Building an online community strategy from scratch.
Awesome. You’ve decided that an online community is a good idea.
You’ve gotten clarity on the purpose of the community, and tied it to the goals/needs/dreams of your prospective community members. (Extra bonus points if you actually ASKED them what they’d like.)
Don’t get too intimidated by the word strategy.
We’re here to make your life easier, not give you homework.
Your over-arching strategy could be as simple as, “provide an emotional support outlet for caregivers of Alzheimer patients using a series of discussion forums.”
Or it could be a super deep dive, as described in this excellent resource on community strategy development from our friends at Feverbee.
In the end, your strategic plan is simply a statement of the behavior(s) you will apply over time in order to achieve the main goal.
It’s useful to break down your strategic plan into shorter timeframes, with built-in review cycles so you can adjust/pivot if needed.
Quarterly sprints work well, especially if your organization is already organized around that type of planning schedule.
Even if you’re a solo artist, you should take a look at how your community is working (or not) on a periodic basis.
Let’s take a look at an example quarterly plan structure, if you were in charge of the Alzheimer caregiver community mentioned above.
Keep your plan simple.
A one-pager that you refer to daily is preferable to a 20 page PDF that nobody ever reads.
Describe the current situation - “We have a cohort of 50 caregivers who have attended the same workshop series, and have asked for a space to connect with each other for ongoing support.”
Describe 1-5 objectives - for example, “Sign 10 caregivers up for the next upcoming workshop series” or “increase NPS for workshop attendees by 10%.”
List initiatives or projects that will help accomplish the objectives.
- On-board 75% of the workshop cohort to the online community.
- Achieve a 30% monthly ratio of active members in the community.
- Send out a pre-workshop, post-workshop, and 30-day post workshop survey to the cohort and measure NPS.
- Curate success stories from the community content that can be shared with the marketing team to promote future workshops.
If you come up with a big list of potential initiatives at the beginning of the year, you’ll have a pool to draw on for your quarterly planning.
Describe the resources needed (people, budget, timeframe) - it might just be you, one person, tasked with running the show! That’s OK, just be realistic with your list of initiatives.
Break initiatives down into tasks - The easiest way to juggle your initiatives/projects is to break them down into tasks, with rough estimates of how long each task will take.
It doesn’t have to be a detailed spreadsheet or anything fancy, grab that notebook and sketch it out if that works better for you.
For each initiative, you should have several tasks, and each task should have a guesstimate on time required to complete. This will allow you to (at a glance) evaluate how long each initiative might take.
Once you have that information, when you do your planning session, you can decide which initiatives make sense for any given quarter (or whatever timeframe you’re using).
Don’t forget about special events, dates, holidays - when you’re thinking about tackling a given initiative, give consideration to the calendar. Is there an organization-wide event that’s driving the timetable (a product release, a big fundraiser)? Is your graphic designer out on leave?
Metrics - Each initiative should also include a checkpoint at the end, where you go back and measure success. If you were running an ad campaign, one of your final tasks should be to look at the numbers and see if it moved the needle (for revenue, for new members, for website traffic).
Be sure that your community platform gives you a wide variety of reports that you can customize by timeframe. You should be able to see which content in the community was most popular (or least popular), what types of engagement are happening, and who your most active supporters are. These data points can then be part of your big-picture planning, as the community feeds into your larger organizational goals.
If you’re part of a larger organization, your strategic plan should be shared with any other departments who may need to be involved (customer support, marketing, membership, finance).
Get their input on dates, metrics, and resources that might be available too.
Don’t ignore smaller teams, get everyone on board with the plan upfront, so you’re all driving toward the same goals and objectives.
Create a “single source of truth” for the initiatives and tasks. There are lots of free and paid options out there, including:
Whatever format you choose, make it something you’ll use routinely as part of your workflow. Don’t create a “beast” that must be constantly fed.
Strategic planning is important, but it shouldn’t make you crazy. Use a system that serves you, doesn’t absorb all of your time, and allows you to keep an eye on the long-term for your community.