The Community Manager’s Checklist for a Smooth Product Launch

The 5 Essential Steps Community Managers Should Follow  

Demoing the Shelby.tv app at VidCon ‘13

I’m a lucky guy. I’ve gotten a front row seat at some of the biggest product and app launches across the web. Whether it was rolling out FashionTV’s YouTube network (jam packed with 50,000 videos), its redesigned website or overseeing digital content during two of Waze’s major version updates — I’ve been able to learn the process of announcing and releasing a mass consumer product inside and out.

Last week, the launch time adrenaline came back as we released our iPhone app at Shelby.TV. The day was as an exciting one, one which went smoothly thanks to an amazing team and some tips and rules I’ve adopted along the way.

What I’ve Learned Along The Way

Both in my previous roles, and now at Shelby.TV, I’ve felt the enormous pressure that comes with being a Community Manager.

So many Community Managers will tell you the job is no walk in the park. To do my job well, I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way) how to to strike the delicate balance of serving both the needs of my boss’ and colleagues as well as those of the community of users I’ve managed. We, as CMs, represent the voice of our users inside our organizations and that responsibility can not be taken lightly.

Checking out the Shelby.TV app, while still in beta mode, with one of our power users

But like I said before, I’m lucky. I’m lucky to have been part of some successful launches and to hone my craft in order to develop, among other things, what I believe to be the Community Manager’s essential rules for any product launch.

The Community Manager’s Checklist for a Smooth Product Launch

  1. Update your art and messaging on all social media platforms

When it comes time to launch a new product, you must take inventory of every single social network your brand has a presence on and make sure that all image assets and copy are up-to-date. Even if you’re not posting to these platforms regularly, its your job to make sure your company’s key messaging and art is updated in every corner of the interwebs come launch time.

This can be tough to execute on the fly. The biggest social networks are notorious for altering their image requirements and your designer will need ample time to create fresh image assets for the myriad networks you may or may not be on top of. (Note: YouTube’s new “channel” layout is particularly tricky).

Once your art and copy is ready to go, I’d advise posting your launch announcement to all-said networks, as well. Even if you don’t post to platforms such as LinkedIn or Instagram regularly, a new product launch merits a full-court update and if you don’t want to push the update manually (which I personally prefer) — HootSuite and Buffer are excellent tools to schedule and push your announcement automatically.

2. Publish a comprehensive blog post with all the information that your users, journalists and other interested parties need

It used to be that when a company had an announcement to make, the PR rep would draft a dry-yet-indispensable press release that would serve as your primary messaging document for journalists, and therefore, the outside world.

The Internet broke down the walls of traditional public relations long ago — and while you’ll likely still have a press release ready — the majority of new eyeballs will instinctively flock to your blog to read about what’s new come launch time.

As such, your blog should feature a post on your product’s announcement that is both comprehensive and easy to read. To educate people who may have never heard of your product before, you will need to draft something far more explanatory then you’re used to, while still keeping in your blog’s quirky tone.

Its important to remember that if your product really takes off, chances are the bigger publications (if you’re in tech: TechCrunch, Mashable, and more) will be linking to your blog post. Make sure you have everything you want in there before they do.

3. Respond to any and all Tweets, comments or emails in *real time*

Your speed and responsiveness in communicating with the outside world will never be more important than on the day of your product launch. You will be on the digital front lines and you won’t have a moment to spare. That means every Tweet, email, comment or question related to your product needs to be answered in real time.

Keeping on top of everything 24/7 can be made easier thanks to strong mobile apps (while many love HootSuite, Twitter’s official app and the Facebook Pages app can do the job too), but the main point is that you need to prioritize responsiveness above all else on the day of launch.

Whether its answering questions from new users, keeping your existing community engaged or acknowledging miscellaneous displays of affection — your speed and accuracy (as it pertains to potential bugs, questions on features, or otherwise) will mean the difference between growing your community or remaining stagnant.

4. Embed yourself in all areas of your company so you are functionally able to answer any and all questions

If you’re good at your job, you already have a direct line to your Product, R&D, QA and other key teams. If you’re at a small startup, this probably also extends to your CEO and CTO.

These relationships, and the seamless communication you’ve built, will never be tested more than on launch day. Make sure you know what every single team is up to in the week leading up to launch. Understand what their challenges are as it pertains to the product and try to learn how to anticipate any potential bugs.

You should already know your product inside and out by the time you launch, so that you can ably field questions about features or availability. But what you need to be ready for are the things you can’t know, such as unplanned bugs and breakdowns or anything else that can spark negative sentiment. Make sure you’re prepared for situations where you need to distill the things your developers tell you into human-speak in a matter of minutes.

5. Report back to your team

As soon as the chaos dies down, make sure you give your team a snapshot of exactly how things are looking out in the Twitterverse, across your social media platforms and any other communication channels you’ve been managing. Yes, you’ll need to keep your Product and R&D teams updated with outstanding feature requests and technical issues — but what the entire company should also see is a broad selection of Tweets and other comments being shared on the web.

It’ll feel good to recap all the hard work you’ve put in by putting together a “digest” to review what people have said. But the best part will be giving the many stakeholders in your company, many of whom were far too heads down writing code or coordinating other tasks to tune in to what was happening online, a gratifying chance to see exactly how the rest of the world received the fruits of their labor.