Saying goodbye to a community is hard. As community managers, we pour so much love, energy, and time into our programs, that we grow personally attached to them – the members, the stories, the conversations. It can be difficult to have to say goodbye. At CMX, we are no stranger to making these hard decisions, and saying goodbye to beloved community programs. In October 2021, CMX closed the CMX Pro Community and paid membership program. You can read more about how we came to this decision here.
But how do you know when it’s time to close a community – how do you make that decision? And how do you actually close it – what steps do you need to take in order to close it gracefully and tactfully? Using lessons learned from sunsetting CMX Pro, this blog post will go through how to determine it’s time to close a community, and the steps to take in order to close it.
How to determine it’s time to say goodbye
Ask yourself, is it bringing value?
There are two reasons a community exists: 1) it brings value to its members, 2) it brings value to the business. The first step in knowing when it’s time to consider closing a community, is ask yourself, is it still adding value? It’s important to know why the community was started and exists in the first place. In the case of CMX Pro, we launched it because 1) members of our community expressed interest in having a private, curated space with “premium” level content, and 2) It would drive subscription revenue for the business.
In our case, we worked hard over the years to make CMX Pro a valuable offering but over time, it became clear that while the perks and benefits were valued, the community space wasn’t offering unique enough value from all the free CMX community spaces and programs that are available. On the business side, since the acquisition and teaming up with Bevy, we haven’t been reliant on membership revenue and have instead prioritized making all of our resources more freely available and accessible to our entire community.
1) Wasn’t bringing unique values to the members.
2) Wasn’t bringing value to our business
There’s always the temptation to do more when building a community. This is one of the reasons I think burnout runs rampant in this industry – because community professionals don’t want to take anything away from their members, even if it means being overworked. As a Community manager your responsibility to your community is to do what is best for it. Sometimes, that means making tough decisions.
Over the years we added more and more programming, events, and opportunities to the Pro Community. In the end, the time and energy spent by the community team was producing a deficit on our Return on Community (ROC). Our other programs that added more value to our members and our business needed to be given more attention.
How to Close a Community (with grace)
I’ll start with the number one thing you should try to avoid: surprising your members. Which means your members need to know your intentions as soon as possible. I’ll also mention that transparency and honesty are the best policies. Your members deserve to know how you came to this decision, so try to be as transparent as possible.
These are the steps we took once the HQ team decided it was time to close the CMX Pro Community:
1. Audit the program itself
What platforms, tools, and costs are associated with this program? How much does it cost per month, what are all the logins of the platforms, and all the pieces of the program. In the case of CMX Pro, we had the community platform itself, plus a tool for newsletters, a memberships and subscription service, a tool for automations, and another for taking payments.
I made sure I had all the login information for each platform, and began to figure out how to close our subscriptions of these platforms.
2. Account for all of our community members
I downloaded a full member list, and first organized them by most active to least active. Then, organized them by billing date. CMX Pro was a paid subscription, so our members paid for Pro at all different times of the year.
With these date variances, I organized the subscriptions by quarter, and determined we would refund our members based on which quarter they paid in.
3. Start telling active members
We had over 300 members in CMX Pro. I reached out to every member who had been active (logged into the community space) within the last 90 days, and invited them to a one on one call with me to talk about the future of the community. This was not scalable, but I felt it was important to have these synchronous opportunities to talk it out. So much tone can be lost over text, and I wanted to share the news ‘in person’. Over two weeks, I had about 40 30-minute calls with members.
The purpose of this call wasn’t just to share the news, I had an ulterior motive. I was able to ask each member what about the community they liked, what gave them the most value, and what they still felt like they were missing in their tool belt as a community professional. This gave me an opportunity to educate members about other programs we currently run that will meet their needs, and start a list of new initiatives and program ideas we will look into in the future!
4. Tell all your members
I wrote personal emails to the rest of our members, with their specific refund information. Yes, I used a template, but no, I did not use an email sequencer! I manually sent an email to each member. Obviously, if your community has more than 300 members, this is probably impossible. I felt it was important for my own process, to account for each person and to make sure I ticked their name off my list. And I wanted to make sure I told every single member of my community the news, well before we made the announcement public.
5. Make your announcement
It can be really easy to fall into a negativity trap when announcing what could be perceived as bad news. So, it’s important to focus on the positives, and avoid what I like to call “stop words” and “stop phrases”.
The positives about closing CMX Pro:
- The CMX HQ team will have more time and energy to pour into our other programs that serve a bigger audience
- The monthly budget we use on keeping the Pro Community going (all those platforms I mentioned before) can go into programs that serve the entire CMX Community
- By removing the paywall of CMX Pro, we are making our frameworks, videos, and resources more accessible to the world – not just those who can afford to pay for them
Avoiding Stop Words and Stop Phrases
By presenting the news with “I’ve got some sad news” or using the word “unfortunately” you automatically give reason for people to be sad or mad about it. Try to avoid assuming their reaction, or projecting your own sadness onto another person. Instead, I always suggest prefacing what might be taken as bad news with “at this time” or nothing at all.
This is not to say that you can’t express your own feelings. We did announce the closing of CMX Pro “with a heavy heart”, because it’s true! When fielding general questions from the community though, we made sure to lead with positivity, and avoid stop words. For example:
“We actually don’t see it as an ‘oh no’. On the contrary, by closing CMX Pro, we are making CMX more accessible. We are making all of our frameworks, resources, and videos FREE for the entire CMX Community – these resources are no longer only for people who can afford it.”
6. Scrub your Site
The last thing you want is new applications, new payments, and new sign ups coming out of nowhere after you’ve closed the community. You also don’t want members to get lost if they are looking for something that no longer exists. Make sure all URLs redirect to live pages and make sure all mention of the community in website menus, footers, hyperlinks, etc. have all been removed.
7. Move on
Some of the lessons we learned from CMX Pro, both in running it and closing it, is that our community loves connecting with each other. CMX continues to run our free online discussion spaces on Slack and Facebook, as well as our free volunteer-run events in our CMX Connect program. We plan to put more focus on giving our members more and intentional opportunities for connecting with each other.
At CMX our mission is to help Community Professionals Thrive, and Advance the Community Industry. I am so excited about the opportunities we have now that the HQ team can focus on programs that will continue to push towards that mission. And you know we’re going to keep experimenting with new programs and continue to innovate on how we can bring CMX members more value. So stay tuned!
Thank you to everyone who signed up for CMX Pro, who engaged in the community, who took a course, and who attended an event.
If it’s time for you to close a community, send me an email!
Let’s talk it out.