Most great things require testing, practice and iteration before they're perfected. A star athlete, for example, wouldn't just jump into it without careful and tedious practice. Similarly, a software or product launch usually goes through a number of tests, beta versions, and is adjusted for maximum results before it is actually released to the public.
It takes a lot of work before you can reach the state of perfection; your online community forum is no different.
At Vanilla, we recommend that you always do a soft launch since it's a lot easier to change things before it goes out there for the world to see. That being said, here are three key benefits that you have to gain if you choose to soft launch your community.
1. Get Valuable Feedback
The value of feedback can't be understated. Getting feedback is one of the most important things that you can do to ensure that your community sees success, and getting it before you actually go live is even better! This will help you ensure that newcomers to your community get the best experience possible, since you'll have the know-how from the soft launch as to how to improve it.
You want to get the members participating in your soft launch to provide feedback on a number of different things, including:
The style/ theming of your community - is it on brand and appealing to viewers?
The user interface - it is easy for members to navigate your community?
New member onboarding - does the community make it easy for newcomers to understand the community rules, the purpose and how to actually participate?
Creating new discussions - is it easy for newcomers to understand how to create a new discussion?
The ideation system - is it working as intended and easy to use?
The gamification system - is your community gamification system easy to understand, on brand and fun to use?
Of course, there are many different things that you'll want your members to test, however it will depend on the purpose of your community and the type of functions you've included.
2. Get People Familiar with Your Community
You know what they say, nobody is a better advocate for your brand or community than your customers themselves — and if you didn't know they say that, well, they do! Your customers can advocate for you in a way that you can't. New customers are more willing to listen to reviews from their peers rather than a brand who they might not trust as much.
When you select the members who will participate in your soft launch, keep in mind that if all goes well, they'll be impressed and will likely tell others about your amazing community. This is in fact one of the best ways to advertise for your community; our Community Launch Checklist outlines this as a key tactic, along with several others, including:
Encouraging your beta testers, early adopter to spread the word.
Leveraging any connections you have and invite them.
Using email marketing to your mailing lists or consider purchasing targeted lists.
Looking to sponsor events or have a presence at industry events.
Being engaged in other places where your community gathers such as other social media properties (Facebook, Twitter, etc).
Creating great shareable content that make sure you are easily found in search engines.
Advertising is a key element of having a new community be known, but if you select your soft launch testers correctly, you'll essentially be able to hit two birds with one stone.
3. Prepare Your Staff
Last but certainly not lease is that a soft launch can help prepare your staff for the community and their roles. Think of it kind of like a training session; your community is brand new, and so are the key roles for the community, such as Community Manager. All new staff need to be trained, however there won't be anyone to train them since your community is brand new. Having a soft launch can help your new staff learn the ropes and how to size up the expectations for their role before you actually go live.
Give your new staff a chance to test the waters before you throw them in!