Anyone can set up their very own Discourse in 30 minutes or less. But how do you get people to go there?
I often describe Discourse as an interesting dinner party. Or, depending on the community, just a party.
The dinner party analogy is helpful – think of categories as rooms, topics as tables, and replies as conversations. And every dinner party needs guests! The goal of the dinner party organizer is to take Discourse and found something like their own restaurant, a fun destination for guests and regulars to socialize, a place people want to go.
What is your community’s purpose?
Every community has a purpose. What’s yours? If you haven’t set up your pinned welcome topic, or banner topic, do that now.
It’s the first thing new arrivals will want to know: what is this place?
Think of it as the menu you post outside the restaurant, or maybe the sign on the top of the building outside. It lets people know what to expect – Italian? Fast food? Dress codes?
This is prime real estate; it will appear for every visitor, forever, and people are busy. So:
- Keep it brief
- Put your very best copy here
That pinned or banner topic should be at most a few paragraphs, an elevator pitch or mission statement describing what your community is and does. For those who want to learn more, it can link to a deeper explanation of your community, the benefits of joining, and so forth.
Where is the conversation?
Your very first order of business is to seed your site with interesting topics and replies. This is so important there’s a global banner we display to staff members until your site has reached a minimum threshold of content.
The worst thing you can do is open with a blank site. That’s like trying to get people to sit down at an empty restaurant!
Those initial topics are critical:
- To further explain what your community is. The topics you see on the front page right now? These are the kinds of conversations going on here; this is what we tend to generally talk about. This is what our community is.
- To provide examples of the sort of content you want. To let everyone know that yes, topics like these are welcome on our site. Create more discussions like these!
- To invite participation. Have some getting to know you topics for people to share about themselves, and some topics that are open ended and encourage replying with opinions, stories, or pictures.
Recruit friends, recruit colleagues, recruit early beta users, do whatever it takes to build out an initial solid base of content. You can’t launch your community without it.
Leadership comes from the top. The presence of staff speaks volumes about whether your community is alive and thriving. Don’t just say you believe in this community, demonstrate that through your personal participation and enthusiasm. Lead by example. Reply to questions people have, help your community learn the ropes, gently guide and shape the community as you go.
If you are lucky enough to have celebrities on your staff, or in your community, take advantage of that! When someone notable – the owner, the sponsor, the founders, the developers, the artist, the author, the MVP – pops in and responds, that is a huge draw. It says this community is important because it’s on the radar of cool, interesting, busy people too! Even a little participation by celebrities goes a long way, so try to schedule that.
Half of any community is showing up regularly. There’s no substitute for simply being there, each day, every day. Welcome and respond to new users as they arrive. Listen to their feedback. Encourage everyone else to do the same over a period of months and soon you’ll have a core of regulars that form the heart of your community – maybe even a few members so engaged they could eventually become community moderators.
Imagine a restaurant with a bustling, visible, helpful staff, where the owner periodically checks in from table to table to make sure everyone is having a good experience. That’s the kind of place that, over time, earns repeat customers … maybe even fans.
How do we find it?
Once you’ve done that, make sure people can find your community. Start by linking it everywhere:
- From your website in your main navigation.
- In newsletters and email.
- From your blog.
- On Twitter, Facebook, and other social media.
Have some special launch fanfare when your community opens. This will drive an initial rush of new community members, some of whom will stick around and seed early growth. Configure Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other social logins to make it easy to sign up and participate.
As they say in real estate: location, location, location. Half of every great restaurant is easy access (including parking), and a convenient location.
Start with yourself
Be patient. Building communities is hard. It takes months if not years.
Although we strive to make Discourse as fun and engaging (and as free and open source) as possible, software alone can’t guarantee the success of a community. But you can! Integrate your community into your daily activities, strive to regularly create unique, interesting conversation among friends – and your community will be off to a solid start.
Stick with it and see what happens. I promise we will too.