When done correctly, launching a community can be an extremely effective way to grow your business. It can help you build a closer relationship with your customers and create a more loyal following. In this blog post, we will discuss the steps that you need to take to launch your own successful community!
Know Your Why
The why of your business is pretty well understood. After all, it was your idea. When we start looking at community, we need to go beyond the why of the business and look at specific business objectives. Are you looking to:
Reduce support costs
Innovate your product
Increase customer retention
Expand product adoption
OK, you are probably shaking your head saying yes to all, or most of these. The key to starting a community is not to focus on everything at the beginning. Let’s focus on one or two areas that you feel will help lead your company into the future. You can always expand on this as your community grows.
You thought you were done? We’re not even with the why yet! The next part of knowing your why is understanding what people will gain from being part of the community. You may think you know, but the best way to learn this is to ask. Do interviews with prospective and existing customers to find out what they are looking for and what will drive them to the community. A simple way to look at this is:
"When someone wants ______________, they will use the community to ___________ instead of doing _____________."
This is where the value comes in for the community.
Determine Your Platform
Once you have an idea of why you are building a community, you will need to determine what’s the best platform to build it on. There is not one platform that will work for all cases, but you need to determine things like: is it mobile friendly or desktop only? Can it be integrated into your own app/site? Does it have the ability to host events and/or courses? Is it customizable?
Another important note to take into consideration is what other tech can be integrated with the platform. This is how you can make your community help you not only achieve your business objectives, but also help measure them.
As you can see, these are more in depth questions than just, “Where are my members currently at?”
Set The Launch Date
At this point, there is no reason not to have a date set. This does several things. One, it allows you to create a project roadmap of what needs to be done, and when it needs to be completed. The other thing it does is gives you time to let your potential community members know when it’s coming. There’s nothing worse than hearing, “It’s coming.” and then having to ask, “When?” only to get a response that you’re not sure. Both internally and externally, you need to have a launch date for your community.
Structuring Your Community
Now that you have your platform and a launch date, it’s time to begin the architecture for your community. What are the guidelines, what is the purpose, how will you ensure a safe and secure space for members, what will the channels look like and how will they be joined (opt-in or joined by default), FAQs, and more. This is not an exhaustive list but it gives you an idea that your job is just getting started after you determine your platform. Another important part of structuring your community is ensuring you pre-populate content in your channels. Imagine going into the grand opening of a new grocery store and nothing is on the shelves. You wouldn’t stay long, and neither will your community members if your shelves are empty.
Soft Launch (AKA Testing)
Before you decide to open your community to the public, it’s a good idea to make sure everything is working the way you planned and built it to work. As Adrian Speyer discusses in his book, The Accidental Community Manager, think of this the way new restaurants do. Have a soft launch. Be sure the front and the back of the house staff know what to do in real-life situations. Make sure the equipment works the way you predicted it would. Are your suppliers coming through like they said they would? Another important point Adrian brings up is that you don’t want to invite family and friends to your soft launch. They may not give you honest feedback that you need to know to help make adjustments for when the community is open to the public.
After your soft launch, you are ready to make any adjustments you may need to and get ready to promote the official launch.
Now that you had your soft launch, it’s time to promote so that when the time comes, people are waiting to join your community. This is where you should be coordinating with your marketing department and any other stakeholders that can help drive people to the community. This may include sales, support, external partners, and more. Be sure to clearly communicate the date and time it's opening, what will be required to join, and most importantly, what the person will get out of being part of the community. This may be obvious, but if you put a link to join the community in the footer of your website, how important do you think something will believe the community is? It should be clear and visible. Don’t forget to promote via social media and email. You have come this far; it’s not the time to be shy. Promote your community like you would your latest product feature.
This is not the time to let your guard down. All hands should be on deck for your launch. Be sure the tech team, your support, marketing, and PR teams, and all stakeholders are prepared. Even though you planned, held your soft launch, and made adjustments, you never know what to expect from the official launch. Hopefully, you will never need everyone to be prepared, but it’s better to have them prepared than have something happen that you weren’t expecting. Your launch is a success, but your community is a living, growing entity. You will need to learn from what you observe in the community, make adjustments and continue to get feedback from your community.
If you build it, they may not come. But if you build it and promote it the right way, you will give your community the best chance for success.
With these tips in mind, you’re ready to launch your community with confidence!