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5 Common Pitfalls to Avoid When Launching an Online Community

Written by Joshua Paul | on February 22, 2011 at 10:14 AM

Launching an Online Community

Launching an online community is the most critical phase of implementing an online community for your association, nonprofit, or user group.  It’s the first chance you have to show your members what you have been working on and have them see the value of your new online community. If you don’t take time to think through the launch phase, you could find yourself scrambling to think of a back-up plan. 

The following are five common pitfalls large and mid-sized organizations fall into when launching their online communities and how you can avoid them.

Pitfall #1: Launching at Your Conference

One of the major problems with launching at your conference is that your support staff is onsite at the conference.  After the initial announcement, members will have questions about the online community and your support staff should respond in a timely manner to ensure members have a positive initial experience. 

Another problem with a conference launch is that your members are more likely concerned with finding the right session in the program guide and making sure they are at the right room at the right time. Trying to find value in a new online community may be put on the back burner and then be forgotten.

How to avoid it?
Soft launch your online community about a week before your conference and then focus on a marketing campaign while at your conference. This will allow your members the opportunity to review the online community and come to the conference with any questions. Set-up a booth in your vendor hall specifically for your online community or present sessions on how members will use the site.

Pitfall #2: Assuming Your Users Are Going to be Just as Excited as You Are 

More than likely your online community wasn’t created overnight; it’s probably taken months of work to implement.  Your staff has had time to work in the online community and get excited about the value it’s going to bring your members. Your members, on the other hand, have no idea this is going on, so when they see an email about a new online community, they don’t understand why they should be excited. 

How to avoid it?
Don’t leave the launch of your online community to launch day.  Launching an online community is an entire phase in the implementation process.  A few months out, take time to communicate out to your members about the new community and why it’s going to be an additional benefit.  Spend time educating board members or other significant committees that you know will be willing to talk to other members.

Pitfall #3: Planning to Launch Over a Major Holiday

For some reason, people want to announce their online community near a holiday, because they think it brings more stock to their announcement.  For example “In honor of the New Year, we are announcing our very own New Online Community.” Sure, it’s catchy, but your members are probably more worried about the work they just came back to over the holidays.

How to avoid it?
Although a random Tuesday doesn’t seem as launch-worthy to you, think about key aspects of your member’s schedule.  You want your members to have enough down time in their day that they can click on a few links in your announcement email and get excited about your online community. Launching during the week also gives your support staff the appropriate time to answer initial questions before the weekend.   

Pitfall #4: Only One or Two Staff Members Know How to Use the Software

In many organizations, a team of people is put in place to develop an online community and see it through to its launch.  This approach works for setting up the online community, but will not work if you want to see your online community succeed.  The online community should not be thought of as a separate project or additional program that you offer your members.  If you want your members to see it as an integrated, valuable, resource, then you need to also see it that way.

How to avoid it?
Your entire staff should receive training on how key aspects of your online community function.  The team spearheading the implementation should provide the rest of your staff talking points as to why this online community will be a benefit, goals of the online community, and the value it will create for your members.  You want to ensure that no matter who in your organization your members speak to, they sound enthusiastic about the new online community and can help with general questions.

Pitfall #5: You Have No Strategic Plan Moving Forward

There is no content in your online community. In order for your members to find value in the online community, they need to be able to find resources on your site.  If they log into an empty community, what are their chances of coming back to see “what’s new”?

How to avoid it?
Review current content and determine what should be placed on the new online community.  Meeting minutes, whitepapers, articles, calendar items, and presentations can all be placed in your online community before your launch, to make it seem full of content.  Similar to the avoidance tactic for Pitfall #3, talk to your Board or other significant committees about writing a welcome message or article that will generate excitement.

Post written by Julie Secor, Senior Client Manager at Socious (Photo credit: stevendepolo)

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Topics: Online Community Software, Online Community

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