You’ve got a great idea for a new social network. But where do you start? How can you find time in your crazy schedule to build and grow your community? Building a vibrant social network doesn’t need to be an all-consuming quest, but it does require persistent attention and nurturing over time. Creating a launch plan can help break the effort into a series of small steps while keeping you on track to building a thriving community.
Sequencing is important. Before you invite your entire contact list, make sure you are ready with a refined design and compelling content. Maximize the chance that everyone you invite will join and become an engaged member.
The following is meant to be a guide. For each step, create specific plans that make sense for your network and your schedule. Adjust the times to fit your pace. If you create a realistic, manageable plan, you’ll be more likely to follow it and achieve all of your objectives. Good luck!
1. Make a list!
- Define your concept and objectives: Can you describe in one or two sentences what your network will be all about? What are your objectives for your new network? Maybe you’re already ready for a mission statement. Writing these down will help you stay laser-focused.
- What’s your hook? Why should someone join and participate on your new network? What’s in it for them?
- Craft a few calls to action: What are the first two or three specific things you want members to do when they join?
2. Do your marketing homework
- Check out the competition: Are there other, active social networks with a similar concept? How do they promote themselves? Where do they show up in Google search?
- Build your presence on other platforms: Think about where prospective members will be: Facebook? Twitter? Google+? MySpace? Niche communities? Offline organizations? Join up. Participate. What’s missing from these spaces that you can provide?
- Identify influencers: Who are the most active bloggers and forum participants in your topic? Reach out to them. Ask for their advice. Politely offer to repost their content on your network with links back to their site — in return for doing the same once you launch.
- Research upcoming events: conferences, trade shows, concerts, rallies, etc. Plan out which make sense to attend. Create business cards, postcards or flyers to hand out at these events.
3. Set up your network
- Specify Network Details: Don’t forget to include keywords to help you get found on Google!
- Fire up the Ning Design Studio: Not sure about your many layout choices? Start with a 2-column design that puts the Activity Feed center stage. Some of the most active networks take this approach. Remember: You can change all of this later.
- Turn on 4-6 features: Use the Features Layout and Tab Manager to emphasize features critical for your Main Page. Are the two or three specific things you want new members to do obvious to visitors to your Main Page?
- Make sure it’s social: Set up Facebook and Twitter integration. Enable Social Sign-On. Turn on Network Like, Facebook Like and Google+ buttons. If your network is public, these may be a huge help for growing quickly. After all, it’s a social network.
4. Seed your first content
- Welcome, stranger! Add a “Welcome Box” to your Main Page describing your hook and telling new members what to do first. You may also want to add a “Get Started” or “About Us” page.
- Seed some content: Post a blog describing your hook to your first members. Ask for their input. Post two or three provocative discussion topics related to your hook to get the conversation going. Add three to five interesting photos or videos related to your hook.
- Seed a few members: Use a different email address to sign up as a member on your network. Use that account to post some of your initial content. This will create the feeling of a richer environment for your first members. It will also be a great way for you to test the member experience on your network.
5. Invite 5-10 friends
- Your beta launch: Many successful networks invite a small group of friends or collaborators one to two weeks before they publicly launch. Invite people who are likely to help out.
- Give them instructions: Have these beta testers set up and add a photo to their profile. Ask them to perform the two or three things you expect of new members (e.g., add three to five photos). Encourage them to comment on your initial discussions or blog posts.
- Ask for feedback: This is the best group and the best time to lay it all out there. What works? What’s missing?
- Thank them for their time! Consider making these initial collaborators your “Charter Members” and feature them on a custom page, your member page or your Main Page. You can then continue to ask for their help after the network publicly launches.
6. Launch your network publicly
- Open for business: Your network looks awesome and is starting to hum with activity. You’re ready to make your network public!
- Invitation time: Invite more people from your contact list. Ask your initial charter members to invite four or five of their friends or colleagues. Invite the influencers you identified in your earlier research.
- Start your viral loops: Tell your friends on Facebook and other social platforms – post an update with links to your network. If you have a Facebook Fan Page, add a description and links to your network. Share the most interesting discussions or photos from your network on Facebook and Twitter.
- Offline meetups? Begin distributing business cards or speaking at relevant offline events. If many prospective members live nearby, invite them to an event hosted by you.
7. Create a content schedule
- Keep it fresh: Fresh content helps keep the conversation going and encourages visitors to join. When your new network is small, you may need to contribute frequently. Setting up a regular content schedule can be a huge help.
- Weekly, consistently: Post a new blog, discussion or photos. Repost interesting content you’ve found elsewhere on the Web. Feature interesting content posted by members. Feature one of your top contributors. If you are consistent, members will know to come back each week and check out the new content.
- Encourage content creators: Recruit three or four experts to post weekly blogs or discussions. In return, feature them or let them promote themselves on your network.
- Look ahead on your calendar: As you ramp up, start thinking about opportunities or times you should send Broadcast Messages to wrap up what’s happening from time to time and get members looking forward to what’s coming next.
8. Encourage member engagement
- Welcome the new: Personally welcome each new member by commenting on their profile page or sending a private message. Suggest a couple of easy things they can do to begin participating.
- Bring them back: Send a weekly or bi-weekly Broadcast Message to all members highlighting the best new content added to the network.
- Spotlight top contributers: Feature the best content and members on your Main Page and in Broadcast Messages. Share their content on Facebook and Twitter. It will show you care and excite them to contribute more.
- Participate frequently: Comment on discussions and other content. It will encourage members to contribute and help you create stronger ties with your members.