from Listserv to Online Community
communities offer expanded features for member engagement, but migrating from
your listserv is a process best handled with care.
There was a time when email listservs were the new kid on
the block. During their heyday, listservs made a huge difference in member
interaction and association communication. Today, however, some organizations
are transitioning to online community technologies because they bring
additional opportunities for member engagement and membership value, and incorporate
trends in online social behavior and mobile technology too.
However, even though online communities offer a number of
benefits, switching your members from a listserv to a new engagement tool
requires patience and a plan.
Importance of a
The change from a listserv to an online community is not
without complications. To make it successful, associations need to nail the
transition. People are resistant to change, and a difficult transition can lead
to a dramatic drop in participation, angry members, and reduced engagement
levels that could take years to re-build. Since one of the biggest benefits of being a member in your organization is
engaging with other members, you should avoid this problem at all costs.
It’s wise to take a few precautions and practice a little
change management. Here are some tips to help organizations transition from
email listservs to full online communities.
Tip #1) Get a core
group on board. Identify who your advocates are so
they can set an example and answer questions when other members have them. By
establishing a core group comprised of staff members, key volunteer leaders, or
enthusiastic members, you begin your online community with a built-in network
of support. As more hesitant members see your advocates contributing and
interacting within the community, they’ll be more comfortable to follow their
Tip #2) Convert
historical data. One of the big fears your members
might have in making the transition is access to old data (i.e. listserv discussions
and announcements). To ease this worry, communicate that one of the main
benefits of an online community is the ability to archive everything. Work with
your old listserv vendor and your new online community platform provider to
understand the export process for your existing data and formats that your
online community software provider can import during the implementation
process. By importing your old data, your community doesn’t have to start from
scratch. Instead, it will feel more familiar to your members and contain the
valuable information contained in previous discussions.
Tip #3) Find opportunities
to train members. As with any transition,
communication is key. Look for opportunities to educate members on how your new
online member community will benefit them and how they can get the most out of
it. This doesn’t have to be intensive all-day training, but you might offer
webinars, have a booth at your conference, or even hold a special conference
session on how to use the online community. Armed with the proper tools and
knowledge, members will be more interested in taking advantage of all your organization's
community has to offer.
Tip #4) Start small
when it comes to structure and features. Change is more
manageable when it comes in stages. Rather than revealing your entire online
community at once, consider a slow roll-out to get your members more
comfortable. Since a listserv is similar to a discussion board at its core,
start there. Take a few of the more popular discussions in your organization,
and see how they take off in the forums of your online community. This can help
get people used to the technology and the new format. This approach also
concentrates the social activity to give your new online community a more
In addition to discussions, file libraries are also a great
initial feature. That way, your members will immediately see all the
information they value from your organization.
Tip #5) Select
a platform that has combined email listserv/discussion forums. With a combined platform, community
members can still exchange ideas through their email inboxes, while also viewing
and searching archived discussions from the browser-based online community
forums and mobile app.
Members will notice the change but will feel comforted by participating
in the same way they always have. Merely clicking reply from their email
without having to go through a special link or login can simplify the process.
Opening communication throughout your transition from an
email listserv to an online member community will help ease staff and community
members’ fears and make the process more seamless.
If you highlight the features that are similar to their
previous engagement opportunities, as well as the features that allow for
further and more valuable engagement, they’ll be able to see the purpose behind
You’ve worked hard to get to your current level of member
engagement, and you don’t want to risk losing participation. By using these
precautions, you can avoid an unfortunate member backlash and get back to the
business of providing great engagement opportunities.
senior director of marketing and strategy at Socious.