So you want to start a community? Congratulations! You’ve taken the first step on a very exciting journey. Much like Rome not being built in a day, building community is a patient game as it takes time and focus to meaningfully connect people.
In some cases, it can take up-to a year or more before you start to see true community impact, though if all is going well you’ll see some immediate wins 🚀. That timeline can make some feel trepidatious, however with a little strategic thinking and planning, you can step off on the right foot and sidestep the hasty and costly mistakes others who have come before you have made to get yourself to the finish line. Launching a community properly should take time to research, plan, and align your strategy before members join your new home. So think meaningfully about the offering and don’t rush the process even though it’s very exciting 🙂
Start Your Build: Get to Know Your Brand
Your brand community is a reflection of your brand whether you’re a large corporation, a small start-up, or a nonprofit organization. The first step in your process is to dive in and get to know your company whether you are a new hire or have been a longtime employee. A few questions to ask and get down on paper:
- What drives the company?
- What motivates current employees?
- How does it exemplify values?
- What’s the mission of the company?
- How would building a community help the business?
- How can the business help community members?
- Who is your typical audience/customer/user?
The answers to these questions will provide you with initial content as well as a framework for setting up your community strategy. They will also serve as the foundation for the reasons why members will want to join.
At the same time, identify who in the company will act as your brand champions. It takes a village to build and create a successful community and you will need advocates inside the company to help you.
- Can the company leadership drop a note in a newsletter or post a few times a year?
- Are there marketing or product staff who can keep you in the loop on new developments to share with the community?
- Do you have a few customer service colleagues that can be a point person for any community member that has trouble?
- Will these individuals keep the community front and center and a part of the overall business objectives?
Also don’t forget – you will want to take vacation at some point! Who will you deputize to handle things while you take much deserved time off?
Set Your Goals & Create Your Strategy To Build Your Community
Once you have a solid handle on your company, values, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and dive in! Any great community is built with a solid strategic plan and works toward achieving goals that will benefit both community members and key stakeholders. When you envision building your community what does the end-state look like? Are you providing social networking, a knowledge base, news & content, events, customer support, or all of the above to your community? These will impact your list of goals.
If you have never set a goal before, a great place to start is utilizing the SMART method. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. All of which are required for a good goal. Your goals can be within a variety of areas such as community engagement, growth, content, or product feedback but they will all be tied up together by a cohesive strategy.
Usually, when building a community it’s common that your first goal is growth, growth, growth. However, long term community success often starts small and slow and then snowballs. A popular goal regarding growth is often “I would like to have 1,000 members as soon as possible,” but I would encourage you to think bigger, more specific, and outside the box. What good does 1,000 members do if you have 1,000 people join in your first month and never return? Or you have 1,000 people and no one contributes? An improved SMART goal would then be:
Within 90 days I would like to have 1,000 people join the community of which 75% have filled out profiles, 30% have posted within the community for the first time, and 15% have connected to someone else.
This goal is specific, it’s measurable, should be attainable, and has a timed deadline in order to define success as you build community. A lot of tactics will need to be outlined to achieve this goal! Tactics are small and define “The How”
- How are you going to market this community to get 1,000 people to join?
- How will you build an onboarding journey to get 75% to completely fill out a profile?
- How will you encourage people to contribute to the community and engage with others to connect?
As you get started building your community, you should have multiple goals to work towards. The one above focuses on growth and adoption. A second should focus on engagement and might consider an online or offline event.
This could be an opportunity for community members to see a new product feature, get to know the executive team, or simply a social event where they can meet each other. These touchpoints create a sense of connection and belonging and encourage people not only to join, but to learn something or feel connected to someone. This is the difference between an audience and a community.
Where Will Your Community Live?
Deciding on a community home is a very important question! Communities can and do exist everywhere online whether they are in Facebook groups, Twitter Chats, Instagram Hashtags, or on company websites. There are benefits to having a space carved out on large social platforms because of the benefits of the “network effect” and easy connection with others on places they already interact, but the drawbacks include not having robust tools to manage a community the way you’d like to, existing on platforms, not all people want to participate on for various reasons (i.e. Facebook or TikTok), and no ownership of any data or information on members. Thoughtful plans typically include tactful approaches for both.
For our purposes of launching a community we are going to assume that you will need your own platform for your community to engage. This platform can be built in house if you have that capability, but often it will be provided by a third party vendor. This can be a large task, but don’t worry – you’ve already done some of this legwork! Think back to all of the initial research you did on your company’s mission, and the goals you have set up and match your needs to a platform. You’ve already set up your business case and are ready to shop around!
Some areas you’ll want to consider while reviewing options:
- Is your community open to all or exclusive to some?
- Moderation tool availability for discussions, also will you require forums?
- Event management for online or offline meetings
- Community engagement opportunities
- Security & data protection
- Analytics & Measurement Tools
- Content Management
- Any gamification aspects you might want
- Does this work with your company’s technology stack?
Most platforms might not have everything you want, so identify your priorities at launch and work with your IT team closely! One thing to note is this platform vendor becomes a trusted member of your team. How do you like working with them? What do they offer you to help you be successful? How easy are product enhancements and how often are updates made? Flexibility is a great factor to look for when seeking a solution. Where should you start looking for a solution? Honeycommb is a great place 😄
If you have never been a part of an online community yourself, or want to join one for community managers Colony might be a great place for you to start.
This is only the beginning of your journey to build community! Going through these exercises pre-emptively and creating a strong foundation will save you a lot of headaches in the future.