How to Launch an Online Community — Lean Community Launch Framework

Hey yenizens!

Back to another deep dive! This one is packed, so, let’s jump right in!

To infinity & community,

— john

Noele Flowers is someone who’s been around community building for a while and especially in “small, creative teams” where she’s built this “lean” community framework to help people get off the ground.

She’s got a wonderful presentation that she built for the Makerpad Community and like our previous breakdowns, we’re bringing you the top-shelf goods in easy-to-read, bullet-format.

Oh, and on a more personal note, I’m still so grateful for Ben and his (growing) team that let me share my own personal learnings with our yeniverse! This “open source” mentality is what makes their community so powerful and impactful.

Cool. Let’s get going. First, Noele introduces herself:

I’m a former high school teacher turned community manager, blogger, and consultant. I manage Teachable’s members-only community program.

Noele Flowers

Her background in education is pretty clear throughout the entire preso. She starts by helping the live audience understand how she defines community:

Community isn’t just another word for audience. It’s a special spac you create for your most engaged members to gather and interact.

Noele Flowers

Quick shoutout to Community Club (and Mac) who are helping to continue to build out and support the growing ecosystem in and around community.

Yes, I can definitely agree with Noele: Community is having a moment.

She goes on to share some of the more obvious benefits of starting a community which she enumerates:

  1. Relationships (but I don’t have to tell you that)
  2. Retention & success — even between launches
  3. An experimental content pipeline
  4. Your audience probably already wants it

One of the specific areas that she really highlights is how community is an extremely strong retention tool, something she believes most companies either overlook or under-appreciate; a real opportunity to not just keep the business humming but continue with revenue if the model provides such opportunities.

The wrong reasons? I’m glad you asked:

  1. To add “bonus” content to your business.
  2. Acquisition or top-of-funnel content
  3. To fill “stop gap” goals, like a support forum
  4. “Community-washing”

I literally laughed-out-loud when she shared that she tells most folks who tell her that they want to start a new community:

Don’t do it! It’s so much work!

The point is that there are just as many reasons not to build a community if you’re not entirely sure how to best serve them or have an clear business objective. Finally, what she means by “community-washing” is simply businesses tacking on “community” to their business (because it’s a buzzword at the moment) without appreciating the real requirements.

So, are you ready to get things started? Let’s go:

She shares 3 elements that might help you better understand if you’re in the right spot for a new community:

  1. You have an audience who loves your work. They’re trying to achieve something, and you know they have shared experiences they’re currently going through alone.
  2. You want to create a centralized experience for your content — a place for your audience to gather, build an identity and belonging with your brand, and be rewarded.
  3. You’ve got the time. You know launching a community will be like launching a new product, and you’re ready to nurture it to be as good as your other products.

Okay. So, now, here are 4 useful thoughts and principles that will aid you in your quest to build an amazing community:

A bolder approach to community:

  1. Transcending the forum.
  2. Going beyond “engagement for engagement’s sake.”
  3. Giving the best members a place of status.
  4. Giving the best content a new life.

Wonderful, tactical things that can help you build a community culture that will scale well and wisely.

Noele shares a few use-cases:

  1. A place of shared practice — For businesses that center around skill-building (i.e., building an email list, learning an instrument), communities are a great place to learn together, workshop, and share feedback.
  2. A place for top-tier access — For businesses that center around a creator or consultant, communities can be a way to house exclusive access to that person, and other successful community members.
  3. A real-time workspace — Communities can go hand-in-hand with a synchronous experience, like listening to the same podcast or working through an online course or challenge.

It’s really hard to over-state how useful these examples are! You can think of the many unique ways to implement and build a community with these high-levels in mind.

Ready to jump into the actual framework? Here we go!

A five step process for launching a community:

  1. Set goals
  2. Validate: user interviews
  3. Content cadence & showstopper
  4. Choose technology
  5. Activate members

Goal setting is different with community:

  • Community goals should describe the impact for both members and company
  • Tie back to an existing business goal that you already track.
  • Set “anti-goals”
  • Avoid “stopgap goals”

What she means by “anti-goals” is understanding what you’re not going to use the community for, such as “product support”.

The next steps is to validate your instincts with user interviews:

  • Speak to 5-10 potential members on the phone.
  • Vary your interviewees engagement level and interests.
  • Aim to validate the outline your goals suggest. Ask things like:
    • What programs they’re interested in
    • What communities they already partake in and why
    • What you can do to be their go-to space

Set a content cadence with a “showstopper”:

  • Minimum require cadence: reliable, anticipated prompt
  • Brainstorm content types — the sky’s the limit!
    • Events series
    • Product ideation
    • Curated networking
    • User generated blog
    • AMAs
    • Gamified swag program
  • Choose a showstopper you know your audience will love. This is why they’ll open the community.

Choose the platform that’s right for you:

  • Start from key features to support your vision. There isn’t an objective “right” platform, but there’s a right one for your project.
  • Consider the features your audience expects based on their experience with big social, and the features you need to run your features.
  • Commsor’s Community Ecosystem Map is wonderful

Last step is activating members:

  • Use David Spinks‘ “10 at a time” rule, and rely on personal relationships first.
  • Don’t be afraid to seed conversation using a flywheel.
  • Know that it takes time, and don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t feel lively at first. Nothing happens totally organically, you just can’t always see the strategy so it feels like magic.

She ends the time in Q&A:

What advice would you have for interviewing for community manager positions?

Do they have a super-clear vision for community? Do they actually know the community program that they want to run? And will they let you “lead up” so that you can build it right?

Where is the overlap with social media and marketing?

Community collaborates closely with marketing and social media, helping them create content. But, they should be kept separate.

Why should someone enter and come back to a community?

Linking up content with a consistent (valuable) ritual can help draw folks to the community and get them to come back, like a weekly “highlights” update celebrating community members.

Also, personal (touch) outreach still works! Like connecting with folks who haven’t checked-in recently or haven’t visited in a while.

What are you the most excited about in the community space?

This is the most exciting year we’ve had in community — less barrier to entry and most folks and businesses understand the value of what community brings.

True, dat.

You can connect with Noele here:

Have a good one folks!