A pre-launch checklist for your new online community

by Martin Reed on 2 December 2009 in Articles

preparing to launch an online community

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.

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{ 25 comments }

Paul December 2, 2009 at 2:39 pm

Making a long checklist of things that need to happen and then working your butt off to accomplsh each one is going to ensure you are giving your new community everything you can. It also helps you remember everything that must be done.

Dean Saliba December 2, 2009 at 7:26 pm

If “to make money” is one reason then I’d say find another way.

Jonathan December 4, 2009 at 3:58 pm

Point 2 , which you relate to being committed and supported is very important. There is no point spending lots of time creating an online community if you don’t then put in the hours and hardwork to develop it to it’s full potential.

Mr Woc December 12, 2009 at 9:07 am

Hi there

This article does give people a good idea on what to think about when your starting a community, unfortunatly most people who start web sites like this tend to do it on a whim lol !

With little thought what so ever and then wonder why they are not the next Facebook lol !

Woc

Lisa Udy December 17, 2009 at 4:12 pm

About Jonathan’s comment above: You need to make sure you know how much time it’s going to take as well. It could be a full time or part time job depending on how big or how automated your systems are.

Raj December 23, 2009 at 5:29 am

Hi Martin,

As always, great advice. Do you have any advice for starting a community where members pay to be members? I wonder if there’s a good book or set of articles regarding for-pay communities.

Thanks.
Raj

Martin Reed - Community Manager December 24, 2009 at 12:04 pm

Raj – You need to make sure there is enough value in the community in order to attract fee paying members. You might want to start as a free community to build up content, engagement and relationships before converting to a paid model and charging new members for access.

Ben King December 26, 2009 at 8:39 pm

Agree, it is difficult to charge customers for using the site until it has developed a brand name. However if you are looking to generate revenue, why don’t you simply incorporate advertising into the site… I think this model is better…

Raj December 28, 2009 at 3:31 pm

Thanks Ben. I have heard that good brands do not place ads against User-Generated Content because they don’t want the risk of their ads being placed next to objectionable content. What is your experience with advertising on your community sites? Do you have good CPMs / CTRs? What ad format / position works best? Do you do text ads/ video ads etc.? Do you get name-brand advertisers ?

I’ve also read that users on community sites generally don’t have commercial intent. In other words, they’re not in the mood to shop and so don’t get attracted by ads/offers.

Thanks.
Raj

Beth January 4, 2010 at 1:27 am

We are very happy that in your shortcuts you included the caveat about negativity.

The last group we were involved with simply exploded one day.

One day it was there, and the next it was as though a two megaton explosive had hit the group.

The injured members never returned.

We didn’t participate in the mudslinging. We tried to be peace makers. But, of course, when one is a peace maker one ends up with lots of the slop on oneself.

Thanks again for these tips, especially the negativity warning.

Nicole Price January 4, 2010 at 8:01 am

A forum that I belong to organized an offline function which was a grad success. In two days’ time, I received three invitations to join other forums organizing similar events. How is this possible? How did those new forums get my details?

Martha Jones January 4, 2010 at 10:13 am

Love this article, thank you for posting it. I have read so many articles on community building, but this is one thing that makes your article stand out:

“You’ve already built relationships with – and amongst – potential members”

This is important. If you have not already built relationships with the people you want to start the community with, there is little point in building one, unless you want to invite tons of spammers. ;)

Personally I like those forums which are “private and exclusive” to a few hundreds.

Raj January 5, 2010 at 6:20 pm

Martin,

Thanks for the guidance.

Raj

David January 6, 2010 at 5:30 pm

I suppose that the tricky thing that I’m finding is the challenge of creating a community from scratch. The web can be unforgiving and quality content is the key to help drive and maintain site traffic and visitors. It is hard work….

Andy January 6, 2010 at 5:36 pm

I’m just setting up an online community for the first time and this site has been of great help. It’s made it clear to me that it’s not only just the “technical stuff” but all the people and community related considerations

Holly February 3, 2010 at 2:49 am

I’ve started a few online communites, and I heartily agree that opening your forum for members is not the final stage of community building! You can have the best idea, and your forum can be filling a very real and specific need, and it still may fail. I think if you go in with the realization that you will need to put in a lot of work at the outset, it will save you some aggravation!

Sharon February 4, 2010 at 5:28 am

Bookmarked, printed and taped to my head. ;) This is a fantastic list! (We’re just getting started so will refer to it often).

Cheers!

Brenda February 5, 2010 at 1:29 am

Great list….my problem right now is figuring out how to get the early adopters excited about what we’re doing though! Maybe they’re not the right early adopters??

Martin Reed - Community Manager February 5, 2010 at 5:27 pm

Brenda – Or maybe what you’re doing isn’t exciting? A thought worth considering.

Tom February 6, 2010 at 9:49 am

And the most important check-list… make 100% sure that you’re prepared for the long, hard work ahead of you.

There’s no point starting a community, working your fingers to the bone, only to give up on it 3 months later because you’re not getting the results you wanted.

I’ve been at it 2 years now and not quite at the stage I’m wanting because of several set backs I’ve had over the past year. But you’ve got to be prepared to keep up the hard work and the standards.

Ed Harris February 25, 2010 at 10:17 am

That’s just it. I know it’s a lot of work and right now I only get 5 hours of sleep. I would love to have someone take up the responsibility of setting up the Forum and in fact have someone in mind.

The other thing I have learned is you need to find a few good moderators as well.

Sean March 1, 2010 at 3:58 pm

The first site I worked at… years ago… was a total failure. I mean TOTAL FAILURE!!! I didn’t know the community hadn’t done my research and just failed miserably at getting new members. Now it is a bit easier to find early adopters through social media…but I still don’t always reach my goals. But now I will change mid-course if the ship is sinking. :-)

Garrison Wynn March 3, 2010 at 8:05 pm

This has given me some great ideas for starting a community for new public speakers. Of course there already exist toastmasters and local NSA chapters. But I believe there is a real need for creating this type of community for easy access to what works, what doesn’t and learning from the experience of those that have already “been there and done that”.

Riley Summerlin March 11, 2010 at 4:11 pm

I like your mention of not using a “top down” approach to building relationships… that seems to be a big flaw in a lot of online community building and in social media marketing. Trying to force an end result without adequate grass-roots relationship building is a surefire way to create failure.

Mike March 12, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Hi, I’d have to agree with Riley, there is not enough thought being put into relationship management. The quick buck seems to be the mantra. long term relationship building and trust development seems to be abandoned for the lure of fast gold. It may be fast but it won’t be long term.

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