By Katie Bapple, Published November 2, 2014
Over time, members will leave your online community. Though you might be a throwing down some serious online community strategy, abandonment is simply unavoidable. People simply lose the need that your community fulfilled by changing jobs, losing interests, retiring or other inevitable life events.
Chasing after abandoned members isn’t a solution, nor a productive and scalable use of time. Instead, proactively counteract the decline of old members by focusing on new members.
New member acquisition is an important element for sustaining online customer or member communities. A rate of decline in active members due to abandonment will create a noticeable void in community participation and engagement over time. In order to avoid this scenario, new, active members must be acquired at a rate equal to or greater than that of member abandonment.
This is one of the common online community management challenges laid out by attendees of Socious’s recent webinar, The 11 Most Asked Online Community Planning Question (and Their Answers).
Let’s dig into this specific question.
How to Recruit New Members for Your Online Community
There are seven primary ways to source members for an online community, though not all may apply to your specific target audience or online community lifecycle stage. Here are definitions explaining each of the seven sources to help you identify which options fit your organization and how you can start implementing plans to increase member acquisition right away.
Method #1) Direct
Direct member acquisition is great for new communities, when micro-level tasks are a regular part of day-to-day community management activities. In this option, community managers use 1:1 outreach to invite members, customers, or potential audience members to join the online community.
When you are creating an online customer community or private member community (i.e. associations), you’ll find people to target in your crm system or member database. Segment your records to identify the members that are most likely to convert on your offer to join in the community. When you are starting an awareness or industry online community, members are usually found via public social networks such as Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook, or via relevant conferences and events.
Method #2) Organic
Organic member acquisition tends to drive a majority of community member conversions in public or semi-private online communities. Potential members are referred to the community via search engine-indexed content and usually convert via on-site calls-to-action (CTAs).
Organic member acquisition is usually the number one source for new members in fully indexed public online communities.
Method #3) Paid
Paid member sourcing can refer to a few different avenues. The most common paid method for sourcing members is search engine marketing. Organizations set up Google Adwords or Bings Ads campaigns by providing a monthly budget, targeted keywords potential members would be likely to search for, and a relevant URL that will take the individual at the end of the keyboard to a page within the community, where they will hopefully find value and convert into members.
The second most common method is third party advertising. This usually appears via box and banner ads on websites that work with ad partners, such as Google, to sell ad inventory to place ads. The paying organization’s ad spot then appears on relevant sites. Using retargeting (also known as remarketing) campaigns, community managers can also have their online community’s ads shows up on various web pages if the end user has a cookie in their web browser that tracks a previous visit to your community’s web domain.
Paid options are generally used by both open and private online communities that are at a mature stage of the community lifecycle, as scaling micro-level member acquisitions become less practical.
Method #4) Viral
Viral member acquisition occurs when current community members directly invite friends, family or colleagues to join the online community. In some instances, your online community software provider may provide options for members to execute this action directly from their account, which helps to encourage viral member acquisitions over time.
Method #5) Social
Acquiring online community members via public social networks is relatively common and straightforward. Count the individuals who were referred to the community via social media channels and converted into a registered member as a result of their visit. This is a great word-of-mouth channel for communities at all stages in their lifecycle.
Method #6) Partnerships
Partnerships create brand awareness to drive referral travel and consequential member conversions. Partnerships describe a mutually beneficial deal between similar organizations, such as agreeing to post logos on one another’s websites, or trading media sponsorships at upcoming events.
Method #7) Special Campaigns
Member acquisitions via special campaigns account for any strategy that does not fit within the 6 other tactics outlined above. This could include list rentals, special events, or members directly ported into the community from another database.
Online communities should always have more than one source for new member acquisition. In the beginning, refining tactics to grow new member volume will require patience, trial and error. Be sure to test various forms of communication and record results to optimize your process over time.
Happy community building!