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Don't Make Your Forum Into a Fortress

Posted by Patrick Groome on Jan 28, 2016 10:08:58 AM

3 minute read

Don't Turn Your Community Into a Fortress

Community managers work towards a variety of goals. One of the most common is the occasionally nebulous task of “increasing engagement”. Engaged members will contribute more, generate more discussion, give better feedback and are more likely to spread the good news about your community (and brand). There are as many suggestions on methods for this as there are community managers. I’m not going to pretend that I have The One Simple Trick You Need For Huge Engagement. What I do have is suggestions on how to ensure you’re not immediately shooting your community in the foot.

I recently uncovered a particularly frustrating moment in one of my own communities. A member who was excited about an expansion to one of his favourite games attempted to link to some official screenshots from the publisher’s forum. They were surprised to find that they were all dead links. A little investigation on my part determined that their software was configured to restrict linking. I was curious about the game, so attempted to follow the images  through to the source. I found that the discussion containing the images was also inaccessible to non-members. Clicking on the registration link then took me to a login screen with around ten required fields. I gave up at that point. If I didn’t have a professional interest, I doubt I would have lasted as long as I did.

Explaining this to a marketing professional who doesn’t work in community would be difficult. “So you’ve paid to have collateral made, and then you put it behind as many walls as possible so that no one can see it? Why?”. It’s a strange habit that community managers have collectively fallen into. Customers attention spans are getting shorter and shorter, and online communities are often still in the era of long-sign ups and gated content.

The only communities that can get away with this are ones that

  1. Have so much traffic and demand that they need to actively curate users to try and ensure the quality of the community remains high
  2. Communities that contain such great knowledge and resources that they can afford to gate the community, increasing the value of those resources through scarcity

Examples of popular communities that have this “rich person” problem include popular enthusiast communities like Something Awful (who are able to charge a 10 dollar fee for access) and Penny Arcade (who require new registrants to read a gigantic rules thread that is replete with shibboleths).

Customer communities are rarely able to lay claim to that kind of demand. Generally we want people to be able to participate. A study by Formstack showed that reducing form fields hugely increases conversion rates, but no one should need a study to tell them that. When you’re signing up to view something, do you prefer to put in more effort or less? Bingo.

How to Improve Your User Registration

  • Do an audit of your permissions to make sure everyone has access to the things they should. Does restricting access to things like attachments really make sense? If you don’t have a good reason to gate content, don’t. Let your prospective community members access the information they need.
  • Take a look at your registration process. Are you bewildering your prospective members with a deluge of information? Keep things as simple as possible on sign up. If you’d like more information from them, you can always find ways to motivate them once they’ve crossed the main hurdle of actually signing up. Seriously, do you really need to know their residence address?
  • If your main site or store already has a registration, use jsConnect to link this sign on to your community. Don’t make your customers register more than once!
  • If you don’t have an existing registration, consider setting up a social sign on such as Facebook or Twitter. Not all networks are a good fit for all brands, and it’s good to have a variety. If you’re running a customer community for a PC game for instance, your prospective customers may not have a Twitter but will almost certainly be able to make use of a login that uses their Steam account. Check with your vendor as to what options are available on your software.
  • Try and make the transition into your forum community from your main site as seamless as possible. If your community theming doesn’t match your brand, it can feel jarring and cheap to new visitors. Ideally there should be no feeling of “oh, now I’m on a different thing.”

Topics: Community, News

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