An Unfiltered Look at How to Launch a New Community

For more community building lessons, visit CMX.

Photo by Kelli Tungay on Unsplash

Our team at CMX is launching a new community.

Community is our life. We’ve built community with companies like Udemy, Chegg, Facebook, Moz, Google, Zaarly and have trained and supported over 6,000 community professionals over the last three years.

This time, we decided to bring you with us on our journey of mapping out our strategy, testing our assumptions and launching what will hopefully be a thriving community. It won’t be all puppys and rainbows. We will be wrong. We will fail. We will learn. And we will share it all with you.

Welcome to post number one.

The first step in launching a new community is to define your assumptions and put together your plan. To do this, we used our Community Canvas, a framework we use with our clients and students as step one when putting together a community strategy. It’s like a business model canvas, but for your community.

It’s broken down into 9 steps.

Here’s how we mapped our strategy to the canvas.

1. Business Alignment

The most important step in launching a community is defining exactly what the value is to your organization. This way, you can justify the investment in the community, measure the impact, and increase budget and resources over time as you scale it up.

If you don’t know the value of your community, don’t build your community until you figure it out.

For us, this was pretty clear. We are shifting our entire business model to be community centric. That means our product IS the community. Our members will pay for access to a private, curated community in addition to a range of other benefits.

Our goal is to get to 250 members by the end of the year. This will validate to us that we can build a business model around this product offering. Then we want to get to 5,000 members in the next 12 months.

2. Member Alignment

We already know a lot about our members, but we know we’ll have to learn more about how this specific program can best serve them.

We put together two member personas (we’ll cover this topic in another post), one for “basic members” and one for “premium members”. The idea is that we can offer an affordable option to our members and a more premium option for those with budget, who are looking for more support.

One really interesting learning about our members… almost all of them have a hard time getting budget for professional development. The ones who do get funding for things like training and memberships usually have to go above and beyond to get approval. This is probably because community as an industry is still learning how to communicate its value, and until it does, it isn’t getting much budget. So this guided us in how we’re thinking about the membership pricing. We want it to do be low enough that a community professional wouldn’t think twice about using their own personal funds to make an investment in their personal growth and career.

Here’s a screen shot from our doc mapping out some of the questions we wanted to get answers to:

We conducted surveys and interviews to find the answers. This also ultimately led us to launch a “founding members” group to validate demand, and bring together “bought in” members to help us shape what this membership will ultimately provide.

More on our personas, research processes and launching founding member programs in future posts in this series (subscribe).

3. Positioning

This is where you define your community’s vision and values. You’re creating the foundation of what will eventually be your community purpose and culture. It’s your big “why”.

Since we decided to start off by launching a “Founding Members” group (in a private Facebook group), we developed our vision, mission and values for that group specifically.

4. Experience

Experience is where you map out what your members will do/feel/see in your community.

This was a big unknown for us. We already offer a free community called CMX Hub on Facebook, with over 6,000 members and an incredible culture, it would be hard to top. We began to put together our ideas for what this membership could provide.

Roughly, we think the experience will include a combination of an online community, a resource hub, accountability and offline events.

Since CMX publishes an annual guide to community platforms, we’re very familiar with what’s out there. We started to put together our thoughts about what platforms we could start with. Personally, I’m an advocate of starting SUPER simple.

Our first stab mapping out the MVP of our community.

Our team put together some options, pulling in some of the insight we had so far from the community. The simplest options to start with were Wordpress, Facebook groups, or Slack. Currently, we’re still deciding where to start. Long term, we know we’ll end up on an owned platform. But we don’t want to invest into a lot of tech until we know exactly what we need, so starting simple with one of those three tools is probably how we’ll go.

The other big thing we have to figure out is pricing. We still haven’t finalized pricing. Again, our goal is to make it affordable at the basic level, and offer additional benefits and services for those with larger budgets. This is something we’re going to research and test heavily even after we launch.

Once we make decisions about exactly what we’re going to provide, we’re going to map out our “community member journey” so that we can be thoughtful about our member’s experience every step of the way. We’ll cover Community Member Journeys in another post in this series (subscribe).

5. Content and Programming

In the content section, you plan out what you, the organizer, will create for your community.

