I’ve long lost track of all the ideas we’ve tried that didn’t work.
Just at the top of my mind, there was the early CommunityGeek idea of getting academics to interact with top community professionals, the bulk-book buying deals that no-one bought into, the Get Unstuck webinar a few months ago, several early iterations of the podcast before we stopped it, some of the public speaking events, the drive to get people to share their data and benchmark against one another, and a lot more.
Looking at most of the large social sites out there, a little digging into the news archives shows most have a HUGE number of failed ideas. Facebook failed with FBML, Places, Questions, Inbox, Credits, Gifts, Deals, Credits, Poke, Slingshot and so on.
Two thoughts here.
First, the danger of failure is you begin to retreat from trying anything again. You focus on what you have now. You become the band that only plays its classic hits as the audience gradually fades away.
The moment you stop trying new scary things is the moment the community turns inwards. It begins to get stale. It’s the moment you open the door for more innovative competitors. If you’ve lost your members to Facebook, Reddit, or rival communities, it’s because you were out-innovated.
Second, never copy ideas from existing competitors. Most of Facebook’s missteps came when they tried to copy Twitter, Snapchat, Groupon, Foursquare. You can’t compete with competitors by doing what they’re already doing. You have to do what they’re not doing (or better, what they’re afraid to do).
From the outside this will always look like chaotic mismanagement rather than a culture of innovation. You will be told you’re a fool (in less polite terms). People both inside and outside of the community will tell you to quit.
And you will bear the brunt of these attacks. You know what they don’t. Every misstep brings you a step closer to the few ideas among many that will drive the community in the future.