Let's Start with a Treehouse
How long should it take you to launch a community?
If you have the luxury of all the time in the world, have to jump over towering organizational hurdles, and have no burning need to gather people, sure.
But it doesn't need to take you any longer than four weeks to start.
It can even take a lot less time than that. You can validate the desire for your community in less than 24 hours, as I did once for my prior company, CMX (you can read about how to validate your community program with a Founding Member group here).
But if you want to validate and construct a new brand community program, you can do that work in just four weeks. This is how: When you're launching any new community effort, think of filling a treehouse, not a stadium.
Treehouses are small and custom-made. They require some work to climb into. Sometimes you have to share a secret password to be invited. Inside, you can make them feel endlessly magical and intimate - a special experience only for special people. You can create a little unique world for your members inside a treehouse, and then you can talk about co-creating something more significant once you're all together in one place.
Stadiums are incredible too, but filling them and creating a successful program inside of them is no small task. Behind the scenes, thousands of people are working together to make that magic happen.
Treehouses can become stadiums, but you do not need to start there.
Maybe your well-intentioned ego or your organization's leadership team cares about filling a stadium, but I promise you that your members do not. From my years building communities, I have learned over and over that people want to be part of something meaningful to them personally, where they are seen and valued. They don't care how large that "something" is. There can be 10 people who know their name.
Last Thursday, for example, a client of mine in the political world launched their community program in just four weeks.
Week one: we focused on internal mission alignment.
Week two: we focused on content and collecting emails.
Week three: we focused on calling a handful of leaders to ask them about their hopes and dreams for their work together.
Week four: we launched on an online platform.
Now, we didn't launch with 1,000 members. We launched with 13. They all met one another. As we roll out the community to more members in the coming weeks, these 13 people in the first treehouse will help us scale that kind of intimacy to a stadium-like size in the thousands within a few months.
The treehouse approach doesn't only work for launching new communities. It also works for new programs inside of existing communities. For example, a client of mine in management consulting found that after starting an initiative to spotlight individual members via published phone interviews, these members not only immediately engaged in all existing community programs, but their engagement sustained month after month. No one who got on the phone has churned from the community, even six months later. This client had been trying to build a stadium, and the phone calls enabled them to create a treehouse inside of it.
What are the largest and most impactful communities you can imagine? I am willing to wager that they didn't start that large and impactful. They probably started as treehouses. And you have all the tools you need to build your own in the next few weeks.