Running an active online group isn’t easy. The natural tendency for
online groups is to start strong when everyone is new and excited, but
they can dwindle over time as members and facilitators lose interest,
if they do not have a strong purpose or an action plan to work on.
This is something that we term the trough of sorrow. But more on that
We have learned a lot since we started supporting online groups in
2006, and here are some of our top tips to make your group buzz and
1. Create an onboarding process for your group.
If you want people to participate in your group, you have to
‘hand-hold’ them to show them why it’s so important, how they can get
involved and what they will get out of it.
The best way to do this is with an onboarding process for new
members. Your goal is to create a welcoming environment in your group.
You can have a range of touchpoints from personal check in’s via
private chat, walkthroughs, welcome/getting started messages,
introduction questions in the forum etc.
The idea is to make them feel welcomed and comfortable, help find out
a bit more about what they are looking for and what they can help with
and connect them to other members of the group.
2. Spend time in the group yourself.
This is something that we come across a lot, but you might be
surprised how many people who set up an online group expect the group
to become a hive of activity as soon as it has been set up and members
have been invited to join, without any additional work.
At the start, it’s especially important that the group is looked
after and members feel like it’s worth their time to participate in
When someone posts in the forums and doesn’t receive a reply, they
are unlikely to post again or return to the group. Other members will
see questions with no answers, and if this continues, they will stop
visiting the group.
Before you get to the point where you have top contributors in your
group, it’s your job as a group facilitator to be there to answer
every post that goes unanswered or help find someone who can.
As you identify your key members you will need to nurture your
relationship with them and show how appreciative you are for their
participation, before you can ask them to take responsibility in
answering some questions and leading on new content or activities.
3. Communicate “what’s new in the group” messages and give
shoutouts to people doing great stuff.
Sending weekly, bi-monthly or monthly summaries of the best
discussions, questions that need answering, upcoming events, latest
materials, reminders of things that members may have missed and not
forgetting accomplishments from your group or group members, is a
great way to keep members coming back and engaging with the group.
They don’t have to be too complex, you can create a simple list of
the content and do shoutouts to those who are taking part and share it
with the group as a way of giving them kudos.
The more kudos you can provide to the members, the more likely they
will be to continue their participation and for others to be more
willing to participate, as they will start to see the positive
feedback connection between success and participating in the group.
4. Help members with their email notifications.
When members join your group they will automatically have a weekly
notification set. This will show a summary of all the activity that
week, and arrive in your members’ inboxes on a Monday morning.
Do you really want to wait a week before someone could answer a
question or download something from the library that could really help them?
And as a member, you will probably think I will come back to that
discussion and you may forget to.
Show your members how they can adjust their email notifications from
daily to weekly.
Encourage your key members to subscribe to immediate alerts across
the group or show them how they can subscribe to individual features
in your group (for example, the library or a library folder).
Email is still king and the more times the members receive them in a
way that suits them, it will make a big difference to their engagement
with the group.
5. Bring your group together outside of the online group.
Building those relationships is key to success in any group. The use
of webinars, virtual events, video calls and online meetings can
really help those relationships as there is something special about
being able to talk to people in-person over a video call that adds an
extra dimension to the group and helps people put a real face to those
conversations and profiles that are sharing and asking questions.
There are lots of options of the types of sessions you can run, but
something simple and informal as a regular “coffee catch up” usually
starting with questions such as “What are you up to right now?” Or “Do
you need any help with anything?” can make such a difference.
What else have you done or seen to that had made an online group