Where do you start when building a community from scratch? In past posts, we have shared tips for success in planning a community and ways to promote your community, but today we will share some practical steps when launching a brand new community. We're assuming that you have already defined the purpose of your new forum and have the software up and running.
1- Set the forum to display a list of recent a discussions as your "homepage view" to encourage interactions. A list of recent threads across all categories makes it easier for new members and first time visitors to see what's trending in the community and increase the odd that they will engage in discussion. Categories are not so important in new forums. You can certainly create a few categories when starting but let them naturally "evolve" instead of creating too many right away. Once there is significant content, switching to a category homepage might make sense. You can use your analytics to see what leads to more engagement.
2 -Seed the community with topics that start discussions and leverage any existing content you have. A common mistake is having no or too little content upon launch. Just like people shy away from being first on the dance floor at a party, having some active discussions going right away will help. Create at least 10 discussions, use existing collateral, ask questions and solicit opinions. Once thing to avoid is to create puppet accounts and stage fake discussions. Recruit colleagues and friends to get those early discussions going.
3-SEO will play a big part of getting new members, so think hard before launching your forum in private mode. It's sometimes tempting to offer the forum as a value add to customers or registered members and restrict access. A private forum won't get indexed by search engines, which will help drive traffic and get you to critical mass. There are some exceptions:
- You have a really big brand and people will seek you out. The same applies to celebrities.
- Making it part of an existing premium membership that is already well established.
- Limiting access and support to paid customers. This makes sense if you offer a high-end or expensive product. You may wish to consider a hybrid setup where you have a public "Pre-sales Questions" category.
Once your community gets to critical mass, you can make it private or semi-private by restricting certain categories.
4-Get the word out and recruit members. You have finally got things ready to invite some people. Start with your close knit friends and colleagues to test things out and listen to their suggestions. The truth is, though, this group will probably not be the hardcore users of your community. So what should you do? Well it depends on how your forum integrates into your eco-system. If you have an existing website, here are some ways to make sure it's properly promoted:
- Make sure you promote it all over your website including in your main navigation. The more launch fanfare and exposure, the faster you'll grow your membership.
- Place ad tiles or banners on your website to let users know about the community.
- Add community content to existing newsletters or email marketing campaigns.
- Include the community information on transactional emails, not just your email newsletter.
- Have your customer service agents and sales team tell customers and potential customers about your community.
- Invite discussions on topics from your blog, and also on social media posts where it makes sense.
There are many more ways of promoting your new forum, you just need to get creative.
5- Ensure you welcome and engage with users as soon as you can when they make their first post. Most communities have a large percentage of lurkers, it's been found that in some cases it can be as high as 99%. So when someone finally engages you will want to make sure you respond. While it would be great to respond to all new posts within an hour, make it a goal to make sure someone interacts to all new posts/members within the same day. Once your community gets going you can recruit people to keep a lookout for new members, and ensure new members get some sort of reaction. By providing some sort of acknowledgement within the first 24 hours, you are making new members feel welcome, instead of feeling ignored.
Too often a community is hidden on a company website or there is a lack of clear plan or purpose for its very existence. Take the time to create a plan and ensure you leverage your existing website and content. Make it easy for people to engage and ensure you interact with these new users as soon as possible. There are many more strategies to get your launch off successfully, but the above tips should help you get started.
Now it's your turn. Are there more tips for launching a community from scratch? Share them in the comments.
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