Get the highlights from our recent webinar to learn about making the most of your new community launch

By: Ashly Stewart, Content Marketing Manager

Last week, Benjamin Morton, Senior Product Consultant for CommUnity at Personify, joined me as we talked about setting the right expectations for the first 90 days after launching your brand new or revived online community.  

We talked about everything from our first online community experiences (AOL chat rooms and forums were mentioned a lot) to reaching that delicate and important balance of staff-generated content and member-generated content.   

Here are the top moments and insights we’re still talking about when it comes to the triumphs and challenges many association and nonprofit professionals face when launching a new online community. 

Now is the perfect time to start or refresh an online community  

76% of internet users participated in an online community in 2020. That’s a huge number! And a recent Personify research report revealed that 44 percent of member respondents told us that it became more important to have an online member community in 2020 than in previous years.  

Why the move to online communities in the past year? We know that COVID-19 played a huge role in people turning to communities to make long-distance connections. But beyond the pandemic, research and the webinar attendees listed these as some of the reasons why online communities first started and why they continue to grow:  

  • You get the most up-to-date information 
  • You get the most reliable information 
  • You can get early access to discounts and new offerings 
  • You can connect with like-minded people from anywhere 
  • You feel like it’s a safe, more private place 

Build your online community strategy BEFORE launch date 

Long before you press that “publish” button on your online community page, planning and promotion are key. At least a month before your launch date, you should be promoting the community to your members through regular emails, social media, and at any events where you’ll have a large audience. 

And to build hype, you may want to consider offering fun prizes like “the first person to post wins a Starbucks gift card” or “the first person to complete their profile gets a free ticket to the annual event.” Of course, this type of promotion means that you and your team will need to collaborate and plan even earlier. As they say, the early bird gets the worm, or in this case, more engaged members.  

30-day community goals: Delight & deliver

The first month of your new online community is about attracting your members and meeting or exceeding expectations.  

It’s important to identify the “first impression” areas of your community. What will your members first see when they land on the community page? Many times, the first thing your members will see will be a newsfeed. On social media, the newsfeed is the area where users see all the posts from their friends and connections. For an online community, it’s the same concept. Some associations choose to feature the most popular discussion forums, rather than individual posts, but each community is unique. Your community page should be determined by what your members say they like, your team’s resources, and your tech solution.  

Beyond the newsfeed, here are a few other strong first impression ideas you could include on your main page:  

  • Member spotlight where you share a quick interview with a featured member 
  • Trending discussion topics 
  • A welcome video 
  • Event calendar 

And don’t forget to ensure that your members can access the community easily whether they’re on their mobile device, their laptop, or tablet.  

BIG TAKEAWAY: Benjamin reminded us all that leaving a good first impression and building a thriving community isn’t rocket science. He encouraged us to think about a time we felt especially welcomed to an in-person community and to try and recreate that feeling.  


60-day community goals: Recruit & Reward

After your first month, you should be getting a feel for how your members like to engage with the community and what they find valuable. You should also start seeing your community super users emerge.  

You may see the most active super users express excitement for the community during the pre-launch promotions. Maybe they “like” and comment on social posts or they respond to a call for community volunteers who help post to the community and welcome new members. You may see the same members starting new discussion forums or respond frequently to discussion threads.  

After you have identified your member super users, make sure you reward them! You can’t go wrong with swag items like t-shirts, sunglasses, or mugs with your organization’s logo on them. You could offer a Starbucks or Amazon gift card for member participation, or you can offer discounts on event tickets. 

BIG TAKEAWAY: Another pearl of wisdom from Benjamin: “Tech doesn’t make people talk. People make people talk.” The first few months of your online community are a lot of work, but it’s also a time of great reward if we can remember that your team can now listen and respond to your members in real-time.  

90-day community goals: Reflect & plan

At 90 days, you’re a seasoned community pro — or you’re well on your way to becoming one. After three months, you won’t have reliable data, but you should be able to start deciding what metrics you want to start tracking.  

One of the biggest expectations to set with your team and your members when it comes to your online community is that it’s not a “set it and forget it effort.” And it’s important to communicate to members that you have built your community to be agile and responsive. Ultimately, the message to all your constituents should be that your community can and should change based on consistent member feedback.  

In your first 90 days, you should have regular meetings scheduled with your internal advocates — peers that help you manage the community and/or leaders who can champion the community strategy — to review member feedback, develop reporting, and brainstorm new ideas.  

BIG TAKEAWAY: One of the biggest marks of a thriving community is a good ratio of member-generated content (posts, announcements, threads, etc.) and staff-generated content. In other words, you want to see your members starting new topics and promoting threads alongside your staff.  

Get the 90-day community roadmap to growing an online community 

Starting an online community is a big effort that takes strategic planning, but we hope that giving you a 90-day roadmap takes the mystery out of growing a thriving community.  
For a deeper dive into some of these highlights and checklists for your first 30, 60, and 90 days, download the eBook and watch the webinar!  

And let us know if we can help you engage your members through your online community.