LEGO recently announced it was ending its LEGO Message Boards (LMB). This upset many longtime LMB members as well as people in the larger community industry - especially because it didn’t say if there was going to be a replacement community, or why it made such a drastic decision in the first place.
Instead of offering reasons or an alternative, LEGO simply said it was shutting the community down and deleting everything - cold turkey.Even though they haven’t made any connections, it looks as if LEGO did actually have a plan, dramatically shifting tactics with the unveiling of LEGO Life - a “safe” social networking site for children 13 and under.
So, what is going on with LEGO’s community tactic and will its pivot (to employ an overused word) work to its advantage?
Although LEGO hasn’t explained why they decided to close the LMB, one thought members had is that the company worried about safety issues - unsurprisingly, LEGO has many young users and LMB was a place where users of all ages came together. So shutting down LMB, a classic message board, and opening up a brand new children’s social networking site could be one way to remedy that issue.
What makes LEGO Life a safe, kid friendly social networking site? It has many basic features similar to most social networking sites, like a newsfeed, profiles and the ability to share photos. Users can even follow topics or join groups related to their favorite LEGO characters and are challenged to “recommended builds” to push their LEGO knowledge and skills.
Even though it mimics other sites, there are some major differences: no human photos and no unique comments. You can only upload pictures of LEGOs and choose from the platform’s cache of pre-written content, custom LEGO emojis, and stickers. Kids can’t choose their own username - they’re generated for them and are silly, random three word combinations like “ChairmanWilyDolphin.”
In other words, LEGO Life couldn’t be more different than LMB. Where LMB was desktop based, LEGO Life is mobile. Where LMB was text based, LEGO Life is dynamic and full of images, its core rooted in getting kids to engage more with LEGOS offline by sharing ideas online.
LEGO went from an old-school message board for enthusiasts of all ages, to a highly structured app aimed at keeping kids safely entertained while growing their interest in engineering and robotics.
As great as LEGO Life sounds, it does make one wonder - does LEGO need to pick one user group over the other? In hyper focusing on one demographic - children who love LEGOs - it looks like LEGO forgot about another equally important demographic, their adult users.
Instead, consider this: what would have happened if LEGO kept the LMB and opened LEGO Life for kids?
Yes, LEGOs are made for kids, and most of the people who use and buy LEGOS are kids. But about five to 10 percent of LEGO’s market are adult fans of LEGOS. As important as it is for LEGO to nurture 90-95% of their market - children - they shouldn’t forget about that powerful sliver - adults - who are a small but very dedicated group with ability to shell out hundreds of dollars on items like LEGO Star Wars memorabilia.
That doesn’t mean adults belong on the same community as kids. In many ways, it makes perfect sense that LEGO branched out and created a new app aimed at keeping kids safe, teaching them about LEGOs and helping them have fun. But it seems like a mistake to leave out their adult community.
Just like anything, no community can last forever. At some point, every community must close - but, given the outpouring of emotion amongst their members when LEGO announced LMB’s closure, it seems like it wasn’t quite LMB’s time to go. Or, if it was, it seems like there is space for LEGO to create another vibrant community with broader appeal, in addition to nurturing LEGO Life.
Instead, LEGO has opened the door for someone else to create a community for LEGO enthusiasts. Instead of LEGO owning all that user created value, feedback and loyalty, someone else will. If your customers want a community and you don’t start it, they will start it somewhere - it could be Facebook, Reddit, or another site. No matter where they put it, you company lost their attention and now someone else will call the shots, monitor their activity and lead many of your most dedicated users.
LEGO isn’t totally in the dark when it comes to engaging their adult users through online community. It currently has a product ideation community - LEGO Ideas - where LEGO fans can submit ideas for new LEGO sets and vote on their favorite suggestions. This is great, but not quite as encompassing as LMB was, where peoples’ discussions ranged widely, beyond just product ideation.
LEGO has the right idea. It’s proven itself as a community-minded company, but it looks like shutting down LMB and focusing on LEGO Life has opened up space for something else.
Who is going to fill this gap?