Estimate the benchmarks you need to hit for a critical mass of community activity, like 100 contributing members, 300 posts/ month, 10 posts/day, or 10 registrations/day.
In community building, a critical mass is the minimum number of members to ensure growing levels of activity. The exact number differs depending on community type and industry.
Consider whether your community is driven by a strong internal force, so the big bang launch approach might work best.
The big bang approach makes sense for communities driven by a strong internal force, such as a shared passion, or clear, tangible benefits of participation like employee communities required for collaboration. In most other cases, it tends to fail.
Many organizations launch their community by inviting as many members as possible at the same time. These issues often arise using the big bang approach:
- Members can’t see each other until they participate, making them more hesitant to be among the first to add their own content.
- Members don’t stick around, leading to an initial spike in activity rather than a sustained level of participation.
Build a business case for a fast launch that staggers promotional efforts and can personalize promotions to individual member groups.
In many cases, the fast launch approach is more likely to be successful. It includes building a core group of founding members, staging promotional efforts over time, and catering to each group individually. It avoids the core issues presented by the big bang approach.
Get your stakeholders on board with this approach by outlining its advantages over the alternative before you begin implementing it.
Decide between a customer support or focused and exclusive approach to launch.
- Customer support approach if a significant number of audience members already call your customer support team and ask questions that you can simply redirect to the community.
- Focused or exclusive approach when you are launching a community outside of support with a core goal of member relationships.
Ask and answer 5-10 relevant questions in the community before any new members join. Focus on common questions or solve common needs among your audience.
Draw from your audience research for known needs and topics.
Invite a group of 30-50 founding members. Draw from survey and interview participants or call for founding members through your newsletter and social media.
Give founding members the ability to help shape the community you’re creating. For example:
- Invite them to post content, provide answers, and share ideas that can help to improve the community for better, more sustainable growth.
- Ask what kind of community they want, what features they’re interested in, and what type of culture they want the community to develop.
- Create unique roles, like volunteers, moderators, and greeters to take responsibility for specific topics.
Aim for 15-30 weekly active members from your founding group for 3-4 weeks before the official community launch. Not reaching this number is a sign that the concept of the community isn’t enticing enough or your audience is difficult to reach. Avoid an initial pre-launch phase of more than 4 weeks, which could cause founding members to drift away before others can join.
If you have trouble engaging 30-50 founding members willing to actively help launch the community, reconsider your launch strategy and positioning. Your community might not be positioned as uniquely or urgently as it needs to be for your audience to become willing and active participants.
Launch the community by promoting it to small groups of members on your mailing list at a time.
Give each group of members a personal welcome and resolve any technical issues early. Work with your founding members to ensure that momentum is constantly growing as more people arrive.
Develop all your promotional assets prior to launch for a strategic promotional roll-out.
While your audience preferences determine the ideal promotional channels, you can divide your efforts into two categories:
- Existing audiences through your company website, newsletter, mailing list, organic social media, staff referrals, founding member referrals, or inclusion in your product.
- External audiences through press releases, paid digital ads, influencer outreach and promotion, and search engine optimization.
Create a 12-week, post-launch promotional plan for a staggered roll-out to core audiences.
- Week 1: event attendee promotion, founding member reminder of the launch date, staff invite to join and participate.
- Week 2: promotion to segment 1 of 4 on the mailing list
- Week 3: addition of community navigation tab on homepage, promotion to segment 2 of 4 on the mailing list, reminder to segment 1, reminder for staff to join.
- Week 4: promotion to segment 3 of 4 on the mailing list, reminder to segment 1, reminder to segment 2, addition of customer onboarding process, promotion to segment 4 of 4 on the mailing list, reminder to segment 2, reminder to segment 3.
- Similar activities staggered through to week 12, including social ads, website pop-ups, and influencer outreach.
Measure the success of your community launch weekly using participant, discussion, and search traffic increases.
Look for these signs of success:
- Steady increase in active participants, with one or two top members emerging each week.
- Steady increase in discussions initiated by members that are not part of the organization.
- 10-15% monthly increase in organic search traffic if your community is public and searchable.
Not seeing this growth is a sign that you are either not attracting enough members or struggling to keep them engaged. Check if announcements are reaching members, target more members with promotional messages, tweak messaging to highlight different benefits, or consider changing the community concept.