8 Ways Community of Practice (CoP) Managers Can Improve Member Engagement on Listservs

May 21, 2021

My experience as a community of practice manager spans managing the Plain Language Community of Practice (PL CoP) for seven years. Also, I actively participated in a DC community of more than 3,000 members that promotes women in technology. In both of these experiences, I learned a lot about how to keep a community engaged and lively.

LISTSERV email groups are the lifeblood of our communities. Below are four techniques for using your LISTSERV to get people talking, and sharing their expertise and perspectives in your community. You may be surprised at the interesting conversations you can have, once you get people engaged and talking to one another.

Technique: Sharing an article

One technique is to spur discussion. Do that by posting a relevant article, with a quote and a link. Title the message so the topic and purpose are clear. I add the word ARTICLE to the subject line.

Subject line: ARTICLE: Using Chatbots To Improve Customer Experience

Body copy: Check out this article on Using Chatbots To Improve Customer Experience. Better customer experience, faster response time, and longer availability are some of the many benefits of leveraging automation and artificial intelligence (AI). As more federal teams consider the use of chatbots to improve access for millions of people needing government services, here are some tips and lessons learned from three different case studies.

Read the article: [Using Chatbots To Improve Customer Experience](Using Chatbots To Improve Customer Experience).

People can share the email with their own teams or respond to the list with comments or questions. You can also follow up with related case studies or articles about the topic.

Technique: Creating discussion

Another technique is to bring up a problem you’re facing. I add DISCUSS to the subject line.

Subject line: DISCUSS: Does your communications team consider Plain Language enough?

Body copy: We here at the Plain Language Community of Practice (CoP) believe that using plain language saves federal agencies time and money and provides better service to the American public. Do you feel your communications team considers plain language enough?

Sometimes people respond to the entire community; sometimes they respond just to me. But it gets people thinking and responding, and sometimes it redirects a conversation.

I find it also useful to post articles, podcasts, and book reviews and people often respond. In the Plain Language CoP, we have lively discussions about style guides, grammar references, and favorite non-grammar reference works. You can find some of those resources here on

You can also ask for further recommendations when you post something. For example, I posted a webinar recommendation; I made sure that I asked for other people’s recommendations as well. People benefit from seeing other viewpoints.

Technique: Sharing jobs

A popular technique is to share job openings. In the subject line, I put JOB: name of job, agency, closing date.

Subject line: JOB, General Services Administration (GSA), January 20: Plain Language Editor 

Body copy: GSA is looking for a plain language editor: Insert link

I know nothing more about this position.

I also use something I learned from being a member of other LISTSERVs: I always put “I know nothing more about this/these positions” in my email. If I don’t add that wording, people ask if I’m hiring, if I’ll look at their resumes, or if I’ll put in a good word. 

Sometimes people send me jobs to post. I always encourage other people to post their own jobs. I want people to get used to posing their own questions, responding to others, and keeping discussions going in the list.

Technique: Posting events

Post events, not only for your own CoP, but from other CoPs, including conferences and other things people might be interested in. Keep it relevant to your community’s interests. Remember that you may have people in your CoP from across the country, so don’t just focus on events in your geographic location. I add the word EVENT to the subject line. 

Subject line: EVENT, How To Navigate Challenges To Successfully A/B Test Your Emails 

Body copy: Join members of’s A/B Testing Community of Practice on 1/11/2021 to learn how to A/B test your emails. Register below.

It doesn’t make a difference whether the events are free or not; people make their own decisions. Be careful not to appear to endorse private events, just share them as FYI.

Other subject lines to use

In closing, here are four additional examples of subject line introductions, courtesy of DC Web Women, you can use to share information that your members will be able to easily identify.

  • ISO (In Search Of): You’re looking for a particular thing or a particular person.
  • Q or QUESTION: You have a question about any tech topic related to jobs, software, hardware, a problem you’re having with any of the above, etc.
  • SITESEEING: A play on the word, sightseeing, use this to pass along an interesting, cool, or useful website — but not your own!
  • SUMMARY: Be a good neighbor and post answers to questions you’ve asked – others may also be looking for the same thing.  Always remove the responders’ names and contact information from the summary – post only the information that was sent to you.