With community member accounts, a confirmed email address is a wonderful thing to have. Yes, you can use it for notifications and to contact the member. But just as important, it’s an account security issue. If the member ever has trouble accessing their account, confirmed contact information might be the only way for you to give them access to it again.

The way this normally works, with online communities, is that a person signs up and is then told to check their email. You send them away from your community, and take them out of the process of onboarding. They are motivated to join your community, but you are holding them back, for that email confirmation. Hopefully, in their inbox, there is a message waiting with a link they can click to activate their account. I say hopefully because, sometimes, these get marked as spam. But if it’s there, if they find it, if they click the link, then they are back to your community with an active account.

That’s a lot of ifs. And if they don’t find the email or it gets lost, then you might just lose them as a member altogether. But having a confirmed email address is still important. How can you do it without disrupting their first-run experience of your community?

When I had onboarding expert Samuel Hulick on Community Signal, he provided two great tips:

  1. You don’t have to confirm an email address right now.
  2. To confirm an email address, you don’t have to send the member an email explicitly asking them to do so.

Delaying the Confirmation

When we talk about account security, and being able to recover an account, we are really discussing accounts with some track record. An account with 1 or 2 posts isn’t usually a big deal. But the account of an established member is different. It would be awful if such a member lost access to their account and had to start all over. That’s what we want to avoid.

A new member isn’t there yet. A new member may not care all that much about their account, because they haven’t invested in it yet. They may not even plan to stick around. For this reason, why not delay email confirmation until they have demonstrated a serious interest in the community? Once they have a certain number of posts or they hit a certain metric, then have them confirm their email address.

By that point, they will already have decided whether or not this is a place they want to be, so the distraction of an email confirmation is less of an issue. They are more likely to want to confirm and stay.

Confirming, Just Not From a Confirmation Email

Email confirmation works when a member clicks a unique link in a message that you sent to the email address they provided to you. You probably send community members other types of emails, too. For example, a notification that their post has received a reply. That notification will include a link to that content. And if that link is a unique link, that your software knows to treat as confirmation, if they click that link, then you have your confirmation.

Any link in an email could, theoretically, be a confirmation link. You know they clicked it. You know it went to their address. You don’t need to specifically ask them to click a dedicated email confirmation link. You don’t have to send them that extra email.

Of course, you should have a fail safe. If they don’t receive notifications or they don’t click those links, you should then send them an explicit email, at some point, to actually confirm their email address. Furthermore, when they change their email address, you should ask them to re-confirm at that time.

I’m not saying that this is the way all communities should work, but especially with newer communities and communities that don’t have a volume problem, and want members posting as soon as possible, think about how your email confirmation works. Don’t interrupt new members when they are most ready to jump in.