Getting the First 100 Members Part 1

During my research on various forum platforms I came across a couple of guides (PDF) written by the Vanilla team. First and foremost all credits goto the writers from Vanilla, and I encourage you to check out the PDF files which you can find here. Due to the length of these guides I will split them into two parts.

The most nerve-wracking element of any new community is the idea that once you’ve built it, no one will show up. The internet is full of communities that never really took off, and no one wants their project added to them. How do you guard against it? The key is to create attraction and engagement.

Types of Player Acquisition Strategies

Attraction is the reason that someone first visits your community. It doesn’t matter how great your community looks, and how great your features are, if no one ever sees them. The type of community that you want to run will make all the difference in terms of how you engage users.There are a lot of tried and tested strategies that successful communities have used to attract visitors. These are rarely exclusive, and many communities will use a combination of methods to attract the highest possible user base.

Content Acquisition

Some communities use front page content to draw readers into their community. This content then links to the community and invites comments which requires they sign up. Once users are signed up, the process of engagement takes over. Examples of communities that use this approach include

  • Penny Arcade, which uses its hugely popular comic to attract people into its community to comment on the content, discuss forthcoming events and integrate into the larger lifestyle community. As their success grew, they began hosting massive gaming conventions that further solidified their community; entitled Penny Arcade Expo (PAX East, West, and most recently South).
  • T-Nation posts instructional articles on bodybuilding to attract users into its forum community, where they can swap advice and experiences. T-Nation then uses this community to advertise their range of bodybuilding supplements.

Expertise Acquisition

These communities attract users who are performing searches for specific queries and seeking advice. They take advantage of excellent SEO (search engine optimization) by community forums to act as a growing knowledge base. Users then join in the community with their own comments,questions and advice.

Examples include:

  • TheBump, a maternity and childcare community with an enormous user base that provides support to each other
  • Reddit communities often work this way. Their enthusiast sub-communities attract questions from new users, and more experienced users are happy to lend their expertise to build their reputation in the community. This is especially true in gaming communities, where professional developers and teams spend just as much time providing feedback and helping others as promoting their own work.

Support Acquisition

These communities are based around products (or services), and they attract users through links from product support pages. These can cross over to a certain degree with expertise communities as the community grows, and the volume of answered questions allows the community to work as a knowledge base. Many brands are integrating this kind of support community, but some examples you might want to
check out include:

  • Agilebits, developers of the 1password security software.
  • The Elder Scrolls Online is a popular game that uses a community forum to provide effective support for a large user base.
  • Mobafire, a massive community based around strategies and tactics for League of Legends.

The Roadmap to Getting Your First 100 Members

Once it is time to soft-launch your community to the general public, the first 100 members are key.Ayoung community is not unlike a child. There are a number of directions the community can develop and it is important to guide it in a positive direction while at the same time allowing it to be self-sustainable. It’s a rough milestone that helps to validate what you’re trying to accomplish. It’s important to realize that the raw number doesn’t matter so much.

Having 20 active, engaged members of your community is better than 100 people who sign up and never log in. 100 is a baseline, an abstract idea. Once your community begins to take form, you’ll know you’re fitting your market and growing.

Depending on the resources available to you, reaching 100 members may come quickly, or it may take time. In either case, here are some tips for getting to that point:

Invite your personal contacts. Yes, no one wants to bother their friends, families, and co-workers, but you know what? It works! This is why Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media sites want access your email contacts at sign-up, because it works to get other people onto their platform.

Make the invitation to your forum or community space fun by framing it as a personal update, introducing the community and what your studio does, and by letting them know they’ll be one of the exclusive first users involved. Allude to a reward for early adopters if you have some form of gamification established,but don’t mislead your audience with false promises. The easiest way to lose someone’s trust is starting a conversation with a lie.

Communicate, communicate, communicate. You do not need to break the bank in order to promote your community. Talk to people like you’ve never talked to people before. Get in the habit of talking to people everywhere you go, especially if your community is centered around a broad product or service that has value. Frequently ask questions to encourage users to contribute and feel like they’re important members of the community.

Develop mutual partnerships. As your community grows, more people will find their way to your door via search engines. In the beginning, that isn’t likely to happen and the reality is that very few people will be beating a path to your sign-up page. Partner with like-mind individuals and key influencers to help promote yourself. Work out cross-promotional agreements in order to extend your reach.

Collaborating with a related and complementary company can be an effective way to promote your new community and welcome new members who like both products and services. Think about what best fits your users, brand and goals.

Be responsive to your players’ needs. In the early days, your community management team must be incredibly active. That means actively promoting and being involved – whether that’s supporting the members you do have with encouragement and feedback or thanking them for their contributions.

Once you’ve had success inviting people to the community, spend time listening to their feedback. Use it to make their experience as enjoyable as possible and make your founding members feel valued and heard by following up when they share ideas or concerns. Thank them for their feedback and address their concerns as quickly as possible. Work to surprise and delight them by doing things that don’t scale at this stage, like treating local members to a cup of coffee or sending handwritten notes. Be genuine, and work to form authentic connections. It’s easy to tell when it’s a templated thank you instead of a personal one.

About Syff

Co-founder of the Angry-Mob project, a community which transformed from a gaming community hosting several servers to it's current form. A hub with information for other community/server owners/staff members. Previously, Syff was involved with several other communities dispersed over different games and positions.