Launching your new community is a big deal. A lot of work went into it and everyone has high expectations for the community.
Since community spaces are new, you can’t necessarily expect mass adoption from everyone the second you open the doors. But you can expect people to be interested and excited to see what the community is all about when you launch.
How do you build hype around your community launch? Here are a few tips:
1. Let people know what's coming
Obviously you’re excited about launch day, but are your members? If they don’t know what’s coming, how can they be excited? Before your community launches, educate members about what an online community means for them and make sure they look forward to using this brand new, valuable resource.
So how do you educate future community members? Look at the channels currently available, and turn to the most influential people in your organization. Here are a few ideas:
- Have an executive write a blog post explaining why you’re launching a community and what people should expect (and why they should be excited)
- Announce in your newsletter
- Say something in your email signature or out of office reply
- Put up ads on your website to make sure people know when the launch date is
- Send out cards or small swag items
Be creative -- the trick is finding a combination of ideas and tactics to reach the most people. Not everyone is going to read your blog or open your newsletter, so make sure you reach every segment.
2. Hit the ground running
Although it’s tempting to open the gates for everyone at the same time, consider building your community slowly at first.
Before a big launch involving everyone, have a soft launch, with a few trusted people who understand what community is and are dedicated to its growth. By establishing the community with a few MVPs before giving general admission, new people who don’t know anything about the community can dive into the conversation right away. Rather than figuring out how they’re supposed to act, or feeling nervous to start the first discussion, your hand selected MVPs have already laid the groundwork.
When you start with a few dedicated people, they establish community norms and grow conversation. Rachel Happe of The Community Roundtable says it’s like cooking risotto -- trickle the rice in as you cook, don’t dump the entire bag in at once.
In the soft launch, definitely include several executives or organizational higher-ups. Imagine the message new members will receive when they log in and see your president or CEO has already posted a blog post or contributed to an “Introduce Yourself” thread. It shows everyone involved that your organization is invested in community and views it as an important tool.
3. Make a big splash at your conference
When it comes to educating your customers or members about your community, your annual conference is about as good as it gets. No other time of the year will you have so many people in the same place at once. Including community it your biggest event makes perfect sense -- there are many ways you can unobtrusively weave your community into the fabric of the conference.
Centering the launch around the conference can be overwhelming and ineffective -- too much is going on at once. So, instead of launching during your conference, kick the community off four to six weeks before and use the conference to increase awareness and as an opportunity to educate.
To have the biggest impact, you need to be creative and understand your organization’s culture -- what’s going to make the biggest impact with your specific group? There isn’t a one-tactic-fits-all solution, but here are a couple ways to incorporate your community launch into your conference:
- Raffle prizes to people who’ve posted in the community. Regularly incentivizing members to post through raffles or prizes is controversial, but it can be effective if you’re trying to raise awareness and make people excited.
- Host a happy hour for people who’ve downloaded the app
- Hand out swag related to your community and make sure everyone’s cup is placed on a community branded coaster
- Set up a booth to educate people. Make sure there are a couple laptops for people to create an account right there.
Even if your community can’t be the centerpiece of your conference, it should still be visible. Extend the conference to your community platform -- direct people to the community if they want to download post-conference educational material. Start discussions based on session topics or host an Ask Me Anything with your keynote speaker. Online communities can extend the life of a conference well beyond the two days it takes place -- which is good for you and your members.
4. Connect offline using online tools
Really, online communities are just an extension of offline communities, giving them greater depth, especially if people are spread far and wide. So, a big part of getting people to adopt your community is connecting the dots and demonstrating how an online community benefits their offline world -- and vice versa. An online community doesn’t replace in-person events, and in-person events aren’t a good substitute for an online community -- they compliment each other.
Extending your conference or events onto the community (as mentioned above) is one way to connect the dots. Another perfect opportunity to enhance both online and offline interactions with community is through ambassador or volunteer programs. By facilitating your ambassador or volunteer program through your platform, you can foster a deeper sense of community and meaning -- which can lead to more motivated ambassadors or volunteers.
Everyone loves swag -- it’s a fact. Although your community launch shouldn’t center around t-shirts, stickers and foldable sunglasses, branded swag can be useful in building excitement and community awareness.
But don’t get caught in the trap -- not all swag is created equal. What do your members like and what will resonate best with them?
A big part of a successful launch -- and creating a sustainable community -- is educating your members on how to behave, what’s expected and what the community is for. If you don’t have clear expectations, either people will be too worried to participate -- they don’t want to make a faux pas or break a rule! -- or you’ll have mayhem. As you build excitement around your community launch, take time to educate people about why your organization invested in community, how it benefits everyone, and what good member behavior looks like.
Once everyone is on the same page, the community will run that much more smoothly.