Knowing when to kill a community

(JoeBuhlig) #1

There’s only one decent community in the conventional agriculture world and it’s running on some really old tech. I had worked on a competitor to them when I was with a previous employer but our solution was severely lacking. When I left them and started my own business I knew I wanted to do it right. I set up a Discourse site, found some early adopters, and away we went.

Two weeks in and there were a whopping 10 users. 90% of the folks I talked to up front backed out at launch. No idea why and none of them would help me understand. I spent a few months working at it but what I found was this: I really didn’t care about the community.

I don’t care to start and lead genuine conversation about conventional agriculture. I have a ton of experience with it and talk about it in person all the time. But when it comes to a digital conversation, I’m not one to get involved. I could dig into my personality and figure out why or look at things I could do differently for a potential relaunch. But I need to be honest with myself and know when to kill it before it’s an even bigger drain than it already is.

I bring this up because I think it’s just as important to know your weaknesses as it is to know your strengths. And unless you have a passion for the topic, it might be better to shut it down. Thanks for listening to my confession. :wink:

(Sarah Hawk) #2

Good on you Joe and thanks for talking about it.

What process did you follow when you closed it down (assuming you already have)?

(JoeBuhlig) #3

I haven’t officially done anything yet other than decide. My plan is to create a topic explaining the decision and make sure there has been time to let the digests send. Then it goes read only for a month and then goobye. That’s the idea. Any suggestions?

(Sarah Hawk) #4

I’ve never been part of a community shut down project so I don’t have any specific insights, but I think your plan sounds like a solid one. That gives people time to grab any PMs that they need, time to voice their opinions (FWIW), time to connect with other members to get contact info etc.

I guess one important thing is to make sure that you make the announcement in such a way that people realise it’s a done deal, and that you’re not asking them for feedback about the idea.

(christopher w) #5

What a great post @JoeBuhlig.

You hit the nail on the head here:

Because without this, where’s the burning heart that’s going to drive the community in its formative months?

Back in 2008 after looking at what else was on offer, I decided to start a football forum for a well known Premier League club. I set myself high ideals and objectives and worked non stop to build it up to become the most respected ‘voice’ in the community. I had my family and friends post and generally loved, cajoled and stroked the egos of every member as it slowly got off the ground. Even the club advertised with me (a first for them). But in the end I had to close it as it was destroying my life. Not to mention the $1000 a month that Community Server (and hardware) cost to license in those days.

Btw, for those interested, Community Server was a very good product and predated much of what FB has now. I note incidentally that there’s a another very good platform called Moo Social that does now, what Community Server did then. If only Moo had better forum capabilities, would be the natural choice for many discussion led communities. But, alas, it doesn’t… yet.

Before I ‘closed’ my community I reached out to the members and offered to hand over the reins. No interest, even from the most prolific of posters. They made excuses about being busy (so I was I with weekly hops to and from NYC) and if not busy then, ‘I don’t understand tech’ and so on.

When I eventually shut shop, and reconvened on FB, I sensed quite a lot of resentment towards me. It was as if It was my duty to provide the cash, sweat and tears, necessary to keep an operation like that rolling. We still keep in touch, but as a group they moved on to other forums and interestingly post just as avidly as they did with me - the difference being the forums they are now members of typically run one of the old school platforms, with none of the bells and whistles I offered - such as league tables, player profiles, chat and so on. Which goes to show, that platform features might well be appreciated, but lack of which, aren’t obstacles to building up a busy community.

So what I learned from that experience was members:

  1. wanted a community to belong to
  2. but beyond commenting, didn’t want to contribute
  3. and didn’t care one way or another about the features on offer - as long as it was ‘up’
  4. believed the Internet was free, or at least should be free for them
  5. and that forum providers and forum members tend to be very different types of people

(Nancy Kinder) #6

I had a bit of experience retiring an internal community at Cadbury.

Usually prompted by loss of the community manager or change in business priorities.

We would usually start with a bit of research with the members. If this were turned off, stopped, how would that impact you?

Sometimes this helped to identify new people to lead it but if the feedback from your research confirms your members don’t want it, why continue?

Even if no on was that interested we always recommended moving to wind down phase first before officially retiring it. Leaving it fully operational but with fixed notice on the site confirming it was still live but not being actively supported.

We would email all the members and stakeholders confirming that the community manager is stepping down and there are no volunteers to take over. The site would be available for 12 months and members could still reach out to each other and existing content is still a valuable resource.

Then, every quarter send an email or notification because it helped to remind members that they can still connect directly with others and re-use the content previously shared on the community site.

In my experience, by following this process it will be easier to resurrect and if not, members will be reminded of useful knowledge and contacts they can make from it. Sometimes, during this time, things changed and a new natural lead took over and it never retired. Occasionally we did close a couple but not without all members taking and using what they needed first.

Good luck and let us all know what you did.