Online Community Onboarding

Samuel HulickI love what Samuel Hulick is doing at UserOnboard. His teardowns of the initial onboarding efforts of popular websites, apps and social media platforms are insightful, humorous and good-spirited.

According to Samuel, “user onboarding is the process of increasing the likelihood that new users become successful when adopting your product.” Onboarding is a big topic for online communities. We want to increase the likelihood that new members will become amazing contributors. We couldn’t have a better guide than Samuel. Among our topics:

  • The creative, less disruptive ways of confirming email addresses
  • How to introduce new members to community functionality
  • Using lifecycle emails to engage members

Big Quotes

“It’s not so helpful to define [engagement] in company-centric terms. [Companies] will look at it and be like, ‘well, we want to retain more of the signups that we’re activating.’ But no one thinks of themselves as being in the retention phase of a particular community or their relationship with a product. They think of it in terms of what it means to their life and what kind of person they get to be that they otherwise wouldn’t.” -@SamuelHulick

“… if you think of communities … as the formulation of a relationship, the whole idea of being the clingy restrictive person, who doesn’t want the other person to outgrow them, is really not a good look. With community and software, [you should] be really invested in that person growing and changing, and if that means graduating out of it, then you’ve done your job.” -@SamuelHulick

“Dump [new users] into a place where it’s really clear that they can experiment, make mistakes, and it’s not going to go on their permanent record. It’s a private space so they’re not going to look like they’re doing something dumb in front of somebody. … It’s kind of like video games where they have the playable tutorial, where you know you’re not going to die.” -@SamuelHulick

“I definitely wouldn’t [say] that admins helping out new users, in a direct communicative fashion, isn’t onboarding. I think that anything that you do to make it more likely that someone’s going to find success with your community is onboarding. Whether it’s a handwritten letter, or someone responding to a comment saying, ‘hey, we don’t really discuss things in that way. Here’s some guidelines.’ I would consider all of that to be onboarding.” -@SamuelHulick

“If the entire onboarding or first-run experience is based around getting people to fill out a bunch of  doodads and upload a photo and tell people what kind of car they drive, and that really has nothing to do with what they’re actually there to do, then it would be wise to at least try a different approach and see if that worked better.” -@SamuelHulick

“The basic email confirmation process is to send someone a message to the address that they provided, and get them to click our link. By no means does it have to be a link that is explicitly telling people that that’s how they confirm their email address. If you have a really savvy lifecycle marketing campaign or email campaign that’s encouraging people like, ‘hey, you haven’t uploaded a profile photo, and we find that those are really helpful. Click here to do that now,’ a click is a click. If you can get the majority of people to confirm their email address without even knowing it, it would be an even smaller cohort of people where you would be reaching out and saying explicitly, ‘you need to confirm your address.'” -@SamuelHulick

About Samuel Hulick

Samuel Hulick is a user onboarding consultant, and the creator of, where he does teardowns of various apps and websites. He is the author of The Elements of User Onboarding.

Related Links


Your Thoughts

If you have any thoughts you’d like to share, please feel free to leave me a comment or send me an email or a tweet. If you enjoy the show, we would be grateful if you spread the word.

Thank you for listening to Community Signal.