Don’t Make Changes Until You Understand The Ecosystem

An incident recently reminded me of the Ron Johnson/JCPenny story.

In 2011, JCPenney hired Apple’s retail chief Ron Johnson as CEO.

Ron Johnson decided JCPenny should be more like Apple. Senior staff are replaced, advertising and PR agencies are changed, sales and promotions are cut etc…

A year later, JCPenny’s sales plummeted by 32% (“the worst in retail history”) and Ron was fired.

It’s common when you’re going from a very successful community to another community to make your new community like the old. This frequently means changing the platform, bringing in new rules, adopting similar processes in managing the community etc..

And it’s equally common for this approach to fail miserably – often disastrously (the worst case I can recall led to members abandoning the expensive brand-hosted community and creating their own, far more popular, community elsewhere).

Two considerations here:

1) Did your previous community succeed because of what you did or in spite of what you did? Building a community in a mature, fertile, environment (i.e. where you have lots of support, a large flow of incoming members, a high-risk tolerance) is very different from building a community in a more challenging environment (i.e. a smaller, private, community).

2) What benchmarks can you improve? What is the community doing well at the moment? What should be changed? Where are the incremental areas of growth?

Don’t make big changes until you really understand the full ecosystem.

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