Switching from one platform to another. Hacking of all account information. The CEO departing. The community manager turning over – or worse, getting fired. Shutting down for good. Or, just not knowing the next step. This are all tricky situations that can stir up anxiety in any community.
Change is to be expected as companies and their communities mature, grow and evolve. Though, what’s more challenging than the changes themselves are the awkward times of uncertainty before the changes occur. What do you say to your community? How do you keep a cool face and the community’s confidence when you’re unsure of the outcome?
While it’s never easy, below are a few tenants to keep in mind to start. Looking for examples? Skip the the bottom of this article.
Know What You Stand For
Any difficult period is a time to rely on values for decision making. A clearly defined framework for priorities, goals and success is the backbone for any tough period. Unsure if option A is the right one? Well, does it align with what you believe in as a company? If not, it’s not the right choice. While the outcome may be uncertain, you can still make all the little decisions during limbo with integrity and value-alignment.
Whenever Possible, Have a Back Up Plan
Launch is delayed. A troll posts porn to your forum. A feature isn’t working out according to plan. Things always go wrong, and it should be expected. That’s why it’s so important to plan ahead and keep tight community guidelines.
For each major initiative, conduct a risk assessment. Ask yourself, what could possibly go wrong here, and how can we mitigate any derailment? For example, our ad-tech officemates recently took on an analytics partnership with a media company using a risque-sounding hashtag for an online scavenger hunt. Our first question was, what’s their social media crisis plan? When they found there wasn’t one in place, they ask the media company what their lawyers advised on the campaign. Crisis averted (the lawyers said no to the hashtag).
Be Transparent – But Don’t Sound the Alarm
If team members are feeling uncertain, you best assume that it’s trickling down to community members, too. When going through an unpredictable period, it always pays to be upfront and honest about what’s going on behind the scenes – within reason. There’s no need to reveal insights to politics, crises or potential negative outcomes. The easiest thing to do is state the facts of the situation and the process by which you’re pursuing resolution with promise of an update as soon as able. And, that’s it.
Communicate Early & Often
Don’t wait until you’re in crisis mode to communicate with your community. As soon as uncertainty creeps into your psyche beyond the run-of-the-mill insecurities we all face, let your community know. There should be no surprises here. Keep the lines of communication open, and offer opportunities for community members to reach out with questions and concerns – include members in the process. And, as soon as you have an update, share it.
Make a Firm Decision & Stick to It
Once your team has determined a clear path forward out of uncertainty, communicate the plan or follow through on it. Sometimes, it’s nice to communicate why you’ve decided to make a particular decision, especially when the issue at hand is controversial or the outcome is surprising. Though, be wary of falling into undefensible rationales that leave you open to backlash and questioning of authority and/or decision making. Most of all, use this communication of a resolution to rebuild confidence – focus on the future.
While all of this is nice in theory, here are notable examples of how some of our favorite communities have managed uncertainty or nipped it in the bud all together:
- Meetup battles a DDoS attack for a measly $300
- Shapeway’s first community manager moves on
- Airbnb cooperates with the New York Attorney General
- Etsy opens its community to sellers with manufacturing partners
Is your team ready to handle uncertainty? What have you found that works well?