How to Launch Your First Community Channel

  • Steven Yum

    July 29th, 2021

Image of light blue icon of a rocket

When it comes to community channels, your job is not done by simply opening one—in fact it’s only the beginning. Just like choosing your first channel to launch takes a lot of intention, thought, and hard work, so do the other operational elements at play. After you’ve selected your channel, there are a number of steps to take in preparation for a successful launch.

So we've created this post as a guide to walk you through the key buckets of tasks when preparing for a channel launch: people, entry process, policies, marketing, and engagement plan. At the end of each section we’ll recommend a few action items you can take to get started.

Find the Right People

A community isn’t much of a community without a group of individuals participating in it 😉 To start, identify an initial, smaller group of people you want to recruit into your community—perhaps your most passionate early fans and supporters—who you’re excited to co-create the community with. Think about who would make an ideal member of your specific community and recruit people like them to join. Why is this so important? When you find the right group to pilot the community with, they provide useful insights and feedback that help you shape how the community should operate as you consider expanding its size and scope in the future.

Extend an invitation to your earliest fans and supporters (e.g., those who have used your product from when it was still in beta)

Review your existing marketing channels to identify candidate members to recruit (e.g., people you already see engaging with you / your company on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook)

Contact thought leaders and experts in your industry and pitch them to build the community with you

Define How People Join

So now you’ve identified who you want in your community. Once you're ready to grow, you'll need to think about how new members will join your community. You’ll need to answer questions such as:

  • Will your community be public (e.g., let in anybody who wants to join) or private (e.g., by invitation or application only)?
  • Will there be an application process for a person to join your community? If so, what will this process look like (e.g., what criteria are you looking for in a community member) and how will it work (e.g., how will you collect and sort through this information)?

The entry process can also be adjusted over time as your objectives and community dynamics change. For example, you could start out as a private community with a small group of inaugural members who are invited in (no application required). Then once you’ve ensured the onboarding process is working effectively, you can publicly debut an application process to accept new members going forward who meet specific criteria you’ve defined.

Define what you’re looking for in a community member (e.g., specific job role or industry, size of social media following, etc.)

Create the roadmap of how you want members to be able to join your community (e.g., start private then switch to public after a soft launch)

Determine the application process (if you’ll have one) for those interested in joining (e.g., Google Forms → triggered email send, a custom solution, etc.)

Set Expectations

Since you’ll be bringing a group of people together with likely different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, it’s important to clearly set expectations around participating in your community. Typically this is done through policy documents such as a code of conduct and an onboarding guide. It’s best to point your members to these documents early on during the onboarding process so they’re aware of the expectations upon joining.

  • A code of conduct describes what members are signing up for, what they can expect from you as a host, and what you expect from them. From our experience, a diversity of people, perspectives, and experiences makes communities, and community-driven builders, stronger. So we think it’s important to state these beliefs right at the beginning. This also means defining mechanisms to enforce the code of conduct and clearly communicating the steps that will be taken to address any breaches (and how members can easily and quickly notify you or your team of any violations).
  • An onboarding guide walks new members through how to get started in your community upon joining. Using Slack as an example, this would include what each channel is called and what their description is as well as guidelines on how to set up their profiles.

For inspiration, feel free to browse and borrow from our Uncommon Code of Conduct and our Slack onboarding guide.

Write your Code of Conduct, including an escalation policy and process

Write an onboarding guide to orient your members on what first steps to take after joining

Share these two documents automatically to new members upon joining (as an example, you can use GreetBot with Slack)

Spread the Word

Let’s say you’re now ready to open up your community more broadly. Congratulations 🎉 You’ll need marketing content to help you get the word out there and spread awareness. While there is no shortage of marketing tools out there, to help you prioritize your tactics, focus your efforts (and money!) in the places which will best catch the attention of the potential members you want to join your community (you should have defined this criteria earlier in this process). From a digital marketing perspective, consider tactics such as SEO, social media marketing, content marketing, and email marketing for broad geographic reach, quantifiable results, and cost efficiency. You can also raise your and your community’s profile by publishing thought leadership content, speaking at relevant events, giving interviews to the press, and collaborating with industry experts. And don't forget to lean into your existing members and kindly request their help in growing and promoting your community!

If you prefer to keep your community small, private, and invite-only, promote the members themselves rather than the community itself. This could take the form of promoting content they’ve created or presentations they’ll be giving at conferences. As the profile of your members grows, there will naturally be inquiries into how they became a part of your community and this can serve as a pipeline of future candidates for your consideration.

Write, design, and post social media content (e.g., Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook, etc.)

Ask for new member referrals from your existing members

Partner with thought leaders and other experts with large followings or influence in your industry to promote your community

Build an Engagement Plan

In anticipation of your soon-to-be thriving community (with a steady stream of new members joining), you will need a way to keep conversations going and facilitate connections between members. You should have an engagement plan ready at launch such that when there are periods of inactivity, you have content ready to share (if you're using Slack we'd suggest starter discussion prompts for each channel in your workspace). And rather than use your community as a mechanism to explicitly (and solely) promote your company’s work, focus on ways to converse with your members, such as asking them to share their experiences or by facilitating a healthy debate on a popular topic. Find ways to tap into the collective wisdom of the community and give your members opportunities to showcase their knowledge, build up their social capital, and learn from one another. At the end of the day, you want your members to feel valued and that it's worth their time and effort to continue participating in your community.

Write up a list of starter discussion prompts along with answers of your own to share first (this makes it easier for the community to respond, since they don’t have to be the ones to “break the ice”)

Find (and ask for) relevant learning resources, events, and job opportunities to share with your community

Host an AMA-type Q&A session in your community with a particularly active member who wants to share their story and inspire others

🚀 Ready to Launch

This post summarizes recommended steps to take for a successful community channel launch. Feel free to at-mention us on Twitter to let us know if this guide was helpful and if you have any feedback and suggestions. We also encourage you to join Uncommon to get updates about what's happening across the community space, including open job roles, interviews with experts, and a monthly newsletter.

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