In the process of the community building, going from 0-60 as quickly as you can is usually a recipe for disaster.  You need time to provide value to your community members and build a reputation, and a big launch to the whole community before the Switchboard is ready creates more problems than it does wins.  To strike a balance of bringing more people to the Switchboard and engaging them without going overboard, employing the strategy of soft launching allows you to generate more momentum around activity and membership without overdoing it.  You can think about the progress of your Switchboard over time as going from walking to running, and soft launching is the jogging that warms you up for the running.  You don’t want to jog forever, but all athletes know to warm up before going all out.  

Use this module to understand what soft launches are, when to use them, how to do them, and what to do once you’ve actually done a soft launch.  By understanding the key principles in this module, you’ll be prepared to grow and build momentum for your Switchboard that supports future growth and progress.

What are soft launches?

Soft launches are announcements to small segments of the community about your Switchboard.  Partners do them mostly via email and in person, and they normally target groups of the community no larger than a couple hundred people.

When should soft launches occur?

They happen mostly after you’ve seeded your Switchboard, but they can also happen at any time when you want to build out the Switchboard in a particular way (e.g. focus on student athletes after the Switchboard is well-established).  

One factor to consider when soft launching is the time of year.  If you know that a slow time of year is coming up in a few months, soft launching before then allows you to generate some momentum to take you through that slow time.  There might also be times when you really have your community’s attention, or segments of your community, and these are also excellent times to soft launch, too.

Another factor to keep in mind is the timing between soft launches.  If they are too close together it can create a traffic jam of sorts that is hard to keep up with, and too far apart can make it seem like momentum ebbs and you are starting from square one in generating momentum.  Generally, partners have spaced out soft launches about a month apart when doing multiple.  

Who should be included in soft launches?

Upon moving out of the seed phase, there are a few groups that partners traditionally target for soft launches:

  1. Young alumni (0-10 years out)
  2. Upperclassmen (Juniors and Seniors)
  3. Older alumni (11-20 years out)

Depending on the size of your community, the audience of your first soft launches may be different, but generally young alumni and upperclassmen are great places to start, as they are comfortable with technology and understand the overall value of the Switchboard.

If you decide to do more soft launches after the Switchboard has been established, the audience of the soft launch depends on who you are wanting to adopt and engage.  There are endless options for these types of soft launches, but a few ideas include:

  1. Specific regional groups (especially new ones you’ve established)
  2. Specific student groups (e.g. student athletes, new clubs that are popular)
  3. Groups of students doing some formal internship program in the summer

What are dependable ways of soft launching?

On average, partners do about two soft launches before a much bigger announcement to the community.  These two soft launches typically cover two segments of the community: young alumni/upperclassmen and older alumni. Regardless of who the audience of the soft launch is, the most dependable ways of soft launching are in person and via email.

1. Email

There are many ways to promote a soft launch via email.  You’re ultimately explaining what the Switchboard is and giving a compelling reason for people to sign up and engage on the Switchboard, and this can be done many ways in an email.

We’ve found that a particular template created by one of our partners has consistently worked in communicating this in a way that is succinct, but provides enough detail to pique interest and communicate value (see Appendix A).  The template has 3 distinct sections, the first of which is a brief explanation of what the Switchboard is.  Next, there is a section of high-value posts, which are hyperlinked to the actual posts themselves, to showcase the potential of the Switchboard, accompanied by pictures of the people who posted those particular asks and offers.  Finally, the last section is a simple call-to-action to sign up and begin engaging with the community, including relevant links to do so.  You can put your own spin on this template, but the format is one that has been tried and trued by most of our partners.

2. In-person

There are myriad opportunities to soft launch in-person.  Some interesting ideas include:

  1. Using specific classes or a student stakeholder group to explain the Switchboard, sign them up, and coach them to engage through posting asks/offers, commenting, messaging, and sharing.
  2. Using small alumni events (e.g. regional events) to do the same thing as the point above.
  3. Hosting a War Room with a particular segment of the community (e.g. the alumni board).
  4. Tabling in a well-trafficked area of campus routinely.

With any in-person soft launching, the key is to not only have community members sign up, but to walk them through doing something on the Switchboard in the same encounter.  By prioritizing engaging those people, and not just signing them up, you’re investing them in the Switchboard right away, as well as having an opportunity to coach them towards posting that is simultaneously meaningful for them and great for the Switchboard. 

What should be prioritized after soft launches?

After you’ve initiated a soft launch there will be a new crop of users and activity, which is exactly the point.  As a stakeholder, you have the ability to build on this momentum, and below are key actions to take after any soft launch:

  1. 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.
  2. Engage users from previous adoption efforts (e.g. early adopters) by tagging them in comments to continually keep the Switchboard in the front of their minds.
  3. Analyze how the soft 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.
  4. When another soft 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 soft launch or a much bigger announcement.

Action Items

  1. Determine when you want to do your first two soft launches and how you want to do them.
  2. Determine the audience for those first two soft launches.
  3. If you are sending an email in your soft launches, craft your email.
  4. If you are doing an in-person soft launch, plan the logistics for that launch.

Appendix A

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