Trying to nurture dozens, even hundreds, of successful groups is clearly different from managing one. Many organizations make the same mistake. They create a platform which enables members (or others) to create their own groups.
They soon find their community is filled with dead and inactive groups which harm the community experience for everyone.
A few rules have helped us in the past.
1) Begin one major success story. Over-invest your resources in making one community a clear success. If you can’t make one community thrive, don’t try to nurture a dozen others. Until you can get one community right, you have no business trying to build any others. One big success both shows you how to do it, stops you passing on mistakes to others, and it proves to others it can (and should) be done.
2) Expand slowly and with fixed criteria. Jumping from one success to 100 won’t go well. Expand slowly based upon clear criteria. Let members propose groups they want and put themselves forward to lead them. Each group must have a named founder, who can prove they can attract the first 10 to 50 members and keep them engaged. This demonstrates the need for the group and proves it delivers value to members (see the StackExchange model).
3) Promote the successful groups. As groups reach the criteria above, you can help by promoting them to the rest of the community/mailing list/other channels. This ensures you’re not promoting struggling groups to community members.
4) Remove groups which don’t achieve much. Remove any groups which don’t quickly hit these criteria or linger without achieving much in the way of growth or activity. This ensures you’re focusing resources (including audience attention) on successful groups.
5) Set benchmarks. You can’t control how every leader engages their members, but you can set effective standards and check them quarterly (sample of recent posts from leaders in the community). If these aren’t adhered to, issue a warning and then consider replacing the leader of the group. This is the only form of control you should exercise over the community (and even these standards are usually very flexible).
6) Invest in training. If you’re encouraging others to build communities, especially those with limited experience, providing training is critical. Training has to be condensed into the simplest nuggets. Our training in the past falls under three categories. 1) Creating internal courses, 2) In-person workshops, and 3) Online courses. In my experience, the first two work better than the latter. Training has to be customized to an audience with limited time and attention.
7) Gradually increase resources as groups grow. As a community grows, it should naturally gain more resources (investment, time, manpower, and skills). The best performing groups should be better promoted, receive more support etc…