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How to Prepare Your Community for a Major Change

Change: it’s the one constant in life. Whether you’re introducing a change in ownership, new staff, policy change, technical update, or something else, community members sometimes resist change. Usually, they’re afraid of repercussions that could affect the community they care so much about—so, it comes from a “good place.”

That being said, their fears and frustrations can create chaos, and part of your job as community manager is to make transitions as smooth and drama-free as possible. Follow these steps to turn your announcement from a sign of the apocalypse into a community-building win they thank you for.

Step 1: Educate Yourself about the Change

Become the expert on the ins-and-outs of every aspect of the change and how it may affect your community. Try to visualize the change as the community would see it—every community has different sensitivities, so ask questions that are relevant to your group and their anticipated concerns. Knowledge is power, and you’ll come off as confident and authoritative if you can nip concerns in the bud and answer questions on the fly.

Step 2: Give Lots of Notice, Especially to Moderators

If there is an active Moderator/Admin team (which is often its own sub-community), try telling them about the change before announcing it on the regular forums. Giving them lots of notice is crucial, so they can all put in their two cents, warm up to new ideas, and ask questions. They’ll probably bring up topics you didn’t think of and give you an opportunity to inform yourself before a regular forum member asks the question and catches you with your pants down. If they’re comfortable with the changes they will be your first line of defense in handling reactions and managing expectations of the regular member community.

Step 3: When the Time is Right, Announce the Change

Once again, try to give the community time between the announcement and implementation of the change (depending on your situation), so they have time to get used to the idea and ask their (inevitably many) questions. Here are some tips for success:

Make sure you are very, very clear in what you communicate. Because the written word can be open to varying interpretation, make sure any claims you make are legally sound and as plain in meaning as possible. That being said, emoticons go a long way in quelling fear.

Timing is key. As tempting as conflict-avoidance may be, please-oh-please don’t make an announcement on a Friday afternoon before you take off for the weekend. Consider your membership’s demographic and try to choose a time when the majority of them will be online to isolate any questions or concerns to as succinct a time-frame as possible. Be fully available for as long as possible after both the announcement and implementation of the change to field questions and manage expectations—mutinies and mass panic can be quickly thwarted by well-placed, informative posts by you. Most apprehension and negativity in these circumstances is caused by a perception that things the community likes will change, but most of the major changes are made as a benefit to the community, and your faithful dialog with them will help communicate this and assuage their fears.

Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.” As the liaison between the community and other parties, there will likely be questions that arise that you didn’t anticipate (Don’t shoot the messenger! The whole thing probably wasn’t your idea, anyway! ). Saying “Good question, I’m not sure but I’ll find out ASAP and report back” may require some patience from community members in the short-term, but it’s eons better than ignoring the question or providing the wrong answer—which can lead to all kinds of stickiness. Being honest and consistently providing correct information will give you credibility and respect in your community’s eyes.

Take a deep breath and smile. Remember that you’ve nurtured the relationship with your community, laying the groundwork to navigate them through situations like this. Now be their fearless leader!

Photo cred: Jim Linwood

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About the author

Emily Marchetta

Community Manager, freelance writer, content editor, professional perfectionist. My opinions are my own and don't reflect those of my employers.

5 comments
evanhamilton
evanhamilton

Thanks for posting this, Emily. I agree 100% with #1 & #2.

 

I do have to disagree with always trying to give significant notice. I think early notice is often what causes intense speculation, fearmongering, and protesting. If there are things your community needs to do to prep, then yes, early notice is key. But for many changes that are just visual or adding value, that time isn't required. I've found that giving relatively short notice for these kind of changes goes over fine and means less time for your community to stress over preview screenshots or the "meaning" of your phrases.

SueOnTheWeb
SueOnTheWeb

Great post. I would also add getting your "power users" on board too. Approach them privately and not only get their feedback, but "sell" the change to them too. The fact you've gone out of your way to approach them will go a long way to an easy transition, because they have a large influence on the community vibe. If you have them on board it will be easier to get the rest of the community on board too.