Older, more established communities can have their own unique set of challenges. One of the biggest challenges for the community manager of a large, established online community is to overcome the feel of the "old boys' club" and to make sure new members don't feel excluded.
When a community has been around a long time, it has its own culture, its own stories and lore, and its own inside jokes. New people already have a daunting enough challenge just learning the ropes, but when they see nothing but a bunch of people who know each other, and who refer to things they have no connection with, and tell stories that they weren't there for, it can feel the same as walking into a biker bar in a small town; the record screeches to a halt and everyone turns to look at you as you stand in the doorway.
A community manager can help ease a new member into an established group. If a new member has someone take them under their wing, it can often mean the difference between becoming a valuable community member or turning around and walking out the door.
Here are some strategies for established community managers to help prevent new members from becoming intimidated
I'm new here. Help me.
The first step is to have a solid on-boarding plan. What are your goals for a new member? What do you want to help them accomplish? Once you know that, you need to communicate it clearly to new members. I know I beat this drum often, but having a basic roadmap for new members is essential. If they have no idea where to start, they're likely going to leave unless they have a very compelling reason to be in your community.
When you know what your goal is for a new member, you can reach out individually to each new member (I know this sounds daunting, but with a dedicated, full-time community manager, one person can handle this even in very large online communities) and say hi. If it becomes too big a task, this can even be an automated message from the community manager. Even a simple "Hello, welcome to _______, my name is _____ and I'm the community manager and if there's anything I can do to help you, let me know! You can start here:......" could be the difference between a confused drive-by and a future champion community member.
Keep an eye on the new member's activity and more importantly, your established members' treatment of the new member. If you see any hazing or rudeness (a good trigger phrase to look for is "I know you're new here, but..."), make sure you're monitoring the conversation and stepping in when necessary. Depending on your community, you may not want to get involved (sometimes new members do need to learn the ropes and the cultural expectations from community members rather than an authority figure), but sometimes it becomes necessary.
The good news is, it doesn't take much to overcome the "newbie" fear. Think back to elementary school. When a new child was introduced to the class, the teacher would take them in front of everybody and say, "Everybody pay attention, I'd like you all to say hello to our newest student..." and then show the new child where to sit, introduce her to the kids at her table or next to her desk, and that would be it. It might take a day or two for the teacher to explain to the new student how things are done ("After story time, we all clean our desks; that's what we do in my class"), and the other established students might help ("When you want to go to the bathroom, you have to raise your hand") but by the beginning of the next week, it's like the kid was there the whole time.
It doesn't take much to make a difference in a new community member's online experience, but taking a few simple steps to help ease the transition can mean a world of difference to that person and your community.
Guest post by Brian Ambrozy. Brian has been the Editor-in-Chief of Icrontic, a leading technology and PC gaming community, since 2003. Overseeing a staff of reporters covering everything from computer building and video games to technology legislation and internet policy, he has produced and covered a range of stories in an engaging, welcoming, and accessible manner."