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For brevity’s sake, let’s assume you’ve already chosen your replacement community platform. To begin, you want to give yourself plenty of time to make this transition. It will take weeks to months depending on how many members you have, how many you can lose, and how active they are. You’ll want to give them several opportunities to make the move to the new site and ample time to do it.
Before You Switch Community Platforms
I suggest giving yourself 3 months, but in some cases, you’ll only have a couple of weeks. Here’s how the timeline looks:
Choose your new platform – arguably this is the most difficult step because there are so many options out there. Until I create my own post on this topic here are a few options to read: Feverbee’s platform comparison tool, CMX Guide to Community Platforms, and The Ultimate Guide to Choosing Community Platforms.
Plan the transition (in detail) – You can use the following as a template for your plan.
Set up new platform – This allows you to test the new platform and the many features included, you can add content, research settings and take time to help build documentation for your members. I recommend giving yourself 2-4 weeks of the new software regularly before inviting members to join.
You’ll specifically want to understand the onboarding process the software offers, the options you have for collecting data and hooking the forum up to your CRM, as well as the various options for posting content and how these options match up with how things are being done in your live forum (AKA Facebook groups).
Add beta users to new platform – People from your team should be the first to get on the new system. When you’ve solved any problems or obstacles with the software, it’s a good idea to invite evangelists/power users to use the new forums and collect their feedback.
Stock with new content – When you eventually launch the new forum you’ll want the place to look just as full as the groups you have now. This means you’ll need to plan some events, have conversations already in progress, and regularly have a variety of members adding new content.
Initially, you’ll be able to stock the content, but as more members join, you’ll need an outreach plan that will get others posting, too. You can prepare this in advance with your team and power users by asking for volunteers. You already know who is dedicated to your forum, get their involvement and show your gratitude and they’ll be glad to help when you reach out.
Allow beta users time to test new platform – Ask these users if they came across any issues with registering, posting, commenting, fixing their profiles, finding support, getting notifications, or emails.
Deal with any issues that arise – It’s inevitable that you’ll come across a minor issue here and there. Get comfortable reading the software company’s documentation and make sure they have support available during your peak hours. The whole point of taking the time to launch a new community site is to foresee and handle any problems BEFORE you invite the masses, so take time to be active in the new forum.
Choosing A Hard or Soft Transition Off Facebook Groups
Depending on your community you’ll choose a quick or slow (hard or soft) move to your new forums. In my experience I’ve found that more dedicated communities, such as those that are required for work, can make the change quickly without losing too many active members (those members that weren’t active are likely to be lost but can always be reengaged through email/social media).
In communities where participation is more voluntary, paid, or entertaining, a slow migration has worked better as it gives those members who do not visit regularly time to make the change. A slow migration also helps you get as many members as possible to move from the old site to the new site.
As an example, when I worked with Forbes communities we used a soft transition to help them move off Facebook, the plan that follows in this post is based on the same steps we took to make our move to an in-house solution successful.
Your community manager should be able to identify how a hard or soft transition will affect your community as a whole.
Soft Transitioning Community Members
Give yourself two months to transition members – In a lot of forums only the most active members show up everyday, or even every month, so it makes sense to give a couple of months of time to members to make the switch.
Make formal announcement – In a new sticky post at the top of the Facebook group, and in email (if available), announce that you are moving to a new forum. Include a couple of reasons why this change is for their benefit, your members often won’t care if it’s just because you want more control, they care about their ease of use and what is comfortable for them.
You can mention that on the new forum they will have a much easier to skim topic section, they will be able to message each other without needing to be added as a friend (which often results in lost messages), they’ll have quicker access to moderators, and (if you are doing this) additional content just for their success.
To encourage their interest include mentions of new content, interesting discussions, a new influencer, in the new forum.
Come Join Our New Forum –
We told you a couple of weeks ago that the new forum was just about ready and now it is.
We’ve added some surprises; a discussion with (influencer name) going on right now, a new free course on (topic of importance), and conversations with our own (Name of Titles) who will answer all of your questions for the next 2 days.
You are going to love the new site, private messages will be easier, you will get faster support from us, and all of our content is much easier to navigate.
We can’t wait to see you in there – join at this link.
Give members access to new platform – There are two ways of doing this: 1) Give them access to register as soon as you announce the new forum and run 2 forums at once OR 2) Use the above announcement as just the announcement so they can get comfortable with the idea, possibly getting fewer to register in the long run.
