Creating and rolling out a plan of any nature is difficult. There are essentially four key steps involved in rolling out a plan for your online community, but in truth, half of these steps begin before the actual rollout phase, so we really need to back it up a bit.
You see, the ability to successfully rollout any plan relies heavily on your ability to obtain executive support for your project or program. Whether you like it or not, you need executive buy-in; this means that your executive team must play a key role in the development of your community plan.
I’m going to go ahead and say that if you’re reading this for more than just leisure, you’ve likely got a community to rollout. That being said, you’ve probably been directed to do so from a member of your executive team, which indicates that you have some level of executive support.
That’s obviously a great place to start, but the first step here is to secure buy-in from the entire executive team. All of them.
1. Pre-Rollout: Secure Buy-In From All Executives
While a few executives in your organization will have given you the go-ahead to create a community plan, it’s probably the case that other executive team members either don’t know anything about community and are indifferent, or they disagree with the perceived benefits and don’t think that there will be a positive ROI.
The first step in successfully rolling out your community plan is to challenge these viewpoints; you want to show your executives why they should support community, and how it’ll impact the bottom line. Of course, there are many benefits of community that aren’t necessarily reflected in numbers; community often has a positive emotional impact on many individuals, but as you might already know, executives like to hear numbers.
To this, community experts say that a great way to obtain executive buy-in is to lead with a story and then follow with numbers. In one of our previous blogs, Todd Nilson, the Founder & Digital Strategist at Clocktower Advisors, noted that “it’s important to speak about how the community could really make a difference in people’s lives,” and to further back your story with supporting figures.
Securing buy-in from all executives is probably the most important step. This is because if you don’t have unanimous support from executives, you risk having their skepticism or disagreement pushed onto their staff, which will further hold you back from success. In addition, not having all executives support your plan means that when it comes to developing your KPIs and community metrics, which requires a lot of internal MVP collaboration, your outcomes will be far less considered and subsequently less effective.
Ultimately, not having unanimous executive buy-in will provide you with a number of roadblocks and make your job a whole lot more difficult.
2. Pre-Rollout: Develop a Collaborative Plan
One of the primary reasons why you need to have executive buy-in is so that you can ensure that everyone is involved in developing the community plan, under your leadership. You want all hands on deck here. You want everyone’s input. The more people that have their business interests backed by the community, the more invested they’ll be and the more internal support you’ll have overall.
There are several aspects of a community plan, which include, but aren’t limited to:
Identifying the purpose of the community (ex. Support-based community)
Determining your community mission and vision
Determine the objectives and outcomes you want to see from your community
Identifying your audience and further determining how you’ll approach them
How you plan to launch your community (ex. Given your needs, what vendor should you choose?)
How will you measure success/ progress towards your community goals and outcomes? What are your community KPIs, benchmarks, etc?
What tools do you need to measure and analyze your community data?
How often will you report on your community progress?
How many dedicated staff do you need and what are their roles and responsibilities?
These are just some examples of things that need to be considered when you create your community plan.
During this process, you want to involve all members of the executive team and you certainly want to consult your organizations staff members. Your staff, especially the front-line workers who work directly with your customers, will have invaluable input and can contribute quite a lot to your planning process. Moreover, the more you consult your staff, the more invested they will feel in the community and be more likely to promote it to their customers.
3. Rollout: Set Task Milestones
Once you’ve got the “pre-rollout” tasks complete, you’re ready to rollout your plan—but how can you make sure that your plan is actually successful?
One of the best things to do is to set community milestones. This is a good idea for two reasons:
Creates a Sense of Accountability
It creates an enhanced sense of accountability for all of those who are responsible for the community. This is especially important if you’re the only person managing the community because in the beginning, you’re likely to rely on others to make sure that your community can be found.
For example a community milestone (which is an action or event marking progress in your community implementation) could be “having each customer service rep refer 100 customers to the community within the first month of the launch.” Another milestone could be reaching your 1000 first community members and then recognizing them with gamification badges.
Gives You Time To Analyze Progress
One of the best things about implementing milestones for a project rollout is that you don’t have to do everything at once. For example, say you want to create a really cool gamification system; you could certainly have bits and pieces set up before your launch, however it might be hard to know what gamification elements can incentivize your community when you don’t yet have any analytics.
Having milestones in place will give yourself time to collect and analyze your community data so that you can make more informed decisions about what motivates the members of your community. An example of a milestone in this regard is having 500 active members in your community, and then doing a deep dive into their behaviours to inform your gamification tactics.
4. Rollout: Measure and Iterate
The key to any successful community plan is setting your community KPIs (as we discussed in Step 2) and then actually using your analytical tools to collect and analyze your community data. One reason why communities can fail is because they’re unable to actually achieve the business objectives/ purpose of the community in the first place.
For example, perhaps the primary purpose of your community was to deflect support tickets and improve customer experience. If you aren’t collecting data, you won’t know whether your community is seeing success; is it deflecting support tickets? Are your customers more satisfied with self-service? In truth, I believe that if you aren’t collecting data, your community is bound to fail because it means that your decision making is based on whims without supporting proof.
This is one case where the saying “no news is good news,” doesn’t hold up — no news about your community analytics isn’t a good thing, especially since you probably put a good amount of time and effort into securing executive buy-in. Those who initially supported the community plan will definitely want to have updates on community performance, so make sure you actually do this.
Additionally, you need to analyze your community performance to find out what is working and what isn’t working. That way, you can iterate and adjust your community plan or try new tactics to see if they garner better results.
There you have it folks, four simple steps on how to rollout a community plan. Again, the secret sauce is in the preliminary work before the plan is actually put into action. Securing buy-in from everyone on the executive team is an absolute must; before you put hours into creating a solid plan, make sure everyone is onboard so that your plan isn’t picked to the bone before it’s put into practice.