Is Your Online Community a Ghost Town?

Posted by Adrian Speyer on Oct 28, 2016 12:01:39 AM
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6 minute read

Getting back on track when your community grows stale


Halloween is almost upon us. This is the time of year for eating candy and enjoying the festivities. However, if your online community is a ghost town, you may not feel like celebrating much this season.

Many online communities suffer from a ghost town effect, especially in the beginning. As time goes on and enthusiasm starts to lag behind, it can be hard to keep your community active and engaged; the two things that are perhaps most important for building a successful community.

Get ready for a few tricks (and some treats) on how to help combat the ghost town community effect and get you back on track.

Start With an Autopsy

Sound spooky and gruesome? Sure, but it needs to be done. We have to figure out what is causing the lag in the first place or we can’t hope to correct it. Dive into your analytics and your community platform for important clues to save the day. The following are just some of the things to review:

  • What are the topics that have elicited the best, most frequent responses?
  • What content garnered the most views?
  • What is the content garnered the most shares?
  • Who are the members who contributed a lot in the past and left?
  • Who are the members who are still contributing?

There are two goals to this analysis. The first is to identify the content that did well with your audience in the past, the second is to identify members to connect with for an informal survey.

Create a Personal Email Survey

Once you’ve identified your key users, send them an email. Take off the mask, no costumes here. Make it personal and reach out. Explain that you recognize that the community experience isn’t what it used to be or that it could be better. Thank them for all they’ve done for the community and make it clear that you value their contributions.

Express your sincere desire in making the community great and recognize that they are an important part of that goal. People are usually open to talk about their experiences if you ask in a sincere and honest manner.

Consider asking some of the following questions:

  • What do you like most about the community?
  • What drives you to participate?
  • What kind of content would you like to see more of?
  • What kind of content do you not like?

Also include some of the content that was popular and ask their opinion about it. If you’re lucky you will get some important feedback. Maybe you want to offer them some treats from answering, like swag, or exclusive content. It doesn’t need to break the bank, but a little appreciation can go a long way.

Also, reach out to individuals who are less active, or who have even left the community, and ask a similar set of questions. Include a few different questions such as:

  • What are your reasons for leaving?
  • What, if anything, would make you consider coming back (if they left)?
  • What would cause them to be more engaged?

Create a Plan For Relaunch

This Halloween, remember your childhood. Remember when the goal was to get the most candy? You mapped out the houses or streets you wanted to tackle and you knew which houses gave the best treats…. And who was giving out boxes of raisins.

With your relaunch, you want to have that same confidence and excitement. Create a plan of action and execute it. Use the result from your surveys to help make the decisions. A few things you might consider to shake things up:

  • Change your theme (a fresh coat of paint is always nice)
  • Reconfigure old categories and/or create new categories
  • Create new content/topics to engage your audience
  • Prepare community only premium content that will drive excitement
  • Archiving old/out-dated content. Sometimes those categories you created just don’t work.
  • Enable gamification if you haven’t already, or create new awards, levels, badges, etc if you have.

Don’t hide in the bushes waiting to surprise someone: put your plans out in the open! Tell your team, family friends, even your current members what you have in store and find out their thoughts. Elicit feedback from trusted sources including your key community members. Don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis, though. Make plans, set reasonable goals, and commit to a reasonable launch date/

Getting the Launch Right

Sit with a calendar and choose a date that works best for your company. For example, you’ll want to choose a day that isn’t conflicted by holidays, large events, or other happenings in your industry. Launching on Halloween is fine, because it’s going to be a treat for everyone. Launching on April 1st? That’s a trick.

You should probably choose a low traffic day, if possible. You also want it to be a day where you can ensure proper support from your team, and your own community. So if the whole team goes bobbing for apples on Sundays, it’s probably not a good idea.

Once you have a date, you should start building excitement on your social channels and make it into a really big event. Be excited, your followers take their cues from you. Be prepared that some people will hate change no matter what you do. That’s just human nature. But always ask yourself: Is this in the best interest of the community? If the answer is yes, then stay committed to that belief and move forward.

When the date arrives, launch any changes you have to your public site. Let the community know that now is the time and ensure your fans that your team is standing by to help in any way that they may be needed. No skeleton crew! Full commitment!

Hopefully, all goes well and you’ve worked out the kinks ahead of time. Remember that few launches go off 100% without a hitch so be prepared to act quickly to take corrective steps if needed.

When you are good and ready, send an invite to your mailing list and let the party begin!

Consistent Communication is Your Secret

Now that you are back, stay engaged. Armed with feedback from your analysis and surveys, keep an eye out for the problems of the past and step in when needed. From time to time, elicit feedback from your members. Contact the same list and ask them if things have gotten better and if you’re on the right track. Gather feedback from new members as well and find out what is and is not working for them.

And always be loyal and helpful to your members and supporters. Remember that without them, the community is nothing so don’t be the house that gives out toothbrushes on Halloween. When someone rings your doorbell, you’re there for them with open arms and great treats.

Remember how you always knew which houses has the best candy? The whole neighborhood did too. You want your community to be the house everyone makes a point of hitting on Halloween.

Here are a few treats that every community member wants to receive:

  • Make sure new members are engaged right away
  • Create shared experiences or events around your company and products. For example, an exclusive Q &A on your forum with the interventor of a product, or a live demo of new things coming.
  • Make sure your company markets the heck out of those events. It doesn’t matter if you’re handing out the best candy, if the lights are off and the house isn’t decorated: no one’s ringing the bell.
  • Plan ahead, so everything is not last minute

With a proper plan, the right team and content, almost anything is possible!

Get Ready to Hit the Pavement and Ring Some Doorbells!

You created this community with energy and excitement. Somewhere along the line, something happened. It became a chore, a hassle, or you lost interest. Remember when Halloween was one of the best holidays as a kid? Times change as we get older and a little of the magic wears off.

As parents, we get to relive the joy and wonder of Halloween again through our children. Fresh eyes and perspective can imbibe us with a new outlook. It may be time to bring in new team members and shake things up a bit. New people bring new ideas and perspectives..

Also, ask yourself if this is still something you care about? You’re reading this article so odds are you WANT to breathe new life into your community, you’re just looking for ways how. Caring enough to realize there’s a problem and looking for ways to solve it is an important step.

But Not Everyone Wins the Costume Contest

I would be remiss to say that this article was a panacea, but the truth is some communities may fail even with the best intentions. Nonetheless, you owe it to to yourself, your company, and your community to give it a chance. You may be surprised at how much life a second chance can breath into a languishing community.

I can also say this in all honesty: I’ve never had a community fail without learning something in the process that helped make the next venture so much better. Like learning which house has the best candy, there are steps to take along the way.

Good luck and Happy Halloween!

Want more tips and tricks from Vanilla? Check out our huge library of Community Management resources.

Topics: Community, News

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