If you have members (and we mean this in the broadest of terms — whether they are industry professionals, alumni, employees, cause supporters, donors, etc.), you could benefit from the use of membership management software. But if you are choosing something merely to meet your administrative needs, you’re missing out on an opportunity to build community, engage your members and add value to their personal/professional lives. Membership management software is only half of the equation. A private online community is the other half. Something for you. Something for your constituents.
Selecting the proper membership management software for your organization is important but the tools don’t work themselves. Creating a thriving member community takes work, time and strategy. In this two-part series we’ll provide some tips on launching a successful online community and coming up with creative content.
Five Tips to a Successful Online Community Launch:
1. The only thing to fear is more work. Months prior to your launch, maybe even as early as when you begin shopping for software, start getting your staff excited about what this new product will do for them. Explain how you’re looking for something to streamline parts of their job responsibilities. New software does not have to be complicated and the time they’ll spend on the new community will not be in addition to their current job, because some parts of their workload will be alleviated. But don’t make it a hard sell. Take time to listen to their concerns. Ask for buy-in in what they would like. But most of all…communicate, communicate, communicate. Know that regardless of how much research you do, some people are just more afraid of the unknown and in this case the unknown is masquerading as more work.
2. Re-member us? Next, begin communicating the upcoming changes to your members. As you begin to narrow down your software choices tell them what’s coming down the pike. Get them excited about your future offerings. Don’t wait until the night before launch to send out a mass email to your membership. Get them involved early. Ask them what they’d like. Find out their favorite networking sites. What makes them their favorites? Is it the ability to upload pictures or the live chat feature they love most? Incorporate their requests into your community software as much as you can. Build anticipation through slow “leaks” of exciting features your new community will have through your Twitter feed. Add a countdown to your site launch. Provide updates in your newsletter. Consider creating a member group/committee that will help you design/select offerings. Reward them with an early preview of the product.
Whether you took the earlier advice of creating a member committee to help make a decision about your new online offerings or not, you’ll want to line up some power users outside of your staff. These are folks who you can count on for content until more of your members become users. Approach them for their communication abilities not their age. You may be tempted to approach your Millennial members thinking they are the most technologically astute but they may also be plugged-in elsewhere. Watch your members for interest in this project and call in favors if you have to. You’re going to need someone to stoke conversation. Someone other than you. You need a “superuser” — preferably a handful of them.
3. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s a Superuser.
4. Not now. I’m tired. Although we are all tempted to launch around big events like conferences and holidays, avoid this. Holiday traffic (and I don’t mean planes, trains and automobiles) will no doubt be smaller and not provide you with the big bang you want — and I’ll say by this time — expect. Launching around conferences means people are excited, yes, but stretched thin. There’s travel involved. Catching up with work upon their return and your staff will have less time to help those who need help as they’ll be busy with the event. Launch when your organization news can be just about the launch. Don’t share this precious time with anything. It’s all about your new community. Launch on a random Tuesday when people are looking for a distraction and may have the time to explore.
5. This country was “discovered” by someone who was lost. Once you launch, encourage exploration of the site. Consider sending a bulk email when a member signs up giving them some starting places for their exploration. Users will hopefully find their own gems along the way but give them a starting place so it’s not so overwhelming. Create video tutorials for those who hate to read or busy members who want to multitask. Remember, not everyone learns the same way so having video, text, slide-shows, email etc. will cover all the bases on how someone likes to receive information.
What have you found that has helped with your launch or launches that you have been a part of?
Coming tomorrow, in part two of our Successful Launch series, we’ll be covering creative content ideas.