Successfully launching and growing a new community is much more about quality than quantity. Focus on what the members need and you'll be on the right track.
When it comes to building community, whether an intranet, customer support site, or other interactive environment, the infrastructure is the easy part. Successfully getting people to use the software becomes the challenge. Ahh yes, people. They can be tricky.
There are some differences in how to encourage community adoption and engagement when you're launching a new community, or trying to encourage adoption to grow an existing one. We'll look at the former here and address the latter in a later article. Fortunately, these strategies hold true for pretty much any kind of community, internal or external.
Stagger your launch
When launching a community, the first priority is to get as many people registered and using it as quickly as possible, followed by having all the members use it as much as possible. However, this is not usually a good idea, due to a lack of control. Successfully introducing people to a new community requires crafting the experience. As with any other social situation, you only have one chance to make a good first impression.
With any tech launch, there are going to be hiccups. Testing can never catch everything. If the community is launched to the entire organization at once, you're going to be very, very busy. You can either be busy putting out fires and fixing things, or busy being a great concierge welcoming people into the community in order to get ramped up. The problem: you have to do both of these things at the same time.
When members are initially trying to figure out where everything is and how it works, they are most likely to become frustrated. They need great customer service. When groups are trying to learn how to use the community, customize features, and set different permissions, they need guidance. These things are nearly impossible to provide successfully when everyone is dumped into the community at once.
What defines great customer service for new community members? Here are a few things that will help people feel welcome, competent, and encourage them to participate:
- Reach out before members are supposed to register. If people know where to go, what they'll be doing there, how to get started, and who can answer questions, it'll be a much smoother impression and first experience than if the invitation to register just appears in inboxes.
- Personalized invitations. They can be personalized by team, but different groups are going to have different needs, and unless the community serves those specific needs, they're not going to engage. Focus on the value of the community to them, and how helpful their efforts will be, right from the beginning.
- Clear instructions every step of the way, including repetition with reminders. How to sign up, how to accomplish common tasks, what some particularly interesting features are, etc. Leveraging different kinds of media can help here, too, as some people learn best with text, some with graphics, some with video, etc.
- Assign buddies. The community manager or team is going to be really busy with the high-level administration of the new community, so if you already have staff who've been ramped up, it's great to have them available to help out new members as needed.
- Provide a place where new members can interact. New members will have many of the same questions and requests, so providing them a forum to chat, share knowledge, and receive instructions as a group will encourage them to help each other and will save time and effort for the community manager.
- Ask new members what they need - more than once. Ask before they get registered, again after they've been exposed to the platform, and again after they've been using it for a while. It's guaranteed their answers will evolve.
Create a safety net
Early adopted communities need a strong focus on ensuring two things for new members: safety and fun. Safe participation means members aren't going to be left alone to poke around blindly, fail to accomplish basic things, and get angry and frustrated. Once people are fed up, you've pretty much lost them.
Safety also applies to the community members. From day one, you need clear conduct policies that are consistently enforced. It's important to require basic good manners of all members. However, especially when some members may not be as digitally native, it's also important to also develop an understanding of the limitations and pitfalls of communication in a textual medium (where we lose eye contact, body language, vocal tone, etc.)
Fortunately, safety in an internal community like an intranet is a milder concern than it often is out on the internet. This is in good part due to the commonality of everyone working for the same company (even if you don't personally know everyone with whom you interact). It's also because the context of the community is professional. You're likely to act in the community the way you would in the office. And finally, the community members have common goals. The point of internal communities like intranets is to share knowledge, create useful content, and generally get work done. No one can do that alone, so it only makes sense to treat people well when you need to rely on them.
Community members also need to be encouraged to support each other. If new members receive no engagement, they'll give up because they feel ignored. You need other members to acknowledge and respond to the efforts of new members especially. This will encourage more content creation and catalyze conversations. You're building an interactive community, not just a mute audience. Community managers can participate here, too, but they have less direct peer influence.
Some great ways to encourage established community members to welcome new members and generally support each other's activities are:
- Personal welcoming. This could be a board for new people, private messages sent, or even in-person interactions in the office.
- Comments and feedback. Established members need to reply to content that new members post, leave feedback on wikis, ask questions to get more information, or provide their perspective or experience on something new members have said or asked about. The community manager can contribute this way, too, but it's more important for the interaction to come from other community members.
- Quick responses. Ideally you want people to receive some kind of response to their activity within a work day, at most within 24 hours. If too much time goes by without any response, new members get disheartened, and other community members become less likely to engage as well. Initially the community manager will have to spearhead this, but you're also setting an example for other community members.
- Behind the scenes prompts. This works well alongside assigning buddies. The buddy can inquire if the new member has accomplished certain tasks or goals yet, offer to assist, or even point out something someone else posted that the new member should respond to if they haven't noticed it yet or are holding back.
- Promote community activities. Spotlight good work or interesting conversations on the community platform. Request specific content from certain people who have the expertise. Provide a "best of" in an internal newsletter or on forums. It brings attention to the people involved, encourages them to create more, and encourages others to join in (which can be easier early on than creating your own content).
Make it fun
Member interaction is also the key part of making a community fun. Making the tools enjoyable to use and getting validation for the usefulness of your contributions is undeniably important. But people are also naturally "messy". They will get off-topic about random things and post cat pictures. That's okay. In fact, it's encouraged.
Why? Because shared experiences and stories are one of the strongest ways to hook people and build community, and those "messy" interactions are some of the best ways. See? It's as easy as chatting with your friends!" From the beginning have a space in your community where people can be randomly social: a virtual water cooler where there are silly pictures of the company Christmas party and where you can let people know you brought in doughnuts. This also encourages your community to become a habitual destination for members.
When others want to join the community to participate in the fun, that's healthy growth. FOMO (fear of missing out) is a powerful motivator, and it works for product development discussions, branding brainstorming, or feature roadmapping as much as for funny gif wars.
Develop staff into community managers
So when launching a community, we recommend a staggered launch. There's nothing wrong with starting with a single team and getting them registered, oriented, and ramped up the right way. The community manager or team will be able to handle questions and problems with setup, how features work, and assist with getting people going on the kinds of activities that have been identified as valuable for that team to accomplish in the community.
Once that team is up and running, you'll have accomplished a few things:
- Identified snags in the planned processes for the early stages of onboarding.
- Established a group in the company that knows the basics and can help onboard successive teams.
- Built up real, live, relevant content and activities to point to as examples and case studies as additional teams are added.
Launching a new community isn't easy. You've got to juggle making the infrastructure work with convincing people to join and shaping great experiences to encourage them to stay. Welcome to community management. The great thing is, though, that you have the opportunity to build something amazing that can help make your entire company work better. Which is so much cooler than just infrastructure.
The stereotype these days is that traditional intranets are dusty and static, and that enterprise social networks (ESNs) promote better communication, collaboration, and productivity. But is it really that black and white?
Want to learn more about intranet engagement? Download our engagement guide.