In my previous blog post, I wrote about a three-phased approach we took in launching our community.  Before we came up with the plan, we had to answer some strategic questions about the community – essentially, deciding its reason for being.  You may have different answers to the questions than we did, but these are definitely points you should consider before a community launch.

  • What is your business driver? You need a clear, succinct answer to the question “Why are we doing this?”  It could be to improve your marketing programs, to provide better customer service, or to link your customers together.  Whatever it is, the goal or goals need to be clearly articulated.  It takes time, money, and effort to launch a community – you’ll want to ensure that doing it has some sort of tangible benefits for your company. 
  • What are your success criteria? How will you know if your community is successful or not?  If at all possible make your criteria measurable: rather than saying “get more users engaged,” define what an ‘engaged’ user is and then set a target (percentage of customer base, raw numbers, etc).
  • How will you structure the community? Will the community be open for anonymous browsing, or only for registered users?  Will it be one large space, or a collection of smaller spaces?  Will it require moderation or not? Who will serve as internal/external subject matter experts?  These questions should all be carefully considered before starting to build spaces, sub-spaces, and user permissions.
  • What is your launch plan? How will you make your customers aware of the new community?  Consider cross-promotion through press releases, product documentation, sales pitches, etc.  Also consider using your company’s other social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, web page) to promote the new community.
  • What is your post-launch plan? The real work begins after a community is launched.  Your customers may visit out of curiosity, but will need a compelling reason to come back to the community.  Your post-launch plan should ensure that customer issues are answered in a timely fashion, that the marketing efforts continue, and that users are rewarded for their participation.  If they get value from the community, if they’re reminded of its presence, and if they get an incentive for participating, they will come back.

Having clear answers to these questions does not guarantee your community will meet all your business goals…but not answering these questions before launch is a quick path to failure.

Author: Jim Jones is the Vice President of Customer Support for North America at Wind River, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Intel.  You can follow Jim on Twitter or connect to him via LinkedIn.