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Sage advice for startup social media managers: don’t launch, build your community first

Most com­mu­ni­ty man­agers and social media man­agers want their social out­fits to be pop­u­lar. But any­one dream­ing of “the big launch” for a new social media start­up might do well to learn from one entre­pre­neur who got his fin­ger burnt by doing just that.

Just over a year ago, Vib­hu Nor­by care­ful­ly orches­trat­ed a huge prod­uct launch for his new pri­vate social net­work for groups called Everyme. He and his employ­ees had raised $1.5 mil­lion in seed fund­ing, they’d care­ful­ly gath­ered 25,000 email address­es of those who want­ed to know about the launch, and Nor­by orga­nized cov­er­age for the launch from top tech blogs like AllTh­ingsD and TechCrunch.

The trough after the fan­fare 

But this is pre­cise­ly where ambi­tious com­mu­ni­ty man­agers and social media man­agers may need to exer­cise restraint. Things didn’t go accord­ing to plan for Nor­by, and it was clear from the very first hours.

Far few­er peo­ple than imag­ined were sign­ing up to the net­work, and num­bers dwin­dled over the course of the week on a day-by-day basis. The effect on Norby’s team mem­bers, all of whom had access to stats dash­boards, was to drag down their morale and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty to the depths. As he writes coura­geous­ly in a recent blog, “It felt like we had bet it all on red and the ball stopped on black.”

Nor­by now believes that dreams of grow­ing mas­sive­ly “out of the gate” fol­low­ing a major launch will like­ly stay sim­ply as dreams. And they’ll lead to crush­ing dis­ap­point­ment amongst team mem­bers, from the com­mu­ni­ty man­ag­er to the CEO. Nor­by now thinks it may be bet­ter not to launch at all, as it cre­ates the impres­sion that you’re bet­ting on your prod­uct instead of devel­op­ing a long-term strategy

Start small

Launch­ing “screws your met­rics,” accord­ing to Nor­by. Social media man­agers see­ing 6,000 signups on day one will find it hard to resist feel­ing down-in-the-mouth if they see a mere 2,000 on day two. But these fig­ures are arti­facts of the big launch and they cloud judg­ment, lead­ing team mem­bers to doubt the prod­uct and total­ly fail­ing to iden­ti­fy the tru­ly pas­sion­ate users.

Nor­by now believes it’s wis­er to start small and steady. Begin with one pas­sion­ate user, then ten, then 100. Far bet­ter than get­ting 6,000 on open­ing day only to end up with 111 true passionistas.

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