Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Closing your Community

Posted on 30 July 2010

Most community managers have had to deal with the inevitable closure.

We all know that website aren’t forever so how do you, as a CM, ease the community out of it’s misery?  We’re the ones charged with keeping the band playing regardless of how quickly, or worse, how slowly the ship sinks.  One of the toughest experiences I’ve ever had was the closure of Abuzz.com and most of the lessons to follow were learned during that process.

The sad reality is that most communities are tied to revenue of some sort.  If you’re the CM of one of those communities that don’t have any expectation placed upon it then you’re a lucky bastard because that situation is very rare.  Revenue can come from direct sales, subscriptions,  exclusive feature sets, or”added value,” amongst other things, and if your revenue stream fails then your days are more than likely numbered.

Long before the digital doors are slammed you’ll see the signs, and so will your community.  When growth is no longer a topic at production meetings you’ve got to start asking questions!  If you’re not able to secure engineering resources start asking questions!  If bugs you’re writing are being re-prioritized start asking questions!  If your co-workers pretend you don’t exist, ok, that might a different issue but ask questions none-the-less!

I’ve been a part of several closures and it’s never pretty.  Usually CM’s are asked to not divulge such news to the masses until the last minute, which is contradictory to the instinct to protect and serve your community.  Usually engineering bandwidth is the first to dry up, so how do you respond to requests made by the constituency?  Do you lie?  Do you err on the cautious side and not commit to a definitive answer?

Especially tough are long term projects that members are aware of that simply fall off the board.

In one of my previous positions we had made announcements to the community that we were going to reimplementing the search functionality, which had, through a hardware issue, been suspended.  Search functionality is something that’s expected on a cataloging website and something that we assured the members they would have again.  Well, after a few months I did a little digging only to find that we were not going to allocate engineering bandwidth to restore that very basic functionality, which put me in an incredibly awkward position with the people I was serving.

Maintaining the “company line” and living up to the expectations of a responsible community manager are, sometimes, two very different things.

I find that, ultimately, you’ve got to choose to tow the company line in a caring and responsible way if you value your job.  You’re the nursemaid to the rabid dog, you’ve got to take care of him until Pa decided to pull the trigger…and Pa isn’t in a rush.

As CM’s we’re rarely in charge of budgets, engineering resources or schedules, branding opportunities, or promotional dollars but we’re still the face of the company to the members.

Fight for your community!

Don’t give up pressing for resources for the people you represent until the bitter end!

What has been YOUR experience?  I’d love to hear from those of you who’ve gone through similar circumstances.

-Eric


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