Last month I started a discussion about when and why we build community on social media platforms. As a follow-up, I'd like to address when it's the right and wrong time to build a community in general.
After helping brands and creators launch new communities for several years, I've started to notice some patterns for when an organization is ready and when more groundwork needs to be laid before they can fully embrace the process of launching a new community. Let's dive in!
When is the wrong time to start a community?
Seasonally, summer is a difficult time to launch a community unless you have a big incentive or your are pairing your launch with an existing event like an in-person conference. Similarly, the holidays can be a difficult season to compete for attention. Fall and Spring tend to be great seasons to launch new communities, but I’ve had successful launches in all seasons, so don't be scared to launch in December if it's the best time for your team!
More important than the calendar, we need to look to the state of your relationship with your customer and what you are prepared to give to build and grow this community.
Don’t start a community when you haven't warmed up your audience.
Brands and creators alike can easily be tempted to launch a community because they want to see quick growth, but few have done the work to understand and connect with their customer. Some of the most successful communities come out of marketing-led brands because these brands have a deep understanding of their customer before they ever launch a community to foster further connection.
If you haven’t warmed up your audience, no matter how big or small you are, I encourage every client to talk to 40 customers before considering launching a community. The insights you will gather during those 40 calls with give you more information about who wants what than any fancy consultant could ever give you.
Don’t start a community when you don’t have someone to run it.
Community is not a “set it and forget it” kind of strategy. This might sound obvious, but it is be woefully lacking. You need at least one person who is ultimately responsible and accountable for the success of the community, as defined by your objectives.
As a brand, when you decide to launch a community, be prepared to hire a community manager before you launch (read: not a social media manager who got tricked into being the community manager).
As a creator, be prepared to either get the community off the ground yourself, or hire someone to manage operational tasks right off the bat. While founders by no means need to be the ones setting up events and managing logistics, your involvement and presence in the community is crucial, especially in the very beginning.
Don’t launch a B2C brand community if you have less than 10,000 customers.
You can create a customer community and it can add value at any tine. But if you are looking for a powerful community launch (and hiring a best-in-class community consultant, for example), you'll want to get the best bang for your buck.
That's why I recommend waiting to launch a community for your customers until you have at least 10,000 of them (with the exception of an Ambassador community which you know you'll see a return on right away).
Why 10K? At 10K customers, you have about 1K customers generating 80% of your revenue (Pareto Principle). Whether they did one big bulk order or they are repeat customers, there’s a natural tipping point when you have 1K engaged people (even if the only activity is buying from you). At 1K you have a large enough sample size to get traction when you launch a new community.
When is the right time to launch a community?
Here are a couple indicators I look for in potential clients that tell me they are ready for a community.
Indicator #1: It’s time to launch when you know them by name
The most successful community launches come out of brands that already have a close relationship with their customer or creators who have fostered 1:1 connections with their audience members. You know them by name.
Your customer support team can rattle off 3-5 people who call consistently and are invested in the brand. Your social media person can tell you blindfolded which 10 accounts are going to comment on that post. You can count off by name the 20 customers who are going to buy your new course before you even announce it.
Indicator #2: It’s time to launch when you need one home for all of your programs.
Many of my clients already have community programs up and running, they just don’t have one cohesive strategy or ecosystem to drive their management and growth. If you have a Wordpress page where people find links to resources, a lu.ma page where people RSVP to events, and a slack channel where people share dog pics, it’s time to give these people a community!
Give it a name, create an onboarding process, and pick a place to call home.
Indicator #3: It's time to launch when you’re ready to invest in the process.
As I shared earlier, you are either prepared to put in the work yourself, or you have budget set aside to hire a community manager. You are either ready to DIY your community and learn from mistakes along the way, or you’d like to hire a guide to help you escape some avoidable potholes.
While I believe it’s important to invest in the process, you don’t need to break the bank finding someone to build with or for you. As a creator, avoid consultants who tell you this needs to take more than 6 weeks and an ongoing retainer. As a small brand, avoid tools that tell you you need to invest five to six figures in their Saas to start experimenting. Your first priority is to start small, launch, and test to find out what works before making a huge investment.
And if the stars should align and a strategic, hands-on guide is what you need, I’m happy to learn more and see if I can help.