‘Give Them Quick Wins’; Onboarding Should Be Personalized and Thorough

“It’s critical to onboard new subscribers successfully,” Dan Fink, managing director of Money-Media, said in a webinar last week. “Make sure they can easily log in. And if they haven’t accessed anything or they’re not receiving your news alerts, you’ve got a problem.”

Fink’s comment made me recall a survey that Joe May, marketing director of Pro Farmer, helped to distribute for his audience. “Our survey resulted in multiple concerns about user log-ins and passwords to the websites. So what we did was proactively remind our users the basics—how to reset their password; how to set their browser to remember their credentials so they don’t have to enter it every single time. That’s a simple action that we probably all take for granted…”

If we do take that for granted—speaking as someone who loses patience when my digital Washington Post doesn’t easily open for me—then we shouldn’t. If anything, onboarding has become even more important now, when our virtual patience may be on the thin side.


Here are lessons from the publishing world and Lia Zegeye, senior director of membership at the American Bus Association, in a story on Associations Now.


Be more personalized in your onboarding. Schibsted, a large media site in Norway and Sweden, created a “newsroom onboarding guide to welcome subscribers in a more personalized way. Now new subscribers can choose one of their renowned editors or journalists as a guide through the onboarding period. These personalized onboarding emails have a higher unique opening rate: 63% versus 38% for the standard onboarding process. The retention rate after the first renewal is also five percentage points higher.”


Show, don’t tell. In the personalized onboarding webinars that Zegeye conducts, she “shows a short promotional video from ABA’s tradeshow, providing a testimonial about the value of the event from a member’s perspective. Zegeye said she often gets thank-you notes from webinar attendees who say, “Wow, I had no idea you guys did all of these things!” “It’s a great way for me to connect with our members,” she added. The webinars immediately put a face with a name, and members are more likely to reach out to her directly with questions. “Mailing out packets has become a thing of the past,” she said.


“Remind subscribers and members why they signed on and reinforce that decision,” said Jim Sinkinson of Fired Up Marketing. “New customers—especially trials—forget why they subscribed. Don’t let them forget. Tantalize them with the valuable information they will be receiving. Onboarding materials should address three things: Motivation, method and making them heroes—give them quick wins.” I recently found out that I get PBS2 (channel 800!) from my cable provider; they should have informed me of that earlier based on my preferences.


Target. Speaking of preferences, from a data perspective, “this [opening 30-day] period is also crucial for us to gather patterns of user behavior,” said Katrina Bolak, manager, customer onboarding and engagement, for The Globe and Mail in Toronto. “We need 30 days of data to accurately serve up future content based on interests and for our email segmentation.” After that, content consumption patterns begin to form—good and bad.


Design matters. “We don’t think of onboarding as a discrete activity,” Aaron Steinberg, publisher at insideARM, said last year. “It’s the beginning of our ongoing member service and engagement. We want to be in touch with our customers all the time, and we do a good job of that.” He spoke about the importance of design in the customer service chain. “Our materials are good, our onboarding is good, but in the middle there was a design” on the website that needed to be clearer. That changed, thanks to that good customer communication.


Engage with social media. Zegeye shows new members all of ABA’s social media platforms and asks them to follow ABA from the start. “Members tend to gravitate toward Facebook to discuss their challenges, which gives the membership team a good way to tap into what members are experiencing and engage with them in a meaningful way, she said.”


Emphasize any incentive programs and key website features. ABA has a member-get-a-member incentive program, with the prize being a $50 gift card and entrance into a raffle with a chance to win $1,000. “Your members are your best ambassadors” for recruiting new prospects, Zegeye said. She also walks new members through key parts of ABA’s website.


Get members talking. Having ambassadors reminds me of something I heard once from Elizabeth Petersen of Simplify Compliance. Their conference app allowed people attending the event to have conversations before they attend. “So the week before the session, people started posting who they wanted to meet and what they wanted to see,” she said. “Then they started posting pictures of their dog wearing a conference tee-shirt. And a drink they were having before they got on the plane. So they were onboarding one another… That’s a million times more powerful than me standing in front of folks saying, ‘You must come to this session; it’s going to be the greatest thing.'”

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