For us, this falls into a few buckets. Since this is a brand new community, we first used this space to map out our go-to market strategy.

Dates/numbers blacked out as we’re still finalizing these details.

On top of the info in that image, we mapped out the channels we’d use to market the program, the companies that we wanted to ensure are part of the program, and the experience that people who sign up on our lead form will have as we open up applications and start admitting members.

Note the part that says “decide if we will cut or alter the program based on success metrics”. This is SUPER important and not enough community pros or businesses do this. They launch something without defining what success looks like, and they have no way of knowing whether or not it’s working. We’re getting really clear about our metrics so when we have have check in points, we can clearly say “yes this is working” or “no this isn’t working and we should adapt”. What we’re launching is just our first experiment, and we will always be adapting to improve the experience for our members, and ensure that we’re building a sustainable business.

We also brainstormed what content we’d provide to our members in the community once it launches. We broke it down into three buckets: Onboard, Engage, and Empower

Our initial brainstorm on content we’d create for members.

At this point, it’s still rough as we’re collecting feedback from the community. We know it will include things like:

  • regular expert interviews via video, AMA, calls
  • some sort of accountability tools where members can share goals and the community helps them achieve those goals/keep them accountable
  • a resource hub with CMX models, frameworks, research, content, etc

We’ll get more definition on this over the next couple weeks, and share what we come up with in a post about content planning.

6. Measurement

This is where you map out the metrics that you’ll track. At CMX, we teach companies to break down their measurement into three buckets:

  • content and programming
  • community engagement
  • business impact

At this point, we don’t know exactly what the content and programming will be so we can’t define metrics yet. The metrics we are committing to are:

Prelaunch: Get 500 emails signed up before applications open

Postlaunch:

  • Onboard 250 members by the end of the year
  • Ensure every question in the community has at least 3 responses within 24 hours
  • Member success metric (will be defined based on what members define as success from their membership) — right now, we believe those things will be: community growth, career growth, and ROI of community. We will need to validate.
  • Over time, we will look at churn as a big metric, as retention is CRITICAL for all membership businesses

7. Team

This is where you define who will be responsible for the community. We divided up responsibilities amongst myself, our COO Carrie Jones, and our Series Coordinator, Katie McCauley. Erica McGillivray, our CMX Summit organizer gets a pass since our big annual conference is coming up in a month (you should come).

I own the go to market strategy. Carrie and Katie are running point on research and product.

Once we launch the community, we will be defining roles to focus on the only two things that matter:

  1. Curating amazing members
  2. Making our members successful AF

We’ll also be growing the team once the program is running and we start expanding our programming.

8. Communications

This is where you define what information/data is needed by different members of the team, and how it will be communicated. This also covers how you communicate changes to your community.

Our team is all hands on deck, so we check in on our metrics every single day and we’re communicating with our founding members every single day, collecting their feedback and sharing our progress.

The data we’re looking at now is email signups:

Daily tracker of email signups

I post these results in our team’s slack and we all work to drive emails.

When we launch applications, that will be our data point to report on.

When we launch the membership, we will report on sales and community engagement.

Like I mentioned, we also needed to map out how to communicate this change to our community. This whole initiative is a big shift for our community. We spent a lot of time talking to our members and advocates personally first. Then we posted in the group about the shift. And finally we shared it on Medium.

Our first announcement to the community after talking to lots of members individually.

That’s how I recommend going about making changes in your community and company. Start small and personal, and make the change more public over time. Get the buy in of the core first.

9. Budget

The fun part where you get to figure out what your budget is for your community. We’re planning to keep the first version of this program really lean, leveraging tools we already pay for like Zoom for calls, DropBox for filesharing, and one of those free tools for the community. The biggest expense is our time. Three full time staff on this project won’t be cheap, so we have a sense of urgency to get this program up and running, and we will grow our investment in the program over time.


So there you have it… that’s the plan we put together to get this community off the ground. Now it’s all about constantly testing our assumptions through research, and by actually launching the thing to see how members respond.

Over the next couple weeks, we’ll be sharing a whole lot more and digging deeper into all the topics discussed here. We’ll keep you updated with what we’re learning AS we’re learning it.

For more community building lessons, visit CMX.