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As Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, asserts: “If you're not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you've launched too late.” Hoffman’s advice has become the gospel of the startup world.

Can community builders follow this same advice? The answer is yes, to an extent. You should not wait until your online community is “perfect” to announce its existence. “Perfect community” is a paradox. Just like launching a startup, you will want to invite in small groups of people to validate your community’s purpose and programs before a big splashy public launch. Yes, you need to launch your brand community with some uncertainty and do it anyway. Yes, you will learn a lot and iterate as you go.

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5 min

Carrie Melissa Jones
Victoria Burt

5 Signs You're Not Ready to Launch Your Community

5 minute read

January 28, 2020

As Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, asserts: “If you're not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you've launched too late.” Hoffman’s advice has become the gospel of the startup world.

Can community builders follow this same advice? The answer is yes, to an extent. You should not wait until your online community is “perfect” to announce its existence. “Perfect community” is a paradox. Just like launching a startup, you will want to invite in small groups of people to validate your community’s purpose and programs before a big splashy public launch. Yes, you need to launch your brand community with some uncertainty and do it anyway. Yes, you will learn a lot and iterate as you go.

However, there are some major differences in community building. If the purpose and chemistry between members is lacking, you will lose a lot of time and money launching, even imperfectly. There are five telltale signs that you’re not ready for launch. Read on for these signs and advice on what to do if they apply to you.

1. When you’re only about the ROI

ROI (return on investment) matters. No one will argue with you on that point. But it is not all that matters.

One of the most common challenges in organizations is not a disregard for ROI, but rather a too-strong emphasis on what the organization will “extract” from the community once it reaches critical mass. Organizations typically want to see outcomes like referrals, “customer love,” brand awareness, or product feedback. All of these are great outcomes for a brand building community.

An issue arises when you cannot articulate what members will get out of connecting and you can only articulate what you need. If you do not know how members’ lives will be improved by coming together, do not launch. Even a guess is okay to start (this is what a minimum viable product or community is about), but it is risky not to validate this guess with research.

What to do about it

If you cannot name 10 people who you think will be served by the community and clearly articulate what they will do together, start interviewing prospective members immediately. Given the proliferation of success stories about brand community, it’s no surprise that organizations are eager to start their own. But they must also understand what that investment means. Initial relationship-building, research, and helping members progress toward their goals takes time, but you cannot skip these essential elements.

2. When you can’t articulate how your community members want to grow

People gather to make connections, share knowledge, have fun, and grow. The last point is crucial. You must be able to state clearly: members of my community will become more _________ (description of progress or change members will undergo or create together). If there is any uncertainty in that statement, it will show in your programming, moderation, and growth plans.

What to do about it

If you have done your initial research, you will have gathered insight into your members’ dreams, goals, desires, and the challenges they face. You will also have a sense of the work that needs to be done in your community and where skills gaps exist for members in getting where they want to be. Write out succinctly: what is the dream identity of your future participants of your community? Do they want to be local change-makers? Confident business owners? The world’s best dog moms? Influencers with integrity? More knowledgeable about their favorite shows and books? Your members’ goals may be lofty and life-changing or fun and silly. Either way, they should be articulated.

eBook Research Online Communities

3. When you can’t articulate why the community is unique

Just because you know what your members want to become, your work is not done. You also have to be able to state why your community is unique in its ability to connect members around their goals. There are many communities for business owners, dog moms, or video game enthusiasts: why should someone join yours? Even if the purpose is the same, maybe the programming or leadership style is different. Again, this should be articulated and be part of how you communicate about the unique value of what you are launching.

What to do about it

If you do not know yet how to distinguish your community from the other options that are out there (or even what competition you face), start with competitor research. From there, you can see how similar communities position themselves to members. You’ll then need to clearly state what makes your community special: is it the way it is facilitated? The programming? The kinds of members? Or is it completely different than anything that exists today?

4. When you’re scared and it shows

It is normal to have pre-launch jitters. These nerves are a sign that you are doing something meaningful, different, or risky -- which comes with many upsides. But if you want to run a community, you must have confidence in your mission, vision, and values --  the guiding principles of the space. Many times, people want to start brand new communities but they do not have experience leading, especially online. It is okay to learn as you go, but it will absolutely slow you down if you are not confident in the purpose, power, and values of the community from the launch date.

What to do about it

Clarify your guiding principles. Use the guide here. 

5. When your community strategy statement sounds like business jargon.

Every brand community should have a strategic statement: the foundation of the community’s purpose both to the brand and its members. The strategic statement needs to be actionable, not something that you plug business jargon like “attract,” “retain,” or “maximize” into, which means nothing to you or your members.

Most strategy statements are vague and jargon-filled, like: “Our purpose is to retain and engage our athletic coach members so we maximize marketing spend of our new product line by empowering ambassadors.” First of all, that strategy statement ignores the purpose of the community for members, and second of all, every brand community must focus on retaining and engaging members. That is a given. You don’t need that as part of a strategy statement; instead, you need to bring in what you plan for members to do together.

What to do about it

The above strategy statement could be re-written as: “We educate, entertain, and recognize the world’s top athletic coaches, who go on to refer our products to their clients.” This statement is actionable. It clarifies the kinds of programming the community will offer, the people gathered, and the outcome you can measure.

Conclusion

It’s okay to feel nervous before launching your community and even feel embarrassed about how the community space looks and functions. In fact, that’s a sign that you are doing something worthwhile and that you haven’t waited too long to do it! But, before you launch, make sure that you do not ignore these five signs. If you put in the strategic legwork upfront, you will save yourself time and potential failure later.

2020 Community Predictions Carrie M Jones

Community

Carrie Melissa Jones

Written by Carrie Melissa Jones

Carrie Melissa Jones is a community leader, entrepreneur, and community management consultant who has been involved with online community leadership since the early 2000s. As the founder of Gather Community Consulting, she consults with brands to build and optimize communities around the world.

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