There are thousands upon thousands of internet forums and social media platforms already on the web. If you want your online community to survive in this crowded landscape, you must start strong.
Starting an online community can be overwhelming, though, as there are many things you need to do to prepare for your launch.
Let’s take it step by step, shall we?
Step 1 - What Kind Of Community Do You Want To Create?
Before we get down to the details, you need to take a step back and look at the big picture. What is your vision for your community? Do you just want to add a message board to your company site, or do you want to build a site that stands on its own? Do you want to focus on a specific topic, or do you want to open it up to general discussion?
Who are the people you want in your community? How old are they? Where do they live? What are their interests?
Step 2 - Research
Now that you’ve defined the type of person you want in your community, reach out to them. You can use Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and other popular social media sites to find people with the demographics and interests you’re looking for. Ask them what their perfect online community would look like. You’ll learn a lot.
Then, check out communities that are similar to yours. The internet is endless. No matter how clever you think you are, you’re sure to find someone (probably several people) who had just about the same idea that you had for an online community. See what they did. Think about what you like about these communities and what you think could be improved about them. You’ll learn a lot by doing this, too.
Step 3 - Development
Next, you need to design what your community looks like and how users experience it.
Don’t take any shortcuts. If you’re not a good designer, find a good designer and hire them. Remember - quality trumps everything. If your site isn’t attractive and easy to navigate, first-time visitors will be turned off. Rather than become active members, they’ll leave and never come back.
Step 4 - Staffing
Building a team that delivers is another key step to starting an online community. An administrator to oversee everything is a necessity, and a moderator or two would be helpful as well.
Step 5 - Internal Launch
Measure twice, cut once. In other words, you better be extra careful when you make a move that can’t be reversed.
Even when you think everything’s ready, don’t allow the public to access your community. There might be a glitch or some other problem that you haven’t found yet. If it turns out your site is incomplete when you launch, that would make a terrible first impression. It will drive people away.
Launch your community internally first. Let your team try it out and see if they come across any errors. That gives you a chance to fix those errors before they ruin your reputation.
Step 6 - Public Launch
After all the kinks are worked out, it’s time to make your community public! Be sure to let the people you reached out to Step 2 know that the hypothetical perfect community you discussed with them is now a reality. Hopefully, those people will become your first active members.
Step 7 - Promotion
Eventually, your community might be popular enough to attract new members on its own. But that won’t be the case in the early days. You’ll must make an effort to draw people in.
Purchasing advertisements is one way to do this. You could also go guerilla and use message boards and social media platforms to recommend your community to others as if you have no association with it at all. You could even hire some people to post topics and leave comments on your site to make it look more active and enticing.
Just do whatever you need to do to populate your community quickly. Otherwise, your community won’t last for long.