“User onboarding is the process of increasing the likelihood that new users become successful when adopting your product.” —Samuel Hulick, UserOnboard.com

What is user onboarding?

Onboarding is guiding your new user in their transformation to a successful user. It’s about making a great first impression that leaves your users satisfied and wanting more. But how do you go about achieving this?

3 methods of onboarding

There are a several methods you can employ. I will tell you more about the 3 methods that caught my interest.

  1. Walkthrough (AKA “Joyriding” by MK Cook)
  2. Learn by doing
  3. Concierge onboarding

1. Walkthrough (AKA “Joyriding” by MK Cook)

This method is about guiding your user through the features of a product and explaining the benefits of using it. It’s purpose is to clear any doubt or confusion from the beginning. It can be brought in lots of different ways. Be careful that explaining text doesn’t get boring. You don’t want users to rush through the process without learning anything.

Write your messages light, warm and possibly funny to maintain attention. But above all, keep it human! Give your users as much as possible the idea they are interacting with a living, breathing friendly person instead of a cold machine. Note that this holds true for all methods and not only this one, but more on writing messages later. 

The tour module is included in Drupal Core, you can watch a YouTube tutorial about the tour module here.

onboarding example open social
Example of how we applied Walkthrough (AKA “Joyriding” by MK Cook)

2. Learn by doing

Let your users do what you want to teach them instead of telling them how it is supposed to be done. Create a demo project. A project in which they can practice first without having to worry about doing it right. Guide them through the process so they learn how to do it on their own. This way users are more confident when actually producing something. This might take a little more out of the user, but if it’s designed in an easygoing way, users will enjoy it and learn more. Don’t worry if you think this would make your onboarding process too long and users will quit. The solution is simple: split it up into multiple parts. Have an interactive checklist so users can start a tour whenever they feel like it. This is the process we'll base onboarding for Open Social on.

3. Concierge onboarding

Taking time to get in contact with your users and help them personally. This method is more often used for paying subscribers instead of free end users. It has multiple benefits like forging a connection with your client, increasing conversion and decreasing churn. For more detailed information I recommend visiting Kevin DeWalt's blog on concierge onboarding, you can also sign up for a free email course on this topic there.

If you want to know more about onboarding in general, ‘The Elements of User Onboarding’ by Samuel Hulick is a great primer.

Continued onboarding

After you’ve onboarded new users, you still might want them to do something or to explain something to them. This is where continued onboarding comes in. When some users don’t use a certain feature, you probably want them to become aware of  the existence of it. The reason they aren’t using it, might be because they are unaware.

Another example is developing a new feature which you want all your users to know about it. They can also be used instead of messages like “You have 0 projects”. Replace this with a message how users can create a project and why they should do it. This is a helpful message that probably achieves more than just a cold fact.

Onboarding for Open Social

For Open Social we wanted new users to complete their profile, learn how to create content and know how they can find and join groups. This is important in order to transform a new user into a successful user. So we made a checklist of items that linked to the different parts of the onboarding tour. We empowered them to go through these steps in a guiding fashion. Users could quit any time they like and (re)start from where they ended before. This way nothing was skipped or got lost.

First we made a decision on which parts needed attention in the onboarding process and then chose a fitting method. Once we had decided roughly on how the onboarding process would look like it was time to write the copy. Copy is the message you write directed at the user. But how do you write persuasive copy?

How to write persuasive onboarding copy

Copywriting exist out of several parts. Think about the style you’re writing in, the title and body copy and CTA (Call To Action). 
For the style part you have to think of what kind of personality you want to give to your product. It’s easier to commit for users when the ‘personality’ of your product is friendly or funny instead of cold and heartless (although cold and heartless is also a personality). For example mentioning "[This] is how you can find your friends” instead of “You have 0 friends”. Keep in mind however, that the personality should match the purpose of the product. 

A goofy personality that constantly makes lame jokes wouldn't do well for a product to manage your money (e.g. a bank). So here are 10 guidelines to stick to when writing copy.

In general

  • Be clear and short: Make sure there is nothing that can be misinterpreted.
  • Use contractions: They’re not only conversational, but they also cut down on characters.
  • Cut adjectives and adverbs: While they’re nice for colour, verbs and nouns do a lot more work for you.
  • Use words that make sense for everybody: The whole of your target audience should be able to understand what it says. Use words fitting the context.
  • Anticipate objections: Sometimes users won’t do what you want them to do because they are afraid of the consequences. So defuse those concerns immediately by letting them know exactly what will happen.
  • Read it out loud: Catch odd construction and mechanical phrasing (you want the copy to sound like any other normal person).
  • Use the word “you”: This makes the reader be a part of the story.

Title and body

  • Title should describe enough: You can be witty or funny with the title but as many users don’t read more than the title it should describe the page just enough it can be understandable without the rest of the copy.
  • Body copy: But of course you can encourage users to read the body copy. Just keep it light and short, with simple subject-verb-object constructions. Also keep it simple so you don’t alienate readers.


  • CTA (call-to-action): However some people only look for the buttons they have to press, so to even make it clear for them, have these buttons explain what they’re going to do. Use verb-object-effect phrases and keep it as short as possible. For example “Click to create a topic”. It contains a verb (click), object (topic) and effect (creating it).

For more information about writing copy I suggest you check out How to Rock Product Copy on the Fly

Always be testing!

After you’ve designed your onboarding process, TEST IT! Test before implementing it iteratively and keep testing it long after that. As the website changes, as your target group changes, as your popularity changes, keep testing and improving it. After all you only know what works if you test it on real users. I recommend reading the book Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems by Steve Krug for testing procedures. 

I hope that I was able to tell you a few new cool things and that you have enjoyed reading this blog!

Contributing to Open Social or Drupal

So how to go about contributing to Open Social and/or Drupal in general? For Open Social a good starting point is the Github Wiki. If you want a starting point for helping Drupal to grow you can find many different ways on the 'ways to get involved'-page on Drupal.org.

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