It’s a common question for community professionals who work for a global brand: “When should my community expand to serve another country or region?” Quite often, your community has started off by serving one region or language, but there will inevitably come a point when you’ll need to grow to accommodate a new audience, an international audience. You’ll know you’re ready for this when you’ve considered all of the steps and questions below to create your plan.
When is the right time to go global?
There are a number of reasons why a community should do this, and those reasons will vary based on the brand, resources, leadership, and members. Here are a few examples of drivers that impact this decision. This can be broken down into two facets: business-led and community-led.
- The business goals for the year include expanding into new markets, therefore, the community goals and journey are expected to reflect that and serve the new markets.
- The community started off serving one region, but since the brand’s customer base is global, it’s time to plan for adding more regions.
- Analytics show consistent and heavy traffic from other markets.
- Current members have specifically requested a new section of the community that caters to their language or location.
Going global: a step-by-step plan
This task will likely mean a big change for the community. You’ll want to make sure you’ve thought through the details. Use these steps to guide your planning efforts:
1. Start with your community’s strategic plan
Your community’s goals should always align with your company’s goals. Keeping that in mind, look at your community’s strategic plan for the fiscal year. Is there clear alignment between one of your goals and this step toward going global? For example, if one of your community goals is to increase registrations by a certain percentage, then growing the community to include an international audience could definitely benefit that goal and contribute to the number of registrations.
If you are not seeing a clear line between any community goals and your interest in expansion globally, then perhaps now is not the right time to take this on. It’s something you could discuss with company leadership to begin planning for the next fiscal year though.
Let’s say that you do have alignment with a goal (maybe more than one). Or perhaps your efforts to go global will become their own goal. What should you consider next?
2. Clearly define the market you will be expanding into
“The market” could mean one country, region, or multiple of either. Once you’ve defined it, discuss the following about each one:
- Does our company already have a presence there or a customer base there? If so, what are we doing elsewhere in the company to serve that particular customer?
- Do we have any current members in the community who could serve as ambassadors for when we launch this new digital space?
- Do we have any current user groups working with this audience?
- What does this audience need or expect that may differ from the audience we are serving today?
- What will motivate this audience to come to and participate in the community?
- From a cultural perspective, will this audience utilize the features and functionality of our platform in the same way?
3. Choose the community formation
What will this digital space be, exactly? Will it be an entirely new community that compliments the original? Will it be a sub-community within your current one? Will it be an extension of the current, perhaps as a new section or category? Are there translation services or language packs available?
The answers may come down to what your platform is capable of. Talk to your platform’s representatives to ask about the options they provide for building out this space, and request that they walk you through the user’s experience...everything from registration to which areas of the community will be visible to them to the analytics capabilities for measuring this new community.
4. Consider content
Based on your answers to the questions above, consider the type of content that will be most beneficial to the new market. For example, if your product has only recently been released in the new location, the users might be interested in how to get started using the product. Another thing to consider is who will write the content and in what language.
5. Decide on the programs, initiatives, and events that will best serve this market
Keep in mind that there may be cultural differences in executing these types of activities. Also, make sure that whatever you are planning for contributes to the work toward your community goal. Aim to offer unique experiences that only this community can provide.
6. Create a timeline
Now that you’ve decided on specific content, programs, initiatives, and events, you’ll want to calendar the important dates for all of these. Incorporate that timeline into your community’s overall one for the fiscal year, checking to ensure there will be no conflicts with other community or company activities. In addition, consider that this audience may celebrate different cultural holidays, and be sure to factor that into the timeline.
7. Plan for localization
Localization, as it relates to online communities, is the process of making something local in its use for a specific audience or a particular place. It involves titles, text, and imagery. For example, let’s say that you already have a community for your customers in North America. Badges are a popular feature in this community, and the badge names are written in English. You’re about to expand the community to your customers in Mexico. With localization, you’ll want to check on the feasibility of not only translating the badge names to Spanish, but also checking to see if the Spanish translation still equates to the same meaning as the English one. This is another aspect you may want to discuss with your platform provider as it may come down to the technology’s capabilities.
