Launching a community can sometimes feel like the stars need to align.
But you don’t need a celestial sign to chart your course.
That’s why we put together this go-to launch guide to be your compass to a successful community launch.
If you’re lost in the woods (with Remco), we’ll light the way.
When it comes to launching a community for the first time, there are a handful of steps you’ll need to complete. Before you press that red button, make sure you’ve got these steps down.
Let’s dive in.
1. Set achievable goals
First things first. Set expectations about what your community's going to achieve and when. (Don't try to go 100 miles an hour straight away if it’s not achievable.)
Start small and find your super users
For most use-cases, you might want to start with a slightly smaller launch, not the general Big-Bang approach. Which means you first have to find your top 10 or 20 most engaged customers, and get them to be initial “super users.”
This allows you to set up an early feedback-loop on needs and wants from the new community program, and potentially involve your best customer in the setup. Remember, if the program is valuable for them, it will definitely be valuable for other customers as well!
Get internal buy-in and find advocates
After that, the most important next-step is to get buy-in from active internal stakeholders, and find advocates who are going to champion the cause from within. The reason being that community should be a shared lift internally, and ideally positioned as the central location for customer content and communication.
It's not easy for one Community Manager to cover a community 24 hours in a day. Who’s going to own your community? Find those champions, internal, external, who are really going to help get that activation and traffic, and that will also help continue to drive and push the wheel as you go forward.
Community is a team sport, so you also want to manage expectations and deliver measurable results for stakeholders across various teams.
2. Benchmark your conversion rates
If you’re wondering: well, what’s a reasonably achievable conversion KPI, we’ve got you covered.
Typically, if you’re a B2B business, you’ll likely start out with a significant first spike in activation as you promote your new community to all of your existing customer base. Many of your customers may immediately sign up and then that pace naturally will drop over time to a more steady pace of growth.
Within the first two to three months, CSMs often see conversion rates above 5% with top performing communities rising to 10% After three months, you can expect rates to naturally dip slightly and hold steady at about 2-4%, on average.
B2B vs. B2C
And, it all depends on who you’re targeting and their purpose in visiting your community. There are key differences between B2B and B2C conversion rates and the timelines by which you can expect to reach your target user base.
B2B folks that are working professionally with your product have additional incentives to become active and to engage with other users. So, naturally, the conversion is a bit higher.
If you’re a B2C business, you’ll likely have a slower start and build up a natural increase over time, as more people find your content and filter in via Google and other organic channels.
Be patient with your growth goals
A question we often get is what to set as a monthly/quarterly KPI when it comes to member growth for a community. This question is tough, because we would argue this is not the most important KPI to look at. Especially during the early days of a community program, it’s way more important to measure…
- Return visits
- the overall value
…that your members get from your community program. Getting that right will set you up for faster growth at a later stage.
A good practice therefore is to benchmark your growth in the first 3-6 months, and then set a percentage goal for community growth. Thus: “we’d like our community to grow by 5% month over month, or quarterly.” A percentage-based goal puts a more organic growth into perspective, v.s. setting a goal of X amounts of users after 6 months.
Alternatively, you can set goals for a percentage of your installed customer base to be active in the community after a period in time. The reason we usually argue against this is that most companies then get discouraged when they don’t reach this number, and deprioritize the program thinking customers don’t want it. While in reality that means you’re probably just not putting enough emphasis on making sure the program is valuable to customers first.
Remember, it’s not a race.
3. Create starter content
To incentivize anyone to join your community, first you need content for them to discover. Think about it. No one wants to dine in an empty restaurant, right? (And definitely don’t expect your freshly joined members to create it for you while you sit back and enjoy the show. That’s a community’s death sentence, you need to make sure your new member walk into a place filled with valuable content for them already. )
BUT, how do you do that?
You’ll need a few pieces of initial content for members to read and enjoy. On the inSided community, inSpired, we have categories and groups. For each group or category, add at least three or four content pieces that you know are on the minds of people that sign up.
