How to build your startup’s community: Pre-launch

     

Published on September 18, 2013
in Knowledge, Marketing & Social Media by

build-community

If you’re starting a company, you probably already know how important community is for your business’ success. This is especially true during your early stages; by forming a community of early adopters, you can forge meaningful connections and recruit dedicated users, while creating opportunities to harness feedback for product improvements.

But you don’t have many users yet, or maybe none at all. You’re still pre-launch after all. What can you do to move your community forward today?

There are a variety of ways to approach this challenge, but a good starting point is to identify where community fits into your team — who’ll be responsible for managing this community? Some startups bring on community managers as their first non-product hire. In other cases, the CEO owns this role pre-launch.

When choosing the owner of a community, keep its function in perspective. For example, within a startup, a community should:

  • Connect users to one another
  • Make them happy
  • Make them stay (retention)

The most effective way to meet these goals while growing and maintaining a passionate community is to bridge the gap between users and your product team by focusing on five key tasks:

1. Build relationships within your target market

Figure out who and where your users are, and go hang out there. Meetups, forums, social media, classes, you name it. Go there, contribute, and then start nudging the conversation in your direction. But most importantly, listen. Find out what motivates folks in your target market and learn where their pain points lie. Nothing, not even scale, replaces real relationships.

2. Learn your users’ names

Here is your chance to humanize your company and convert users into friends. Take them to coffee. Make sure they have your email and phone number. Share what you’re working on. Keep them updated on your progress. On a personal level, find out how your product solves their needs. Your product’s early users and beta testers will be your most valuable community members until you reach product/market fit.

3. Connect community members to each other, early and often

Your early users are invested in the success of your product. This is a mutual interest they all share and it’s the perfect reason to get them talking to each other. Invite them over for a happy hour and introduce them. Create a Google or Facebook group for them to engage with one another. Invite them to a Google Hangout and share your roadmap.

4. Get product feedback

Once your product is ready to use, find out what your users think of it. Was this the solution they expected? Is your product easy to use? This particular step is a smart way for your UX designer and/or product manager (if you have one!) to observe how users interact with your service — this is important for step five!

5. Build a support resource and determine a support process

Which questions have you heard over and over again? These are your FAQs. Set these up in an easy to use platform that can be found on your website or app (usually linked under “settings”) — I recommend Zendesk. Don’t forget to brand your support platform.

Most importantly, figure out who (and when) support questions will be answered. In my experience, the most successful startups have full-team support from CEOs to devs. While your community manager can help summarize learnings and distribute tickets, evenly spread support processes keep everyone user-focused.

Now, you’re ready to launch! Just kidding. You still have a million other things to do, such as writing copy for your sign up emails and lining up your PR hits — oh, and then hockey sticking and scaling your team.

While your startup is about to shoot up into fame, the road to success is rocky and varied. Investing in community building early on means you’ll have loyal fans that stick with you through it all, from launch to IPO.

  • Ramy Nagy

    Great one Sarah. It’s interesting reading this as I draft my first email to the closest friends introducing them to OpenTalks for the pre-launch sign-up. Very helpful. Now here you go http://opentalks.is — consider yourself invited : )

    • http://harrisonweber.com/ Harrison Weber

      Love the “I’m Curious” button

      • Ramy Nagy

        Thanks Harrison!

    • Sarah Judd Welch

      Thanks Ramy! I’m so glad that it was helpful :)

    • Mike D

      How effective was that email ?. I’m doing the same for GridCrowd http://www.md85g.com/crowd and got responses, but they didnt try the product or download it (I can see this). Im thinking of using a great Google product, Boomerang, it keeps sending the emails until their is a connect. still to do…

  • http://djksar.wordpress.com djksar

    great post. next post should be tips on how to build your personal social brand. ping me if you need help.

    • http://harrisonweber.com/ Harrison Weber

      Emailed you!

      • http://djksar.wordpress.com djksar

        hey Harrison. love to write a post. Will start drafting it this week for launch next week. did you get my email?

  • zipsite

    Contrib is doing all this and you could check it out if you have some time. Contrib.com. Its also infused with gamification badges and community specific to each brand.

  • mitcoivanov

    Thanks Sarah, useful and valuable!

    I’d like to also know your opinion about building a community in a heavy industry sectors like food processing. I know there are many similarities, but I believe there’s also some specifics. If you are not aware, maybe you can introduce me to someone with such kind of experience.