Best Advice for Managing Up & Setting Expectations For a Community Launch

I was just talking with @richard_millington on LinkedIn and realized I should put my question to the whole community of pros here.

How did you set expectations and manage up leading up to the launch of your community?

And is there anything you wish you’d done differently?

I’d love any guidance or experiences you can share, but here’s my specific scenario right now, in case context helps:

We’re a niche media company, built for sales professionals.

  1. Leadership team (LT) asks for a community in 3 months.

  2. Not knowing if that’s a crazy timeline or not, I immediately begin researching what it will take to build the community the right way.

  3. Before I have a complete project plan, let alone desired features or a community purpose, LT asks which platform I’m going to choose, and again asks for launch within 3 months.

I have yet to set expectations correctly because I’m still learning myself what it’s going to take to do this right.

I do know that I need to:
*Speak with stakeholders
*Do a competitive analysis
*Survey and interview our subscribers
*Develop a stragegy and community values
*Decide what features I’d want available in the community
*Choose a platform
*Hire somebody to build the dang thing
*Prepare for launch and communicate the plan to beta users/chamions
*Moderate and iterate

I’ve definitely heard this story before! Do you have any ability to ask the LT why they asked for a community, and why it’s such a high priority? There must be something that triggered this request, and you NEED to find out what it was. Huge difference in your planning if it was a) CEO went to an event and a fellow CEO said, "hey, do you have a community yet, you need one; b) customers have been asking for a way to connect with each other or get help; or c) there’s a launch of something happening in 3 months that’s tied to the community launch. See where I’m going with this? You really shouldn’t do all of the other (important) things in your list before you find out the answer to this one question. Even if you have to take someone from LT out for a few beers.

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I think the question should be flipped back to you.

What expectations does your company and LT have for the community?? Until you know those answers, you won’t be able to establish the parameters of the roll out. Want a simple customer forums - do that in two days. Want a complex multi-app support portal with forum discussions, help tutorials, custom resources and integrated API to company marketing & sales, multiple stakeholders who need to sign off - a bit more than two days.

My best advice: instead of interviewing us, go and interview every member of your leadership team individually, survey them, facilitate the group discussion and outline what the community will achieve and how it will achieve it. If you’re good, you don’t just take orders like what you’re currently doing - you demonstrate how the community can be indispensable to the company policy and workflow.

My second advice that youre missing: soft launch. Bring on select customers, clients, employees, stakeholders, etc for a soft launch and obsessively track their behavior and interaction with the website for improvement. Consider it the preflight. One of the amazing things about the preflight is that it builds a core community before the main community rolls in, so you already have discussions and activity going.

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Appreciate the reply @rhogroupee!

That’s helpful input.

@joelr, thanks!

This is the crux of my question - we do not know what kind of community we need, but my LT has assumed that only one kind of community exists. I’m not asking what my community should be for - I have user research built into my process that will help me decide what needs I need to serve for them.

How have you managed up and set expectations for leadership who aren’t as informed as you?

As for the advice on soft launch - great idea! Thanks.

Hey @cscamp07

You may want to accelerate a couple of items simultaneously, since you’re sort of wading into unknown territory.

  1. You should accelerate the conversation with software developers to see examples of communities, examples of use cases, and real walk through demos. You should prepare a baseline list of company objectives. This can help guide you on what’s possible / not possible / what can be possible with customization and development so you’ll understand how to steer internal conversations.
  2. You should accelerate your user research to find out exactly what the needs of the customers are. With that said, your customers aren’t the ones who are ultimately judging you – your leadership team is. If there’s one important lesson to take away from Richard Millingtons advice, it’s to not forget who the real #1 client is: your leadership team who pays for it all. So even though you’ve conducting your user research, you should simultaneously and more importantly be conducting one on one interviews with all the members of your leadership team of what their goals are (and you may have to help guide / facilitate the interviews. For example, instead of asking generic open ended questions that don’t elicit any meaningful responses, you may need to present a menu of choices to initiate a meaningful conversation. Don’t ask, “how do you see the community benefiting your department?” Do ask “what functions in your department require input from the community, what metrics are you looking for, who will be responsible for those functions and reporting and workflows, would you be interested in being involved in A, B, and C in the community that overlap with your department?”
  3. Tagging @richard_millington who probably has a template for a community launch that you can borrow.
  4. You’ll need to conduct regular updates with your LT. Those meetings should be both information and information-seeking, especially since it seems like they want “a community” and not “the company’s community.”
  5. Start talking about a phase 2, which will allow more time for you to actually get stuff done. For example, maybe your soft launch can realistically be done in 3 months, a superuser launch in 5 months, a public launch in 6 months. That gives you some breathing room and a growth plan for the future too.

Good luck to you. To be honest, it sounds like you’re the one who will need to define the community strategy and the community objectives, which means a lot of conversations and interviews and roundtable discussions.

Super helpful input again, @joelr.

Thankfully, some of this is already part of the plan, but it’s extremely validating to hear you recommend them.

Love the tip to start them thinking in phases, too!

I’m scheduling 1:1 interviews starting tomorrow. Thanks!

Interesting q as I am quite in the same boat as you, Colin. Since you have a 3-month timeline, my one big thought for you is to be agile with your community features. Start small with some content for reading and a forum of sorts for interaction and then build features as and when you see the requirement come up. This brings down the cost significantly and also makes the platform stable. Be sure to use a platform that allows scaling for all the features in the future but choose to do so wisely when you start proving the ROI of building one.

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Actually @cscamp07 and @jiya2926 am also in the same boat. Am building out a plan and a project agnostic asset which will also act as a content pillar to build relationships and lower the barriers to joining the soft launch later. I would be open to a hangout if you guys wanted to swap ideas.