Make your committee communities work

By Heather McNair posted Dec 20, 2016 10:20 AM


Committee communities are a big part of your association. And staff liaisons are a big part of the committee communities. In a way, the liaison is the community manager for that particular group and has incredible potential to spur activity and excite those members. But do they always know how to lead and make the committee community as valuable as possible for members and your association?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. Sure, there are some incredible staff liaisons who do an excellent job of spurring their committee communities and really taking advantage of their online community platform. But for each effective staff liaison, there’s often an ineffective one -- and that's a tough spot to be in. Often, it’s not for lack of effort or desire -- it’s just difficult to manage a community if you’re not trained to do so.

So, how do you support and manage both the committee community and the staff liaison to ensure positive results?

Illuminate the benefits of community

Before you do anything, you need to make sure that your staff liaison is on board with the concept of an online community and with their role. If they’re apathetic, it’ll be hard to train them and help them bring the committee community to a strong, valuable level.

How do you convince them that the community is a good move? Highlight how the community can help them in their role. Here are just two examples:

Never have to update listservs or email distribution lists

On an online community, everything talks to each other -- the platform, the AMS/CMS, community memberships. Listservs and email distribution lists need constant updates and tending to. If a member leaves, joins or changes their email address someone needs to go in and manually update the list, which can make for some tedious -- and oft forgotten -- work. Online communities eliminate that headache, making everyone’s committee experience smoother.

All the info is in one place

Similarly, with a community, every piece of information is in one, easily accessible place, both for the members and for the staff liaison. Instead of searching email or files for a document or for a member’s credentials or phone number, the staff liaison only needs to turn to the community. Again, this simplifies their job, making management easier, overall.

This also makes it easier for new committee members to get up to speed on the work that has been done before they came on board. By glancing through discussion posts and library documents, they can get a good idea of committee conversation and resolutions from the past year in a matter of minutes.

Make sure the staff liaison is comfortable and trained in community

Now that you have convinced your staff liaison that an online community is an incredibly valuable tool, you need to prepare them for the job.

Your staff liaison needs to have the tools and training to succeed. Although is a natural human tendency, it’s unfair to expect everyone to be a natural leader or online community manager.

Don’t just assign the job and expect good results, even if the staff liaison is a community go-getter. Just as you have a comprehensive onboarding process for new members, you need to have a comprehensive process in place to onboard a staff liaison. Teach them the techniques they’ll need -- like moderation and finding community MVPs and ambassadors -- and ensure they know how to use your specific community platform to its full potential.

Email is your friend

Part of ensuring your staff liaison can use the platform to full potential is instilling in them the belief that, even with fancy software, email is still their friend.

Email often gets a bad rap in the community world, which is unfair. Contrary to what some people say, email is not, in fact, dying. Although it’s old and doesn’t seem technologically advanced, many people rely on it for day-to-day communication. Especially when it comes to committee work. Committees still love working via email.

In order to reach the most members, your staff liaison needs to embrace email. But that doesn’t mean abandoning the community or using the two channels separately.

Rather than thinking in either/or terms -- either use the community platform or use email -- the two forms of communication can work in tandem, supporting each other. When members can participate in an online community via email, it drastically lowers the barrier participation, increasing overall engagement. Members appreciate email not just because it’s already ingrained in their lives, but because it increases your community’s accessibility for people with specific needs -- like text magnifiers and voice recognition software.

Make sure your staff liaison knows that email is still an important tool and that it integrates with the community seamlessly. But beyond just stressing the importance of email, here are two tricks they can use:

Onboard with email

Each community’s onboarding process is a little different, but all of them can benefit from this tactic. When a new committee member joins the community, the staff liaison should send a welcome email (automation rules are an easy and efficient way of doing this), through the community platform, that gives the committee member basic instructions on how to participate.

Create a VCard

Part of creating smooth email participation is ensuring that members have easy access to the community email address -- that way they can start discussions from their email account. In the onboarding process, encourage them to add the email to their address book. But it’s important for them to have easy access to it in case they lose it. Create a VCard with the email address and place it prominently within the community so that they always know how to find it. The VCard can also serve as a general reminder that is an since members will see it whenever they log into the community.

Always send members back to the community

Another best practice staff liaisons should learn is to always lead members back to the community for information and discussions.

It’s important to be helpful, but it’s critical to be helpful in the right way, a way that furthers the community. What does that look like? Say a member asks your staff liaison for a specific document, like meeting minutes or an agenda. Often, instinct it to just attach the PDF to an old-fashioned email and send it to them, but similar to the adage of giving someone a fish vs. teaching them to fish, this doesn’t help anyone in the long run.

Instead of being “helpful” by emailing an attachment, send them the link to it in the community’s library so they access it there and become familiar with the functionality -- and see what other resources are available. Liaisons should also teach members how to upload their own documents so that everyone has access to them.

Not only does this type of helpfulness funnel members back to the community, teaching them that it’s the go-to place for all their needs, but it makes life easier for the liaison, too.

What tips and advice to you have for managing committee communities?