You might be lucky and have a big mailing list at your disposal to get your community started. It's tempting to announce the launch of your community to this entire list. This is a mistake.

Nobody cares. Nobody is looking to join a community. Worse, you will waste your first impression. Those potential members are gone for good.

Use these steps to improve the conversion rate of mailing list recipients to active community members.

  1. Seed the community. Before you promote the community to this list, you need to have a community already there. You need to seed your community. You need to have people who already consider themselves members and have something to show your mailing list.
  2. Give potential members something to do. Here is an important lesson. Never promote a community, promote something members can do in the community. Initiate something in the community that members can be involved with. This might be a discussion or an event.
  3. Segment your list. You're not going to message everyone in one e-mail. Divide your list into relevant groups. Decide who you want (and why) and what you want members in your community to do. There are several ways to can segment your group. You want those you know best, most passionate and closest to you to be invited first. Your first few groups should be 10 to 25 members.
  4. Craft your approach. Your approach must be short and specific. Explain why you're approaching them and what you would like them to do. Don't feel compelled to explain everything. If they have questions they will e-mail you. This is the start of a conversation. Conversations are great.
  5. Test different approaches. This is key. Measure the success of each approach and adapt each time. You can give people different things to do. You can make the e-mail shorter or longer. You can try different subject lines.
  6. Follow up, once. After a few days have passed, send a follow up e-mail updating members on how the activity you asked them to participate in is going, include an update about what people you approached contributed.
  7. Plan the first 3 weeks. For those that participated (and you need to sign up to participate), plan the first three weeks. Build personal contacts with them. Schedule the next 3 discussions, events or contributions they can make. It generally takes 3 weeks for something to become a habit. Make sure you perfect your welcome for these 3 weeks.

The key here is to give potential members something they can do (something that they want to do) and to test different approaches. Start with a small segment of the mailing list and slowly approach larger and larger segments.

(Image: @ or at sign made of puzzle pieces on white background, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from horiavarlan's photostream)

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