Launching Your Online Community: 4 Tactics to Help Spread the Word

Community Strategy // How do you build hype around your community launch? Check out these tips to get people engaged with your new online community.

Allison Able
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So you’re launching a new online community? Congrats! That’s a big deal. A lot of work went into it and your organization probably has high expectations. With careful planning and preparation, you’ll have a great launch.

A big part of a successful launch — and creating a sustainable community — is demonstrating community member value and helping members get involved quickly.

As you build excitement around your community launch, take time to educate people about why your organization invested in community, how it benefits everyone, and what good member behavior looks like.

Want to dig deeper? Check out our complete guide to online community.

So how do you raise awareness about the launch of your new online community? Here are four ideas:

1. Create Promotional Materials to Hype Your Online Community Launch

You’re obviously excited about launch day, but are your customers or members? They will be once you tell them! Before your community launches, educate your future community members about what an online community means for them and make sure they look forward to using this brand new, valuable resource.

So how do you educate future community members? Look at the channels currently available and turn to the most influential people in your organization. Here are a few ideas:

Create an elevator pitch. Keep it short and to the point! Attention spans are very short – even more so with COVID-19.

  • You have 30 seconds to pitch the community – What would you say? Give it a try a few times and write down re-occurring points.

Consider a video! Your community launch is worth making a splash about. Invest some resources into making a video that will communicate the highlights of the new launch. We loved the video that Blue Prism created for their online community launch.

Highlight the key benefits. What problem does your community solve for your customer?

  • Think in terms of keywords and helpful statistics [access X number of resources, join X number of industry peers, etc.]
  • Why would a member want to take the time to log into the community? Help them see the value to them.

Personal communication makes a difference.

  • If at all possible, have a leader in your organization work with you to generate a communication that sounds like a personal invitation.
  • In most cases, there are other existing channels to promote the community in a “marketing” sense so take this time to make the outreach stand out by appearing as if it were a personal email.

Use a mixture of promotional tactics. The trick is to find a combination of tactics to reach the most people. Not everyone is going to read your blog or open your newsletter, so make sure you reach every segment. In addition to the tactics above, you could try:

  • Creating a staff email signature with the announcement
  • Putting ads on your website
  • Consider promoting your online community as a secondary call-to-action in your emails to members or customers. For example, “Want to learn more about this? Join the conversation in our online community! Here’s how to login.”
  • Sending out cards or a small swag item. Although your community launch shouldn’t center around t-shirts, stickers and foldable sunglasses, branded swag can be useful in building excitement and community awareness.

Always be promoting. People need to be told about new programs repeatedly for the information to take hold. You’ll need to keep on promoting the community.

2. Launch with a Small Group First

Although it’s tempting to open the gates for everyone at the same time, consider building your community slowly at first.

Before a big launch that involves everyone, start with a soft launch. Choose a few trusted people who understand what community is and are dedicated to its growth. When you start with a few dedicated people, they establish community norms and grow conversation.

By establishing the community with a few most valuable players (MVPs) before giving general admission, new people who don’t know anything about the community can dive into the conversation right away. Rather than figuring out how they’re supposed to act, or feeling nervous to start the first discussion, your hand-selected MVPs have already laid the groundwork. These community members may also become your future community super users.

In the soft launch, consider including several executives or leaders from your organization. Imagine the message your new community members will receive when they log in and see your president or CEO has already posted a blog post or contributed to an “Introduce Yourself” thread. It shows everyone involved that your organization is invested in community and views it as an important resource for them.

Georgina (Cannie) Donahue, Director of Community at Pragmatic Institute, said, “Online community growth is a long game – due to all the psychological and dynamic factors that play into it. I think a community should and could consider itself to be launching for up to a year.” And she’s a real expert on community launches – she and her team launched Pragmatic Institute’s virtual community of practice right during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learn more from Georgina in her Super Forum breakout session, “The Tortoise AND The Hare: Launch Your Community with a Bang, Without Sacrificing Staying Power.”

3. Make a Big Splash at an Event

When it comes to educating your customers or members about your community, your annual conference is a great opportunity – yes, even if it’s a virtual event!

Centering the launch around the conference can be overwhelming and it might get lost. Instead, try kicking off the community four to six weeks before your event and use the conference to increase awareness and as an opportunity to educate.

To have the biggest impact, you need to be creative and understand your organization’s culture — what’s going to make the biggest impact with your specific group? There isn’t a one-tactic-fits-all solution, but here are a couple ways to incorporate your community launch into your virtual or in-person conference:

  • Raffle prizes to people who’ve posted in the community. Regularly incentivizing members to post through raffles or prizes doesn’t usually lead to long-term engagement, but it can be effective if you’re trying to raise awareness and make people excited about something specific
  • Host a meet-and-greet where your early community adopters share about the community
  • Have leadership mention the community & invite people to join in their executive sessions
  • Offer dedicated sessions where you show people how to access & navigate the community

Even if your community can’t be the centerpiece of your conference, it should still be visible. Try these tactics:

  • Extend the conference to your online community platform — create an event community and direct people to the community if they want to download post-conference educational material.
  • Start discussions based on session topics or host an Ask Me Anything with your keynote speaker. Online communities can extend the life of a conference well beyond the two days it takes place.

4. Keep Pushing Community Adoption

An online community launch doesn’t end with the initial hype. You want to continue to promote with each group so that they continue to engage in your online community. To encourage community adoption, leverage automation rules (a Higher Logic Community feature that allows you to send personalized nudges at scale) to create a formal community onboarding process, ensure FAQs are consistently updated, add some seed questions, and provide channels for members to seek support.

Gwen Basaria and Jennifer Richards at the American Association of Airport Executives and Shanna Montoya, Marketing and Community Manager at the Colorado Bar Association, are community launch pros. They shared these ideas for encouraging adoption among staff and users post-launch:

For Staff:

  • Involve as many staff as you can in beta testing and implementation to try to give them some ownership. For example, you can share posts with specific staff members and ask them to weigh in.
  • Create a manual for your community administrators so they know what to expect, what the code of conduct is, and how the community will be moderated.
  • Create how-to materials for anyone working on the community. How-to videos for updating digest settings and running live demos are two helpful ways to train staff.
  • Offer one-on-one training. Many learn best when they learn from another individual. Give as much as you can, even if it means taking time to do one-on-one trainings.

For Users

  • Be diligent about using your community as your primary communications hub. Don’t go back to the old way – continue pushing for using the community to communicate over other methods.
  • Meet resistance with kindness. If people resist adopting the community, see it as an opportunity to educate and inform.
  • Don’t stop communicating. Users may need to hear about the community many times in order to get on board.
  • Empower members to use the site using gamification, digital scavenger hunts, shout outs, personalization, tips, and other strategies. These online community engagement tactics might help.

Online Community Launch Communication: Check

Launching your new online community successfully requires preparation and planning – and some thoughtful tactics like phased launching with a small group.

But keep in mind it’s not all about the communication tactics – you’ll want to assign ownership, prepare community content, and more. Get more tips and a launch checklist in our Guide, How to Launch a New Online Community.

When your community is finally launched and ready for action, you’ll be ready to begin your engagement journey, creating opportunities for connection at every stage of the user journey.

Allison Able

Sr. Community Manager

Allison Able is an experienced community and communications strategist in the corporate and non-profit sectors. She is a versatile community leader who readily dives into new challenges and immediately works to uncover ways to optimize performance, improve client engagement, or solve complex problems. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her fiance, Chris, and their dog, Scout. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, trying out the newest restaurants, and planning her next travel adventure.

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