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Transition Tips from Listserv to Online Community - 10/15/2014 -


Transition Tips from Listserv to Online Community

Online communities offer expanded features for member engagement, but migrating from your listserv is a process best handled with care.

By Joshua Paul

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 Smooth Transition

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 example.

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 active feel.

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.

Transition Takeaway

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 the change.

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.

Joshua Paul is senior director of marketing and strategy at Socious.


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