What follows is a list of social motivators, action items and design alternatives related to newcomers in online communities based on social sciences research. The claims are organized by the type of newcomer problem they are aimed to address. This information is drawn from Bob Kraut and Paul Resnick's book:
Kraut, R. E., Burke, M. & Riedl, J. Dealing with newcomers. In Kraut, R. E. & Resnick, P. (eds.) Building successful online communities: Evidence-based social design. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. (In press). [PDF]
Overview: 5 newcomer problems
When dealing with newcomers, online communities must solve five basic problems.
1. Recruitment: First, communities need to advertise to recruit members and to ensure a supply of newcomers for replenishment and growth
2. Selection: Second, the community needs to select only potential members who fit well. This may occur through self-selection, where potential members who are a good fit find the community attractive and those who not a good fit find it unattractive. Or it may occur through screening, where the community screens out some potential members, selecting the others.
3. Retention: Third, both theory and experience suggest that newcomers’ ties to the community are especially fragile. As a result, the community needs to engage in tactics that keep potentially valuable newcomers around until they can develop more robust ties to the community or learn how the group operates.
4. Socialization: Fourth, the group needs to socialize the newcomers, teaching them how to behave in ways appropriate to the group. We discuss many techniques for socializing members of an online community and encouraging them to behave appropriately in chapter 5 on regulating behavior. In the current chapter we focus on socialization strategies that are of particular relevance to newcomers.
5. Protection: Finally, throughout its interactions with prospective members, visitors and newcomers in their early interactions, the community needs to protect itself from the potentially damaging actions of those who either have little knowledge of appropriate group behavior or little motivation to follow community norms.
1. Compared to laissez faire approaches, in which prospective members seek out or stumble upon a community, active recruiting will lead to the community having access to a larger pool of prospective members.
2. Word of mouth recruiting is substantially more powerful than impersonal advertising.
3. Recruiting new members from the social networks of current members increases the numbers who will join.
4. Making it easy for users to share content from a community site with their friends (e.g., via easy email, Twitter, Facebook, etc.), will increase the visibility of the community among the users’ friends and thereby their likelihood of joining.
5. Identifying the most influential members of a community and encouraging them to recruit others in their social networks is more effective than soliciting referrals from members at random.
6. Impersonal advertising can effectively increase the number of people joining an online community, especially among potential members with little prior knowledge of the community.
7. Recruiting materials that present reasons to join and endorsements by credible sources and sites will attract people who are actively searching for and evaluating communities.
8. Recruiting materials that present attractive surface features and endorsements by celebrities will attract people who are casually assessing communities.
9. Emphasizing the number of people already participating in a community will motivate more people to join than will emphasizing the community need.
10. Placing the name of a community in front of people often will activate the familiarity heuristic, their liking of the community and thus their willingness to try it.
1. Providing potential new members an accurate and complete picture of what the members’ experience will be once they join will increase the fit of those who join.
2. Forcing potential new members to pay or wait will cause people who value the community to be more likely to join.
3. Forcing potential new members to undertake “separating” tasks will make those who find the tasks less onerous more likely to join. Separating tasks are any tasks that is more interesting to people who are a good fit for the community. For example, reading and rating or editing material written by other members might be effective separating tasks.
4. Requiring potential members to complete a diagnostic task will screen out some undesirable members.
5. Requiring potential members to provide external diagnostic credentials (e.g., organizational email address) will screen out some undesirable members.
6. Requiring potential members to provide referrals from existing members will screen out some undesirable members.
1. Entry barriers for newcomers may cause those who join to be more committed to the group and contribute more to it.
2. When newcomers have friendly interactions with existing community members soon after joining a community, they will be more likely to stay and contribute more.
3. Encouraging newcomers to reveal themselves publicly in profiles or ‘introduction threads’ gives existing group members a basis for conversation with newcomers that therefore should increase interaction between old timers and newcomers.
4. Assigning the responsibilities of having friendly interactions with newcomers to particular community members increases the frequency of these interactions.
5. Explicitly discouraging hostility towards newcomers who make mistakes can promote friendly initial interactions between newcomers and old-timers.
1. By using formal, sequential and collective socialization tactics, new members are likely to become more committed to the community, learn how to behave in it and contribute more. Description of select organizational socialization tactics for communities:
- Formal: Newcomers are segregated from other organizational members and put through experiences tailored to newcomers.
- Sequential: Newcomers are given a clear sequence of experiences or stages they will go through.
- Collective: Newcomers go through a common set of experiences designed to produce standardized responses to situations.
2. When old-timers provide newcomers formal mentorship the newcomers will become more committed to the community, learn how to behave in it and contribute more.
1. Sandboxes both speed up the learning process for newcomers and reduce the harm to the community they might otherwise cause. Sandboxes are safe, isolated areas for exploration and skill development.
2. Progressive access controls reduce the harm a newcomer can do to a community while learning the ropes.