Planning a Community Is Like Planning a Wedding

I tweeted recently that all of the details of planning an online community reminded me of planning a wedding.  I submitted the tweet at the very moment I felt overwhelmed by the details of coordinating so many moving pieces weeks before launching the community. For the past three months, Dachis Group has worked closely with a community platform provider to design, build, and launch an online community for a client partner.  I am a member of the Dachis Group team managing this project, and I decided to write about my experience.

We spent months conducting research, planning the strategy, establishing the KPIs and measurement plan, creating content and designing the site.  Now that we are weeks away from launch, community planning has suddenly become tracking a growing ‘to do’ list.  Instead of ‘call the caterer, meet with the photographer, email the DJ,’ my list includes ’email Compliance, call Legal, follow-up with IT’ in addition to daily communication with our client partner and platform provider.  The ‘to do’ list scrolls in my head creating what one of my friends referred to as the [wedding] planning head fog.  The stress hits when you realize one incomplete item on the list will throw off the entire schedule.  This is why each time I mark something complete on the list, I feel compelled to do a little dance in my chair.  Each checked item means we are closer to launch.  It’s exciting.

However, it can also be wearisome.  I’ve been exposed the darker side of community planning as well.  A community planner who has invested lots of time and energy into planning the community may also grow easily frustrated and impatient over details.  (‘How did they miss this important request?’)

I confess that I came close to turning into the bridezilla of community management.  This image became the stress-relief joke among the team as we plotted how to get everything approved in time for the targeted launch date.  ‘Did you go bridezilla on them?’ we would ask each other.  When things got particularly tense, there was a strong temptation to ‘go bridezilla.’  But in the end, keeping a cool head prevails and we’re right on track for launch.

To avoid turning into bridezilla before launching an online community, I offer 7 lessons learned from my experience so far.

  1. Meet with Compliance and Legal during the initial planning stages to provide context around the project, give notice about content approvals, find out if training is available (goodwill effort that goes a long way) and if Terms of Service language exists for social media sites
  2. Conduct interviews with other groups inside and outside the organization that interact with your target audience (PR, Customer Service)
  3. Don’t assume that Facebook-like features will be supported by every community platform
  4. Allow for plenty of time to receive approval of a new community manager position and to find the right candidate
  5. Avoid ghost-written blog posts (they are awkward and no one wants to endorse before the community is launched anyway)
  6. Allow at least a week for website quality assurance testing (you may need more time depending on how many people need to be involved and their responsiveness)
  7. Schedule time to pre-seed the community site with user-generated content before launch to kick-start sharing activities

I’m sure I’ll have more to add in the future.  For now, I’d like to know if you have any lessons learned in community planning to add.

Source for bridezilla photo: http://pdbb.wordpress.com/2009/04/08/bridezilla/bridezilla/

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