Moving from Private/Paid community to Public - need strategy help


(Catherine Hackney) #1

I am looking for tips from CMs who have moved from being a private/member-only community (in my case, for a non-profit association) to being a public community that anyone can join (discussions and resources are profession related, but no process is in the plan for confirming new users are in a related job role).

How do you keep engagement up and not alienate the members of the community who joined when they had to pay to participate? The decision to move to public has already been made by the board, so I need to make it work and be successful!

There are currently about 4,500 paying members who get access to the online community - the plan is to open it up to the public and that would potentially allow in closer to 400,000 (or more!) non-paying users (and members would no longer have to pay after this year to access the community - but they built it to make it as active as it is today and their information and all past discussions are archived in the community and would become publicly visible…) and I’m really worried about trust issues from the core base of users within the existing 4500 members who have been paying for this access for years…

Thanks for and help/advice/tips!

(Piper_Wilson) #2

As a minimum, I would offer badges or something to the founding members.

I would also consider an area for “extra special members.” I imagine that, initially, the group may start off with mostly founding members, but let the regular members earn their way in.

I hope that makes sense and helps.

(Wouter Schrijvershof) #3

That is certainly a tall order but like you said it is now your job to bring it to them gently.
Have you already talked to some prominent members to gauge their opinion? There is a chance that if you fully disclose what is going on that you might get some members on your side.
Showing that you are aware that is not going to be fun for some goes a long way, especially if you do it before the change.

I like the ‘founding members’ area, this way you show that they are loved and appreciated.
Since I do not know what kind of non-profit this is the following might be a bit tricky but in general non-profits are about getting information out to as many people as possible.
They laid the foundation for this to be happening and their knowledge gets to be seen by a thousands if not ten thousands new people.
To summarize: acknowledge them and their contributions.

(Catherine Hackney) #4

By “earn their way in” what do you mean exactly? We plan to open the site so people can just sign up and immediately access all the discussions, past content, and post themselves. Would this mean something like if a new person signs up but doesn’t take any kind of action or doesn’t contribute they should be removed after a period of time? Or do they need to make a post as one of the steps of signing up for the community so they’ve already made their first contribution and they know that’s what an online community is all about?

I’m just spit balling now :slight_smile: but wondered if you had something specific in mind you might have done in the past?

(Catherine Hackney) #5

This is helpful. We plan to badge founding members and I will definitely recommend talking to existing power users before the change is made! That’s a great idea to be sure to get some buy-in before making the big switch.

I wonder if there are more ways to acknowledge or showcase founding members. I bet we’ll get ideas when we talk to members beforehand! :slight_smile:

(Piper_Wilson) #6

Oh, no! I don’t mean that new members should be penalized in any way. I’m talking about a Superuser type program. Here’s a link for you. BIG GUIDE: Nurturing And Fostering Superusers In Your Online Community

Unfortunately, I don’t have any real experience with one of these myself, but I know there are lots of people here who have.

(Darren Gough) #7

Out of curiosity what’s the reason for the switch? Looks like it’s to drive up membership but obviously you lose revenue so what is the board’s vision past that?

I guess I’m trying to get to the message and reason you might give your current members.

(Catherine Hackney) #8

Sorry for not being clear - this nonprofit is actually going to get rid of the membership model entirely and everyone will pay the same prices for education, events, etc. They did a review of member vs. nonmember overall revenue and nonmembers do not give the business any less revenue so the board made the decision to get rid of the membership barrier, as they see it, and let everyone get access to what have been “member-only benefits” and hopefully that will drive up what everyone is willing to pay for (buy more books, go to more events), if they feel they are getting more from the organization and paying about the same for resources they used to pay for (from the ~400,000 nonmembers who’ve interacted with this org vs. the 4,500 members they currently have).

This org has had decreasing membership numbers for a number of years now and overall with the current model they aren’t making any real revenue, so this big shake up is to change that.

(Anna Keenan) #9

Hey hey! I’m in the nonprofit world too. Would love to see a link to your community or hear what your Community Concept is.

I would recommend hosting either a meetup (if your community is place-based) or a web-conference to explain the rationale of the decision, and get excitement from the existing members about opening up the community. In my experience, most non-profit members want to see the organization succeed and grow, because they recognize that this is a good thing for the overall mission. Then after presenting the rationale, you could ask people if they are excited about it or more hesitant, and what they think the benefits are, and what they are concerned about. You might be able to draw out ideas from the community about how to manage the transition.

OR, you might hear very strong negative feedback about the decision and be able to confidently take that to the board to ask them to review their decision or add more nuance to it!

One useful concept I’ve used extensively recently is the ‘engagement pyramid’… valuable for differentiating between the millions of followers on an email list, and those supporters who are closer to the ‘core’ of an organization… You might be able to make the case that your community is for ‘contributors’ not ‘endorsers’ or ‘followers’.

I am also somewhat cautious about opening the floodgates to 400,000 new people all at once. Having some sort of gatekeeping will be key. Maybe a with you or a moderation team, upon entry to the community before you let them in? Gradual growth is key to successful relationship-building that holds the community together.

Here’s how I’d communicate it to existing members:
1 - “We all know that this community is awesome, we’ve built it up together to become something really valuable over the last few years. {insert lots of things people love about the current community}”
2 - "Now, recently, our organization’s board had a discussion about the need for us to grow, in order for our work to be more effective/impactful in the world. They feel that one of the ways to achieve this growth, and address our gradually-declining membership, is to get rid of the membership model entirely because {insert data about member vs nonmember revenue here - actually present all the reasons that the board made the decision.}
3 - "Because we are all people who care about {the organization’s mission}, we all want to support the growth and success of the organization. Previously, this community forum has only been available for members. So, I’d like for us to discuss how this community forum will change when the membership model transformation happens. Let’s go around and answer the following questions:

  • On a scale of 1-10, from ‘worried’ to ‘excited’ about this change, where do you place yourself and why?
  • What do you think the main benefits will be?
  • What do you think the main challenges will be?
  • How could we overcome some of these challenges?

(Catherine Hackney) #10

Unfortunately, I am not able to share what organization is going through this change yet. It’s not even been communicated to all staff at this time… the change will be happening late this year. It’s a nation-wide org, so a face-to-face isn’t possible, but I can suggest an online open call for members to feel hear by the org.

I really like your ideas and already have covered a few of them but your message layout for communicating to members is gold! I appreciate the help!