So you want to start a group mailing list community? Good choice. Group mailing lists (or listserves) may be bare bones when it comes to communities, but that just means they’re simple and easy to use. Listserves are just email and almost everyone knows how to use email. Not having to deal with lots of technical stuff gives you lots of time to focus on establishing what’s really important–community. Here then are five great tips for starting a new group mailing list.
You must establish guidelines. You must establish guidelines. You must establish guidelines. There! Have I said it enough times? (Here’s some sample guidelines, btw.)
It might be annoying. It might take time. But before you start your community, sit down and write down the rules. It may be tempting to just say you’ll trust in the kindness of human nature and then add rules if you need them, but that’s a bit like saying you’ll trust that the cows won’t wander out through the open door and then close it if they do.
People resent guidelines made reactively. They understand and respect (mostly) guidelines put down proactively.
And these guidelines don’t have to be complicated. They can be as simple as “Be Kind.” But since they’re written down, if you have to moderate something, you’ll have a guideline to point to.
You should also take this time to figure out your goals for your community. Is this a learning community? Is this a networking community? Is this a support community? What your goals are will help you figure out what your guidelines should be. And they’ll help you as your moderate and work with your community in the future.
Here’s another tip for starting a new listserv. When you invite people to join your new group, do it privately. Have a nice chat with them. Ask for their input into your community. Remember, you’re not starting a free-for-all forum or twitter community here. You want people to feel like they’re joining something special. (This is one way to create a positive community culture.)
Similarly, when someone does join your community, send a private message to welcome them. Just like you’d shake the hand of a new person in real life.
You need to reply to posts in a timely manner. This is especially important at the beginning of the community, when few people will be ready to participate. They’re not participating, so you’ll need to lead by example.
Say someone posts a question. They’re new. Everyone else’s new. The poster may be brave, but no one else is. Step in and answer! Even if your answer is just that you’ll need to find someone else to answer.
Another of my tips for starting a new group mailing list is to get people talking with some recent news. At the start your listserv community may be pretty empty. Empty is bad. Empty begets emptiness, by which I mean people are intimidated by being the first to post. If you’re the first to post (and it’s interesting news), then you’ve taken away that intimidation factor.
You can send articles from your community’s industry that you’ve read lately. You can also use Google alerts. Set up some key phrases and Google will send you articles based on those phrases.
As your community grows, make sure you keep track of your metrics and monitor your group mailing list’s discussion. Praise good answers. Prompt people to answer questions. If you’re getting question no one can answer, you may need to invite some new members who can answer those questions.
Notice that your data says certain members aren’t participating as much anymore. Send them a private email asking if they’re OK. If the entire group is going stagnant, start some new discussions yourself.
A community is like a garden; you have to tend it and water it to help it grow.
Do you have any tips for starting a new listserv? Leave them in the comments below!