Remember that community building takes time. That being said, sometimes an online community just won’t get off the ground. If you are struggling to encourage activity or if you want to build more of a buzz around your site, sometimes closing it down is the best course of action.
Close your online community down completely
Most online communities fail. Normally this is due to one of two reasons. Firstly, starting an online community is easy, so many rush to build and release a community site without a plan or strategy. Secondly, many businesses think that if they invest enough money in a community, they’ll see success. Community building isn’t about big budgets, though. It’s about building relationships – which take time and trust, not money.
A lot of online communities launch before they are ready. You need to start building your community before you launch a community website. When your site goes public, it needs to already have members, content and active discussions. New members won’t join a dead community.
If you started your community prematurely, close it down and start again. Reach out to your target audience through other channels (for example, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube). Recruit initial ‘golden members’ to help you get your community going. When you relaunch your community website (if indeed, that is still necessary), you’ll now have immediate interest, early adopters and content.
Closing an online community also allows you to reassess why you want an online community. It gives you time to figure out why your community isn’t developing as you had hoped. Having no community at all is better than having a failed community.
Restrict access to your online community
Being a member of an online community is rarely a luxury. Most are free to join. Most allow members to join without any obligation to be active. The result is often a high number of ghost members – they show in your member stats, but they aren’t active (so they aren’t really members).
There’s no prestige in being a member of a community that lets everyone and anyone in. The more selective you are, the more attractive your community becomes. Consider making it more difficult to join your online community. Consider making it more difficult to remain a member of your online community. Here are some ideas:
- Have a waiting list for new members
- Only allow new members to join at certain times (specific time periods, days of the week, holidays, etc)
- Only allow a certain number of new members to join each week/month
- Make being active an ongoing membership requirement
- Make membership temporary – new members have to earn the right to stay
- Make completion of detailed profile information a membership requirement
Exclusivity is attractive
Having an open community can result in a high number of new member registrations, but this won’t always translate to active, engaged members. The more exclusive you make your community, the more attractive it becomes. Consider foregoing the ego stroke of artificial member counts, and aim instead for quality over quantity. Change the perception of your online community from a commodity to a privilege. Make members earn the right to join, and earn the right to stay.
It’s a bold action, but it doesn’t have to last forever. If you don’t think exclusive, closed communities can work, read up on the history of Facebook.