Before we talk about the how, there are a couple of simple truths that we need to keep in mind.
The definition of “dead” will vary by person, by community and by person running the community. You may look at something as “dead” when someone else sees it as fine.
If you are running the community and you consider it dead, then that is one thing. But, otherwise, be careful how you view, and judge, other communities. They aren’t always intended to have regular activity or to grow on an activity basis. Everyone has different goals.
The other truth is that all good things must eventually come to an end. This includes our communities. For some, it is simply time. Perhaps it was even meant to be a temporary community. Or maybe there aren’t resources to continue it or the person who started it needs to move on. Everything comes to a conclusion.
With that out of the way, if you are motivated to jump start what you feel is a “dead” community, I’m with you. Let’s talk tactics.
Learning From the Past
One of the first things that I would do is identify a group of members who were active in the past, and who made great contributions, but now no longer visit. I would contact them individually and explain where I am coming from, that I want to get the community back to a good place, and ask them why they left.
Some people won’t respond. You shouldn’t pester them. One message plus, perhaps, a follow up, is enough. Some of the answers that you receive will not help you. Many people leave communities because their lives change – they had a baby, a new job, they went to college and they no longer had time. Some people may be unhappy with some policies that are well intentioned and necessary.
But, others may give you ideas on things that you can improve and make better. Don’t do something just to do it – identify good ideas and make them happen and then tell the member who suggested it that you are doing so. The conclusion of these conversations should hopefully end in an invitation to return to the community, with an honest expression of appreciation on your part.
If you have some members who are active now or, at least, still visiting the community, and have made great contributions in the past, you can contact them and ask them a similar question. How can we make this community better?
Make Improvements to Your Community
Take a good, honest look at your community. What do you have that is good? What do you have that is not so good? What should you emphasize? What can you improve on?
If you have any moderators or team members on this community that you feel are good and want to help bring it back, enlist them in the process. Ask them for feedback and get their thoughts on changes that you are thinking of making.
Do you have a good wealth of content and conversation? Even if it isn’t recent activity, it is still beneficial, especially when it comes to attracting new visitors through search engines. Make sure that your community can be properly indexed, with search engine friendly URLs and page titles that match the thread title and the content that you have.
Do you have sections that are dead, with little past activity? If so, remove them or de-emphasize them. You can remove emphasis by removing them from your menu or navigation, but simply leaving them online for direct traffic. If you have a long list of sections, or forums, and some of them have much less content in them than others, consider merging them with other sections to better showcase the content that you do have.
Is your software outdated? Upgrade it to the latest version of your platform or, if you want, change your platform to something new and attractive.
If the website is ugly, fix it. If you have a bad logo or no logo at all, fix it. A new design, even if it is simply a new, more modern template for your chosen software, can have a big impact, like a fresh coat of paint in your home. Look at everything with an eye for detail and make sure those details are taken care of.
Was one of the reasons that the community died due to poor management, overwhelming spam and personal attacks? If so, install hacks or modifications that help protect you against spam, put new guidelines in place for your community, make it easy for people to report violations and fairly and evenly apply said guidelines.
In some cases, communities can die because of a few cancers who aren’t properly moderated, who berate and put down others and the community. If you see it happening, if you see them driving others away, put a stop to it through your guidelines. You should want people who want to be a part of your community – those that don’t should not be catered to.
Reviving a community isn’t just about outreach, marketing, software and aesthetics – it’s mostly about active management, which is what that stuff also ties into.
When you have things back in shape and in a good place, you could, potentially send a mass email out to all previous members in good standing to invite them back on the community. Be careful with this, though, so as to not come off in a spammy way. It’s not something you want to do multiple times, just when you are absolutely ready. Do it once and make it count.
Looking to the Future
Though I have talked about embracing the past, the key to staying relevant is to embrace the future, while respecting the past. New members are vital and you should do make them feel welcome.
Even if your community has been around for years and used to have tons of activity, you should never be beneath going back to the basics and understanding the 3 most powerful growers of community: quality, culture and appreciation.
Quality comes in the value that your community provides, from the software to the design to the conversation. Culture is your focus, the people that you attract and want to attract. It’s what makes you unique from “everything.” Finally, appreciation is vital, because people who are appreciated are more likely to come back and more likely to be supportive.
So, though your current members are very important, you must also do what you can to ensure that new members can join that group and can fit in and feel comfortable and welcome. This happens through moderation and it happens through actually welcoming people when they come to your community, either directly, through an introductions forum or both.
When you reach milestones as a community, share them and say thank you. When you notice that a member is doing a particularly great job in contributing to the community, send them a note privately to say that you noticed and appreciate it. If you see someone make a great post, thank them in the thread with a reply. This all seems small, but it is very powerful.
The community didn’t die in a day and it won’t be back in a weekend. But, with the right mix of time, commitment and work, you may just be able to give the community a triumphant return.