As a Community Strategist, I’m in a unique position that gives me a front-row seat to the strategic planning, preparation, and launch of online communities. In fact, I’m currently leading about 10 different organizations through a series of strategy workshops to help them plan the launch of their community.
While we’ve covered managing communities in depth on this blog, I wanted to share a few common mistakes I see when brands and organizations are launching their community for the first time.
Mistake #1 (The Biggest One): Not Having a Launch Strategy
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is not taking the time to build out a community strategy before launching.
Too often, brands or organizations believe that setting up a community platform, creating groups and channels, and inviting members is all that’s needed.
However, building a successful community typically takes 8–10 weeks of planning, testing (we recommend a beta launch for new communities), and launch preparation.
During this time, we brainstorm and develop content for the following areas:
- Launch dates and timelines (including dependencies on conferences, events, etc.)
- Goal and purpose statements for the community
- Defining the business outcomes for the community
- Personas and community value propositions for each
- Community guidelines (do’s and don’ts)
- Group/channel structure
- Developing an engagement plan for the first 90 days of the community launch
- Developing a content strategy and content production plan
- Developing and executing a beta launch plan
- Performing an analysis of the beta launch
- Preparing for the official launch
And very often, the strategy that is laid out initially often changes as the launch framework is implemented. That’s why we reassess our assumptions and update the strategy after the Beta launch. Remember, a community is a living entity that does not operate in a vacuum, so validating assumptions through a Beta test is crucial.
Investing time in developing a launch strategy is critical. It will pay dividends in the long run by reducing rework and provide a plan to engage your first community members. If you want to set your community up for success, take the time to invest in building out a launch strategy.
Mistake #2: Failing to Engage Your Community Members with Content After Launch
Sorry to break the news, but if you build it, they will not come. Simply creating a new online space for your community members does not guarantee that they will start contributing right away.
When organizations launch a new community, I recommend that they come up with a 90-day content plan to add value to the community and provide a reason for new community members to engage and come back. I usually suggest that organizations be very active in managing their community for the first year. In fact, for that first year, the Community Manager should expect to post more content than what the community is posting.
The risk of not taking an active role in the community is that the community becomes a community of lurkers, with little to no engagement. This is a death wish for any community, so it is incumbent upon the organization to come up with a plan to contribute content to the community. It is usually the Community Manager’s job to create and execute this plan.
Here are some examples of content that a Community Manager can use to drive that crucial engagement in the first year of a community’s launch:
- New member welcome posts
- Member to member interaction posts
- On-boarding content like guided tours around the community
- Ask Me Anythings (AMAs)
- Webinar/livestreams gated specifically for community members
- Curated content from around the Internet
- Events specifically designed and produced for community members
As your community matures, you’ll find that members begin posting their own content. This is the ultimate goal that all Community Managers strive for. However, it’s rare for a majority of community members to begin posting content immediately after launch. This is why it’s important for Community Managers launching new communities to give themselves lead time to build a content strategy and produce content before an official launch.
Mistake #3: Not Developing a Content Strategy & Production Plan For Launch
Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that launching a community without content to engage your members is a bad idea. However, it’s not enough to just have a content strategy; you need a plan to produce that content. Often, organizations repurpose their social media content for their community, which is a terrible idea.
Why? Because you’re asking people to change their digital habits and engage in a new online community, only to receive content they could have gotten by following you on Instagram.
The purpose of having a private online community is for people to get information, make connections, and build engagement outside of the public domain. This requires a different content strategy than what you’re executing on the marketing side.
Furthermore, communities often attract our most valuable customers, members, and subscribers. We need to create something special for the community that we’re asking them to join.
If you’re considering repurposing your existing marketing content strategy, I recommend spending some time building a simple content strategy for your online community.
When I’m thinking about a content strategy, I consider the following:
- What special content will we produce for our online community that they can only obtain in this community?
- When should we publish content to the community? How often should we post, and what is the cadence? Is there a content calendar to follow?
- What type of content should we post to the community?
- Who is the audience for the content, and is there a specific content strategy for each sub-group?
- Who is responsible for producing the content, and is there a budget allocated for this responsibility?
I find that most of the time there isn’t a dedicated community manager whose entire job is to focus on the community. Usually, it’s someone who is working in another department and has been assigned to handle the community as another one of their tasks.
For these individuals, it can be relatively easy to come up with a content strategy, but very difficult to actually produce the content. If this sounds like you, I recommend finding other team members who might be able to contribute content to the community. Additionally, consider outsourcing some of your content production (to an Agency, Freelancer, etc.) if you are responsible for both the content strategy and production.
I’m calling this out because people often underestimate how difficult it is to create content on a consistent basis. Inevitably, they lose motivation, fizzle out, and so does the community engagement. Be sure to not only create a content strategy before you launch but also take into account the time, resources, and level of effort needed to produce that content.
Launching a community requires a significant amount of effort, including getting buy-in from your organization and selecting a community technology platform. However, many people fail to build a strategy before launching their community, which is comparable to giving up just as the finish line is in sight!
Hopefully, you have learned from some of the big mistakes that I have seen in community launches. Do you have any other tips or tricks for getting your community off the ground for the first time? I’d love to hear them!
Need more ideas on how to acquire and engage new members to your community? Check out my monthly Members Welcome (Spotify) podcast.