How to launch an online group

The launch is an important moment in the life of an online group. You are enthusiastic about the potential for your group to collaborate. You have chosen and set up the platform for the new group. Now it is time to engage your participants in making your vision a reality.

Building participation online is not always easy. It is a chicken and egg process. People collaborate when others collaborate with them. It is up to you to initiate that process. It is important to get people excited about the potential for collaboration in the group, and knowing how to use the new online space. That will get participation off to a good start.

A successful launch of an online group needs an attention-grabbing event. It also needs careful preparation and sustained follow-up after the event. Here is a guide that will help you prepare for, carry out and follow-up after a launch event.

This guide is designed for people launching groups on an site. You can adapt it for launching Google Groups, Yahoo Groups or groups in other platforms. You can use this when migrating from another platform or starting an online group for the first time. You can use this process for launching a single group or adapt it for launching a site that has several groups.

The goal of the launch process

The purpose of the launch process is to get participation off to a good start. People will participate if they want to participate and they know how to participate. If you have picked a group with a good reason to participate, people will get motivated when they see others participate. That will motivate people to get over the learning curve with the new technology. Once people are familiar with the new online group, they’ll be more likely to participate. That will encourage others and the momentum will grow.

For these things to happen, you need to get people posting to the new group, and pulling the others along.

Preparing for the launch

Start engage the group members in the vision for the group well before the launch. Set up the new site and group so they are inviting and clearly say what they are about. Get your own profile looking good and make sure you know your own way around.

Create a sense of anticipation

Let people know about the new group as early as you can. Explain the vision for the group and the benefits that could flow from collaboration in the group. Convey a little of your enthusiasm to create a sense of anticipation that you can build on in your subsequent communications.

Set up your site and groups

Set up your site and group so that they are inviting and compelling. Here are some things to think about.

  • Your site and groups should have good titles that clearly reflect your organisation and the groups within it.
  • Write a brief but clear Welcome message on the site. The Welcome message should be useful to repeat visitors as well as first time visitors. Summarise the purpose of the site and link to any important pages.
  • Write a good About text on the site. Use the site About area to write a longer explanation of the purpose of the site. As the About area can be expanded and collapsed, it works for both first time and returning visitors.
  • Write a good About text for your groups. This text should explain the purpose of the group, who the members are and what is ok and not ok in the group.

Set up your own profile

Your profile will help to make people feel welcome. Make sure you add a profile photo and write a bio for yourself. This will make it easy for people to recognise you online and encourage others to complete their own profiles.

Get familiar with how things work

To prepare yourself to help others to get used to the site, make sure you are well familiar with it yourself. Here are some ideas.

  • Experiment with posting messages and files. If you make test posts to your main group you can hide them before you invite others to join. You can also set up a test group. Make it a secret group so that you can experiment to your heart’s content without anyone else seeing it.
  • Experience the joining process yourself. Using a a different email address to the one you use on your main profile, invite or add yourself to a group so that you can see exactly what your group members will see.

The launch event

Send an email to let people know what is about to happen

Before you invite or add people to your new group, send an email to all your prospective group members letting them know what will happen when you launch the group and how to respond.

You have two main messages to convey in this email.

  1. The purpose of the online group. Explain why participating in the group will be good for the participants and their organisation.
  2. How to participate in the online group. Explain the basics of how online groups work. Explain how the invitation and joining process will work.

Use your enthusiasm. Keep it brief. Anything that is not specifically relevant to the launch should go in the About area on your group.

Join people to the group

With you can invite or add people individually or in bulk. Inviting people individually takes more time but allows you to personalise the invitation message. Inviting or adding people is quicker for a large group. You can not personalise the bulk invitation message, but you did already send an email to let people know what was about to happen.

Inviting people to join a group requires some action on the part of the invitees. It is not much action and it gives people a chance to set a password, check out the web interface and take some ownership of their own participation (I explained the benefits of invitations over just adding people in Directly Adding Group Members — Does It Actually Help?).

If you are migrating from another platform, disable posting on the old platform.

After the launch

Soon after you send the invitations, you will start to receive notifications that they have accepted your invitation.

Start introductions

As soon as a good proportion of your group members have joined, start a topic called Introductions, posting your own introduction to it, and inviting others to do the same.

Link to the bio on your profile as part of your introduction (remind people that they need to log in to see your profile details).

Make the Introductions topic sticky so that it is always shown on the group home page.

Start a topic about the group

Start an About this group topic where you explain some things about how the group works and invite people to ask questions. Make this topic sticky, too.

Engage behind the scenes

In the early stages of a new group, be the most active participant. Encourage people to post and thank them when they do. Your efforts will make a big difference to how engaged people feel with the group. Doing these things visibly in the group will be help others see that the group is a welcoming place to be, but it can also get overwhelming. Emailing people individually with your encouragement will be just as effective.

Find your style as a leader

It is possible that being in an online group is as new to you as it is to your group members. Allow yourself time to find out a way of being that suits you. Find a balance between getting involved and leaving things to run their course. Encourage asking questions, even naive ones, and encourage others to answer them. Be comfortable with bursts of activity and be comfortable with silence. Above all, be yourself.

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