of their time in your community: onboarding.

What is onboarding?

Usually, onboarding refers to the process through which new employees go, in order to fit into an organization, but also to feel like being an essential part of it.

Applied in the specific case of communities, we usually call “onboarding” the process we use to make our new users feel comfortable with our platform and the rest of the community.

How do you onboard new members?

Answer is: it depends. It depends on the kind of platform, the type of community, the new member’s personality, the time of the day, your mood, her mood, the weather… hell, to an extent, even your horoscope is contributing!

Let me very humbly attempt to summarize a few best practices, based on what I’ve read and learned so far.

Just do it

The first lesson I’ve learned the hard way is that ANY onboarding process is better than NO onboarding process. If you’re not doing anything for your new members yet, just get started. Even if you make mistakes, you’ll learn and do better the next time around.
Also, don’t make excuses like: you need more data on usage, or you cannot afford professional analytics tools. You can start simple, and build as you go.


The first and most easy onboarding system you can set up is emailing. Send a series of emails to your new users to welcome them, teach them about the basics of your platform, encourage them to take action on the platform, remind them of the benefits of being part of your community.
You don’t need to automate that process at first. You can start the good old way with your own mail client and an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of what you’re doing.

Once you have a good basis of onboarding emails, start playing with the variables: content, order, frequency, time of the day, etc.

I love this article from Vero that summarizes how Evernote does it. It’s extremely simple and made me realize that you don’t need complex analytics and smart triggers to get started. Just a few good email templates.

Participation on a private thread

If a new user posts something on your platform, it’s a certain sign the onboarding process is moving in the right direction. To help trigger that behavior, you can send her a few well-written private messages directly from your platform, and encourage her to reply.

Proceed exactly the same way as with emails: prepare a series of private messages for your new users. Try to write short messages, fast to read, and most importantly: actionable! Ask her about herself, about what she likes, about what she thinks of your community. She’ll reply. People love to talk about themselves.

Participation in public threads

In our Minsh apps, we have a Twitter-style “@username” mention system that notifies the mentioned user and sends her an email. That’s a great way to get a new user to participate in a discussion.

Here are a few examples:

  1. The new user asked you something in a private message. Either tell her to post the question in the public forum, or directly post it yourself and @mention the newbie.
  2. A discussion is happening around a topic you know your newbie is interested in. Have her pitch in. “Hey @newbie, what do you think about this?”
  3. You know a specific user that your newbie may want to connect with. Play the wingman: “@user have you met @newbie?”

Agreed, this is not very scalable, and might only work in smaller communities as I’m not sure how it could be automated down the line.


Onboarding is tough, and I’m only getting started at this. I need to test and try and fail and try again until I can make out what works from what doesn’t. I will happily keep you posted on the results of my experiments, but the bottom line is: you’ll need to make your own experiments to find what works and what doesn’t for your community.