Vanilla Staff

About

Lizzie McGlinchey is a Web Project Manager. She has managed the production of large-scale, fashion e-commerce projects in addition to the development of social media games, contests, and applications. Lizzie is a believer in the Scrum methodology and Agile Project Management.

Forum Migration Best Practices – 6 ways to prepare

Migrating from your current forum software (for example, Jive, VBulletin, Invision Board, etc.) to Vanilla is an exciting and wonderful thing.  It’s important to realize how your community may react during this transition, because keeping your existing community active and happy is of the utmost importance.

Most users will be wary of change regardless of the obvious improvements.  Change is scary and most users love to react, especially in a negative way.  If you take the examples of Twitter or Facebook updates: nearly everyone instantly complains. But fast forward to 2 weeks later and it is water under the bridge.  Here are a 6 ways to mitigate this temporary, yet often inevitable, user resistance:

1. Embrace the change.

If you want your users to accept change, you have to accept it first.  When our clients choose to migrate to Vanilla, they feel excited, hopeful, even relieved. However, sometimes even the most enthusiastic client can have a difficult time letting go.  They’ve grown accustomed to their previous platform’s design and work-flow and can be hesitant to embrace a more modern design or new features.  Does this sound like you?

We understand.  Change can be intimidating, even when you’re the one choosing to make the change!  But remember: Vanilla looks and functions the way it does because we have spent years researching, brainstorming, designing and building in order to provide you and your users with the very best and most forward-thinking forum solution in existence.  Trust our extensive knowledge and experience, and let us guide you through the set-up and design of your newly migrated community.  Embrace the change!  Your users and your community will only benefit as a result.

2. Keep your community in the loop.

Change is difficult for users, but a surprise change is even worse.  Prepare your community well in advance of your plan to move to Vanilla and keep them in the loop as the launch date approaches.   Open a thread on your current platform for any questions your community may have about the move.  Share screenshots of particularly exciting, new Vanilla features with your moderators and community leaders, and let them be your voice for the other users. This will cut back on questions asked post launch, and it will generate excitement and make users feel involved, appreciated, and less likely to lash out.

3. Have a soft launch.

To ease the stress and scariness of a full-blown, instant launch, schedule a beta or soft launch.  You don’t need to publicize this launch, or even have every feature or piece of artwork in place.  But invite your moderators and administrators to test out the beta and get a feel for it well in advance of your launch.  Have them submit any questions or concerns during the beta, when you (and Vanilla!) are better equipped to respond and make any changes, if necessary.

4. Confirm user info and settings.

This seems like a small detail that can be put aside until the last minute, but it often becomes a major hiccup when not dealt with proactively.  Were you experiencing spam or trolls on your previous forum platform? Are there any users you would like to eliminate or re-set login info for?  Are there new users you’d like to add or revisions you’d like to make for any Administrators?  How are your users accustomed to logging in: via your own portal or via a social network?  Send a list of any user preferences to Vanilla as soon as you can, as well as a list of any specific settings preferences you’d like us to configure.

5. Organize the feedback.

Amidst all the varying degrees of reactions you’ll witness during a migration, there will be some very useful user feedback.  Assign a Moderator to handle all migration/new forum feedback and set up a special discussion thread where users can post their questions and concerns.  Your users will appreciate this opportunity for being heard, and as a result, they’ll be less likely to react negatively or unproductively.  In order to keep this thread from continuing indefinitely, do give it a deadline (for example, keep it open for the first two weeks after launch).

6. Educate your community.

You chose to migrate to Vanilla for many reasons, so share those reasons with your community!  Educate them on all the new features you’ve just exposed them to. Highlight what’s new and improved on the Vanilla platform, and what plans you may have for the future.  Yes, listen to their feedback, but respond to any user reactions by educating them on all the positive changes and new features now available.

Growing Your Online Community – 6 Starting Points

One of the best things about starting a forum is experiencing the impressive reach and quality of content that a forum community can create.  One of the most difficult things about starting a forum, though, is growing that community.  It can be a daunting task, and there’s certainly no single correct way to do it.

Based on our knowledge as a forum software provider and considering many of our customers’ experiences, here are 6 tips on how to nurture and build online communities:

1. Recruiting and Seeding Content

Your forum is ready to go, and you’re excited to begin sharing your brand and message with an online community; all you need now are users.  Where do you begin?  How do you attract that very first user?  How do you encourage your first user(s) to seed the initial discussions and remain active when your community is still relatively quiet?

Recruit your friends.  Reach out to your colleagues and family members.  All it takes are a few users posting a few discussions and comments, and suddenly your forum is no longer empty.  Talk about your new forum on your personal Facebook page, and tweet about it!  Promote your new forum on your blog or website, if you have one.  Respond to your users’ discussions and comments quickly and in a manner that encourages dialogue.  Comment on other forums or blogs that are relevant to your brand and include a signature with your community’s URL, if possible.

2. Lower the Barriers to Entry

Registration methods are, quite literally, the ‘gateway’ to your online community.  While it’s important to cultivate appropriate community members and to consider security, avoid adding unnecessary barriers to the registration process.   In an age where social connect options like Facebook Connect give users one-click membership into new sites, new users can get easily annoyed or discouraged by endless registration hoop jumping, so keep your community’s ‘gateway’ as simple and as welcoming as possible.

3. Follow-through

Persistence and follow-through are essential when attempting to grow an online community.  It’s thrilling when new users sign up, however this isn’t the time to congratulate yourself and call it a day.  A new sign-up is when your work begins.

Unfortunately, you can’t depend on your new users to guide themselves or remain active on their own.  It’s up to you to follow-through, nurture and encourage their activity. Send personal, private messages from within your forum to new members (we have tools to automate this!). Ask them if they have questions, or if there’s something they’d like to see that’s not currently available on your community. Schedule and devise a strategy for sending out a community newsletter or “check in” emails as your community begins to grow. Manually compile your list of contacts and schedule your sending times based on your users’ status/history within the community. Stay in touch with your users and ask for their feedback constantly.

4. Delegate and Manage Responsibility

Hopefully your community will grow quickly!  Don’t be afraid to delegate responsibility to others when that time comes.  One person simply cannot successfully manage a large community on their own.

Consider your most active and quality community member(s) as you begin the recruiting process because they already know your community’s personality and message (Vanilla can help identify your most valued contributors). Take great care to educate the community manager(s) you select, on what your forum’s personality and messages are (if they don’t already know.)  Check up on your community managers frequently and thoroughly to ensure they’re fostering your community and your message with as much as care as you yourself would.

5. Keep Tabs

By now you may have noticed a theme: When growing a community, keep in close touch with your users.  Make a habit of reading each discussion and comment every day.  This can quickly become a rather hefty task as your community gets bigger and bigger, but it’s the best way to remain aware and engaged with your users.  Consider it your “daily community digest.” This digest will dictate how to best evolve as a community and how to react to your users. After your community grows beyond the point where it is realistic to read every comment, rely on your platform to provide you with a roll-up digest of the best (and worst) content being generated by your users.

6. Gamify for Increased Positive Engagement

Users respond to positive reinforcement and gaming techniques.  Entice and reward your users by incorporating a reputation system in your community.  This can range from the very basic to the more complex.  For example, can you pinpoint certain users that frequently post and comment with insightful and productive content?  Reward them by considering them for a Moderator position.  Vanilla’s new Reactions, Badges & Rewards is another great way to gamify the community experience and to reward active, loyal users.  Custom ranking systems, complete with custom requirements, levels/titles and styling, are also possible and worth considering, once you’re ready.