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When to Open, When to Close: Adding New Communities

Written by Andy Steggles | on April 10, 2015 at 4:21 PM

Higher Logic Open or Close New Communities

Many communities feel the pressure from committees, interest groups and other members to open new communities within their site (example: a Community for teachers has a lot of discussions on curriculum across the state, and members of a committee would like to start a separate community within the site). It's a tall order if those groups aren't prepared to develop a community plan, create seed questions and advocate on its behalf for support and engagement. These frequent requests can wear on community managers, who don't want to give out free tickets to possibly non-active communities.

"I suggest splitting the difference between asking members to provide a full-fledged community plan and obligingly creating communities when asked," says Lindsay Starke, Higher Logic's tactical community management expert. "Create a new community application form that members will need to fill out before their new community is created." Lindsay recommends designating a space on the form for a volunteer community leader, who will be responsible for keeping the community active. She also urges community managers to include questions like "What is the goal of this community?" and "What are your plans to ensure this community is active?" It is also important to have the member agree to the terms and conditions related to when a community should be archived. For example, if it goes unused for X amount of time, it will be deemed inactive and shut down.

Contemplating new communities for your members? Read through some of our favorite recommendations from clients and their advice for engagement success:

See where your members are walking

Ginny Butsch, Community Manager, Educational Theatre Association

One of our active community members provided a great comparative story for deciding whether or not to open a new community: Their brand new school building had opened the previous year. The builders did not install any sidewalks until months later, because they "wanted to see where the students would walk." Watch the community to see where your members are "walking." If there's a need for a specific community group on a designated subject, you will notice it in your open forum.

Give certain groups the chance to beta test a new community for a certain duration (i.e. 90 days). Members should work to prove its worth by successfully posting new questions, answering existing ones and ensuring a Daily Digest email was generated. If your members take ownership and bring the community to life, then you can be more confident in opening it up further.

Organize a kickoff with new and interested groups

Allison Carney, Community Manager, Council on Foundations

I would hazard against starting many communities at once. It's pretty difficult to keep a conversation alive in one community, let alone 10. Limit what's available at first, and make what is available awesome. That way, your members' first impressions of the site will likely be positive.

To limit the creation of low-value groups, tell individuals who are interested that starting a new community is a great idea, and schedule a "kickoff" meeting to detail the process. During this meeting, I usually tell them:

  • Budget five hours per week (in addition to their regular jobs) to get it up and running
  • Get 20 people who are extremely dedicated to that topic and want to see it grow
  • Write 20 seed questions and responses (at least two per question) to post, once a week, for 20 weeks
  • Their name will be on the top of the community so everyone will know they are the point person
  • I am ready and eager to offer my support to get it up and running and to help them along the way

It's a daunting amount of work, but this meeting isn't meant to be harsh, just honest. Tell your members the truth about what actually is required to make a new community successful. This way, you limit the number of low-value groups, and the people who are excited and able to garner community support get that new group off the ground!

If you already have organized and interested groups, such as a listserv, a highly active committee or a cohort of people, get them moved over first. What's even better is if the group is open to everyone, that way new users will see it as soon as they log in. Once it's started and looks interesting, you can start to launch even more. Also, it helps with the buy-in internally. Keep it conservative at the beginning and share your small wins. Then, as it grows, you'll get bigger and bigger ones.

Give your community a point system

Angelika Lipkin, Senior Manager of Client Communications, Higher Logic

ASHP shared with me the following criteria they use to sunset communities. If a community did not meet the 60+ points based on the following criteria, then they alerted their members the community would no longer be present.

Criteria for a Successful Community

Success Criteria Points
Number of Member = > 500 20
Number of Discussion Replies = > 20/quarter 20
Contribution to the Document Library 20
Contribution to the Event Calendar 20
  Success = 60+

Re-purpose this rubric for your organization, and remember to adjust the point values according to what's appropriate for the community's members and activities.

Do you have suggestions for creating or limiting new communities on your site? Share what works for you and questions you still have below.

Topics: Online Community Management, Engagement, Online Community

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