Sometimes we can be so focussed on community building that when a member of our online community asks to leave, we end up stumped. How should you react when someone wants to leave your community? Should you immediately honour their request? Should you allow them to bid the community a public farewell? There are many issues that arise when members tell you they want to leave – this article will explore them.
An opportunity not to be wasted
If a member of your online community contacts you and asks for their account to be closed, you should see an opportunity. Yes, it’s a blow that someone wants to leave the community, but because they took the time to contact you, you have the opportunity to find out why they want to leave. Was it something you did? Is there something wrong with the site? Are they being bullied? Find out why that member wants to leave, and see if you can resolve the situation. On many occasions, you’ll be able to address the problem. Not only will you have fixed an issue that may be a problem for other members, you’ve kept hold of a member. It doesn’t matter how many members your online community has, every member counts and hanging on to just one of them is a victory.
Reasons why members leave online communities
Functionality: Parts of your site may be downright frustrating to use. People can only tolerate frustration for so long. After losing a 1,000 word post for the third time in a row because the post buttons are confusing or misleading, I think most of us would throw in the towel. Just because something looks good and sounds good, it doesn’t mean it is good.
Don’t use technology just for technology’s sake. Only incorporate features that your community wants to use, and even then make them as simple to use and as easy to understand as possible. Too many communities are far too complex and unintuitive.
Abuse: Nobody wants to be a member of a community if they are repeatedly victimised and bulled. Your community may have a fantastic atmosphere, and overall be very friendly. From time to time though, you’ll always get a few bad apples and you need to deal with them. Remember – abuse may be taking place in private. Even so, if it is taking place in your community, you need to address it. Furthermore, make sure you aren’t being the abusive member. Make sure you aren’t bombarding your members with messages every day, encouraging them to get involved. Don’t spam. Don’t put pressure on your members. You can’t force community.
Relevancy: Sometimes, your online community may simply no longer be relevant to some of your members. Your community may be based around conception methods. You might lose some members once they fall pregnant. Your challenge is to make your community relevant to members after their original objectives have been met. Encourage that member to remain and offer advice – give them some status and authority.
My procedure for when community members wish to leave
Here is how I react when I receive an email from a member who wishes to leave.
Firstly, I thank them for contacting me (most members will simply vanish – you should be grateful they are telling you they want to leave). I ask them why they want to leave, and outline the procedure should they wish to proceed with closing down their account, and wait to hear back from them.
Sometimes, members will ‘see red’ over a seemingly innocent comment made in your community and in their fury demand their account be deleted. Always wait 24 hours before honouring these requests, and always seek confirmation after this ‘cooling down’ period.
If the member responds and I am unable to address the problem that is responsible for making them want to leave (this is rare), then I will follow the account closure procedure as I previously outlined to them. The exact procedure depends on exactly what the member wants me to do. If possible, I will simply suspend the account so it cannot be logged into and remove the member’s profile information and email address. The member’s content will remain, and it will be associated with their member name.
If the member isn’t happy with this, I will offer to change the member name associated with the content so their posts aren’t identifiable as theirs. At a very last resort, I will delete their content if they insist upon this. I hate to do this though, as you are not only losing valuable content, you are also potentially making all existing discussions that member was involved in unintelligible and incoherent. This damages the community.
Farewell, my friends
An additional issue crops up when members decide they want to make their exit public. They may decide to start a ‘farewell’ post, telling members they are leaving and why. Dealing with these posts can be a challenge. If members are leaving because they aren’t happy, there is a risk that the thread could turn negative. If the member was a dividing influence in your community, any farewell thread will undoubtedly attract negative comments, as well as words of support from those that saw the member as a friend. Now you are faced with a thread that is potentially divisive to your community and will be even more damaging than the loss of one member.
You need to treat these situations on a case-by-case basis. You shouldn’t tell a member that wants to leave that they aren’t allowed to say goodbye to the community. That’s a little unfair – particularly if they were a valuable contributor in the past. Allow them to say goodbye, but keep a close eye on the thread. Don’t allow any negativity or abuse to creep in – enforce your community guidelines as you would with any other discussions. After a week or so, consider closing or removing the discussion – your members have had their say, the member has left and there is no point dwelling on the past.
Get over it and look to the future
Losing a member is a tough blow, but you need to move on and take what you have learnt from the loss. A community shouldn’t be reliant on one or two members. It should be strong enough to survive even your most valuable member leaving. Try your hardest to keep every single one of your members, but accept that sometimes you will lose a few and there is nothing you can do to stop them leaving.
How do you respond when members ask for their account to be closed?