If done correctly, with a lot of nudges to join the new forum, I suggest simply making the announcement. It’s hard enough to keep activity going in 1 forum without having to worry about losing participants in both because there is not enough engagement. I suggest making the announcement at least 1 month before the switch, 2 months if possible. If things are going well with the new forum and tests you can make the announcement much earlier than 2 months before the switch.
I would open access to the new forum 2 weeks after the initial announcement. In the new forum you’ll want to have some conversations active, it shouldn’t look dead.
Run both forums with all programs and events – With 1.5 months left before the switch you’ll have to manage the content at both sites, this will take a lot of outreach to members to participate, especially the power users you invited before. This is their moment to pitch in. You basically want to finish all events/programs promised in the initial forum and build up the engagement in the new forum.
Pushing Members To Make the Switch
Begin mentioning the transition deadline in all new posts/events/programs/communication – About a month from the time of your first announcement it’s time to get more obvious about the switch. At the end of each post, give them a link to share in the same conversation in the new forum, if you can entice them with new members, news coming just to the new forum, etc, now is the time to do that.
Continue adding more content to the new platform – In your new content, make sure you encourage your members to invite their friends to join the new forum. At this time, you’ll want to have more content in the new forum than the old one, if not, you need to do more outreach and suggest to members in the old forum to post new threads in the new forum.
Send an email and make a post on the old forum asking all members to make the transition (ask people to like it on your team to get the exposure you need on Facebook) Explain that you have been cutting back on posts over the last couple of weeks and that you’ll be referring all new posts to the new site.
Start sharing links from posts in the new forum to the old Facebook group inviting people to join. – This is a bolder move that makes it obvious the group won’t be used for much longer. At two weeks before the switch you want to be doing this.
Remind posters who make a post in the old forum to please join the new forum and share their post there. – You can accept their post on the old forum, but leave a comment that it will be closed for commenting soon and that you’d love to have them in the new forum.
Remind members that if they haven’t made new accounts they will miss out on the benefits of the forum going forward (education, events, etc) focus on the things that are most wanted/needed in the group.
Consider sending a survey to see why people have not transitioned to the new forum. – By understanding what’s keeping them from joining you can discuss how the new forum will help them.
Send email that the old forum is shutting down in 1 week – This email should include a big button or link to click through and finish registering for the forum. Again, if you have any incentives, now is the time to mention them.
Reach out personally to whoever is left – If your team can manage this, reach out and help members sign up. Some softwares will allow you to enter their email addresses and have an account set up for them with a link to set their password, this is a great option that allows you to follow up after the old forum is down.
Stop making new posts to the old forum – except the final post to say the forum is closed, where you’ll include a link to register at the new site.
Hard Pushing Members To A New Forum
In some cases, you just can’t stay on Facebook Groups any longer and have to make the switch. This could be because the new software you have was really expensive and superiors want it to be used NOW or because Facebook discontinued your group for some reason. It could be anything.
Email all of your members and include a link to the new forum. I suggest gently explaining why this is important to do now and divulging what details you can about the quick timeline.
In my experience this kind of push risks losing a lot more members, but a follow up email and social media campaign can help over time.
Post only in the new forum.
Add members who did not transition to a newsletter and keep them in the loop by sending out timely newsletters.
In some ways this is easier because you don’t have to keep working on two forums at a time and gently coaxing people to make a change, in other ways it is demanding to the members and somewhat disrespectful of their time and experience, so if it is a paid membership you might want to give them more consideration.
Communities tend to vary in engagement, dedication, active users, and preferences, so it’s important the community manager has a finger on the pulse of the community and can direct how these decisions will affect important metrics.
Loss of Community Members
It’s inevitable that you will lose members when switching platforms. Here are some reasons why:
- Members don’t want to use another site
- Members stopped using the group weeks, months, or years ago (one of the reasons you want to make this transition)
- They don’t believe they’ll need the group any longer
- They aren’t interested in what the new site will offer
Bottom line: it’s OK to lose community members here. With Facebook Groups you tend to have a LOT more ‘members’ than active members and this will give you a better idea, perhaps a baseline, of what your community activity is.
While the plan above was created to give members several options to move and a lot of time to make the switch, some will not. The numbers you had before were largely vanity metrics that had little bearing on your actual reach and engagement. Start from here, build a plan to grow, and keep the members who have moved happy.
Facebook will eventually not be able to give your members the deep community experience you want to offer. You’ll also want more data from the efforts your company is investing in your community as well as more flexibility in your member site. It will make sense to move away from the Facebook Groups that were so easy to start and tap into more opportunities. This plan should help you proactively consider steps to take while making the transition. And, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me as I’m more than happy to help.