Connect with members through content
Something that’s “on the mind” of a new member can definitely be product- or feature-related. Or just a way of answering questions they might have faster.
BUT, we’d argue you should also be investing in content that makes your new members feel at home in your community. Or helps them find their way, connect with 1-2 other members early on so they have a base of people they "know" and want to return to.
In any case: when visitors feel there’s already action on a page, they’re more likely to respond or even motivated to start a topic themselves.
Create a content plan and test
Build a content calendar for yourself (preferably together with an advisory board from within the community) and test the waters on:
- What's working
- What's resonating with users
- What they’re responding to
Learn the themes that your customers are interested in, engaging regularly and invest in scaling up that kind of content.
4. Drive visitor traffic
Content is fantastic, but if nobody can find it, then you’re still at square one. That’s where traffic comes in, the second and most important pillar of all. If you don't have your organic search strategy right, you may want to postpone your community go-live for later.
So, what goes into a strategy?
Links, links everywhere
First off, add community links on:
- your homepage
- in your product
- in outgoing support emails
Think about where people are asking questions and where links to the community could be valuable. A lot of companies just add a community link to the footer of the website and pretend to be done with it. We’d argue this is the wrong approach.
Integrate into your overall strategy
You need to make sure the community actually becomes a general part of your channel strategy, and customer journey. This means that the community comes up in multiple relevant touch points, place on the website, customer communication, onboarding, you name it.
Another key thing is to integrate your content strategy with your promotional campaigns. Tie your community launch to a customer event and promote it heavily, then press a big red “launch” button at the event itself. Or start a contest where customers share their success story with our product and win an Amazon voucher. Get people excited to join.
In the beginning, it's also a numbers game. For B2C, for example, for every 100 visitors, only one will register, and from that, only 50% will become active. So, to have an active community, you need to attract users for the initial activation.
And momentum is key. If someone comes to your community and the last activity was a week ago, they’re not as likely to want to participate. But if they come to an active thread, they’re excited to partake.
5. Activate and engage with users
You want to really engage with your visitors so they return again and again, and feel that they can talk to somebody who's from the company.
But it's more than that. It’s gamification, email, newsletters, everywhere where you promote and encourage engagement. Activity can also be a content piece—an "introduce yourself" topic or a poll.
Once people are in the community, activate them with call-to-action content, promotional pieces, so that then they return and become active themselves.
Create an activation loop
From there, it’s a cycle. Once members start creating content, they’ll also attract new members via organic search.
And after you have a decent existing user base, leverage your community’s email campaign feature to communicate and give them another trigger to visit the community. Activate your super users and watch your community thrive.
Connect your members
Finally, we cannot stress enough that it’s a community of people. What this means is that your community is only as strong as the ties between the members that inhabit it.
Thus, focus on connecting your community members, setting up peer-to-peer chats, community events, highlighting members. Give people a place they feel at home, or value, and they will come back. We call this a Sense of Belonging, and it’s exactly that which drives the most successful communities in the world.
6. Consider a soft launch
When launching a community, you’ll likely want to start with the biggest bang possible and try to get as many people online at the same time.
But not always. Some communities soft launch and use this time to fill up the community with content.
Set time limits
If you choose this route, remember to set a strict time limit of no more than 2-3 months so you don’t get stuck in limbo. Make sure you’ve set milestones for a critical mass of membership that means it’s time to go “official” with your community launch.
And there you have it, folks!
When it comes to launching your community for the first time, just remember:
- Set achievable goals
- Benchmark your conversion rates
- Create starter content
- Drive visitor traffic
- Activate and engage with users
- Consider a soft launch
- Go to live!
For more on community and community-led growth, don’t forget to sign up for Community Summer Camp! It’s community education, camp-style.
By Hannah Whalen
Hannah is the Senior Content Strategist for inSided, specializing in B2B SaaS content marketing and digital strategy. An avid writer, she travels to explore bookshops, eat local cuisine and walk for miles (likely in pursuit of a stray cat). Connect on Linkedin