In the gradual, step-by-step process of community building, opportunities arise where reaching out to the entire community is crucial in generating necessary momentum for your Switchboard. These are called hard launches, and they open the doors of your Switchboard to the entire community to take advantage of what the Switchboard has to offer and add more value. There are times of the year where one is always appropriate, but there is also a fair amount of flexibility around when to employ a hard launch. Plus, many of the strategies around soft launching apply to hard launches, just on a larger scale.
What is a hard launch?
A hard launch is an announcement that goes out to a broad group of your community, and sometimes to the entire community. Hard launches are primarily done through email, but certain in-person events lend themselves to an announcement of a large swath of the community.
When should hard launches occur?
Hard launches can occur at different points throughout the year, but below are three key places:
Shortly after your last soft launch—when people hear about the Switchboard, their first impression upon seeing it should be that it’s worth their time. By coming to a place that has a good number of users and clear, public activity, especially since you will have been stewarding posts closely after that soft launch, that impression is most likely to be positive. You can use your discretion around when to send a hard launch message after your last soft launch, but most of our partners do it about a month after the last soft launch.
Marquee annual events/holidays—leveraging times of the year when you have your community’s attention is an effective hard launch strategy. The time before/after graduation, December holiday break, major holidays, the start of a new academic year, etc. are all great places to send a hard launch message to the community.
Breaks in the communication calendar—many schools are sensitive to the amount of communication that goes out to the community, and rightly so. There are times, though, where there are lulls that can be used to engage the community through a community-wide message. Using these breaks, as well as the other times described above, work to not only saturate the message of the Switchboard, but show the community that it’s a priority and worth their time. If they only hear about the Switchboard once, they’ll most certainly forget that it’s even a thing.
What are dependable ways of hard launching?
Most Switchboard partners have used emails as the primary means of doing a hard launch. Mainly, you can reach much more of the community more efficiently via emails, hence the popularity of this method for our partners.
There are many ways you can craft a hard launch email. While the message still needs clear information about signing up and engaging on the Switchboard, as well as some background about the Switchboard, you can be creative in creating a compelling message that resonates with the community.
What should be prioritized after hard launches?
After you’ve done a hard launch there will be a large crop of new users and activity, which is exactly the point. As a stakeholder, it’s important to support these new users and activity to ensure newly established momentum isn’t lost, and below are a few key points to uphold:
Comment on all new asks/offers. A good rule to always follow around this is, “A resource for every ask. A thank you for every offer.” In essence, every ask should have a comment that has bread crumbs for the person to follow, and, at a minimum, every offer should have a thank you to acknowledge the generosity of the user.
Engage existing users by tagging them in comments to continually keep the Switchboard in the front of their minds. You can find users in the Member Directory through filtering and the Users section of Insights (e.g. the map of users in this section).
Analyze how the hard launch effort went. If you sent an email, it’s important to see how it landed so you can make tweaks as necessary. If you had an in-person event, it’s important to reflect on how it went to be prepared for a similar event in the future.
When the next hard launch can happen. Knowing where opportunities in the communications calendar are will allow you to plan ahead to take advantage of those opportunities for another hard launch to grow the community and foster further engagement.
Look over the calendar over the next year and block out when you want to send your first 3 hard launch messages.
Depending on when those messages will be sent, create a rough draft of the hard launch message (using the exemplars in the Resource Library as inspiration, if you wish).
Connect with colleagues in other departments to ensure that future hard launch messages won’t conflict with their communications calendar.
For inspiration, feel free to look at this deck that the University of Western States shared with us on how they very successfully launched their Switchboard!