8. Make a list of promotion tactics
How will you promote this new community? Think about all of the communication channels that your company uses: emails, blog, social media, mailers, etc. Meet with the people responsible for each one to arrange an announcement to go about the launch.
9. Create a project plan
Ideally, this plan will outline all of these steps, their deadlines, the person responsible for each, and any other critical information. It could be folded into a master community project plan, or it may be considered separate depending on the needs and preferences of your community team.
Staffing for Global
There are many important considerations to be made when you’re deciding on the person (or people) to staff this new community/section. For example, if you’re based in the U.S., it’s not recommended to launch a sub-community for your Japanese customers if there isn’t a dedicated person on the community team that speaks Japanese and knows the culture. Some critical questions to review and consider long before launch:
- Does our community team have a resource designated to communicate with this audience (in their language)? Does this person have experience moderating online communities?
- Does this person have an understanding of the culture?
- Is this person able to help us plan initiatives and events best suited for this audience?
You’ve Launched! Now what?
A few tips to help you make sure your path is smooth:
- Be sure to factor in this audience when creating your strategic plan for each fiscal year moving forward.
- If you used ambassadors to help kick things off, schedule a check in with them after the first-month, three-month, and one-year anniversaries. Ask them about what’s working and what can be improved.
- After at least six months, survey this community to better understand their experience.
- When pulling analytics and reports, be sure to segment your new market to understand their behavior and activity separate from the rest of the community.
- Stay aware of and observant to news that is taking place in the country/region in the event that it may impact community members.
- Share your success stories with The Community Club!
Words of wisdom from community pros who have done it
Many Community Managers have successfully, and unsuccessfully, launched a section of their community for a new international audience. A few community professionals have graciously shared a bit about what they’ve learned in the process:
“If your online community strategy doesn’t consider the fact that you have community members who live in parts of the world outside of your home country, go back to the drawing board...Use data that you already have access to (market research, member satisfaction surveys, etc.) to help guide your way forward here.”
“Machine translation is not localization. The nuances of personality, context, and culture can easily get lost. Words can have entirely different meanings, even if they're in the same language, depending on where you are in the world. Think of how different English can be depending on the country you're in.
Now imagine translating from one language to the next, losing even more of that nuance in translation, and putting that translated content under the name of one of your community members. You're putting words in their mouth.
Instead, you could offer translation as an option for the user who's viewing your community discussions, or provide space for your members to communicate in different languages. That could be a dedicated section of your existing community, or a separate version of your community catering to a different language.”
“In my opinion, there is no replacement for understanding the demographics of the market you want to expand your community into. Specifically, how digitally entrenched/where in the digital space is your target demographic? If you have buy-in from your company and the resources to support it, then a community of just 50 dedicated users can be incredibly valuable. On the other hand, if you have tens of thousands of users in a region, but everyone uses Twitter or WhatsApp almost exclusively, then maybe you should consider pivoting to a social strategy instead of building a community that will just lie empty and unused, collecting digital dust.”
— Anonymous Community Manager for a Global B2B Enterprise Company
“When working with a global community, one main area that we wanted to focus on was bringing on ambassadors from certain areas. We realized that ambassadors would be super helpful in answering questions and providing general support outside of our core team. Definitely recommend ambassadors to any community!”
“The biggest lesson I have learned is that you need to have people in that geo to partially own that growth. We are working on building better relationships in those locations, but even that is difficult. We have to basically build a new community, foster those potential super users and encourage them to help grow this ‘mini-community.’ Timelines need to be longer for this and it requires much more than just a good plan, but needs a thoughtful and intentional implementation.”
“Understand your customer base. Where are they located? How are they engaging? What’s the nature of the languages they are engaging in today, both in consuming content and in writing/speaking the language...You need to have enough customers that are having the need, in that language, to sustain a community. You can’t just have a community of one or two people. You need to have a critical mass in order to manage a conversation and to create content.”
Jenny Weigle is the Chief Community Officer and Strategic Consultant of Jenny.Community, specializing in building communities for enterprise brands. Jenny is a member of The Community Club Creator Guild, and she lives in Los Angeles.