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Is registration a barrier to participation?

Nathan Connors

Nathan Connors

Nathan is Bang the Table's Melbourne based Learning and Practice Manager. He has a background in media, communications and software training.

One of the most common questions about participation in online engagement, is whether the signup or registration process has negative effects on participation rates.

To answer this, we looked at our Google Analytics traffic data for all sites over 2016 and analysed user behaviour. Here’s what we found;

  • 80% of people who reached the signup form page completed registration or continued browsing
  • Participants who didn’t sign up straight away were likely to revisit the signup during their 2nd and 3rd interactions after visiting project pages
  • Participants who landed on sites via the login page spent 3 times longer engaging with projects and had a longer overall session duration
  • A sites homepage was the greatest factor influencing participation. i.e. bounce or through traffic.
  • Returning users spent longer on average engaging with client sites

This analysis shows that a registration processes in isolation isn’t a massive barrier to participation. It does however, tell us that home pages are far more important to participant engagement than almost any other factor.

This reinforces what we have always known about human behaviour and engagement – that a decision to take part in any engagement it is far more influenced by desire to engage and relationship to the project than anything else.

In essence, capturing attention, communicating clearly, having a range of projects available and creating a value proposition for your community is more likely to have a greater impact on participation than a registration process.

We highly recommend you use Google Analytics tracking on your own site to monitor your community behaviour and do further analysis on your projects and user journeys.

It’s worth noting these insights are taken as a collective of user behaviour across all sectors and projects and they will vary project to project.

To enable traffic tracking with Google Analytics simply paste your tracking code on the advanced tab under general settings.

You should also ensure that you are aware of our custom built Traffic Tracking tool for reporting on your consultations. This will show you referral data to your sites.

Upload your Google Analytics code in the Site Settings section of EHQ.

How registration helps you utilise EHQ

Central to EngagementHQ is our Participant Relationship Management tool, which allows you to capture information about your community.

This database is used to assist you in effectively managing many aspects of online engagement with EHQ.

Without investing in a registration process and building your community database you will limit your ability to do the following;

Understand your community participation profile across projects

By accessing EHQ demographics report you can filter and generate graphs to reveal the profile of your engaged community. This profile helps you identify whom you have talked to and where the gaps are in the reach of your activities.

You can also use this report to filter via your sign-up form questions, aware informed and engaged metrics and also by first and last seen date. This means you can create a list of your most engaged community members, identify your least engaged and target people who haven’t been seen since a certain date. All of these types of metrics are essential for, annual reporting and evaluation as well as ongoing promotion of your projects and without registration this data will be incomplete.

To download a demographics report to uncover your community database go to Analytics>Reports.

Creating protected project pages and community panels 

Your online community database also allows you to establish groups which can be assigned to protected and community panel consultations. For example, you might want to assign a special discussion space to a key stakeholder group made up of farmers from a certain town. Without participant information in your database to help you create this group  you will not be able to assign people to the farmers to this protected discussion space.

Creating protected groups and community panels are great online engagement tools, which can expand your methodology by securing projects for discussion, deliberation and transparent community panels. The creation of these groups requires that you have registered participants in your portal and again, your signup process is needed to support this.

To utilise project visibility you need to create groups based on your community database. This requires registration.

Sending newsletters and communicating with segments

Communicating directly with your community utilising EngagementHQ Newsletters also requires you to have well managed and maintained community database. This again, can only be captured via registration or signup with your site.

By having a carefully crafted signup process, you can better utilise this feature to promote your consultations. As the following section demonstrates, asking key segmenting questions on your registration form will also allow better targeting at different groups via EHQ Newsletters. Find our more about using groups to send newsletters here.

Securing and verifying your community feedback

For consultations that require rigorous decision making and reporting processes having each piece of feedback attributable to an authenticated person will be crucial. Moreover, for most formal submission processes you will be required to collect a full name, address, email and contact number anyway, so why not get your participants to register so you don’t need to collect it every time they want to engage.

This means you can report with confidence that your responses have been received from real people and reduce potential for participants to game your consultation process. This authentication can only be done via registration. In our opinion this is one of the most important reasons you would invest time creating and promoting a good registration process for your site.

In summary, the whole purpose of engagement is to collect useful feedback data from real people and being able to back it up with confidence.

Using a registration process instead of anonymous participation can also prevent participants hijacking discussion forums, and stacking results in surveys.

With surveys in particular, many practitioners are inclined to have anonymous surveys, and simply capture demographic information about the participants as part of the survey. While this works to the same ends as verifying user data, we feel it becomes a burdensome task for participants over time to repeatedly have to provide their personal information when they could do it just once via registration.

What does a good signup form include?

Creating a signup form which is suitable for your organisation will be dependant on how you want to segment your community database and use personal information for decision making.

While each organisation will be different, there are some common questions which make up a good registration form that strikes a balance between capturing data and not deterring your participants. Generally speaking these include key demographics like age, sex and location as well as relationship questions to help with segmenting.

Beyond these, we recommend thinking about some non-compulsory questions which can assist you in decisions making.

You can reduce the pressure on your participants by asking them to volunteer their information instead of demanding it.

Using short descriptions and conditional questions are a great way to help explain to your participants why you want the data, how privacy will be protected and how it will benefit the consultations process.

Below is an example of a well designed registration form. We feel this strikes a good balance between compulsory questions and voluntary questions.

Good example of reassuring community about their privacy during signup.

The next image shows a good way to ask conditional non-compulsory questions as part of a registration process.

Example of using supplementary questions on a signup form.

So as you can see from our traffic flow data, most people aren’t deterred by the signup process on its own, instead a bigger influence on their participation is whether or not they have a desire to take part because the issue directly affects them. Once we realise this it’s easy to see the benefits of utilising a good registration process to attribute and authenticate feedback data, segment and understand our community profile and better target segments through newsletter campaigns. If you’re still in doubt, we highly recommend you conduct your own analysis on user behaviour to your site and we’d be happy to compare notes.

1 August 2017
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