Communities evolve. Members leave, members join, topics come and go. Through all of this, the community will change and grow.
It is inevitable that your community will reach a point where you need to re-evaluate the structure of your community. Are the channels and discussion groups still relevant? Are topics that were popular a year ago still popular now?
In this post, I’ll take you through a real-world example of “spring cleaning” in a community. The CMX Slack Community recently got a bit of a structural and operational makeover! Revitalizing our Slack Community led to more consolidated discussion, more new member introductions, and better overall engagement.
Much like products accumulate technical debt, communities accumulate community debt over time.
Disjointed member experiences, rituals that no longer resonate, overly complex processes…
As your community grows and matures, remember to regularly stop and clean up that debt.
— David Spinks (@DavidSpinks) January 4, 2021
Read on for how we did it!
Background on the CMX Slack Community
The CMX Slack Community workspace was built by the community in 2017, and has been run by a group of awesome admins ever since. Recently, the CMX team, in partnership with our admins, decided that we needed to re-evaluate how the workspace was organized and how members were onboarded, and build an engagement strategy for the first time.
I broke the whole process down into four phases:
- Propose a Timeline and Strategy
- Audit the Space
- Collect Feedback
Phase 1: Propose a Timeline and Strategy
Every good project starts with a timeline. In the case of the CMX Slack Community reorganization, I had some high-level goals that I wanted to accomplish, as well as dates I wanted to have things completed by.
Here’s my initial timeline:
- January 25-February 5: Audit the CMX Slack Community
- February 5-12: Collect feedback from members
- February 8-10: Collect feedback from internal stakeholders
- February 16: Using feedback, create an outline of new channel structure and onboarding process
- February 16: Write and implement new email invitation sequence
- February 16: Begin outreach to members in channels that will renamed, archived or deleted
- February 18: Begin reorganizing: Renaming, archiving, deleting, etc.
- February 26: Complete channel reorganization
I didn’t want anyone to be surprised during any of the reorganization process, so it was important for me to be transparent and over-communicate. To automate some of my communications with members, I used a Slack app called Direct Memo.
I wanted to make sure members were never surprised if a channel was going to be deleted or removed, so I made sure to build in time to reach out to members before reorganizing. In some cases, if a channel was going to be repurposed or renamed, I also wanted feedback on the new name.
Phase 2: Audit the Space
To begin, make sure you have a full bird’s-eye-view picture of your community. It’s important to know how the community is organized and what the member journey looks like, from joining through onboarding and continued engagement, before you launch into any type of revitalization.
Examples of questions to include in your audit
- How does a member find out about the space? How does the member get into the space? Review landing page URLs, promotional emails, and copy in the invitation.
- How is the member welcomed? Review the welcome copy and process.
- What information do members give you throughout this process? Review where you store this data, how you ask for it, and whether you are compliant with your company’s security policies.
- Which aspects of the onboarding process are automated, and which are done manually?
- Are guidelines worded consistently everywhere?
- At what point in the member journey are guidelines shared?
- How do members agree to the guidelines before they join the community?
Tools and Platforms
- Where does the community live?
- Is there an intake form or an application?
- Is there an automated invite?
- Where do you track your engagement and growth metrics?
Metrics and KPIs
- What metrics are you currently using to track engagement and growth?
Structure and Engagement
- List all current channels/discussion groups/topics. Which are most popular and least popular, most active and least active? How many members have signed up in each topic/channel?
- How many total members are signed up for your space? How many of them are active?
To the right is the example of how I manually audited the channels in the CMX Slack Community. I entered the channel name, how many members the channel currently had, and when a community member had last posted in the channel.
The CMX Slack Community had 119 public channels when we began this process. As you can see, there was a huge discrepancy between the channels. Some had over 3,000 members, others had less than 50, and engagement was all over the place.
Phase 3: Collect Feedback
You should always talk to the community should before making any major decisions. Ask the community what they want, how they feel, and what they’d like to see. There’s a few different ways you can do this:
- Reach out personally to understand individual members.
Reach out to people who are active in the group and tend to post or comment frequently. Reach out to the people who log in to the group, but tend to consume the discussions passively. And, if you have the ability in your community platform, reach out to members who haven’t logged in for a while.
In all of these cases, you will hear from different people who use the community in totally different ways and who have different expectations from the space.
- Reach out in a public or group setting to take a general pulse
Give your members an opportunity to understand what kinds of changes you are thinking about implementing, and why you are thinking about it. In this case, members could choose to participate in the simple poll (selecting the corresponding emoji reaction in Slack), or they could take a more active approach and share their opinions in the thread.
Some consistent feedback I received from the community was that it was hard to find out about all the channels when joining the community. There was no consistent naming cadence, and many channels didn’t have descriptions. Many members said they just blindly joined a bunch of channels in hopes they’d hit a good one.
The main “catch-all” channel was the most loved. It had a pretty generic title (“#community-manager”), and it was where most questions were asked and the majority of discussions were started.
Members also loved the #introduce-yourself channel as a way to meet new members and get to know each other.
Phase 4: GO!
The entire process took six weeks from audit to completion. I stayed within the dates of my initial proposed timeline. Here’s what happened:
We went from 119 public channels to 26 public channels, and all our channels now have updated descriptions and topics. We have 8 default channels that all new members are automatically added to when they join the space.
When people are added to the space, they are greeted by the GreetBot app with a brand-new welcome message! It invites users to introduce themselves in the #introduce-yourself channel, and gives them a structure to follow:
- Where you’re from
- What community you’re building
- What you hope to get from this community
- What you can give to this community
- A fun fact!
It includes a reminder to reply to comments in threads to keep our spaces a little less noisy and consolidate answers to questions, and it also lets new members know where to go if they have questions.
We had a lot of great feedback from the community:
Since implementing the new onboarding process, we’ve had 53% of our new members introduce themselves in the #introduce-yourself channel (up 48% from December).
Best of all, engagement is steadily increasing now that conversation is focused in fewer places.
Are you considering any spring cleaning in your community? Join the CMX Slack Community and tell us about your experience!