There are many reasons that communities that were once vibrant and full of activity end up fizzling out. Community programs that change leadership, that fail to replace a community manager, or that set a community on autopilot hoping that community members self-manage are all factors that play into why communities go dark. And sometimes, despite your best efforts, the light just dims with no obvious explanation. The larger problem to solve is how to restore vibrancy to these communities once they’ve gone dormant. Or do you?
But before we get to solutions, we must lead with a question: what happened? Did any of the scenarios presented above influence the community’s current state, or was it something else? Here are some tips that will help you understand why the community went silent and how to breathe new life into them.
Dig for data
If you’re in a situation where your community mysteriously turned into a ghost town and you can’t understand why, look to your community data. If you’re tracking the right metrics that make sense for your community, you should see this coming long before it becomes an issue. However, if you miss it (especially if you host a large community) you’ll want to lean on historical data to help you figure out what happened. Was there feedback that was given multiple times that was never acted on? Were questions in the forums going unanswered? Did you fail to meet the needs of your community members somewhere along the line? Go back and look at your historical data and compare it, not just month over month, but year over year to see if there is a larger indicator of an issue that you could have missed without realizing it. Then, be intentional about admitting fault and correcting the problem to restore trust with your community members.
Talk to the community
In many cases your community members have insight that you may not be seeing. Some of that insight may revolve around intrinsic motivations for participating in the community. They may have also found spaces that cater to their needs in a way that the community that you host doesn’t. In the case where a community manager wasn’t initially hired to host the community, it could be that key activities and programming (like onboarding) was ignored so community members didn’t know what to do once they landed in the community. No matter the case, talking to your community members can often unearth issues that require attention. Gather that insight and feedback and figure out how your community strategy can help resolve some of those outlying problems to help get your community back on track.
Talk to your leadership
When associations think about deprioritizing work, they often start with what’s not generating direct revenue and/or providing an immediate return on investment in the way of NPS, customer loyalty, or other metrics affecting the success of the association. In many cases, community usually falls into that deprioritization bucket. This means loss of resources, sometimes budget, often support. This leaves community programs with the bare minimum when it comes to keeping communities afloat and, when resources are allocated to other work, it can be difficult to rally others internally to help keep things moving forward. Talking with your leadership to understand where community stands from a larger strategic standpoint will be key to figuring out next steps for the community. I would also recommend being incredibly transparent about the consequences of deprioritizing community, especially if/when your organization is publicly saying it’s important. This isn’t just about content or platforms. Your community helps build trust and relationships with members. Without the resources and power behind community programs, you’re not able to build upon that trust and members see that as you not caring about their needs. Those relationships then begin to break down and they go elsewhere. It takes more than member benefits and products to keep members engaged. Putting community building on the backburner will not help.
Figure out next steps
After you have gathered information, it’s then time to decide what to do from here. You may have a clear path. You may have to do a little more digging to understand what happened, but the data you collect through the research you’ve done will give you a solid foundation for a way forward. Revitalizing a dormant community is like starting from scratch. Be intentional about the way forward by creating a solid community strategy that incorporates all that you’ve learned to avoid the same mistakes in the future. Involve the community in building their community back up and closely monitor participation along the way. Additionally, set the expectation with your leadership that, as with a new community, bringing an existing one back to life will still take time. Just because it already exists doesn’t mean it will automatically be vibrant again at the flip of a switch.
Remember that business value helps support your programs, but it’s the people that are a part of your community that you cannot neglect. Relationships and trust are just as important to delivering value as connecting to org goals. Don’t sacrifice one for the other when bringing your community back.
by Marjorie Anderson | Sep 5, 2021
Originally posted here