If you build it... no one cares.
The hard truth about building a community from scratch is that there is no magic bullet. Your field of dreams will take more than plowing a field and a whole lot of faith.
Launching a community is the equivalent of launching a product or even a new company, and you should plan to go through similar growing pains to get it off the ground.
HubSpot posted a blog about a product launch checklist in November of 2022, so let's use that as our guide.
1. Learn about your customer.
Whether you call it “market research,” or “customer development” it's key to learn about what drives your customer. Identifying their goals, motivations, and pain points could lead you to developing and marketing a valuable solution.
When developing a community, understanding who you want to include - and who you want to EXCLUDE - is vital to getting the structure and culture right. If you are launching a community for librarians, excluding casual book lovers may be a boundary that you want to set because your community may need to rally around particular content relevant to running a library, not just sharing great books with each other.
Developing your Ideal Customer Persona (ICP) for your community is a vital step in having a north star for everything you do.
2. Write a positioning statement.
Write out a statement that can clearly and concisely answer these three questions:
Who is the product [community] for?
What does the product [community]do?
Why is it different from other products [community]out there?
If you'd like to go even deeper, create a statement that answers the following questions:
What is your target audience?
What segment of the target audience is most likely to buy the product [community]?
What brand name will you give your product or service [community]?
What product or service category does your product [community]lie in?
How is it different from competitors in the same category?
What evidence or proof do you have to prove that your product [community] is different?
Once you have your ICP, you can develop the benefits of the community for that ICP. You can get granular about the experience people will have once they are inside your community, and what experience the people outside of your community will have, too. Is it okay to be outside, or do you want them to NEED to buy in for more access to resources and people?
3. Pitch your positioning to stakeholders.
Once you've established your position statement, present it to stakeholders in your company so they are all on the same page.
Now it's time to test your community structure. Share your positioning inside your company and build out a small Sounding Board of prospective community members to get their input and feedback on the community boundaries and benefits. These people will become the founding members of your community, so you want them on your side, advocating for and evangelizing the community's benefits.
4. Plan your go-to-market strategy.
This is the strategy that you will use to launch and promote your product [community]. While some businesses prefer to build a funnel strategy, others prefer the flywheel approach.
Regardless of which method you choose, this process contains many moving parts.
As you create the strategy, also start considering which type of content you'll use to attract a prospective customer's attention during the awareness, consideration, and purchase decision stage. You'll need to produce this content in the next step.
This is kind of a big leap here... "Plan your go-to-market strategy" is a bit broad. But this is where content comes in. Crafting that top of funnel awareness content and deciding where to invest in making sure people find it is your first step to brand awareness. Are you launching a podcast? Are you buying Facebook ads? Are you making a big splash at an industry event? Will you drive paid traffic to a lead funnel page? There's a lot of strategy and tactics to put in place here, so plan for a day of whiteboarding and determining how much money and human resource you can afford to put against it.
5. Set a goal for the launch.
Before you get started on implementing your strategy, make sure you write down your goals for the launch.
For example, the goals of your product [community]launch could be to effectively establish a new product name, build awareness, or create sales opportunities.
If your launch is set to get the community name and awareness out in your industry, set measurable goals that let you know that you've achieved success. If you're launch is intended to get 100 or 10,000 people in your community, ensure your go-to-market strategy from the previous step is full of direct calls to action that will drive the conversions that you need to be successful.
6. Create promotional content.
After planning out your go-to-market strategy and writing your SMART goals, start producing content that will support and align with those promotional efforts. This can include blog posts related to your product or industry, demos and tutorials, and landing pages.
Our go-to-market template will also help you determine which content you should create for each phase of your prospective customer's buyer's journey.
Beyond your launch content, you'll need to create some "always on" content that should be ready for post-launch. Testimonials from community members. Announcements about upcoming events. Interviews captured at industry events about the importance of being part of your community.
7. Prepare your team.
Be sure that your company and key stakeholders are ready for you to launch and begin marketing the product [community]. Communicate with the company through internal presentations, Slack, or email to keep your company updated on your launch plan.
Launching a community is a team sport. Get *absolutely everyone* involved in the process and in sharing the benefits of the community. Create a "lightning strike" moment where your employees, Sounding Board of founding members, and friends of friends all talk about it on the same day that you launch.
8. Launch the product
Once you've completed all the above steps, you can launch the product [community].
Now that you have everything line up, it's time to GO BIG. Have your lightning strike moment and start rolling on the content that needs to get published in the weeks following the launch. Don't let the community go quiet two days after launch - get everyone in and then create a flurry of activity to drive momentum and excitement.
9. See how well you did in achieving your goals.
After you launch your product, track how the go-to-market strategy is performing. Be prepared to pivot or adjust aspects of your plan if they aren't going smoothly.
Additionally, don't forget about the goals you set before the launch. See how well you did in achieving those goals. If the launch didn't meet expectations, you can rethink your go-to-market strategy and adjust from there.
Measure your progress daily, and check in one week after launch. Ensure your content machine is pumping out everything according to plan, and ensure your community managers are keeping the conversations flowing inside your community. If the community is lethargic, go back to the drawing board and work on who you can engage to help spark the activity. Decide if you need an in-person event or more virtual programs or contests to get your early members excited, and work on what community activities they asked to see that you can create quickly to gain loyalty and word of mouth.
Launching a community is a full-on, fill-time job with just as much planning and resources required as a product launch. In fact, you ARE launching a new product. Treat it with as much thought and strategy as possible!
Liz Lathan, CMP, is co-founder of The Community Factory, helping brands grow and engage their communities of customers, prospects, and team members. Through a Community Design Strategy session, we help companies develop Community Enablement Programs and offer Community as a Service (CaaS) solutions that fit their needs. Contact Liz at email@example.com