In this 5-part series, Carrie explains how to take your community from unruly to organized, positioning you for scalability and growth. You can find the full introduction here.

Step 1: Create a clear line of communication from yourself to the community.

The first step is surprisingly simple. If you're managing an unruly community, the very first thing you need to do is throw people clear communication channels. This can be scary and unpredictable, but it is necessary.

Here’s a great way to get started:

  1. Send out individual emails to all current users. Use a program like Mailchimp or Constant Contact to monitor response rates and open rates. Follow up with those who don’t open the email. Before sending, get input from your design team (if applicable) and product team in order to make sure you're all on the same page about messaging. It's best to throw in your picture so they know you’re a real person and give them several ways of reaching you (Twitter, G+, email).
  2. For community members who have been sending out angry messages, write a special (super short!) note in addition to that email. Tell them how important their input is. Whatever they request, make it happen if you can or make sure they know you're advocating for them higher up if you can't.
  3. Create a platform for people to talk to one another. Involve your product, engineering, business, and any other relevant teams in this discussion. Take some time to think about where your community is most likely to feel comfortable and start there. Choose a platform that's free or cheap so you can transfer if necessary or integrate into your product later. This is a pilot. Ning, Mightybell, Google+, and Facebook are all great starting points.
  4. Continue outreach on a regular basis via email or private message as well as the platform to the following groups of people: newcomers, anyone who has commented and started a good discussion, anyone with customer service issues, and anyone with product feature suggestions.

Now wait for the responses. Dedicate yourself to replying to each one at some point in the day or funneling them to the right people (preferably after lunch so your blood sugar is up). Once you've established a relationship, funnel future queries to the community itself and have people send their questions to the community platform. That will release you from answering a bevy of emails and allow the community to gather together and help one another. Choose a few people who are positive and encourage them to take care of others. Send swag if you must!

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