There is a lot of information available around the topic of launching private communities - best practices, tips, and implementation guides. Lately, I've been reviewing quite a few clients' private community sites, all of which have a ton of older content and/or inactive communities, and it occurred to me that there aren't a lot of resources available about "spring cleaning" established communities. With that in mind, I thought I'd share a few of my best practices with regards to managing community content and communities on an ongoing basis so your community doesn't become a ghost town of old content and inactive groups.
- Member Created Communities: When you launch your private community platform, determine whether or not you want to allow members to create their own communities. While at first, it may seem like a no-brainer to allow your members to create their own communities, remember that every additional community a member creates can potentially dilute the value of one or more of your core communities. For this reason, I recommend switching this feature off initially because when you launch your community platform you want all eyes focused on your core communities.
- Force Ownership: If at some point you decide to switch the member-created community capability on, make community creation more than a one-time thing. Rather than allowing members to just create communities at will, consider having them "apply" to create a community, stipulating that all requests will be put through a review process to ensure the proposed community doesn't overlap with an existing community. Further state that if the community is approved, the creator will "own" the community and be responsible for its ongoing success as outlined in your Terms and Conditions (T&Cs).
- Define Success: In your T&Cs, include a "Community Creation and Retention Policy" where you specify that any community which has been inactive (no discussions, library entries, calendar entries, etc.) for a period of x months (I recommend three) or longer will be deleted on a periodic basis. Stipulate that member-created communities will be subject to prior approval and, upon approval, the creator is agreeing to take responsibility for the community's activity in accordance with these terms.
- Monthly Clean-up: Once a month, take a critical look at your communities and their levels of engagement. If you're not getting the traction you want in a specific community, consider your options. If you think you can revive a previously thriving community, take the necessary steps to do so. For those communities which you determine to be no longer viable, you have a few choices.
- Delete. You can simply delete the community and its contents. For truly inactive communities, it's likely nobody will notice or miss them once they're gone.
- Archive. If you have what you think is valuable content in the community you're about to get rid of, consider moving its contents to a different, more active community. For example, you might want to move the respective library and/or discussion group content into your "Open Forum" community. Another example is if you had a community for an old event such as the "2010 Annual Conference." Perhaps create a community called 'Archive of Events' and set the permissions so nobody can join the community and add new content, but members and/or attendees of those past events can view and search the archived content. If you move all content from multiple events into a single archive like this, ensure the files and discussions are set up in a logical structure so it will be easy for users to browse through different events, tracks and sessions for each year.
- SEO - Leverage the Search Engines: There is an opportunity to leverage old content with the search engines. If the content is not sensitive in nature, consider moving that content to a different "Archive" area which would be read-only and set to be publicly visible. This way nobody can contribute new content or discussions but anyone - including the search engines - can view it. This could potentially drive a lot of new traffic to your site, which you would then hopefully be able to convert to new members. If you are going to use a strategy like this for a closed, members-only community, make sure your T&Cs includes a statement that any content may, at some point, be accessible to the public.