Getting Started

Welcome to Vanilla! We’re glad to have you as a customer (or user!) and we’re eager to help make your community a success. This section is designed to give you a jump-start in that direction and is intended for first-time or novice Vanilla administrators.

First Steps

If you’re launching a new community from scratch, you already know that it can feel like a daunting experience with numerous choices and decisions to make. Having participated in hundreds of community launches, we’ve developed a few tactics that increase the odds of success and remove some of the decision making.

1. Choose a Homepage View

In your dashboard, under Appearance > Homepage you’ll find a choice of 3 different landing pages. This is what people will see when they visit the main URL of your community. For a brand new community we recommend the “Discussions” view.

Choose a homepage

A list of recent discussions across all categories makes it easier for new members and first time visitors to see what’s trending in the community and increase the odds that they will engage in discussion. Categories are not so important in new forums. You can certainly create a few categories when starting out but let them naturally “evolve” instead of creating too many right away.

Once there is significant content, switching to a category homepage might make sense. You can use your analytics to see what leads to more engagement.

Most of the base themes will display a logo in the top navigation are of the page. In the Dashboard, go to Appearance > Banner and upload your logo (Banner Logo). The logo will be displayed at 100% size and so a smaller version of your logo will usually work best.

3. Add some “seed” content

A common mistake is having little or no content upon launch. Just as people shy away from being first on the dance floor at a party, having some active discussions going when guests arrive will help them engage.

Create at least 10 discussions, use existing collateral, ask questions and solicit opinions. Once thing to avoid is to create puppet accounts and stage fake discussions. Recruit colleagues and friends to get those early discussions going, and keep them genuine.

4. Stay public

It can be tempting to offer the forum as a private value add to existing customers or registered members, restricting access to those people only. Unfortunately, a private forum won’t get indexed by search engines, which is critical to driving organic traffic and achieving critical mass.

That said, there are some exceptions:

  • You have a really big brand and people will seek you out. The same applies to celebrities.
  • Making it part of an existing premium membership that is already well established.
  • Limiting access and support to paid customers. This makes sense if you offer a high-end or expensive product. You may wish to consider a hybrid setup where you have a public “Pre-sales Questions” category.

5. Get the word out

Now that your community is set up to receive new members, its time to invite a few people to get the ball rolling. Start with your close knit friends and perhaps some colleagues. Listen to their suggestions about things you could improve or do differently, but don’t wait too long to go fully public.

If you have an existing website, here are some ways to make sure your new community is properly promoted:

  • Make sure you promote it all over your website including in your main navigation. The more launch fanfare and exposure, the faster you’ll grow your membership.
  • Place ad tiles or banners on your website to let users know about the community.
  • Add community content to existing newsletters or email marketing campaigns.
  • Include the community information on transactional emails, not just your email newsletter.
  • Have your customer service agents and sales team tell customers and potential customers about your community. Add it to your hold messages.
  • Invite discussions on topics from your blog, and also on social media posts where it makes sense.

6. Be welcoming!

Ensure you welcome and engage with new users as soon as you can when they make their first post. Most communities have a large percentage of lurkers (people who only interact passively, by reading content), so when someone finally engages you will want to make sure you respond.

While it would be great to respond to all new posts within an hour, make it a goal to make sure someone interacts with all new posts or members within the same day. Once your community gets going you can recruit people to keep a lookout for new members, and welcome them on your behalf. By providing some sort of acknowledgement within the first 24 hours, you are making new members feel welcome, instead of feeling ignored.

Another good approach is to create a section of your community dedicated to new members, where they can introduce themselves to your regular members and learn more about what your community has to offer. This kind of area can feel like a safer place for shy members to experiment with the forum for the first time.

For more on community building, please consult our Resource Library.

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We believe that online communities should be intuitive, engaging and true to your brand. Vanilla allows you to create a customized community that rewards positive participation, automatically curates content and lets members drive moderation.

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