What’s Most Likely To Kill Your Online Community?
You know the saying, first they ignore you…
There are relatively fixed stages of doom for most communities.
1) You don’t notice the new trend (a shift to new technology, member launching a rival community, decline in topic popularity, collapse in internal support).
2) You ignore or dismiss the trend (“it’s a fad”, “he doesn’t have the support”, “our topic is strong” or “Mr. Smith has our back”).
3) You fight against the trend. You persuade people your technology is better, you attack your rival, you try to promote the topic, or you try to gain internal support. But it’s usually too late.
We all know what comes next.
The best time to prepare for this is right now.
1) If there is a sudden shift to a new technology, it’s better to move sooner than later. Go with the trend. Move to that app, launch the community on Reddit/Facebook as well, and speak to members regularly about how they participate in topic discussions. It’s incredibly hard (for you) to walk away from a platform in which you’ve invested so much. It’s far harder to see all your members walk away from you.
2) Preempt members launching a rival community. Rival communities form from an unmet need or disillusionment (a common scenario is when a community removes a feature members like). Provide a system for anonymous feedback for members to highlight what they want from the community.
3) Use data to check for topic popularity. How many people are searching for relevant terms each month? How many unique, new, visitors are reaching your community? How many people are showing up to events and participating in research? How many list the job profession in their profile? If you notice a decline, broaden the focus of the community or launch new communities in related areas.
4) Notice the signs of falling internal support. If your boss seems less interested in communities, if your budget is cut (or not increased), if you aren’t getting much attention internally, this is a problem. You need regular meetings with your boss (always a good practice) and other stakeholders. Understand what value they need and communicate how they’re getting it.
None of this is easy, which is why so many communities fall victim to one of the above. If you move quickly, many kinds of community deaths are entirely preventable.