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Is This Community For Me?

After they’ve sampled your community, some visitors will be motivated to become members, while others will depart for good. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; after all, many tourists visit wonderful places once or twice and get everything they need.

Many community builders are overly fixated on moving people through the transition from visitor to member; increasing membership base is a key business goal and a common measure of success. But be careful--pushing too hard can backfire. People want to explore a place and understand the benefits of membership before signing up for something. They want to feel welcomed, not trapped with a used-car salesman who’s a little too eager to close the deal. Don’t waste your visitors’ time with hollow sales pitches; it’s waaaaay too easy for them to click away to somewhere else.

Membership Has Its Rewards

Information is the currency of the Net--and you’ll get off on the right foot with your visitors by offering them clear information about the benefits and requirements of membership, rather than simply waving a big membership flag in their face.

In general, people join Web communities because there’s something that they want to do that requires membership. If your community offers some tangible and valuable activity that people know they want, your job will be easier. Someone can wander endlessly through the vast collection of items for sale on eBay, for example--but to make a bid on that long-lost childhood toy, they’ll have to become a member. People can browse through genealogy Web pages at GeoCities to their hearts’ content--but to build their own, they’ll have to become members.

Assuming that there really is some value to membership (which is not always the case), be sure to let your visitors know up front what that value is. You’ve got a great opportunity to start building trust here, so try to avoid raising expectations that exceed what you can deliver. If you’re going to tell your visitors that your community is harassment-free, or that your service is up 24/7, you’d better deliver on that promise or you’ll be building a shaky foundation. Amazon.com doesn’t just lure visitors with a “100% safe shopping” experience, it also provides the policies, instructions, and customer service to back that up. I’ve experienced this personally while shopping at Amazon, and my comfort level has grown because my experiences matched what I read on the site.

Getting off on the right foot with a new member can only make it easier to make them a valuable contributor to your community. Once you’ve managed to sign up a new member, your real work begins.

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