There are a wealth of tools that you can tap to cut down on your workload and make it easier for others to participate. Here are just a few I’ve used:
Refresh Austin uses Google Groups as the central point of communication. It’s convenient and easy for us to administer and provides our members the ability to choose how they want to interact with it. Each person can choose to receive every message posted to the board as it comes in, or opt to receive a batch message each day, or they may choose to use it as a message board, visiting whenever is convenient for them. Keep that last option in mind – you may have a significant amount of members who do not receive any e-mail from the group, and who may not check the message board very often, if at all. The one downside to Google Groups is the lack of a decent spam solution. You’ll spend some time weeding the garden, but its worth it.
Tip: A spammy list will destroy your group. Set Google Groups to moderate all new members. This puts a bit of work on your shoulders up front, but once you see a valid message from a user, you can set them to “Always Allow” and you won’t have to moderate them any more.
I’ve also set up the Refresh Austin Google Group to auto-tweet to the Refresh Austin Twitter account whenever there is a new topic or job posted to one of our mailing lists.
Don’t forget other methods, like chat rooms or IRC channels if your group would be into it.
I’ve used SurveyMonkey to gauge which subjects we should cover in our Refresh meetings as well as to gain a better insight into what members would like from the group. The basic level is free and has served my needs well. There are many similar options.
Refresh Austin used to use Upcoming to provide event information and to track potential attendance, but has shifted to Facebook given the amount of people in the network. Ultimately I chose to go where the people are and that’s Facebook. Meetup is another option, but they charge an annual fee, which doesn’t seem like a worthwhile use of money for our particular group. You can also keep it simple, and just send out notices to your group and keep your Web site up-to-date, as the Austin 1759 Society does.
Tip: Keep in mind that you can’t rely on the RSVP numbers on any of the sites, as many members of your group may not RSVP or may not stick to their option. Enforcing an RSVP will result in less attendance unless yours is an exclusive group.
This is a bit of a no-brainer, but I want to ensure I include everything I can think of. Make sure you have a site that includes the most up-to-date information regarding your meetings and topics, even if you are posting to multiple other sources like those mentioned above. You want to ensure that your group is findable via search engines and a URL that’s easy to remember. You may also want to include a wiki or a blog to make it easier for your members to follow group news and contribute to the expansion of the site through comments and new content. As to which platform or content package you use – the only thing that matters is that you have a t least a few people who know how to use it and keep it up to date.