Online communities can be an indispensable asset for an organization only if they meet business needs. But, when the maintenance costs are higher than its revenue, it’s time to take adequate measures.
However, bidding adieu to your community suddenly may impact your brand’s reputation. You may have to face the wrath of members who’re emotionally invested in your community.
So, how do you deliver this news to your members?
There is no running away from the fact that shutting your community down may result in the loss of members. It may leave some customers disgruntled too. However, conveying the honest reason behind your community’s closure can substantiate the repercussions to some extent.
So, here is a well-thought community closure plan that will help you conclude your community on a good note.
What is Sunsetting? Why Shouldn’t it be Taken Lightly?
To dissolve a community entirely or selective parts of it, is called sunsetting.
While the majority of communities are striving to evolve and adapt to changing business needs, sometimes a community has to shut down. There could be many reasons, like –
- Merger & Acquisition Activity
- Termination of service or product community supported
- Declining member support and engagement
- Lack of financial resources
- Failure to meet business needs
- Hitting Recession
Regardless of the reason, it is important to bring your online community to a graceful conclusion. It is the perfect way to continue the relationship with your remaining vocal members.
A rushed and unplanned closure of an online community can send the wrong message about your brand. Keep in mind that you can have your customers, brand influencers, and media contacts in your community. And, abruptly closing your online community can have far-reaching consequences on your company’s reputation. That is why discontinuing an online community should not be taken lightly. It is imperative to approach this decision with caution and precise planning.
Sunsetting Your Community the Right Way – A Checklist With an Ideal Timeline
Managing communication and customer relations through community shutdown demands equal or more efforts than technical efforts. Having said that, building a strong game plan for a smoother phasing out of an online community is vital.
An ideal timeline for sunsetting your online community should be 90 days. However, not everyone can afford to invest that much time and effort. So, we’ve come up with a shorter timeline of 4 weeks (30 days). This timeline sums up the most important considerations for a smoother online community sunsetting.
So, here you go –
Day 30 – Review Structured and Unstructured Data
A community is more than just a mere platform. It is a hub of good ideas and useful information packed inside discussion threads, comments, feedback space, and other user-generated content. All of this useful information will disappear once the lights go out. So, start with carefully reviewing both structured and unstructured data and saving it somewhere safe and accessible. Since a majority of communities bring customer feedback, it is wise to develop alternative workflows to manage customer feedback and relations.
Day 14 – Brief All the Key Players
After settling the technical aspects, start telling your inner circle about the decision. It is best to hold a conference (virtual or in-person) and brief them about the decision. Since they’re active members that regularly participated, it is natural for them to wonder about their significant contribution. And, about the personal connections they have made with other members. So, prepare some key points and appreciate their contribution.
Day 7 – The Big Announcement
Now, it is the time to officially inform your community members about your decision. You can opt for a conference audio or video call to address your community members. Assuming your community has 5,000 members, only a small but highly-invested fraction would attend this call. If your member base is larger, consider writing an article. Here’s a great example that informs members about community sunsetting, appreciates their contribution and provides a medium to contact them post-sunset. Give them time to download/save their data or other resources they need from your community.
Pro-Tip: Open a new forum to encourage members to voice their opinions, concerns, and ideas.
Day 3 – Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
As the D-Day approaches, it’s time to acknowledge your community members and their concerns. Those who are saddened by the decision, empathize with them. Offer alternative communities or resources to members who need support. And, give them a way to reach out to you to those who want to be in touch post-sunset.
Day 1 (24 hours) – Give a Chance to Everyone to Bid Goodbye
On the final day, post a goodbye thread and give everyone a chance to respond. You’ll be surprised to see how deeply some members care about your community. Some may even attempt to save the community. In that case, be open about why you came to this decision and why it is important. Offer support to your community team and members who are feeling sad or hurt by the decision.
After the shutdown activity is all done and dusted, pull together your internal stakeholders to conduct an honest sunset review. Compare the actual outcomes with the expectations to measure the impact. Also, don’t forget to redirect the community URL to a destination that explains your community’s shutdown. Include links to other resources or destinations of your organization’s web presence like the official website, social media profile, etc.
Sunsetting your community can be a difficult decision for you and your community members. So, you need to focus on the positive aspects to help your members get through this unpleasant situation. In fact, if you step back and think about it, sunsetting can actually be an opportunity to start afresh and grow stronger. It frees up the resources to invest in a better community infrastructure that serves your members better.
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