5 Recommendations for Launching a New Learning Community
When launching a new learning community, you’ll find that people are attracted to the learning content you provide. That’s what they signed up for. However, they stick around and stay engaged because of the community you built around it. You should see the community as the glue that keeps them engaged and coming back for more.
What I have found is that a good community can keep people around for months and years. The community keeps them around well beyond when they have learned as much as they can from your content.
That said, starting a community from scratch is no walk in the park. You have a lot of decisions to make:
- You have to select a platform for your community.
- You have to give members a reason to participate.
- You have to keep it from becoming empty (crickets).
Getting your community started right is super important for it to become successful long-term. Here are five recommendations for getting started with your membership community:
Recommendation #1 – Select the Right Discussion Platform
A big question you have to address right away is what platform will you use. A critical choice you will have to make is whether to use a Facebook group or your own online forum.
Facebook is the choice for a lot of course builders. It’s easy to configure and many of your learners are active on it. It supports whichever device your members use. Now while a Facebook group is a good option, there are a good number of reasons to build your own.
There are some good forum / online discussion platforms to consider. Among them are bbPress, BuddyPress, wpForo Forum and others. Some are easy to use and provide simple features. Others are more full featured and may take more effort to implement. Platforms like these are ones you should consider to provide the best forum/discussion experience. And unlike a Facebook forum, this also enables you to keep control and ownership of the discussion content.
Recommendation #2 – Prime Your Group with Real Users
I’m a big proponent of beta testing any learning or membership program you offer. Before launching your program, you start by enrolling a small group of members at a reduced rate. This enables you to:
- confirm your program sells;
- collect valuable feedback from an initial set of “real” users; and
- get testimonials which are valuable social proof.
An additional benefit is this enables you to create an initial group of forum members.
If you run your beta program right, these initial members can become your biggest fans. They can become advocates or mavens who actively participate in your forum so when you open it up to new members there are already some active discussion underway.
If you're not running a beta program, you can still go out and recruit an initial set of community member. Put your network and client list to use and recruit them so you have potential activity as soon as you launch your program.
Recommendation #3 – KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid)
You might be tempted to start your membership forum with a large numbers of sections. My recommendation is to start small. Start with an initial set of 5 to 10 topics max. Pick from an initial set of topics that are most likely to interest your members.
Just like it’s important to select a niche for your business, select the niche topics that you believe would most attract your members. I run a wine blog and I could organize a forum around types of wine like red, white or rose wines. That could work, but it’s a little boring. Suppose I go a little more edgy with topics like “Wines Women Like Most” or “Wines Most Liked by Newbie Wine Drinkers.” Pick a set of topics that will push people’s buttons. Get people exciting about participating.
And don’t shy away from a little controversy. Keep things simple, but spice it up and have fun.
Recommendation #4 – Become a Very Active Participate Yourself
You should become the top power user in your forum. Anyone participating in your forum should wonder, “This person seems important based on how active they are.” If they don’t quickly figure out you’re the person running things, you aren’t working hard enough.
Think to yourself, “If I’m not aren’t active, why should anyone else be?”
This doesn’t mean you have to be in there 24 hours a day, but you should routinely check the forum and participate. Start new topics. Chip in a few times a day. Ask questions. Respond.
This will go a long way in getting you forum going.
Recommendation #5 – Get Real With Your Expecations
There’s that old saying, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” A forum isn’t something you build overnight. It takes time and effort.
I’ve run into people that consider themselves failures. When you talk to them, they tell you, “Only 10 to 15 people ever post.” In a group of 100 to 200 members, that’s not too bad.
A lot of your members will be creepers. They’ll read a lot of what’s there. You won’t be able to measure this, but they are taking it all in passively.
On the other extreme, you’ll have your power users, low in number, who are all over it. They ask questions, respond to anyone asking questions and are very engaged.
Then you’ll have the group of casual participants that comment every once in a while.
That’s success in any forum so keep your expectations realistic.
I hope this helps as you start your learning program. Let me know what you have tried that works well for you.