October 27, 2016
Planning for the launch of a community can be overwhelming, to say the least. There are many moving parts from technology to design to strategy and community management. All are important in their own right, because each contribute to a successful launch. It's easy to look at the big picture and feel like you're being asked to climb Mt. Everest (and if you have, kudos to you...this should be much easier ). In over a decade of community management, I've learned a few tips that will make the climb seem more like Mt. Hood. It's still intimidating, but much more do-able. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the community is a flexible, growing, changing piece of technology that will, no doubt, begin to change as soon as the day you launch. My main job in working with clients pre-launch is to help them keep a focus on what's "good enough for launch", setting the rest of the list aside (for now). In the weeks leading up to the launch of your community, focus on these 5 things, and you'll be good to go.
1. Technology: Double check all your system settings including registration (if applicable), profile fields, permissions and content settings. Your vanity URL (if applicable) should already be in place, or close to it, and all integrations as well as any SSO should be in their final stages.
2. Communication: This can be the most important part of a community launch. People are going to be curious, anxious and down right excited. Start the communication early to let people know what's up. What is this "community" all about? Who is it for? Why should I use it? When is it coming? Where can they find out more? How are the expected to use it? All this can be covered in a good communication strategy and should be customized for specific groups of community members (each one can be uniquely different) and repeated a few times to make sure they are understanding the message, and what they are going to get out of it. When you can help answer the "what's in it for me" question, your end users will be more motivated to log in and check it out.
3. Places: You don't have to build Rome in a day...or in the few short weeks you have to get the community up and running. The most valuable part of a strategy workshop is identifying which places in your community are most important to launch, as well as the long-term success. These places, along with a handful of others you can work on in parallel, should aim to not only align with the overall business strategy, but also solve immediate pain points your community members are experiencing right now. Each place should have a basic layout, pointing community members to what they are able to do there. I say basic here because you can always build on and expand later (remember the flexible, growing, changing piece of technology I mentioned earlier?) Don't get so wrapped up in how you think the community should ultimately look that you are losing sight of the little things that will immediately help a community member understand the value. A fully designed page with all the bells and whistles can be overwhelming to a new community member, and be the one thing that sends them running, never to return. Keep it simple, gather feedback post-launch, and make adjustments as needed.
4. Content: Launching a community can be compared to having a grand opening of a store. If you invite everyone in, but have nothing on the shelves, they are highly unlikely to return. They'll be confused, frustrated, and feel their time has been wasted. Making sure you have relevant, valuable content in your community places is the same concept. There doesn't have to be a ton of content...just enough to highlight the purpose of the place and give an idea of what additional content will eventually be created or found there. Many times, I work with clients who have hundreds of pieces of content they'd like to migrate into a place, but find they don't have enough time to glean, update and migrate all the content in a few weeks. And I tell them this is OK! Having even a handful of content is better than nothing. The most important thing is to make sure there's a plan for the rest of the content to be developed or migrated. During a launch of the community there are so many new things that people will be drawn to, you don't need to overwhelm them with sifting through all your content right away. Put together a content plan and identify what is good enough for launch, and what will come in the weeks, and even months, after launch. Often times, community members will guide YOU on content they're interested in by the questions they're asking, which can help you prioritize your content plan. The added bonus here is that you're able to be responsive to their needs, adding value and motivation to keep them engaged.
5. Training and Education: Making sure your community members have access to learn about the features and functionality of the community is a key component that is often overlooked. While this is not a "build it and they will come" platform, you can very easily make it seem that way. I always recommend having a specific place in your community for all educational materials that vary from FAQ's and quick tips to videos. Adults learn in a variety of ways and you want to make sure you are providing them the options to learn at their own pace, in the way that works best for them. While having a "just in time" education plan in place for launch is essential, you want to make sure you're also planning for long-term. Work out a plan that allows people to get hands-on learning, answers specific community member questions, and gives them information in smaller bits across time. Repeating trainings and quick tips, and highlighting FAQ's over the course of a year will ensure your community members are able to access the information how and when they need it.
Remember to work with your launch team, including Social Edge strategist and community manager to help put these 5 steps into play. While the launch of a community can be a lot of work, focusing on certain items at specific times can help get you to launch and beyond. We're here to help you climb that mountain!