Social Failures

A community strategy should contain ‘risk factors’.

These are the biggest causes of community failure. Each risk factor should highlight the risk (i.e. technology failure), the likelihood of it happening (be Bayesian about this), the impact of it happening (from light to severe), the mitigation plan, and who’s responsible for implementing the mitigation plan.

The biggest risks are called ‘failures’. Put simply, this is when the community dies.

Technology failures are just one of the three things that can kill a community. It’s the least common and comparatively easy to mitigate against.

The two more likely failures are 1) your company will shut the community down (internal failure) or b) members leave (social failure).

Social failures tend to come in three forms, each of which you can mitigate against.

1) Decline in topic interest. Members gradually drift away because the topic becomes less interesting. Measure the number of unique new visitors to your community and search traffic trends for relevant terms. If you see a decline, you need to adjust the community’s topic scope to accommodate for where members are going.

2) Competitors. A new platform or community arises with a more focused topic or better technology which sucks in members. Measure average contributions per active member. If it declines, survey and interview members to ask where they are participating and learning about the topic today. Analyze these competitors too and either adopt their biggest features or develop unique benefits of your own. Facebook has shown if you move quickly enough you can ward off almost any threat (Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat etc..).

3) The community manager leaves. This is why the community manager should not be solely responsible for mitigating risk factors. A sudden community manager transition (i.e. where two don’t work alongside each other for a few weeks) is a recipe for disaster in smaller communities. The new community manager often struggles to maintain the same relationships, initiate discussions as engaging as before or create and facilitate the same quality of content. The best mitigation is to build a pipeline of potential recruits in advance, have two community professionals work alongside each other, and build an internal resource of best practices to quickly bring a newcomer up to speed.

In my experience, most communities both grossly underestimate the risk of failures and then increase the risk by taking no steps to mitigate against them.

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