Rolling out major site/platform changes - how to message, when to do it?

(MHCommMgr) #1

I am tasked with communicating with our users about some major site rollouts happening soon. In addition, there have been other big transitions of late, including the departure of the old community manager. We already know a small minority of vocal users (from our ambassador team) are frustrated enough with the changes that they have been speaking out in a negative way on their ambassador forums and to the old community manager via DM and email, and during our current test rollout have bookmarked the old version of the site (which our Product team endorsed at the time) so they can continue using it. However, the site has to be modernized for other reasons I won’t go into here.

What I’m trying to decide is:

a) how to message to them that the older version of the site is going away
b) when to move forward with the rollout (rip the bandaid approach and do right away or give some time for me to get to know them before)
b) whether or not to keep the older version of the site live for a slightly longer period (enabling them to continue to avoid the new site, even though we cannot support the older version any more)

I’d love thoughts from anyone who has had to deal with major site changes and negative members before (which I’m sure is everyone!).

[18 July] What are you working on this week?
(Sarah Hawk) #2

Yes! I’ve been through this and I feel your pain. It’s a really complicated (and at times exhausting and frustrating) process.

In my case, I migrated a large (and vocal) tech community of vB and onto Discourse (while it was still in Beta and no one had heard of it). The response sounds very similar to what you are experiencing – there were some very angry, negative reactions from people that were key members of the community.

The bottom line (which you’ve probably heard me say a million times before): your community isn’t a democracy and although I believe it’s important to communicate decisions ahead of time to give people an opportunity to voice their concerns, the decision isn’t theirs to make.

Here is how I first communicated it. You don’t have to read far to start drowning in the negativity.

One month later (which was when we were due to go live but were held up) I posted an update on the situation and then the following month we made the move. That timeline worked well. People had a voice but it didn’t drag on. It also gave them the opportunity to make sure they had what they needed from the old site (we didn’t take all content). Then we shut them out immediately.

Unless there is a compelling reason to do so, I think that you need a clean break. You don’t want to have to maintain two sites, and the people that don’t want to change are going to have to eventually anyway. Prolonging things doesn’t generally serve any useful purpose.

Be careful how you respond to the negativity. During that time I made a personal policy of running my responses by someone else before posting. When you’re in the thick of it, it’s very easy to get defensive and add fuel to the fire.

The mixed messages coming from the Product Team also sound a little confusing (and perhaps concerning). Do you think everyone in the organisation is on the same page?

(Darren Gough) #3

@HAWK’s response here is really good. There’s a balance to strike between involving the community, and also having to let them know that decisions might be made they won’t like.

People hate change, so in the times I’ve done any sort of upgrade (versions, look, functionality) we tend to let people know what the expectation is, and the benefits, clearly flag any change that might remove functionality or make it different and invite an initial round of feedback with NO promises you’ll take anything on board but you will listen.

Communities grow because new members come in, not because 1% of “original” members complain. They will complain, let them. Just be certain what you’re moving to is a considered improvement and commit to it.

This is usually a classic response from the angry 1% : “The people in charge are ruining this community - it’s no wonder people don’t come here any more and/or I’m leaving”

The result? You know the community is growing from the stats, the people in charge aren’t ruining the community and those people actually never do leave.

(MHCommMgr) #4

Thanks @HAWK and @Darren_Gough. You’re right, this is the angry 1% holding the site back. The interesting thing is that our communities are not growing. We need to modernize overall for the other products we offer to succeed, and that’s the goal, while the goal for the communities is more to maintain traffic (I personally would love to see it grow, as the community manager, but it’s not what I’m tasked with).

I think our Product team made the decision to share with them the way to use the old site because they are longtime members, and we wanted to keep them happy while the new site was being tested. The new site is now outperforming the old (we have been A/B testing it with a 50% rollout) and we can move forward.

I’m not sure the benefits of the new site have been communicated to these users, or that they see benefits, so that’s a good place to start, but I’m happy to see my gut instinct to rip the bandaid is probably on track. They’ve been given a second round to give feedback this next month with a new survey, and I’m going to reach out to some individuals for conversations, but I think after that’s done we need to move on.

(Sarah Hawk) #5


[quote=“MHCommMgr, post:4, topic:3118”]
The new site is now outperforming the old (we have been A/B testing it with a 50% rollout) and we can move forward.
[/quote] Well that sounds like the perfect approach. “We’re now finished with development and testing so it’s time to turn the old site off. Thanks for your patience throughout this process.”

It sounds to me like your gut is telling you all the right things. Good luck! Let us know how you go and if you need further support with bouncing around ideas.

(MHCommMgr) #6

Thanks! I really hope I can tout the benefits too so the angry 1% does not leave, as they are valuable contributors in other ways, that’s why messaging is so important.

(MHCommMgr) #7

An update on this… talked to the product team and they were making the old site available to make my life and the moderators lives easier because they know closing the old site will mean a lot of negative messages and posts for us to deal with. However, the gut feeling of the moderator team and I is to still rip the band aid. Not yet decided, but wanted to share that. One option we have thought of is waiting til September, which is one year anniversary for having both sites up, and then cut if off.

(Sarah Hawk) #8

Thanks for the update, it’s appreciated. Following a journey to its conclusion is valuable for all of our learning.

I suspect that the number of negative messages won’t change, they’re just being pushed off for a while! Still, it must be nice to know that their intentions were good (i.e. to support you rather than to undermine you).

A line in the sand is a good thing. Is there a benefit to the business in maintaining both sites for another two months though, or is this an emotional decision?

(MHCommMgr) #9

No business benefit whatsoever. They would not even maintain the site. As things broke, they would not be fixed on the old forums, only the new. So it would really just be prolonging the inevitable.