This might be the most important tip I can provide when it comes to community strategy:
Don’t launch without taking the time to plan.
“But Jenny, I’m already too busy and I just need to get something launched to meet my VP’s expectations.” If that’s your line of thinking, you’ll be even busier after the launch trying to resolve the many problems you’ll run into.
You wouldn’t build a house without blueprints and understanding how each room leads into the next. Don’t make the same mistake with a community. Let’s start by talking about 3 steps that contribute to effective planning:
1. Conducting Research
Everyone conducts their research in different ways, but these are a few of the key questions I would want answered:
Does a community like this already exist? If so, how would this one be different?
Who are the ideal members and where are they hanging out on the Internet today?
How will this community meet the needs of the ideal member?
What would entice or motivate the ideal member to join? To stay?
What feelings do I want the community to evoke?
What kind of content appeals to the ideal member?
My preferred method of gathering this information is through 1:1 interviews with ideal members, but since that’s not an option for everyone, you could also consider focus groups or surveys. And then, of course, there’s always: Internet research. I’ve just hit the tip of the iceberg when it comes to research, but I’ll do a more extensive post on this another time. Let’s talk about the second step:
2. Creating the Plan
Using the information you learned from the Research phase, it’s time to set up our Strategic Plan.
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In the Plan, you’ll define your community’s goals, objectives, audience, activities, programming, success metrics, and more. Another key aspect of planning is defining the actions and features that will be necessary on a platform in order for you to meet your goals. To do this, make a list of every action you can think of members taking in the community: posting, replying, giving praise (a like or kudos button), adding a screenshot, adding an attachment, etc. Then categorize each one as either a must-have or nice-to-have. For example, if you’re building a customer support community for an app, but your community platform doesn’t allow users to upload a screenshot to show their issue, then users will utilize other support channels to report their problem and the community could become a dead zone.
Think of this Strategic Plan as your guidebook as you take the next step, which is identifying platform providers and setting up demos. Having an established Plan will save you time and effort as you go through this process. You should be able to share it with the provider, and allow them to convince you why their platform will be best for carrying out your Plan.
3. Revising the Plan
After you’ve selected your platform partner, you’ll know which out-of-the-box features you’ll have on your community. You can now elaborate on or revise your plan, and I highly encourage you to do so. For example, if one of your strategies was to “Incentivize engagement through gamification tactics,” you now have a clearer idea of which tactics you can implement. You can expand on that strategy by listing them out, such as, “Create a series of badges that rewards users for their contributions to a particular section of the community.”
You are more likely to see success with your community if you take these 3 steps first.
If all this sounds overwhelming or confusing, I’ve got good news for you: This is exactly the work I love doing. So please do contact me so that we can talk about how I can ease this process for you and point you in the right direction.