If you have done all of the pre-launch prep and checking, and have promoted your new Higher Logic Vanilla (Vanilla) community, it's time to launch it!
Vanilla recommends that you divide your community launch into three stages:
- the soft launch prep,
- the internal soft launch, and
- the public soft launch.
Soft launch prep
At this time, your community should be relatively ready to go.
Verify this this by reviewing:
Make sure that you have:
- removed any test content that was created,
- identified any initial bugs (and have either addressed them or have a timeline of when they will be fixed,
- seeded the community with some quality content, and
- encouraged your beta testers to start fully engaging in the community.
Seeded content notes
A common mistake is having no or too little content upon launch. We recommend creating at least 10 discussions, using content you have. This could be to add Frequently Asked Questions in a support community or to start discussions based on popular topics in a networking community. Ask questions and solicit opinions. You can encourage or recruit colleagues to get those discussions going. It is best to set the right tone before your internal launch and to speak to these individuals to be sure they are willing to participate and will have quality content to share. This will also give your colleagues an idea of the kind of content to expect and show off some of the features of the community.
Internal soft launch
📝 NOTE: This stage should be not longer than 1 week, unless there are major roadblocks.
The goal of the internal soft launch is to identify any issues with trusted people from your team, friends, and colleagues before the public sees it. Have them try out the community and provide feedback on the workflow, and report any errors. This is also a great opportunity to test your moderation workflow and to ensure that your moderators become familiar with Vanilla's tools in a live setting. This can help identify any additional training that needs to take place and whether any policy clarifications are necessary.
A great way to centralize feedback is to create a Feedback category in your community in which users can share feedback about their experiences.
Set yourself a clear deadline to move to the public launch so that your teams are prepared, engaged, and have a goal set in mind.
Public soft launch
This launch is not when you make the community available to the public. Rather, during this stage you should encourage a select audience (from outside your team/company) to engage with the community and provide feedback.
🛑 IMPORTANT: The insights and reactions of these "uninitiated" users can be very valuable and better reflect what to expect when the community is live.
Identify these individuals before the public soft launch and discuss the community with them.
Make sure that you have a clear path before you open the community to "outside users."
Consider the following questions:
- Who do I want in this early access group?
- What problems do I want this stage to solve?
- What will the transition to the live community entail?
- What is my hard deadline for launching the community to the public?
The goal is to:
- Get the public involved.
- Refine your community offering.
- Gather feedback.
- Ensure your moderators and other team members are comfortable with the new platform.
However, the overarching objective of the soft launch is to be prepared for the public launch!
✔️ TIP: Avoid the dreaded perfection paralysis. Don't let the desire for your community to be perfect before it launches cause you to continually postpone the launch in favour of constantly reiterating and tweaking.
Having a solid deadline will help motivate your team and ensure any issues are driven to be resolved by the launch date.
Once you’re live
Here are some tips to keep people coming back and engaging with your community.
Engage new members
Welcome and engage with users as soon as you can when they make their first post. Most communities have a large percentage of lurkers (in some cases as high as 99%). When someone engages, be sure you respond quickly.
Try to make sure someone interacts with all new posts/members within the same day. After your community gets going, you can recruit people to lookout for new members and ensure that they get some sort of reaction. Providing some sort of acknowledgement within the first 24 hours, you make new members feel welcome.
It's not necessary to act on every bit of feedback that you receive. It is, however, important that you at least acknowledge it.
Don't feel pressured to act on feedback just to please someone; the overall community should be your focus, and what's "right" or "useful" for one person might not be for hundreds of others.
Identify advocates and potential moderators
Nurture and encourage those who are helpful within the community, and those who advocate for your community's mission. These people could be the origins of a strong pool of potential volunteer moderators.
Make it clear that you appreciate their contribution with something such as a community status Badge or Rank.
Acknowledging them in some way is important so they know that you appreciate their contribution and their efforts.