So you’ve got your online community mapped out. You’ve allocated staff to maintain it, established your KPIs and found a platform that suits the needs of your organization and customers. The next step is building it.
This can be a difficult part of the process of forming an online community and requires some tough decisions to be made. But it can also be a hugely exciting time, as you watch your vision brought to life and the seeds planted for what could be a hugely useful tool for years to come.
Take a look at this handy guide for a few key tips when building and launching your online community.
1. Make sure your content resonates
Though your end goal might be to operate a self-sustaining community where content is produced organically, this doesn’t simply happen overnight. To get here, you will need to provide content and give your customers a reason to visit your community.
If you’ve planned your community in enough detail, knowing what kind of content to start with should be easy. You know who your audience is and what they’re looking for - now all that’s left is for you to provide them with it. From day one, your community should provide discussion and engage your members. First impressions are crucial, so make sure your community makes a strong one.
2. Prepare your content calendar
A pitfall many organizations suffer from when launching their communities is expecting users to begin generating content immediately, and therefore not planning out enough content of their own to get the ball rolling. This can lead to a disconnect where nobody is creating content, causing the community to become inactive.
Your community manager needs to have a library of content ready to post. Chances are that you’ve already got this content to hand somewhere - try looking through your blogs, newsletters, social media channels and any other platform you might already be using to communicate your organization’s value and vision. Ideally you will have enough content to post regularly for at least a few months, giving your members time to get up to speed and gain the confidence to create their own posts.
Take that 60 page report you and your team poured blood, sweat and tears into. Break it out into bitesize pieces of 300-500 words, and post them over the course of a few weeks. This allows you to repurpose existing content, while making it more accessible for readers.
3. Identify your first core members
Even the best-planned communities don’t simply rack up thousands of active members at the drop of a hat. Growth of this kind comes over time, and it all starts by identifying your first core members and producing content which appeals to them directly.
Focus your efforts heavily on getting this smaller group onside, creating an environment they will want to share with others in their industry. Word of mouth will always be one of the strongest marketing tools out there - make sure the first people to join your community have nothing but good things to say about the experience.
4. Structure, structure, structure
When launching an online community, it can be useful to imagine it like the opening of a real-life members’ club. Opening with a big bang and lots of fanfare is all well and good - but when the initial hype dies down, your community needs to possess the substance to back it up. You need to know where to send your members, what conversations to be starting and what content people will want to see from the word go.
A key element of structuring your community is building rooms or channels dedicated to specific forms of content. Whether they’re searching for expert insights, platform updates or simply a chance to meet other people, your members should be able to find what they’re looking for on your community with ease. A ‘hangout’ room for members to chat casually is a great way to foster connections and helps to provide the sense of community you’re trying to give your users.
First impressions are always key, and online communities are no exception.
First impressions are always key, and online communities are no exception. If you seem disorganized and short of ideas, winning back the trust and interest of your members will become very difficult - so no pressure.
Instead of aiming to launch your community with a flourish, focus on having everything in place. Appealing to a smaller group and winning everybody over is better than trying to please the masses.
5. Get your onboarding pitch perfect
A benefit of targeting a more select audience upon launching your community is that you can tailor your onboarding more specifically to the needs of your members. Onboarding is vital as it allows your members to become acquainted with the culture and guidelines of your community, as well as making them feel more settled and comfortable.
There are multiple ways to provide onboarding to your members. Whether you opt for a welcome video, an email or a community post, the key is to be warm, engaging and provide the necessary information for members to navigate the community independently. Greeting each of your members with a personal message, helping them complete their profile and directing them towards content that might be of interest to them could be the difference between a one-time visitor and a returning, engaged member.
There is nothing more daunting than an empty online community. When you first get yours up and running, don’t be discouraged by a lack of interaction or organic content. Keep starting discussions and delivering five-star service to your initial membership, and soon the rest will fall into place.