What does onboarding look like in real communities? I joined 127 online communities to find out. This report dives into my findings and provides actionable takeaways and recommendations that you can use to improve your own onboarding.
Community onboarding is all about welcoming new members and enabling them to become active contributors to your community. When done well, more members engage and stick around, which accelerates community growth.
Onboarding starts with pitching the dream - letting prospective members know why joining your community will make their lives better. Then you make them believe it by giving them context and examples, which encourages them to sign up. After that, you guide them from newbie to active member by explaining how to use your platform, where to find key info, and how to contribute. Along the way, you want to set expectations about behavior and communication styles and make coming back to the community a habit.
At least, that's the theory. This is the reality.
Community onboarding is a hugely impactful part of building a successful community. However, this report found that it’s often overlooked. Thankfully though there are many quick wins to make big improvements.
A surprising number of product and support communities did not explain who or why people should join.
offered no proof points on their landing page either.
Data collection remains a huge opportunity for many communities to understand more about their members.
Communication was where communities seemed to struggle most. But a few tweaks could make a dramatic improvement.
There was a stark difference between the quality of onboarding in engagement and product or support communities. The majority of engagement communities reviewed were membership communities often with a paid component. The quality here was excellent and many have applied established user onboarding best practices learned over the last 20 years in the SaaS product world. While there are key differences between user and community onboarding, such best practices provide a solid foundation on which to build.
Recommendation: Think of your community like a product. What are its features (the things you do), its benefits (member value), and how do you use it? (member guidelines). There's a wealth of understanding of onboarding within product and growth teams that community can tap into. Those managing product and support communities can up their onboarding game by studying the messaging, positioning, and onboarding comms used by successful engagement communities.
Messaging and Positioning
For onboarding, 4 key bits of information informs how a community is understood in the mind of a potential member.
- A tagline - a short set of words, usually one sentence, that describes the core value proposition of the community, or inspires people to learn more about it - often the main heading on a community landing page or within the community itself.
- A description - a short paragraph detailing what the community is, who it's for, and why people should join.
- Unique Selling Points (USPs) - The benefits to members in joining the community.
- Proof Points - Examples or stats that demonstrate that the community is worth joining.
I looked for these in 2 main areas. Either the community landing page - a page dedicated to explaining the community within a marketing site. Or on a platform page, the homepage of the community platform itself.
Unique Selling Points (USPs)
- Landing pages: 97% of communities had at least one USP on their landing page.
- The most common was connect (66%) quickly followed by learn (63%). Just over half promoted events (55%) and then it dropped down to support (29%), feedback (26%), and career opportunities (26%). Swag was featured on 5% of landing pages and inspiration was included on 5% too. On average, landing pages included 3 USPs, with just 3% having none, and 13% including 5 or more, with the most being 7.
- Platform pages: 97% of communities included at least one USP on their platform page.
- Support was most common, featuring on 84% of pages. Feedback, connection (both 24%), learning, and product education (both 20%) were popular too. Getting early access to products or swag was mentioned on 3% of platform pages. Platform pages tended to include fewer USPs than landing pages with 2 being average. 2% had 5 or more and 43% had just 1.
Many communities did a poor job of communicating the value they offer to potential members. Too few USPs were used and the most popular ones were vague terms like connect or learn, which don't convey a unique value proposition.
Recommendation: Using a broader range of USPs, especially those catering to real member pain points like career opportunities would help improve signup rates.
listed give back as a benefit, which is a flag that you’re spending too much time thinking about your advocates.
Recommendation: Landing pages are overwhelmingly visited by potential members and messaging should cater to them.
“Communicating value is essential to attracting and acquiring members.
In a digitally overstimulating world, people are looking to quickly determine if this is an experience that they will derive value from. So convey your benefits clearly.”
Raccine MalcolmHead of Community & Growth
When it comes to proof points, communities used 5 different types:
- Quotes from members
- Member photos or avatars
- Numbers - counts or estimates of total members or activity.
- Member-created content - such as blog posts or recent threads.
- Logos - representing the organizations a member works at or is involved with.
- Landing pages: Of those who used proof points, quotes, and member photos featured in 26% of landing pages, while numbers were used on 23%. Member content was used on just 13% of landing pages, while 11% used logos. Overall, 77% of landing pages included 1 or more types of proof, the average being 2. Just 8% used 4 or more types. 23% of communities included no proof points on their landing page - all of which had either a product or support component to the community.
- Platform pages: 85% of platform pages included some type of proof point. 72% of platform pages used numbers, this often being baked into the default functionality of the platform itself. 62% featured member content on the platform homepage. Just 5% included quotes on the platform page and none used logos. On average, 2 types of proof were used on platform pages. Just 15% had no type of proof, while 16% used 3 or more.
The placement of proof points could be improved. During a multi-step signup process, it can be useful to include social proof to maintain motivation to complete the process, but almost all communities only use proof points on homepages.
Recommendation: Include proof points throughout your onboarding process, including alongside signup forms and in onboarding communications.
Many communities could make better use of a range of proof types to encourage members to sign up. On landing pages, proof points were often used but limited to 1 or 2 types even if used multiple times throughout the page.
Recommendation: Different people respond to different types of social proof. Think about ways to demonstrate social proof beyond member quotes and photos on landing pages and numbers and member content on platform pages.
“You can never assume folks understand the value of joining, or even know that your community exists to help them.
Treat your community like the important feature it is
and show off proof of its benefits!”
Erik T. Israni Product Community Strategist
Taglines and Descriptions
On landing and platform pages, it's important to convey what the community is all about, who it's for, and why people should join. Taglines and descriptions play a critical role in driving prospects to sign up.
- 48% of communities had both a tagline and a description on their landing page or platform, while 31% just had either one. 21% did not have a tagline or a description - all of these had either a product or support component.
- Landing pages: 87% of landing pages had a tagline, while 69% had a description.
- There was a lot of commonality among words used in taglines across communities. 22% had one or more words in common (other than community). Connect, join, and answers were the most popular, followed by learn, peers, and find. While join topped the list among descriptions, learn, help, and share featured frequently. This reflects the similarities in goals across communities, especially product and support communities. Common terms occurred in just 15% of engagement community taglines, for example.
- Platform pages: 63% of platform pages included a tagline and 37% had a description.
- Among the taglines, there was even more overlap in words used, with 31% sharing one or more words other than community. The most common tagline themes were asking questions, sharing, and finding answers. While descriptions most commonly mention help, experts, and questions.
It was surprisingly common for product and support communities to offer little or no explanation about who the community is for or why members should join. The prevailing thinking seems to be that:
1. The purpose of the community is obvious.
This is rarely true, plus, 52% of the product or support communities had additional elements, such as success, engagement, or contribution.
Recommendation: Use taglines and descriptions to explain the full range of value created for members to help prospective members understand the additional value on offer.
2. It's the only community about X, so they don't need to try.
There are always alternatives to using a community. Either, other ways for members to spend their time, or other ways to solve their needs - such as with web chat or email in the case of support, for example.
Recommendation: Be clear about why people should use the community, when, and what’s in it for them to improve outcomes for all.