It’s a lot easier to launch a new community if you have a lot of customers or thousands of names on your mailing list.
If you don’t, you’ve got a few approaches you can take:
Option 1: Grow an Existing Audience, Then Launch
Most common for founder-created communities is to build a large number of existing contacts in the 3 to 6 months before launching the community. Get them to engage in events, through other groups, and steadily grow from there. Most of the communities you see followed this approach (albeit unintentionally).
Option 2: Pay for Advertising
If you don’t have an existing audience, you can pay for advertising.
Social ads can work well here. Each new member will cost about $5 – $10. Invest a few thousand dollars and you will get 300 to 600 registered members.
Assume you can keep 10% of them engaged, and you have your 30 to 60 founding members to get started. Keep investing a few thousand a month and you will start to see steady growth.
It’s not cheap for many, but it can work out cheaper than spending months building your own audience (your time costs money too). It can also be a lot quicker.
Option 3: Start A Tiny Group and Grow Steadily
Create a group on Facebook, Twitter (hashtag) or another channel that people already use and use built-in network effects to attract members. You can test different concepts and ideas, then grow steadily. Only launch your community on these groups. Once you have some engagement you want to move across to something you control. Remember at any time these platforms can seize control of your platform, reduce your reach, or remove it entirely without warning.
Option 4: Create Something With Viral Power
My favourite (and least used) option. Create a community so remarkable and different that people can’t help but talk about it. Do what Kaggle did for data scientists and Figure1 for doctors. A simple forum probably won’t cut it. Target 1% of your prospective audience who are ridiculously excited or challenged by an aspect of the topic. Then overwhelmingly cater towards it.
Feel free to have crazy rules that no-one else would dare to use. Perhaps ban unverified opinions, force members to mentor at least one other, or perhaps ban questions entirely and force people to share what they’re up to in some other medium. There are endless possibilities.
Select whichever approach makes the best sense to you.
Of course, if you want to grow really fast…select all four.