Growing your online community from 0 to first 1000

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Making everything perfect at the start is always difficult, especially when it comes to complex online products. “Victory loves preparation” is a proper phrase that describes a successful approach. It describes how to make the launch as smoothly as possible and, at the same time, grow the traffic from the first day. What to keep in mind while preparing your launching plan?

     Firstly, you shouldn’t launch according to the “Big Bang principle” - instantly and globally, acquiring ad traffic from all over the internet from the very first day. This approach can lead to disappointment - with a lot of bugs (which always happens at the beginning) many users will leave the community as they do not feel emotionally attached yet. Also, it will be harder for moderators to monitor a large amount of content and, as a result, many questions may go unanswered, spam will be easier to “get lost” among posts, there will be a feeling of insecurity and significant churn rate.

It would be better to start testing the main UX scenarios with a small group of beta users and then scale up to a large audience. And do not forget about the technical component. It is important to be sure that the basic functions are working properly and the critical bugs are fixed before the scaling.

   By using the best practices of community management we made a community building guide which helps to prepare for the launch:

 

Technical preparations  

Before starting, you need to make sure that everything works as it was planned so that the first users will contact technical support as few as possible. To do so, you need to register user profiles with different access rights and independently go through the basic UX scenarios:

go all the onboarding flow, understand if there is enough information on each step and how clearly is the information provided (for the more trusted result you can invite a friend who did not participate in the community design development)

· check if the emails are sent correctly according to designed triggers

· try to write a spam message and see how the system will respond

· check if roles and permissions work properly, for example, check if a regular user can see a hidden menu for admins

· check how comments, likes, profile settings, etc. work for the different account types

Preparation of the first content

After all technical debugging, the launch of the community proceeds to its next stage - preparation of the first content.  Showing an empty platform even to beta users is not the best of the scenarios. First, it should contain welcome messages and knowledge base articles from admins. Secondly, there should be forum posts from average users. Articles, forum posts, polls and even comments under articles - these must be prepared before the first invited user. Therefore, in parallel with the technical setup, you need to work on creating internal content. To do this, you need to make 5-6 user accounts and post the first content on their behalf. When first real users will start registering, you have to post all prepared content on behalf of “corporate accounts”. 


Beta launch

Beta testing is an essential step of launching the online projects. On average, you need to have up to 250 beta-users. The limited number of participants allows to moderate the community’s content much easier. Moreover, it creates a sense of importance and influence. The users will be more willing to share feedback as they clearly understand that they help to build something meaningful. Additionally, realizing that this is a beta version, they will be less angry about technical failures. And as a bonus, after the full launch, beta users will help to grow your community to the first 1000 users by inviting their friends. 


Where to get the first beta users

       The best option is to invite your existing customers via email. To do so, select a group that in your opinion has a higher level of engagement. For example, for some businesses, it could be a group of users who made at least 1 purchase per month. Their shopping history says about loyalty, and they will be more interested in cooperation and making an impact on the brand they like.

       The obvious and really actionable solution would be publishing an announcement among page subscribers on social media.  If there is no option to search for beta users among an existing audience, you can search for them on external sites. Relevant forums, subreddits, Facebook groups - where you can potentially meet your audience. 

      Regardless of whom you invite, it is a good practice to provide your beta-users with a small gift or bonus. Offer some small souvenirs, certificates or discounts on your product. In order for the user to receive a more valuable gift, and for the business to get better feedback, you can create an additional contest. For example, the user must reach certain activity results and this will give him a right to take a special “power users” gift. Thus, participants will be more involved in the testing process during the whole beta period, and the company will receive more valuable feedback.

 

Official launch 

When the beta period ends it is time to invite all your existing customers or acquire new ones with the help of your new active community, which already has a certain value. To speed up new registrations, it would be a good idea to start a referral program where beta testers will be the first inviters. Just a small fact: if each of the existing 250 beta users will invite 3 friends (those numbers seems quite realistic), the community can grow up to 1000 users in the first month!

 

Starting a community may seem like a very global and difficult task, but it can be solved well if it solved step-by-step. Attentiveness to details, proper communication and timely reaction to negative reviews will turn any user into a loyal community member. Sometimes it is better to start small!

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