How the Association of Change Management Professionals Launched a New Online Community

Associations, Community Strategy // Introducing a new online space for member engagement represents a big change. How did the staff at the Association of Change Management Professionals pull it off?

Beth Arritt
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Launching an online member community is always a significant undertaking for any association. And depending on the organization, you’ll find unique staff, processes, and members. That’s why it’s always fun to drop in and find out how various groups have gone about building and supporting their communities.

We chatted with Michelle Lowry, Community Manager at the Association of Change Management Professionals, about the deliberate steps her team took to stand up and then roll out their highly successful new space for members – ACMP Connect. Their team won the 3, 2, 1, liftoff! Award at Super Forum this year, so there’s plenty we can learn from them!

Higher Logic: With a community launch, your team was executing a major change for an audience of experts at major change. Isn’t that like having to sing at Adele’s birthday party?

Michelle Lowry: Not too far off. Launching a new community has a lot of challenges, but this had that extra wrinkle of introducing a significant organizational change for members who are literally professionals at significant organizational change. That’s why we didn’t approach this lightly. We had to nail it, and we had to get key members involved early and often.

HL: Where did you begin with your community project?

ML: We did what our members do. We started developing a comprehensive change management plan. That involved meeting over the course of several weeks and doing several change management planning exercises. During those sessions, we developed an elevator pitch for the community, talked about what success looked like at strategic, tactical, and operational levels, and completed both a high-level stakeholder analysis and a change and impacts analysis. What all this forced us to do was consider the multiple perspectives of our stakeholders and how we could best include them all in the rollout.

HL: That’s a lot of careful thinking up front. Who were some of the stakeholders you wanted to make sure you involved?

ML: Naturally, the members. We did member surveys that helped us understand their needs and interests. Then our Digital Learning & Collaboration Committee, Board, and Chapter leaders helped us shape that into components like professional interest communities, tags, and site architecture. When we were building the site, we had volunteers helping us test it in beta. Then there was another group we selected to be our community champions and drive engagement right away.

HL: You mentioned beta testing. Too many groups take the approach of “go ahead and launch it, then we’ll fix what’s broken.” How did you organize the testing phase at your association?

ML: Our beta testing lasted just under a month, and we had 70 testers we made sure knew exactly what we wanted them to do. There was a detailed testing script in a survey format so they could indicate Pass/Fail for each item and add comments. We were looking for any buttons or features that weren’t working, and it also helped reveal a couple things we needed to add to the FAQ or create tutorials on. Even after the testing, we had a final call with the testers to see if they had any final thoughts.

HL: How many communities are we talking about?

ML: We had an open forum and seven professional interest communities when we launched. And we had 3-5 Facilitators, volunteers, for each. So the Facilitators would seed questions and take the lead on moderation. We met with them several times before launch, giving them templates for and guidance on building a community charter and a communication/engagement plan. We made a Facilitator Guide that included how to/not to interact with members.

HL: It doesn’t sound like you just suddenly threw the Facilitators into the deep end.

ML: No, they were in a secondary ‘beta’ round where they met each other, get familiar with the site, and got hands-on with the moderation tools. We reviewed their seed questions and made some suggestions for the soft launch.

HL: What did the soft launch entail?

ML: We did a soft launch a week before the full launch and invited our Facilitators and Board Members into the communities to start populating discussions with one or two seed questions and get the engagement rolling. The idea was to make it look already active and vibrant when people came to check it out the very first time. We had 163 posts in 31 threads in the community before inviting the entire membership in.

HL: Which obviously was the full launch, right?

ML: Yes, we launched with a welcome post in the open forum from the Board President and a reply from me detailing ‘what steps should I take.’ Lots of information about subscriptions, profile settings and getting started. The marketing email went out to the entire database at 9 am. At launch, we had 5,283 members in All Member Connect, and we stayed on full moderation the first two weeks to keep any ‘take me off this list’ or other admin-type questions out of the forums.

HL: Clearly lots of interest in the community, lots of people checking it out. What did you do to make sure they got value right away and wanted to stay?

ML: In addition to starting with clearly active forums, we had several resources to help them get the most out of the community. We had a Getting Started page, a Gamification/Earning Points page, and some how-to blogs on Managing Community Notifications, Participating in Discussion Forums, Updating Privacy Settings, and Updating Profile Photo and Information. Then in the weeks after the launch, we hosted two ‘Launch Party’ webinars to show people around ACMP Connect and answer any questions.

HL: We understand you have some numbers you’re proud of.

ML: I do! On the first day of full launch, we had 287 unique logins and 52 posts by 28 people. By the end of the first week, 656 people had logged in and we had 208 posts by 83 different people. After 90-days, about 37% of the entire membership had logged in.

HL: What were you doing to help build those numbers?

ML: About 35 days in, we started firing an automation rule email to those who logged in more than once but hadn’t posted. The email told them about the Early Adopter badge, which could only be earned when they made one post in the first 90 days. That sparked a 22% increase in our unique contributors.

HL: It sounds like the members are liking what they’re finding.

ML: We definitely think so, because we’re hearing from them in the community. They’re saying things like “You’ve gained a lifetime-member with this. I’ll contribute a lot to the lively exchange,” and “This is so great to be able to chat, learn, and connect with all of you.” The reaction has been exactly what we were hoping for and tremendously rewarding.

Are you launching a community at your own association? In addition to Michelle’s awesome tips, make sure you check out Chapter 5 in our Complete Guide to Online Community.

Beth Arritt

Association Strategist

Beth’s marketing experience encompasses more than twenty-five years of marketing strategy and member/customer engagement in various industries, including puzzles and games, training, education and aviation.

In addition to marketing, Beth has worked in event management and web development, wearing a variety of hats in different positions. She has also been an adjunct professor of marketing at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia.

Beth received a Bachelor of Science degree in Merchandising from James Madison University, a Certificate in Event Management from The George Washington University, and a Masters of Business Administration/Marketing from the University of Phoenix. She has earned numerous awards for her marketing, including two Top Digital Marketer of the Year awards.

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