How to plan a soft launch of your online community

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If you plan to launch your own community you definitely should answer a number of important business questions at the planning stage and think over the action plan.

Here is that list of questions for you:

  1. Define the business goal of the community

  2. How will it work: user journey map

  3. Identity: levels, accesses, gamification, attributes

  4. Launch: testing, first users, feedback

  5. Engagement: rhythm, a key value for the users

  6. Performance measurement: metrics and KPIs

By answering each of the points above, you will have a clear understanding of what community do you need and what needs to be done to launch it. Let's look at everything in more detail!


Main business goal - what is the community for?

It is necessary to clearly define the main goal in order to properly run the activity within the community, as well as understand how to measure its effectiveness. This is the first and most crucial step! But there is good news - it does not require programming, design or other technical skills. At this stage, you need to determine which business tasks the community launch will help to solve.

Depending on the global goal you will be able to create a more accurate user journey map, onboarding process, and internal activities.

Examples of global community goals:

  • Increase loyalty and launch a program for brand advocates

  • Self-Service technical customer support 

  • Brand Awareness + Sales

  • Enhance collaboration among participants

The goals from the list above can be combined, but remember this will require more effort to cover them.

 

How the community should work

As soon as you define the key task, you should think through the main UX scenarios. Here are some basic questions that could help you to design them:

  • Will the registration be open to all visitors or will it be exclusive for a certain circle (for example, for employees of one company or customers who have spent more than a certain amount)?

  • What will motivate people to join activities: is this a place where people can get new knowledge or make a contribution to a socially useful project? Share experience, earn bonuses or both.

  • What are the rules for joining? Should a prospect be referred by some existing members or can join independently?

  • What are the internal community rules and what to do with those who violate them? For example, how to deal with those who use hate speech, trolling and so on? Make sure that new members have seen the rules during the onboarding.

By answering those questions it will be easier to plan user onboarding flows and prepare necessary content. 

 Identity - is what makes your community outstanding

Identity is like a cherry on the cake. What makes a real community more than just a group of people? It has been used for a long time by world-famous stars, but not in business. How will the community and its members be called? What traditions will they have? For example, Lady Gaga’s fans are called “little monsters”, fans of Rihanna are called “navy”. 

Even if the community is not artistic and it drives by an absolutely rational business task, this does not mean that participants do not need to come up with a name.

You can stick to the topic and come up with something original. When the community and members get their nickname, this will help create a better emotional connection and engagement. There will be a stronger feeling of belonging to something.

By the way, a sense of belonging is a human need, just like the need for food and shelter. Feeling that you belong is most important in seeing the value in life. 


 Gamification - keep members interested

Gamification has been commonly used for a decade by global companies such as Google, Facebook, Spotify, Uber, etc. It's so versatile that it applies to practically every kind of business. So join global leaders and start using gamification. It is not that hard as it may seem if you plan it step by step. 

Here is a basic set of gamification elements:

  • points: “coins” for a different type of activity 

  • badges: special badges for achievements in the community

  • levels: show the status of the participant, depending on the accumulated points

Points may be awarded for comment, post, contest participation, published a blog post and every type of activity that is valuable for community life. While points work for all activity in general, badges are applied for specific types. For example, you want your members to invite to the community as many friends as possible, so to motivate them you can create a set of badges for 1, 5 and 10 successful referrals. 

Levels emphasize the user status and, as they are calculated on the amount of earned points, they can help to distinguish beginners from PRO. The level is usually displayed near the username.

 

 Engagement: how to make your users stay with your brand

Besides a business value for your company, you need to offer specific added value to a member of the community. For example, this may be access to exclusive offers that are published only in the community or knowledge in a specific field from invited experts. Think about what your members can get nowhere but in your online community. 

It is important to remember the community rhythm. Rhythm is the activity repeating after some period of time. It can be compared with tradition. Participants get used to it and return to receive a new portion of content or to take a specific action.

For example, a webinar is held every second Wednesday devoted to the topic previously chosen by community members or monthly reviews with winners in particular activities and so on. 

 

 How to measure your community's success

To move in the right direction from the very start of the launch, you need to track different metrics. Standard metrics for the community are:

  • number of registered users per month/day

  • number of users who wrote at least 1 comment per day/week/ month

  • the number of users who visited the site at least 1 time per day/week/ month

  • the number of new posts per day /week/month

Example of metrics: 

  • if the number of new sign-ups is decreasing it may be a sign to check the registration flow  

  • If the amount of visits is lower than usual, think about ways to keep members motivated. 

Metrics give you insights about what to improve.  Depending on the global business goal which you set up for the online community, there also could be custom metrics. For example, the number of orders made through the community or a decrease in the number of technical support requests compared to the previous month, etc.

 

Each community has its own unique goal and it may seem that there is no universal recipe to launch them. However, there are a number of mandatory steps that can be made and significantly facilitate this task.



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