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Getting people on your website is nice, but you will probably want them to join your community through a registration process. This will allow you to contact them when needed. It also allows their community actions to be associated with a unique online identity, important for the formation of member-to-member relationships. And the member database that you develop through online registration will be valuable capital for your company.

Figure 4.6

Figure 4.6 A community for children needs a registration page that's very simple to use. A Lego figure is used here as a helper.

If your community is open to the public, you should put prominent registration links on the website with a clear, short message about the benefits of membership. Users will normally feel more motivated to sign up if they have a clear idea of what they are joining, so in most cases, it's better to allow unregistered users to read content in your community even if the ability to create content is reserved for members only.

Consider offering guest status to people who are interested in your community but not yet ready to register. Guest users might be allowed to read content but not to publish content of their own, create a profile page, or communicate with others. Try to define points of interaction where you can offer these users the option to register. For example, offer guest users the button to post a message, but when they click on it, instead of opening the message form, suggest that they register in order to send a message. This strategy is particularly relevant for communities that charge for membership, because you have to convince guests to become paying members. People naturally like to know what they're getting before they take out their credit cards. As guests, they can see how useful your community is and decide what membership is worth to them.

Figure 4.7

Figure 4.7 Asmallworld: This community is completely based on viral communication. If you're not a member, you can't explore this closed community until a member invites you.

The Registration Page

Your registration page should explicitly explain the benefits of membership. Maybe the first hundred registered members will receive a gift, a coupon, a free download, or special icons to decorate their profiles. Make it very clear to users why it is worth their time to join your community and what they'll get in return. Use the space on the registration page to explain this with a short text.

Figure 4.8

Figure 4.8 Business network Xing: Clean and simple registration page plus an extremely concise desciption of member benefits.

Figure 4.9

Figure 4.9 Even children can complete a registration process with an extra clear structure and simple explanations.

Don't misuse this page to ask a long list of questions. Filling out registration forms is not fun, so yours should be as short and painless as possible. Otherwise, people are likely to drop out partway through. And if your registration form looks long or complex, some won't even bother to start.

People are also mistrustful when they are asked for a lot of personal information. Try to avoid sensitive questions about subjects such as income and health if this data is not essential to you right away. The important point is to capture the members you want. Once they have signed up, then you'll have many options for getting additional information from them.

Registration Form Checklist

  1. Nickname: Do you want users to choose a nickname? Do you want it to be unique? Should the system suggest alternatives if users attempt to register with a login that is already taken?
  2. Password: Let users choose their own, and make them enter it twice to avoid typing errors.
  3. Email: You need to be able to contact the users. Make users type their email address twice. Do you want to confirm the validity of the email by sending them an activation link to finish their registration?
  4. First name, last name, and physical address: This is required for legal reasons in some countries. Check with a lawyer to find out about the data you should store about members and the rules about how to store it.
  5. CAPTCHA image: (Optional) This is a special image of letters or numbers that the user must type into a box as a security measure to avoid computer-generated registrations. (CAPTCHA is a trademark owned by Carnegie Mellon and means "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.")
  6. Direct mail opt-in: Do you want to offer users the option to subscribe to a newsletter or marketing emails?
  7. Terms of Use acceptance: Your registration form should include a checkbox to accept your website Terms of Use with a link to the legal document. This is normally the last question asked before submitting the registration form.
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