I started a community from scratch : Ask me Anything

(Sarah Hawk) #1

Many of the skills (and tasks) required to start a community from scratch are very different from those required to manage an existing one.

@Todd_Nilson and I were talking to a client yesterday, who seemed a little surprised at our recommendation that he hire a CM that has experience launching a community.

3 years ago I started the UXMastery community, which is now somewhere between the establishment and maturity stage, and I’ve learned a lot.

Got questions? Ask me anything…

Community launch planning
Starting a brand new community? This topic is for you
(Richard Millington) #2

I’ve always put knowledge of the topic/field/existing relationships as the critical element of building a successful community. If you’re friends with a bunch of people in the sector, it’s a lot easier to get a community going. When we published the Proven Path many years ago, the one major difference between success and failure wasn’t previous experience but the no. of pre-existing connections the person in the scene had.

The community side can be learnt (and most people who build their first community did it without experience), but sector knowledge/passion/contacts is far harder to acquire.

I tend to see two very big (related) mistakes. The first is confusing success at managing a community with success at launching one. Managing one is relatively easier compared with the grind of building one. The second is confusing launching one where an organisation already has a huge audience compared with where the organisation doesn’t. People mistake the easy success of diverting traffic with creating that traffic in the first place.

So ideally you can find someone that has a lot of existing contacts and has launched a community in the past. If not, I’d go with someone that has the contacts and teach them how to launch a community.

(Alessio Fattorini) #3

Totally agree, it requires time, dedication and passion. But it’s worth it

(Alessio Fattorini) #4

Great chance here :slight_smile:
From your experience, which are the big points of failure or mistakes in launching a new community?

(Darren Gough) #5

Doing the big bang launch rarely, if ever, works.

At the start it can look amazing, but so much is happening the good community building tactics are overwhelmed or the expectation is too high and the community often falls away within months/weeks.

I’d go as far as to say that any vibrant, well run community these days has a founding member (or 6) who very clearly remember the days of having 10 members and getting excited when they hit 100. They can probably name them too :slight_smile:

(outofthebox) #6

Hey @HAWK, I’m in the interesting position of having a number of the built-in advantages that @richard_millington mentions: some sector knowledge myself, having many sector contacts, and those sector contacts having nearly all the rest of the contacts between them, and with an organization that has a huge audience and decades of loyalty. Given all these structural advantages, I fluctuate between worrying that the community will take off like a rocket and grow too fast to manage or be set up to be too exclusive and fail to gain traction. How would you advise managing ‘the problem’ of having so many structural benefits behind a community launch?

(Sarah Hawk) #7

I’m not sure – mine didn’t fail! :wink:

The two things that DID work which were vital (so if you didn’t have or do them you’d fail) were a proven concept, and a lot of manual, granular hard work.


A year before launching the forum, we started a blog to build an audience. We started a (passive) social media following as well, but it was of little relevance. I started connecting with people that gravitated to the blog and researching the feasibility of a dedicated community. This had the added benefit of the vital relationship building required to form a founding group.

It became clear that the content that resonated best with this early group of followers was anything to do with transitioning into a UX career from another discipline (UX was very new at the time – still is as a recognised career, really) so we honed in on that for the community concept. Since then, as the audience has grown up with us, the concept has diversified slightly to include intermediate to advanced content as well.

Hard work

Once I had a core group of people that regularly commented on the blog and responded via social media or emails, I started lots of personal communication. I also contacted influencers in the wider niche and got buy in from them, which has paid off in spades now because I have a pool of big names that I can use for Q&A sessions etc.

When I launched the forum (on vB cloud), I sent out an email to the 5k people that had subscribed to the blog. A couple of hundred of them signed up and I had 20 ‘Gold Members’ (the strong relationships I had built) who were armed with questions to seed. For every question, I personally reached out to someone else that I’d met and asked them to answer.

It was probably about 4 months before I stopped having to answer (or personally find someone else to answer) every question.

(Sarah Hawk) #8

Yup, this is true. Of my original 20, 9 are still committed members.

(Sarah Hawk) #9

I don’t think that’s a problem – it sounds like a winning formula! You don’t need to invite everyone with a big bang (you shouldn’t). Tell a small group, get them going. Start to mould their behaviour so they are having the kind of discussions and sharing knowledge that you know will have value for your wider audience.

Then invite more once that first group is established. You’ll quickly get a gauge on what the uptake will be.

I’ve never heard of a community that took off so fast that it couldn’t be managed, but if that’s a serious concern I’d think about ensuring you have the buy in from a couple of other people in the organisation so that they can step in and support you.

You will also very quickly see which of those initial members become super invested members and if need be, you can shoulder tap a couple and give them special responsibility – essentially form a volunteer staff corps very early on.

I think people often respond favourably to the idea of a community but in reality, only a small percentage of them actually deal with the reality.

