Invigorate your online community by closing it down

by Martin Reed on 21 October 2009 in Articles

closing online communities

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.

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{ 20 comments }

Nicole Price October 21, 2009 at 11:38 pm

Cut your losses is the most difficult advise to act on! Well brought out advise.

Patricia October 22, 2009 at 1:51 am

Thanks Martin, very good advice about how to use exclusivity to revive a dying community. Another method to make membership exclusive is by having members to pay a small membership fee like what Darren did to Problogger Community.

Michelle October 22, 2009 at 9:07 pm

Interesting advice but that takes quite a leap of faith. I don’t think I’m brave enough to try it. I’d be too afraid people would get annoyed at the restrictions and just move onto someplace more open.

Michelle

Mr Woc October 23, 2009 at 8:58 am

Hi there

Interesting enough faceparty did this a while ago, where you have to get a code before you can sign up, to stop the spammers etc, it seems to have worked for them but they are such a big community !

Woc

Christian October 24, 2009 at 9:48 pm

I am not sure I agree- if you shut your doors early in your process, you’re apt to alienate people who would otherwise stick around and help you via word of mouth.

Paul Jean October 25, 2009 at 12:03 pm

I agree with you. There are lots of online communities out there who turned out to be dead because of so many inactive members. Simply, because there are no topics being discussed in their forums.

Jay October 26, 2009 at 2:09 pm

For one of my sites, I found it very helpful to have new registrants describe why they want to join the community. Helps them to know that not just anybody can join, and that it is a privilege to be part of the group — not a right.

Tom October 28, 2009 at 11:42 pm

I’m currently creating a new community, for my local town. It’ll be called RotherhamTown.co.uk (“Rotherham News & Reviews”).

I’m using Joomla, and people will be able to post articles, post their comments on them, forums, chat, local reviews of pubs and the latest local news etc etc etc.

I’m going to make sure I spend a good couple of months working on it -before- releasing.

Seems a little pointless posting the latest news.. when nobody will even see it for a few months.. -but- when I do launch there’ll already be plenty of content and comments posted about that content.

Ala time & patience I hope will reap rewards in this instance. I will spend a couple of months posting articles, columns, news, posts and the such likes.

Amadou M. Sall November 2, 2009 at 12:54 pm

A pretty bold move that requires some “courage” :-) I think I’m going to try it since you’ve now convinced me that ” Having no community at all is better than having a failed community”!

Dena November 3, 2009 at 5:00 pm

I think that you’ve offered a thoughtful approach and touched on several areas that many might now consider before “diving in.” Be Prepared to Quit when necessary and employing exclusivity certainly seem logical; after all the goal is to build a community and if one is unable to do that, then why proceed?

Samantha Barone November 3, 2009 at 5:21 pm

Closing your online community in order to build a better, bigger one sounds a bit bold. But it may be worth it – nothing like some spring cleaning to freshen up a place…

Ajith Edassery November 8, 2009 at 1:25 am

Totally agree with you. I have tried building MyBlogLog, Blogcatalog, Twitter and facebook communities in the past… After some time it looses steam and you move on to the next big hype. Other than causing spam and making these socnet,media applications grow, it’s not really doing any good to your blog or online business.

Of late, I am not even bothered about it as long as my organic traffic is good enough.

Paul November 11, 2009 at 12:04 pm

I never thought about closing down a community to help make it better.

Getting a few of those right people who end being online all day at your website or forum really helps get the ball rolling although it takes time to find these people.

Nice article.

Mike L November 11, 2009 at 2:17 pm

i agree completely…it helps when you are a member of an existing fellowship and you kinda just extend it online and it grows from there.

Jonathan November 17, 2009 at 6:14 am

An interesting idea. I do agree that concenrating on your core community is essential, but it is also important to have new members joining on a frequent basis. I think exclusivity can work but that you need to have a strong community theme in order to make people want to join

Kevin Malone December 21, 2009 at 3:15 am

Not sure about the idea of being selective with who registers. To me, it depends on the type of site you have.

If your forum is already getting much of its members from search engines, you may get away unscathed despite alienating many potential members. However, for a site-less, word-of-mouth forum, you cannot be as judgmental.

I agree, though, that selectivity can be a good thing. What I mean is that, if you keep bringing in contributive members, while keeping spammers away, your community will benefit, obviously. That said, there is more than one way to be selective. For example, you may advertise at forums where there are more contributive members, and avoid forum promotion forums.

As for the point about making continued activity a requisite for membership: I am fine with that point if the content those people contributed remains. After all, the value of content does not decrease (or otherwise) based on the inactivity of a member. In any case, I am weary of deleting accounts, because I have known so many cases where a person may come back after a long absence and become active. If that person returns and sees his account is deleted, it may discourage him. Of course, making continued activity may work at some forums, but it does not seem like a best strategy for smaller forums.

Martin Reed - Community Manager December 21, 2009 at 11:44 am

Kevin – I completely agree; it is all about the type of site you have, and the type of community you want. Thanks for your contribution.

Beth December 29, 2009 at 4:34 pm

I’m just wondering why someone would wait for me when there are so many great communities who accept anyone immediately and make them feel wanted.

I understand the exclusivity emotion, but, exclusivity only works in my experience when there is something actually exclusive for which to wait.

For example, with Bernie Madoff, he used the principle of exclusivity to attract even bigger investors.

He did that by year after year (supposedly) showing a 10 to 15 percent (and more) return on investment. Of course, he was running a Ponzi Scheme, but even so, exclusivity along with the 10 to 15 percent prize was worth waiting for, and indeed was very alluring to those on the outside.

If I start a community though, what would I have to offer to them that they couldn’t get elsewhere and better.

I am happy to take this advice. I just am not sure what I can offer to make my community worth waiting for. And, without that, I know what I’d do. I’d seek out someone offering the same or better who would take me now.

I will anxiously await your input.

Martin Reed - Community Manager December 30, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Beth – “If I start a community though, what would I have to offer to them that they couldn’t get elsewhere and better.” You have to figure that one out for yourself!

If your community isn’t attractive to members, it will fail – regardless of whether it’s exclusive or open to all.

Cradz October 8, 2010 at 2:57 am

I just found your site and all I can say is wow… I’ve been running my site for nearly 10 years and gone through a lot of what you’ve posted.

My members pay for perks which makes it more exclusive but restricting with codes is an interesting idea I may try. We have a few who like to come back after being banned multiple times to stir up trouble and that would help.

Having a unique chat system has worked well for us. It’s not java or flash and while it’s old school html the latest phones have browsers that are actually usable and like our simple system.

I pretty much leave my members to it and only step in as the Grand Poo-bah when things get out of hand. :)

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