I work with organizations to help them build a strategy to launch and manage their online communities. I typically do this through a 10–12 week workshop process where we start at a strategic level to define the community, then dive down into the details to get the community launched.
While community strategy can get complicated and confusing, it really all ties back to four key questions:
- WHY does your community exist?
- WHO are you building this community for?
- WHAT will drive your community members to join, and stay in, your community?
- HOW will you translate the core strategy into day-to-day community operations?
If you’re launching a community for the very first time, I’ve built a high-level overview of the questions you should be thinking about, as well as the documentation needed to build a core community strategy. I’ll caveat all of this by saying that I am trying to simplify the concepts presented in this post and give you a high-level approach. This post should equip you with just enough to get started, but you’ll likely require a deeper dive to actually perform some of the exercises. If you do have questions on how to do some of this stuff, don’t hesitate to reach out!
WHY DOES THIS COMMUNITY EXIST?
The purpose of your community is a critical element to define before launching it. Why does it exist? What purpose does it serve for your members? If we can’t clearly define the purpose of the community, there is no point in starting it.
Defining the purpose of the community within the context of our WHO/personas makes it easier to engage our members and develop relevant content. To document the purpose of the community, we suggest creating a Purpose Statement, which typically consists of a 1–3 sentence statement about the community’s purpose.
We recommend creating the Purpose Statement upfront because it will be referenced frequently in emails, social media, and other membership communications. If you need buy-in for your community, the Purpose Statement will also be helpful.
Having a powerful Purpose Statement makes it easier to attract the right members to your community and keep those you don’t want out.
WHO IS THIS COMMUNITY FOR?
Simply put, who are you building this community for? In marketing, we refer to these as Personas. In terms of community, we’re really asking ourselves who the ideal member is for our community.
What are their pain points? What are they trying to solve by joining this community? What are their motivations? What are their habits?
I wouldn’t spend too much time on demographics (i.e. age, geography), but really get into the psychographics (lifestyle, goals, values, etc.). While less quantitative, psychographic descriptions of your ideal persona can really help you define who that ideal community member is.
The best way to document the WHO of your community is to build Persona Profiles. While it’s heavily used for marketing, the HubSpot ‘Make my Persona’ tool is a great place to get started. The PDF format that it outputs can be easily customized to make it more focused towards community.
The WHO is crucial to define because it sets the basis for all of the other core strategy items that you need to define for your community. You gotta start with the people you’re building it for!
WHAT KEEPS COMMUNITY MEMBERS HERE?
I define the “WHAT” of a community as the things we do for our members that keep them engaged and coming back. To create an engaging community, we need to define its features that will help members improve, make progress, or advance in their personal or professional life.
For example, do members come to the community to ask questions, seek mentorship, find networking opportunities, or simply make friends? If the community is about helping members make progress, what types of content, programming, and networking opportunities do we need to organize to help them on their journey?
To document the “WHAT,” we tie it into the personas we’re developing. For each persona, we define “What’s in it for Them,” which helps us build assumptions around why we think a member may join, engage, and stay engaged in a community.
Once we’ve built our assumptions around the things that members will come for, we start brainstorming to come up with a single “Come for the X, Stay for the Y” statement. This statement should define what will get members curious enough to join the community in the first place (the “X”), as well as what will keep them engaged as a long-term member (the “Y”). If you have multiple personas, its likely that you’ll have multiple statements.
- Gmail: Come for the free space, stay for the search, conversation, and spam filter.
- Dropbox: Come for the shared folder, stay for the painless sync, backup, and mobile access.
- Facebook: Come for the college friends, stay for the photo sharing and funny links.
- Portal: Come for the brilliant puzzles, stay for the dark humor and the cake.
Defining the “WHAT” of the community makes it much easier to come up with content, events, and other engagement strategies. Take the time to define this up front, especially as you’re developing your personas!
HOW DOES THIS COMMUNITY EXPRESS ITSELF?
You have defined your personas, what’s in it for them, and the overall purpose for your community. This is all about HOW the core strategy of your community will get translated into its day-to-day operations. Sometimes we refer to this as moderating or managing your community. When launching a community and thinking about the HOW part of the strategy, I see this expressed through the VALUES and VOICE of your community.
The VALUES of your community will really help you determine what behavior is encouraged, but more importantly, what is not allowed. In practical terms, once you have defined your high-level values, then you can start to define things like your Community Guidelines, Moderation Rules, etc.
Your VOICE will really help you determine how you are going to talk to your community. Are you really formal in the way you speak to your members? More casual? Do you have a more prestigious/elite voice? Or is it a more welcoming/friendly voice? For example, one of the communities I manage is for high-performing real estate agents. In this community, we tend to lean towards a more motivational, “go get ‘em” kind of voice. We use words like ‘dominate’ and ‘punch up.’ As you can imagine, this type of voice may be wildly inappropriate for other types of communities. Defining the voice for the community will make your life much easier when you are drafting content and responding to members.
There are many ways to document the values and voice for your community. I typically do a workshop to help come up with the values and voice, which is beyond the detail of this post. But if you want a quick and dirty way to get started, I would come up with a list of value and voice adjectives, then whittle them down to 3–5 that you really like. From there, I would check to see if those value and voice objectives align with the WHO, WHAT, and WHY of your community.
If you haven’t realized, addressing these four important questions will help you build your core community strategy. It’s critical to define this core strategy before you invest any time or money into launching your community. If you start thinking through segmentation, content strategy, etc., inevitably you’re going to have to come back to these core questions.
To summarize, you should have these core strategy pieces documented BEFORE you even lift a finger to plan the launch for your community:
- Persona Profiles (including “What’s in it for Them?”)
- “Come for the X, Stay for the Y” Statement
- Purpose Statement
- Community Values
- Community Voice
Need more ideas on how to acquire and engage new members for your community? Check out my monthly Members Welcome (Spotify) podcast.