Keyboard kitten

New users are something that every community needs, whether it's an established community or a brand new one. New users bring more hands to do the daily work of building and improving the content, and can bring valuable new ideas too.

The problem is that many people make their first edit and then disappear back into the Internets. Reaching out to talk to new users is one way to help bring them into the community.

All communities come with an automated welcome tool that leaves a message for each person when they make their first edit. This is a good start, but it's not the end of the welcoming. Each message is "signed" by an admin. That way, if a new user replies to a welcome message, there's an admin who's notified of that who can write back. This is a great way of capturing the interest of passing visitors. I would advise admins to reply to all messages that new users leave them.

You may also want to edit the auto-welcome to make it more relevant to your community. It should be friendly, not too long, and focus more on what people can do in your community, rather than what they shouldn't do. Otherwise you might be scaring people off with with an intimidating first impression before they can get started in the community!

To edit the welcome message, just go to "Mediawiki:welcome-message-wall-user" on your wiki, and add your new message there. You can also change "MediaWiki:Welcome-message-wall-anon" to change the message left for logged out users.

Welcomes don't have to be limited to the initial messages either. It's a great idea to watch for edits by new users so you can contact them to talk about the changes. You should keep it positive, of course. After all, it's more encouraging to hear that your edits are welcome than to be told that your edit is all wrong. And even if you do need to tell someone they made a mistake, it's good to do so in a helpful and kind way, rather than shouting at them! Constructive feedback and encouragement can be a lot more helpful than a reprimand.

You could also think about whether the structure of your community is welcoming to new users. It's something that we had in mind when we added the new Community Page feature, but it's good to look around and see how else you might make your community more welcoming. For example…

  • Do you have easily understandable policies and rules, or are they set up so that almost any edit would be considered "bad?"
  • Is your main page designed to display your best content and draw new people into the community? Is that content relevant to what's trending and what people are most likely to be looking for?
  • What about your forums and chat? Are they welcoming and helpful?

Think back to when you made your first edit. What made you want to stay after that, and what might have made other people leave? These are important questions to help focus your perspective around what will work best for new users. Looking at your community through that lens can help you find new ways to encourage new editors to become regular and productive members of your community.

What sort of things have you done to make your community welcoming to new users? Share your tips and experiences in the comments below!

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