What to do pre-launch, a checklist.
When it comes to online community, there’s no good reason to have a big flashy launch. It shouldn’t be like a movie premiere, with a red carpet and interviews.
Why not, you ask? Flashy events are fun!
As we stated in What Is An Online Community, your community concept should have a built-in constituency, people who will be hungry for the value you’ll provide.
In fact, you’ve hopefully been talking and working with those people as you worked through your strategy and concept. (It could be as easy as rounding up 3-5 people ahead of time who want to be “founding members”).
It’s such an advantage to have founding members who will build the community with you.
They can help with initial discussions and content sharing, they can help you promote the community in their own circles, and they’ll be there to help you tweak the concept if it isn’t working well.
Use this community pre-launch checklist to make sure your bases are covered:
Why are you creating this community? What do you hope to accomplish and how will you know when you do?
What support do you have? Do you have fellow founders, prospective members, budget, and email list?
How will you handle behavior challenges, will you screen content, what happens if trolls invade your paradise? (And if your community is for a larger business, go talk to the legal team ahead of time, so they don’t derail you at the end.)
Does it have the flexibility to grow with your community? Will your costs grow over time (or is it unlimited, like Crowdstack)? Does it include the features you’ll need in order to accomplish the goals?
- Editorial Calendar or Programming Plan
Who will be writing articles, or creating resources that deliver value to your members? How often? At the very least, who will be starting conversations routinely?
Once you have all of your pre-launch “ducks in a row,” you’re ready to move forward.
Successful communities don’t usually go from zero to 500 members in the first week. They grow organically, adding a steady percentage of new active members over time.
So instead of a huge public launch, consider a rolling soft launch, where you invite the inner circle first, get some value exchange going, and then steadily invite batches of new members from your list.
Empower your happy members to invite their friends and colleagues, to get some viral effect going as well.
Here are five quick tips that will get any new community ready for success:
- Start with the minimum viable feature set. If you’re using forums, don’t set up an “empty mansion.” You have plenty of room to add forums as the community expands, and you can then be responsive to members' requests for new topics or forum spaces. Same thing with additional features like chat or blogging; start with the minimum viable community at first.
- Don’t lock everything down unless you HAVE to. Leave some content public, even if you're starting a private community, Give visitors a reason to join by teasing a little bit of great content. If they see value upfront, they'll want to join and stick around.
- Be welcoming, but don't be a "Tom" from Myspace - auto-welcomes are an OK last resort, but it's even better to have a live human notice new members and engage with them for real!
- Don't over-seed - in many new communities, the forums are full of posts by the community manager and his/her colleagues, hoping to spark conversation. If you have to "seed," do it sparingly and try to ask questions that will encourage other members to participate. Even better to get your core founders to start conversations before the community goes live.
- Set the tone from the start with good guidelines - you need to consider the vibe of the community. Hopefully you already have an audience in mind, and they already have something in common that will draw them together. Use your community guidelines to establish from the start how things will run. Consider a moderator welcome as one of the first posts, in which your mods can introduce themselves and explain their moderation style.