We write a lot about the decisions that executives and community owners need to make upfront to create a successful online community. However, what do you do when the ball is rolling? How do you ensure your customers or members to find the community helpful, easy to participate in, and worthy of their time? One of the most important steps to take is testing your community before rolling it out to your entire customer base.
Two Common Types of Online Community Rollout Phases
- Reactions. Select a few dozen customers or members to test the community. Observe and document how to they react to features, functionality, layouts, and completing tasks.
- Adoption. This phase addresses the most effective way to change customer or member behavior to visit and return to the community when you roll it out to your entire customer base or membership. Launch your community with a full, but focused, segment (see #1 below), utilizing different communication channels and influencers in the community to measure which creates the most stickiness and engagement.
Whether you are a Fortune 500 company or an international association, the following three tips, based on 10 years of helping organizations roll out successful online communities, will help you ensure that your online community launch is a measurable success.
Tip #1 Launch with a Focused, but Full, Group First
Rolling out your online community to a relatively small group before unleashing the platform on, and having to collect feedback from, your entire target audience is smart. However, many organizations select a cross-section of their entire community (below in red). This often results in limited valuable feedback and the potential for the project to lose steam since only a few people in each segment are active in the community during the beta test.
A more effective approach is to test the community with a full, but focused, segment (below in blue). One of the national organizations we work with has strong statewide segmentation. Rather than beta launching their online community with the leadership from all 50 states, they opened it up to all customers in California and Illinois. This allowed members to experience and provide feedback on a full community experience, while limiting the risk to the company of rolling out an untested community to their entire customer base.
Tip #2 Seek Existing Leaders to Build Buy-In
When selecting a product segment, committee, or chapter with which to roll out a beta launch of your community, identify those segments and leader that others in the general population of your audience look up to and will follow.
In the example above, the organization choose CA and IL for the beta launch partly due to the concentration of ex-board members and committee heads in those states. Choosing high profile leaders in your customer or member community who understand why your organization is moving in a more social direction will generate buy-in and place a vocal champion in the field that other members can approach with questions.
Tip: Find a product segment and chapter that is already active. During the rollout phase, avoid using your online customer or member community to try to get a transient customer group more involved. It will frustrate them and taint your testing feedback.
Tip #3 Take Advantage of Motivating Factors to Get People Involved
Launch your online community in alignment with other seasons, events, or transactions where your members or customers need to engage your organization. Try launching your online customer community after your big conference. Customers will be excited about your company and products. The conference sessions also provide great content and presentations that give your target audience reasons to explore your community. If you are an association on a calendar-based renewal cycle, you can rollout your online member community during renewals so that members need to log into your private community to renew their membership online.
As always, we want to hear from the companies, associations, and user groups out there. What steps have you found most effective in launching private social networks for member and B2B customer communities? Add your tips in the comments below.