Published by Angus on 13 Oct 2009 at 05:36 am
Building a vibrant online community is hard work. It’s so easy these days to start online groups – for example, a few clicks and you can have a working group on WiserEarth. So what do you do if you start to think your community-building effort is going nowhere fast? You have lots of options – so don’t be antisocial and leave a ‘zombie’ group out there.
Failure is relative. As we’ve said before, it really helps to set goals and milestones early on, so you can measure your progress as you go along. Also, benchmark you expectations with other community managers to see if you’re being realistic. You may well find what you consider a failure is seen as a wild success by another. But also be honest. Don’t overestimate the interest people have in your issue, or forget that your prospective audience may be happily discussing your issues somewhere else, including at face-to-face meetings. So when you have come to the conclusion that you have a failed community on your hands, consider your options:
- Reinvest: Be patient. As Martin Reed says: “Too many people throw in the towel too early.” You can’t have the ‘if you build it they will come’ mentality. Strong communities take months and years to build, not days or weeks. Remember it takes time to build relationships, get people comfortable with the technology, and evangelize.
- Seek new investors: If you can’t put more effort into your community, look to see if anyone else is interested in the challenge. There may be an existing community member who is dying to take on a leadership roll. A change in leadership with new ideas may be what is needed.
- Merge: Look outside your community at the ‘competition’. Are there any community managers that would be interested in absorbing your membership base and content? Look for fit along culture, mission, technology, geography and demography.
- Close: In other words, shut down your group without finding a home for your members or your content. Of course, it’s the fastest thing to do, but you made an implicit promise with community members when they joined the group. Shouldn’t you honor it?
- Zombify: The least attractive option is to stay up online but without any formal acknowledgment that your community has ceased to exist. In this case your group will lie zombie-like, waiting to grab unsuspecting people who think they have discovered a live community. In addition, you are also contributing to the ‘noise’ of the internet, making it harder for people to find what they are looking for.
WiserEarth is itself wrestling with the issue of public ‘zombie’ groups. Our current idea is to not list any groups in our directory that have less than five members or have been inactive for more than six months. What do you think of the idea?
Whatever you decide, be sure to engage your community transparently as you move along in this process. You may find community members feel a great deal of ownership and want to help out or at least be consulted. Depending on your situation, the ultimate decision on what to do may need to be made by your community. That is after you have investigated all the options and provided your recommendations.
Related resources: Is it time to give up on your online community? by Martin Reed, Why (most) online communities fail by Laurent Haug, What we learned from Fashmatch by Jonathan Gheller, WiserEarth Group Description
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Tags: online communities
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