My previous blog post talked about the importance of including Beta members in the creation of an online community and I received a number of questions and comments about how to do so. Beta groups are very important to the early days of an online community and their ideas, needs and feedback is a critical stage in getting the community right. There are a number of steps to beta group involvement –
Needs analysis: First conduct a suite of qualitative interviews that focus on the prospective members’ needs. Look for why they would need an online community among the professional group. What are the business processes that the community would support or make more agile through online collaboration and knowledge share? This will help you create a straw-model for the community features and functions so you can compare what you thought members would want with what they really desire.
Survey research: Querying prospective members through survey research is a common next step. By doing a survey with the professional group you hope to attract and engage in your online community, you can surface competitors, the technical sophistication of the group and what tools they are familiar with, barriers to use and anticipated benefits. Here is an example: Networks for Counsel Study (done to pre-vet the Martindale-Hubbell Connected community in 2008 and is currently being launched again making it an annual survey).
Beta launch program: After the community has been built technically, and is being populated with content from your company, harness the collective wisdom and contributions of interested early members. They can be early adopters, and gain access to the community before it is open to the public or invited group and can create profiles, link to other members, and contribute content and discussion posts. They also can serve to identify usability issues and problems before the gates swing wide open. This way, when the community is launched there is some life within. The analogy I like to use to explain this stage is the Steve Martin movie – The Lonely Guy.
Steve Martin wants people to come to his parties but no one ever does. So, he gets a bunch of movie cutouts and places them in the windows, turns the music up loud and behaves in an animated fashion. People walking by believe there is a great party going on and finally people do come to the event.
Every single successful community starts with only a few members. There are great rewards for all when you engage people before success and activity happens. Part of the skill is in creating interaction early on so there is something for newcomers to do and someone for new members to engage with. The Beta member group is the lifeblood of any new community as they provide context, content and can often offer valuable insight and guidance to the community management through the vital early stages.Thank you for reading Building Online Communities for Business by Leader Networks. We are a research and strategy consulting company that helps organizations succeed in social business and B2B online community building.