Launching an online community is an exciting new business initiative that needs to be aligned with your company's goals and objectives. However, many companies fail to create a well-thought out launch plan, a mistake that can quickly and easily result in a failed online community. With the right strategy, dedication, and guidance, your organization can overcome launch pitfalls to create a thriving community that delivers an impressive return on investment.
To achieve success, start by scratching our top five suggestions off your community launch checklist:
1. Identify community purpose and audience needs
How do you plan to use your community? Define the purpose - knowledge management, Q&A, ideation, collaboration, self-service support - and clearly outline the goals of the community. Goals include knowledge transfer, increased revenue, customer engagement, and lower support costs.
You also need to understand your audience's needs and research how to position your community as a strong resource. By performing a thorough due diligence process assessing the needs of your audience, you'll arm yourself the necessary knowledge to provide information of value, start relevant conversations, build relationships, and establish a foundation that will enable community growth.
2. Identify company stakeholders
Along with identifying audience needs, organizations need to identify key company stakeholders. Who will be responsible for the community? A community manager, with the support of the c-level executives, can drive conversations, moderate user activity, and enhance the relationship community members have with a brand.
Further, a community must have support from the executive team. Upper management must understand the vital role community plays in meeting organizational goals and be prepared to support - and participate in and contribute to - knowledge-sharing communities.
3. Create some buzz
Think of your community as a new product and entice your audience to see what the excitement is about.
There are many simple ways to promote your online community. To begin, no one will join your community if they can't find it. Prominently display the community link on the homepage of your website. Also, include the link in the footer of all company email communications and share the news on social media and/or company blog.
After launch, keep your community top of mind. Schedule monthly live chats to further user engagement on popular topics. Use email alerts to notify members of new discussion opportunities. Or, send email newsletters highlighting community activity. At DZone.com (our own community site for developers and software professionals), we send daily emails showcasing the top trends being discussed on our website. This tactic promotes our online community, but also sparks interest, invites others to join the conversation, and increases web traffic.
4. Seed content
Before launch, post some content to get the party started. Pre-populating communities with discussion topics makes it easier for first time visitors to understand the purpose of the community and increases the odds of engagement. Start with the top 10 most frequently asked questions and provide the answers.
As a best practice, continuously refresh content to deliver a quality experience and meet community member needs. Gauge user satisfaction by sending out email surveys to community members, monitor key words and top questions asked, and refresh content as needed.
5. Define "success"
What does "success" mean to your community? Online communities are an investment in the success of your company - remember to show the return on that investment. Once launched, you want to show an impressive return on investment.
What gets measured, get done - as such, identify and monitor metrics of importance and share these metrics with stakeholders on a regular basis. Organizations can deliver a more valuable community experience and tie performance back to to business-level goals.
Main image via Abdul Rahman / Flickr