Businesses and membership organizations select an online community software platform when they first launch their community-based on marketing, support, or member benefit strategy. However, one to two years into the initiative, both their strategy and customers' expectations have evolved. Many organizations find that their strategy does not align with the capabilities of their customer or member community.
They may have outgrown their online community software, as we often see in the nonprofit association world. They may need to right-size their customer community platform after initially implementing an expensive, resource-intensive system, as we often see in the business community. Or they may have fallen out of love with their online community software provider after one too many poor support experiences.
Regardless of the reason for the change, anyone who has implemented, launched, and grown a private online community can tell you that the thought of seamlessly transitioning from one community platform to another is enough to keep you up at night.
Common fear-inducing questions include:
- How to I keep the engagement that I have worked so hard to generate?
- How do I switch community platforms without losing all of the social activity in my old platform?
- How do I explain how to use our new platform to my customers or members?
However, there is one area that eases the transition for much of the rest of the project:
Ask the right questions of both your new and
old online community software providers.
You're The Link Between Your Old and New Online Community Software Vendors
Often times, the social software vendor that runs your current online customer or member community and the one that provides your new platform are not of solid speaking terms. While most online community software providers are professional, there can be some feet-dragging that occurs when it comes to moving community data from one vendor's platform to another. Also, your outgoing vendor will not have a "director of churning customers" to act as a one-stop shop for your new vendors to get the information that they need.
That means that you are the go-between"¦and you must get clear answers for your migration to succeed. Learning about the format in which your data will be exported and your new community provider's processes will help you communicate and create a better experience for community members, as well as set the expectations of your senior management.
Werecently hosted a webinar on how to switch online community platforms without losing your mind or your job. The webinar was led by Higher Logic'sPaul Schneider and Catherine Davidge of the Association for Molecular Pathology (who recently lead AMP's conversion from one online community software platform to another).
They discussed the mechanics of switching platforms, frequently asked questions, and important questions to ask your new and old vendors.
According to Schneider and Davidge's experience, it is critical to get your community data in a workable and timely manner. It is also important to understand your new vendor's requirements and processes to prevent delays and budget surprises.
What should you ask? Here are some questions to get you started.
Questions to Ask Your Outgoing Online Community Software Provider
- What format are you prepared to give us our data in? Do we have options?
- Will you give us two loads (a test load & the actual load) or just one?
- Will there be a cost for the extraction of our data or do we need to pay future months payments upfront to get our community data?
Questions for Your New Online Community Platform Vendor
- What is the lead time you need to do the final load?
- What data can be imported? Is there anything that can't?
- How much experience do you have importing data from other systems?
Takeaway for Changing Online Community Software Platforms
Changing online community software platforms can have a dramatic impact on customer engagement, retention, and satisfaction. It is not a process where your organization can fly by the seat of its pants. However, you also don't need to reinvent the wheel.
By following a proven process and working with experienced partners, your organization can not only keep the member engagement that you have built up over the years, but significantly increase participation in your online community.
Need proof? Just look at the number of new discussions in AMP's private online member community in the first 45 days after they re-launched their community.