(Dave Charbonneau) #10

I’m in a launch, we have around 20 members; most of them I met by inviting them to be on a video talk show, which is great, as we started out by actually discussing things together. I highly recommend this as a way to launch if you don’t have a lot of contacts, because I begin with personal interaction with each person so it feels like we know one another; and the others all have something in common – their appearances on the show. (Tip o’ the hat to @irreverance whom I met here at FeverBee and has been most supportive in the group).

In addition, the show itself becomes a vehicle for marketing the community, and the participants who are (most of them) community members will be telling their friends and followers about their appearance.

That said, I’m still looking for information on on-boarding. I’m seeing many fledgling communities throw out (throw up?) questions just for starting conversations. They don’t seem to work; I’m guessing it’s because everyone knows it’s simply conversation bait. The ‘asker’ (admin) isn’t asking questions that they really want to know the answers to.

Currently, when I post, I try to include some personal information; either an anecdote in a lesson I learned, what I’m working on in my business (it’s a biz related community), or something else where I’m included personally. Not to make it about ME, but so it’s relatable. Then, I invite others to comment.

I know there are articles here in FeverBee about onboarding. Is there a top 3 you’d recommend (@richard_millington and @HAWK)?

Are there others here who have experienced things that work well to spark interaction/trust/camaraderie?

(Sarah Hawk) #11

That’s an interesting perspective. In some cases it’s true, but not always. I think the key here is a more structured approach like the one I mentioned above. Ask your founding group what their challenges, passions or strengths are, and get them to ask the questions. That spreads the load and makes it more genuine.

If you take it back to science and look at the motivations of your members, what are they joining for?

If it’s connectedness and networking then you could try introducing people with commonality so that they form connections. I do that here via private message, and stay in the thread (although I don’t add to it unless asked). If someone raises an interesting question I ask them if they’ll take it public.

If they’re joining for recognition or power, you could research them, find something that they’re passionate about or have expert knowledge in, and ask them to create content or start a discussion around that. They’ll scramble to come back and talk about themselves/their passion if people are responding to it.

(Dave Charbonneau) #12

Early engagement, helping them see value in the group (in this group, I would like members to feel more productive by being there, explore/discover meaning in their business endeavors, give and receive support).

(Dave Charbonneau) #13

This is tuff to reply on my mobile. Thanks for the other insights as well. I think my video cast appeals to recognition, so I can continue that inside the community (some will come naturally as each episode is released in the comm before it is released anywhere else).

And the connections is great, too. I can also ask opinions on certain topics when applicable to a person’s expertise.

Thank @HAWK ,

(Sarah Hawk) #14

I think you might find this article helpful. It offers some specific tactics to encourage participation, based on individual motivations.

(Nick Emmett) #15

What a great, great thread @HAWK - thanks for starting it and sharing your experience. There’s things in here that we can ALL take away, even those that have already launched but are maybe struggling in some areas or need some inspiration in moving forwards.

(Sarah Hawk) #16

I think another thing to remember is that all communities are different and some of the things that work really well for me at UXMastery don’t work well here at all, and vice versa.

That said, the strategies are the same (hypothesize, test, analyse the data, refine) – it’s the tactical responses that differ.

(Anton) #17

You can always find a smaller niche inside a bigger one. Then another even smaller one in it. And so on.


Agriculture and Rural -> Animal keeping -> Goat keeping -> Goats for milk / Goats for meat -> Veterinary for goat keepers.

The furter you get, the smaller the community is, but the more targeted it is.

How do you choose where to stop at narrowing the audience?

(Sarah Hawk) #18

Good question. I’d always recommend that people choose a very narrow focus when conceptualising, but unless growth plateaus and you reach mitosis there shouldn’t be a need to reconceptualise.

(Nikoletta Harrold) #19

CMGR self-care question. We have been ramping up to our internal launch for months now and I feel like we have covered every single piece of action, yet I keep finding small UX, UI issues and bugs and now I feel like I am doing a half assed job. How do you get over the launch jitters for handing your baby for the first time over to public inspection?

(Sarah Hawk) #20

You’re not.

I know exactly how this feels. You pour your heart and soul into something for such a long time and you worry that you’ve lost perspective.

I have a few tips.

  • Don’t be afraid to pull pin if you’re not ready. We’ve pulled back a launch just hours beforehand and taken an extra week because I wasn’t confident that we were ready.
  • Don’t make a huge song and dance before launch. Soft launch it before doing any formal communication. That way, if something doesn’t work properly (or how you were expecting) you don’t have to send out a massive communication reneging on anything.
  • Ignore naysayers. There will always be negative people but you can put them in their place by pointing out that you’re always keen on feedback, but unless it’s constructive, then it’s just criticism.

I really like some of the tips shared here, esp the last one.

But mostly, be proud – you’ve worked your ass off for this.