Making Major Community Changes – When To Involve Members

March 16, 2011Comments Off on Making Major Community Changes – When To Involve Members

If you're going to make a major change in the community, you need to decide when to involve members. Too soon can cause problems in what you're trying to achieve. Members don't see the big picture as you do. Too late and members feel left out, disconnected. 

Here are a few options:

  1. What would you like to see in the community?
    This is the absolute beginner stage. This is a completely open question. You hope that members will identify the problem you have and come up with viable solutions for them which you can implement with their full support. This rarely works. The answers will usually be difficult to implement and unlikely to identify the major change you would like. However, anything that is identified will get full community support. Ultimately, however, it's not very strategic on your part.
  2. We need to change because {reason}, how should we do it?
    This is another open question. You establish the reason for change and ask them what approach to take on it. This is the most common, members usually don't know how to do it. You're the expert, not them.
  3. We're doing {activity} because {reason}, how should we design/do {specific element}?
  4. Here, you're asking for open input on a specific element. You explain the problem and the approach to solving it, but they come up with ideas for that specific approach e.g. ideas for the new website. 

  5. We're doing {activity} because {reason}, which of these {specific elements} do you like best? 
  6. This is a closed question. The problem, solution and implemention is mostly decided by you. However, you give members a choice between three different specifics as determined by you (so all are acceptable).

  7. What do you think of {changed elements}. We had to change them because {reason}.

Most communities seem to resort to the extremes of options 1 and 5 in soliciting feedback from their community. They ask for their opinion after making the change or ask them for feedback without providing any clear context for that feedback. 

In my experience, variations of options 3 and 4 usually work best. 

The real message here though isn't just to involve members, but to actively decide when you will involve them and for what reasons. Decide what level of upset you can tolerate in a community (Facebook, for example, are happy to ride it out) and the potential for members to provide actionable feedback. 

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