When I started creating communities close to two decades ago, getting new members was easy. All you had to do was put up a script, create some "Chat here" forums and email your friends. It didn't take long for word to spread and you had a healthy forum buzzing with conversation.
Now, it's different. The internet is a crowded space. No matter what your niche, you will be competing with other businesses for visitors.
You need a solid strategy to succeed, and I want to help you.
Before you open the doors to your new community, consider the following questions.
What is your vision?
Your community must have a strong reason to attract visitors. Write down your community's purpose and bullet point how you will achieve it. When you configure and set up your community, keep asking yourself "does this fit my vision".
For example. Consider a fitness professional who is launching a community. The vision is to educate your audience on good nutrition and exercise. You then have subscription based packages for one-to-one coaching.
This is a very focused vision. You will create one or two forums for the public areas. You will leverage clubs for the paid memberships. You wouldn't create forums for non-fitness areas such as technology or movies.
You will strip the complexity back to encourage interaction as your target market may not be very technical.
What is your voice?
You will lead your community and set the tone. If you are handling investment portfolios then you will want the tone to be friendly, but professional.
If you are creating a forum for marathon runners, you'd want to use a lot of running "lingo" and be informal and fun.
Consider your target audience. Think about how they would like to be treated. How would they like your interactions to be?
Once you have found your voice, keep it consistent. Your members will follow your lead and keep your community positive.
How are you going to onboard new members?
If you want people to join in with your new community, you need to hold their hand and show them why they are important to you.
They will want to feel comfortable and valued in your community.
When you are starting out, take the time to welcome each new member and point them to any welcome guides you may have. You can create and pin a topic that explains how to get started. When a new member joins, link them to that topic.
You should also use profile completion to politely enforce the use of a user photo. A photo personalises a user's profile and reminds that you are speaking to a human!
Remind them to set up email notifications so they won't miss any exciting updates or new topics.
What is your promotion strategy?
No matter how great your content is, it needs promoting. There are several great ways to do this.
You can create a monthly email sent to all members. You can outline any important topics or articles. You can list upcoming events.
You can promote your articles to Facebook and Twitter. Make the headlines interesting to encourage clicks into your content.
By driving traffic back to your site, you will increase your membership.
How often are you going to contribute to your own community?
In the early days of your new community, you will have to be very active. You will want to welcome new members and keep conversations alive. You will be creating new conversations for others to contribute in. You must budget time for this and be consistent. Show up every day.
I recommend setting aside two blocks of 30 minutes each day. Use that time to reply to any new topics and to kick off a few of your own. Visit early in the morning, and again in the evening.
How are you going to reward active members?
Once you community gets going, some individuals will stand out as leaders. These leaders are well respected and encourage others to take part.
Create a special member group with better privileges such as increased storage space, or the ability to create post signatures. Give them a special badge and member title.
It will show that you respect and appreciate their contributions. Having a small number of community leaders will save you time. They will always have their fingers on the pulse and can feedback any issues before they develop into something serious.
Are you going to funnel discussion into your community?
Your community is one part of your site. If you have pages and articles up elsewhere, I recommend you encourage posting in the forums. At the end of each article, link to a related forum and ask for their thoughts.
People love sharing their thoughts and opinions.
Taking the time to create a strategy will pay dividends later. Getting into a professional and focused mindset will make you stand out from the crowd. Knowing the exact purpose of your community and how to execute it is key for success.
Thinking about the questions posed above is a great start. It should make you think about your target audience and how to serve them. It may even create more questions. I'd love to help you answer them.
Let me know what your plans are for your community.
Edited by Matt