Believe it or not, the time people invest in big box platforms — such as Facebook or Twitter — is decreasing. There are many reasons for this, including social and economic motivations, as well as social media’s declining reputation. Facebook is currently getting hammered, as is warranted, due to their handling of sensitive user data. Since the 2016 elections, the company has dealt with a consistent decline in approval ratings.
Social networks also tend to be more noisy, particularly when it comes to politics, an incredibly polarizing topic these days. Discussions often breed aggression and hostility, hindering any opportunity for positive interactions, much less community-building with customers. Not to mention the ad-revenue model baked into the platform, which seems to violate even the simplest communities or groups with their off-topic content.
This has led to a widespread migration where users are flocking to alternate platforms. And while patrons are migrating, big box platforms are still putting in best efforts to appeal to communities through new features and models, but to no avail.
Big Box Platform or Homegrown Solution?
Niche online communities are growing in popularity, not just because of the decline of brand-name platforms, but also because community managers are seeking more nuanced controls. There’s a certain allure to building a homegrown network where the administrators have complete control and access to additional capabilities.
For instance, news feeds and chat features are becoming desirable assets for digital communities. Brands understandably want their online spaces to be as targeted and unique as possible, but the out-of-the-box tools that are offered by these traditional social media platforms just aren’t making the grade.
So naturally, community managers and their most loyal followers are moving house. But things aren’t as simple as that. One monumental problem is that you must bring your users along with you. If they don’t follow and adopt the new platform then the community will likely suffer, if only at first.
Let’s be honest: as much as we all would like to move away from platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn, they are now so ingrained in our habits, it’s become almost ritualistic to lean on them. But — we can quit Facebook or LinkedIn for business… we just need a plan!
The Value of an “Owned Space” for Communities
There is a lot of value in providing an “owned” or custom space for your community’s growth.
For starters, as a community manager, you instantly have more control. You’re no longer confined to the functionality of the host platform. You can look at the growing marketing of community tech providers and mobile apps, hire a small development team, or code everything in-house to get your hands on desirable functions and features. You become the decision maker and decide what is right for your community.
Conventional social media pales in comparison; big box platforms tend to be more shallow, whereas your objective is building genuine connections with your company’s audience.
In addition, you no longer fall under the purview of a third party. Instead, you have full and exclusive control — and rights — over what content is produced and shared. You can run your own ads and promotions (or not). You can also monetize channels and content in whatever way you choose.
Management is made easier with more direct controls. Communities become simplified and focused. Additionally, community engagement is instantly more meaningful, as membership in this space is highly targeted to begin with. This helps foster strong, successful relationships between users and administrative crews.
Perhaps all these benefits help explain why the online communities market is expected to reach $1.2 billion by 2019. In fact, 74% of large companies have established online communities already, whereas only 40% of small businesses have one.
The question then becomes: how do you make the move? How do you successfully migrate an existing community from one platform to another? How do you ensure engagement and support remain the same or improve?
10 Tips for the Successful Onboarding of New Community Spaces
- Keep all lines of communication open, including across separate digital communities. This ensures that you can communicate with everyone, even stragglers. Communication is key, and also should be timely and relevant.
- Source feedback from your community about every possible aspect. What would they want in a new platform? Why do they like the current one? What could prevent them from switching? This will help them feel like they’re a part of the process, rather than just subject to your community’s whims.
- Make a formal announcement before, during, and after the switch. Explain why the migration is happening and what benefits the community will see as a result.
- Promote the new platform or community space. Just like marketing your products or services, you need to make sure everyone knows where to find you and how to get involved. Tweet, send a postcard, send an email, whatever it takes across different channels.
- Establish a consistent and quality content feed for your new platform, right out of the gate. Make sure you give your audience a reason to visit, and just as many reasons to continue coming back.
- Add unique features. Ensure your new community space stands out in some way. Perhaps you connect members in real life. Maybe you offer contests, podcasts, free tools and courses, or advanced search options. Offer your members the tools they most need in order to keep them loyal.
- Don’t completely forget the old space. Continue to monitor it for any newcomers that stumbled upon the wrong channel, or even those who may have been radio-silent for some time. Of course, direct everyone to your new community.
- Showcase the clear value that the new community space offers. What will everyone benefit from? Can they easily access the space on mobile? Will content and data load faster? Can they participate more? More often than not, you’ll find people are ok with change when they know the reason for it and see value.
- Get out and find new members! Just like you would with the old platform, continue to grow your audience. It’s possible you may lose some devoted Facebook or LinkedIn groupies, but you want active engaged members anyhow, so if they didn’t make the jump, you can always try to replace them.
- Manage expectations. Migrating to a new platform is a complex and sometimes lengthy process. Managers should be careful to give themselves enough time to make this transition as well as help stakeholders understand any potential roadblocks.
Community Managers Have the Power
To be fair, you don’t have to leave the current platform or system you’re using. We are not saying everything you’re doing is wrong or these major social networks are bad. In fact, they may be just the fit for your community needs. But we are seeing a trend with community managers struggling with this decision. Whatever your reasons for switching platforms may be, know that you have the power.
Whether you choose a platform migration or not, the role of the average community manager has never been more important. The need to achieve better systems, processes, content, and satisfaction rests solely on their shoulders — yours, if you’re a community manager. It’s daunting, but you’ve got this.
You can do it. With the help of these tips, you can ensure your community stays healthy no matter where it’s based. You see, a community is about much more than a group of people gathered in the same (digital) place. It’s about the connections that are formed within its boundaries. To encourage those connections, the channel has to align with the engagement strategy and the communication format that best suits the community.
“Success is 90 percent preparation and only 10 percent perspiration.” – Louis Pasteur