Maximise your chances of success – only launch your community website to the world when the following conditions have been met:
? You know why you want to launch an online community
Why do you want an online community in the first place? To increase brand awareness/perception? To reduce costs? To better engage with your customers/target audience? Because everyone else is? The first three are valid reasons – the last one might be valid, but it’s the least likely to see you succeed. Do you really need an online community?
? You are committed and supported
Building an online community takes a lot of hard work, and a lot of effort. It also takes time (shortcuts are here). Are you ready for this? Perhaps even more importantly, are others inside your business (if applicable) supportive, too? Building an online community can be a struggle – you don’t want to be distracted, fighting against those that should be supporting you.
? You know how you are going to measure success
You shouldn’t base ‘success’ on the number of people you can coax into registering. Member count is not a particularly good measure of a successful community. Instead, think of your own goals (or your organisation’s) and how the community will help you reach them.
When it comes to online communities, numbers can be difficult – sometimes success is measured on more subjective terms; for example, online communities can change the internal processes of an organisation to make it far more customer focussed (if the organisation itself is willing to change). That can be difficult (but not impossible) to measure using numbers alone.
? You know where your potential members are
It’s much easier to find vegetarians online than it is fortune cookie writers. This needs to be considered – the harder your potential members are to find, the more challenging it will be to build a community in the first place. There are advantages, though – the harder these people are to find, the less likely it is that a competitor has already moved in. Smaller groups are better at building relationships – so see this as an advantage (albeit a challenging one).
? You’ve already built relationships with – and amongst – potential members
You know where your members are, and you’ve built relationships with some of them. This doesn’t mean they follow you on Twitter – this means they actually talk to you and engage in meaningful dialogue.
Don’t make the easy mistake of ‘top down’ relationship building here – remember, you want a community. You need to introduce these people to each other; be a matchmaker and introduce people to others.
? You have a group of early adopters involved in the development process
You don’t want to launch a desolate online community or one that isn’t relevant to your target audience. Make sure you take advantage of the relationships you have developed and engage with these individuals during the website’s development to ensure it is tailored to your members and accumulating content at the same time.
? You have a plan
Don’t open the doors until you know what’s next. Opening an online community isn’t the final stage of community building. How will you continue to attract new members and keep hold of your existing ones? How will you encourage new conversations and the development of existing ones? How will you deal with abusive members? There are a lot of questions when it comes to community building – make sure you have the answers before you launch.