When you start a community you usually start from one of these two starting positions:
Build a community from scratch
Transfer an existing offline community to an online platform
In both cases, it can be very helpful to start with a so-called ‘beta community’. You can see this as a testing phase before you launch your community and open it up to a wider public. For this phase, we advise you to invite a small group of users (10-25 max) to get your community up and running.
Why should you run a beta community?
You probably have a lot of ideas on how to set up your community for success. But there’s only one way to be sure if your ideas will work or fall flat: test! A beta community helps you try out your content and management strategy on a real live audience to see how they respond. The other benefit is that, once your community is launched for a wider audience, you’ll already have a lot of content and conversations on the platform. You’ll have standards in place on how to start topics, launch new groups and events, and some ‘old guard’ people on your team that can show newcomers the ropes.
Although you could (and will continue to) test your strategies in front of a huge audience, trying out a number of things for a month or two for a smaller (trusted) audience is a lot more manageable than trying to steer things in the right directions if you have hundreds of eyeballs watching your every move.
What should a Community Manager focus on a beta launch?
Invite a handful of members (10-25) and give them a personal welcome. You can do this by meeting them ‘face-to-face’ or sending them a personal message to explain why you’ve started this community, why you’ve invited them to join, and how they can join.
Set up reports for yourself so you can keep track of all your community activities in the beta period. This will help you figure out what makes your community tick and will also give other stakeholders insights on why you’ve made certain decisions in the beta period. You can use these reports to set up KPIs for your community once it goes public to continue gaining important insights on how to adjust your strategy.
Check the members’ individual activity regularly. Are they responsive? What are they responding to? How are they responding? And if not: find out why! A lot of community managers dismiss inactive users, but it’s important to know why someone isn’t engaging in your community. A few small adjustments might make them more comfortable to become active members, or they might like the community but prefer to lurk instead.
Post weekly polls to ask your beta group to review the content you’ve posted in your community. Keep track of how many people commented and liked your posts to check if your engagement figures tally up to the feedback you’re getting from these polls.
Be sure to schedule individual and group sessions with your beta community to get the feedback you need to make your community a success.
Use your beta community to test what groups you need to create to structure your community. You may have some preconceived notions about which groups you will need, this could be location or interest-based for example. The best way to test this is to see which groups form naturally in your beta community or by asking your beta community for input on which groups to set up in your weekly polls. This way, once your community goes live, you’ll have a clear structure for new community members to explore and add on to. Furthermore, at the time of writing any user can start a new group on your Open Social platform. Running a beta community and setting up some pre-existing groups before you start to invite the masses will prevent people from starting too many groups themselves.