Businesses change their software vendors for all kinds of reasons. You might need a solution that’s more reliable, or has great new features. It could even be something as simple as moving from self-hosted software to a cloud solution. No matter what the reason, switching vendors is a common source of dread for businesses. A common mistake is to get so caught up in the logistics of the switch that you forget to properly prepare the members of your community for the migration.
Communicating Change: What Your Community Needs to Know
Put yourself in the shoes of your community. A change to your community software can be a huge deal to them. This is especially true for core members, who contribute a lot and see your community as an important social outlet. In the best cases, it’s as though their favourite bar is being redecorated and weird new chairs are being put in. In the worst cases, it can be as though that bar has started requiring them to order in a different language. Expect a mass exodus if you don’t take the time to communicate how the change will affect them.
So what do they need to know? Every community is a little different, but this is a pretty solid checklist of possible pain points:
What’s going to happen to their posted content?
This point is absolutely crucial. It may be the biggest source of discontent and community fragmentation. Community members are invariably extremely protective of their posted content and any losses will be felt keenly. The logic is understandable, and is always a variation of this: “Why should I bother contributing to this community if my contributions can be arbitrarily deleted?”. Figure out the details: are they going to be able to retain their current credentials or will they have to start over. This is going to be the first thing on their minds.
Is their posting workflow going to change?
Figure out how your existing members use the current software and make sure that they’re going to be able to figure things out quickly in the new software. Reassure them that they aren’t going to have to waste time on an obtuse new system. It’s also important to make sure that your moderators are properly onboarded and know their way around the new system. Leaving your moderators in the dark about the systems they’re going to be using is a potential recipe for disaster.
What features are going to change, or be lost completely?
This is a particular pain point for communities moving from custom coded solutions. They often have features unique to that community that can’t realistically be covered by hosted software. Let users know early if this is the case, and let them know if and how you’ll be adding value elsewhere to make up for it. In many cases, the feature won’t be missed anyway, but the fear of losing something needs to be managed. Think about the details of your community, and make sure whatever keeps your members loyal will still be there after the move.
It’s vital to ensure that your existing community content can be successfully moved from one software to another. Ask your existing vendor about their data policy. Are they going to let you have easy access to it in a timely fashion? Will they charge you exorbitant fees in order to prevent you switching vendors? Your data doesn’t belong to them, it belongs to you. In the larger sense, it belongs to your community. Make sure they know that it’s in good hands.
Communication is Vital When Migrating a Community
People are generally fearful of change. It’s an understandable reaction and can only be mitigated with honest, transparent dialogue. The first thing they need to know is why you’re moving. Explain your reasoning and make a case for the change, so that the upheaval doesn’t seem arbitrary. Secondly, give your users time to get used to the idea if possible. Give them a solid timeline for when the move will be complete and full service is resumed. You may want to consider a soft launch, to ease the transition.
Above all, don’t let a fear of change cause you to put off a migration that’s vital for your community. There’s undoubtedly a reason why you need to switch, and keeping the status quo too long will make the pain of moving that much greater when the time comes. The most important things to ensure are that your users are educated and your data is secure. If you can make sure of that, the rest will fall into place
Looking for more information on managing a successful community? Check out our free Community Playbook here!