Every few months a prospective client, working on a new community, will invite us to submit a proposal, see the cost, and reply along the lines of:
“Thanks, we’re going to see how it goes and we’ll let you know if we need your help”
Which makes perfect sense if you feel you can make it work without help.
But looking at the list many months (and years) later, just 1 of the many dozens has succeeded going it alone. This might be the Dunning-Kruger effect. No-one realizes how difficult building a community can be until you’ve been through the wringer a few times.
Many organizations make the same mistakes without realizing they’ve been encountered many times before. These include:
- Not testing different messaging appeals in small groups first and refining a powerful community concept.
- Not building strong relationships with prospective customers prior to the launch of the group.
- Selecting community platforms which integrate badly with current systems.
- Spending too little time on technical details (or trusting vendors/implementing partners will deliver on sales promises). Related, failing to set-up the features or functionality of the platform properly (notably SSO).
- (Massively) overpaying for a community platform.
- Spending too little time gaining internal support for the project (notably in legal/PR for what you can/can’t say within the group).
- Promising too much to gain support and later struggling to satisfy expectations.
- Neglecting existing groups or top members who already feel a sense of ownership over engagement platforms.
- Failing to onboard newcomers effectively.
- Hiring a community manager who has never built a branded community from scratch.
- Sending out mass emails to members announcing the community.
- Trying to do far too many features at once (gamification, ideation, top contributor programs etc…)
All the above is relatively easy to overcome if you know about them in advance. We’ve consistently chopped 3 to 6 months off development time and time to critical mass just by addressing issues much earlier in the community lifecycle. When you factor in platform fees and staff costs, this usually means a saving in the six-figures.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try doing it yourself. Consultants who have been through this process many times aren’t cheap. Many organizations manage to do it alone and succeed.
But be aware it’s very difficult to spend your budget, lose organizational support, and squander the attention of your audience and still succeed. Getting any of these back is extremely hard.
So if you do go for it alone, make sure you start small. Run a small pilot on a cheap platform and learn quickly. See if you can drive and sustain engagement. If you can, gradually spend more time on it. If you can’t, get help.
And make sure people and colleagues know it’s a trial program.