Most L&D professionals believe in the benefit of social learning platforms for supporting learning and knowledge transfer, but the concept and the reality of actually designing, building and launching one are often very different. Designing a social learning platform that really works, and then attracting and retaining members of that community, isn’t easy, which is why so many social learning platforms end up fizzling out and being abandoned within a few months – or fail to launch entirely.

What can learning professionals do to ensure that their social learning platform is a success? Here are some tips.

Speak to the People You Wish to Attract.

Instead of rushing in and building the social learning platform you think people want, discuss what potential members might actually want and need. Before investing in an expensive platform that doesn’t support the needs of your target audience, think about the type of people your community will be aimed at, and ask them about their challenges and what would benefit them. It could be a formal survey or informal discussions – just make sure you start your project designing a solution for the right people.

Start With a Pilot Group.

Starting small ensures you can test your approach with a select few, collect feedback and improve your platform before you go live fully. This early feedback can be invaluable for everything from spotting bugs to finding out what works and what doesn’t, giving you the best chance of success when you launch to the wider community. An added benefit is that your pilot group will already be creating some activity on the social learning platform, so you’re not starting from scratch, and early adopters won’t be put off by a complete lack of user interaction.

Add New Content and Resources Regularly.

Launching a new social learning platform with hundreds of resources is well and good, but people will quickly become bored if they realize that new content is rarely added. Give people a reason to keep coming back with a constant drip feed of quality content. Even if you have a huge library of resources, hold plenty of it back during the launch so that you can hold people’s interest over time. Also, encourage user-generated content, such as community blogging and a vibrant forum, so that you’re not solely responsible for maintaining learners’ interest. People enjoy learning from their peers, so the more user content added to the platform, the better.

Incentivize Participation.

Until your social learning platform builds some traction, you may need a way to entice people to use it. Think about ways you can incentivize learners, whether that’s with exclusive content, open badges, digital certifications, discounts on content behind paywalls, prize drawings or ways to earn a special status on the platform for being an early adopter. These schemes could also be used to reward loyalty. Programs like language learning app Duolingo, for example, give learners a “stamp” every day they complete learning activities, encouraging them to maintain their learning streak with extra points to use in the in-app store.

Invest in Marketing.

Building your learning community infrastructure is just the beginning. A comprehensive marketing strategy is the best way to grow your community. There are a lot of approaches to consider, including email marketing, social media promotion (organic and paid), search engine optimization (SEO), content marketing, offering free samples of courses and resources, member testimonials, advertising (print and digital), and more. If your learning platform is aimed at a smaller, more targeted group, consider direct mail, using your personal contacts and partnered content to ensure your platform is used by the right groups.

Check Your Analytics.

If you’re not keeping an eye on your learning analytics, you’re missing a trick. Find out which activities people are completing, how much time they’re spending on the platform, bounce rates, the best-performing areas, the worst-performing areas, how many people are earning certifications, who is using the forums and more to understand how you can improve the social learning platform. These analytics will help you identify issues early and make smarter decisions about the type of resources you provide for a thriving, vibrant community of learners.

In summary, it’s all about information-gathering, before, during and after the launch of your social learning platform. Listen to what people want, and observe how they are actually interacting within the community to guide the improvements you make. A solid marketing strategy and attention to user feedback will help you create and maintain a robust learning community that grows and flourishes over time.