[Originally posted on TheCommunityManager.com]
A little over 2 weeks ago, I said goodbye to the Skillshare team. I’ll tell that story next, but this one’s about another community I had to bid adieu at the same time: the Skillshare teachers and students.
In fact, they had to part ways, too. One of the last things I did before I left Skillshare was officially retire the Master Teacher program I had started, nurtured, and grown with the help of our community team over the course of the past 2 years.
Over time, Skillshare has evolved and expanded the definition of what a class can be. We launched as a local marketplace and are now a global, online learning platform. We’ve also rethought and improved what teacher success looks like and how the best teachers can build and maintain their reputations on Skillshare. Our Master Teacher program no longer represented the full scope of our community and classes.
Knowing that Skillshare would continue to explore different ways to promote and connect its best teachers in its new landscape, I emailed each of our Master Teachers personally to let them know we would all have to move on. I was anxious about the responses I might receive – this wasn’t good news! But I was shocked. The overwhelming reaction from this group of committed Skillshare community members was supportive, understanding, and hopeful.
As one former Master Teacher said, “Thanks for the heads up! Keep me posted on the evolutions.”
So how’d I do it? Here are my tips for kindly and successfully closing down a community.
1. Ask Yourself Why
Start with these questions:
- Why are we closing down this community (group / platform / forum / etc.)?
- Why are we doing it right now?
Whatever the reason…have one. Your answers to the above questions will clarify the outcome you’re hoping for and help you plan.
2. Draft a Plan
Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT wing it. Like any good PR expert would, answer all of the what ifs, plan for all possible realities.
Follow up your Whys, with these questions. If you can answer them, you’ll be well-prepared.
- Who will this have an impact on?
- What are we specifically removing / changing?
- When will be the final end date of this program?
- Where will we be making changes on and off the site?
- How will we make the transition? Who will be responsible for what?
- How will we communicate the change to the affected community members?
Also, think about all of the questions your community members might have for you and answer them *before* you talk to them! They might ask:
- Why are you doing this? (You’ve got that one down!)
- Why does it have to happen now? (Don’t you feel so prepared?)
- What does this mean for me now? How does this affect my experience with your company moving forward?
- What are my next steps?
- What do you think about all of this? (Tow the line between straightforward honesty and professionalism here.)
3. Do It In Advance
Give your community members time to react, ask questions, and prepare for what’s next. If you run a blogging platform and are doing a site redesign that will eliminate all previous blog comments, is there enough time for your bloggers to notify their followers and export the old content they want to save?
4. Be Honest
Be incredibly straightforward and honest. Be empathetic. Don’t overpromise. As a gesture of respect and mutual bummed-out-ness, tell your community why you’re making the decision you are – if you went through the steps above, you should feel pretty solid about the plan you’ve laid out and your community will hopefully see the logic, too.
Check out Uber’s exceptional communication about an experiment they were running with taxis in SF. While the topic of the announcement isn’t closing down a group, their human tone is good inspiration.
5. Be Thankful
Let your community members know how much you appreciate their time, effort, and contributions. Without them, you would have learned less about your business along the way. They deserve an official thanks!
This is what I said in my update email: “First, let me say a HUGE thank you for all of the effort and love you’ve put into teaching – you’ve helped make Skillshare what it is, and we’ve learned so much from working with you thus far!” And I meant it.
6. Set Aside Time to Talk
Be ready to answer questions about the logistics and impact of your community closing up shop. Have answers prepared – know how people can grab their data, if possible, and where they can communicate with each other moving forward. Also, be ready to have less tactical conversations. Some of your community members will want to thank you in person or vent their frustration, and listening goes a long way.
I set up “office hours” and spent much of that time reminiscing with our Master Teachers! These were nostalgic conversations, less rooted in next steps and more in getting used to the idea of change.
7. Offer Alternatives and Next Steps
They loved your brand yesterday, and they’ll still respect you the morning after if you follow the advice above. Find a more relevant way for your community members to engage with your company next. Give them a way to connect with each other, if you’re removing the forum where they used to convene. If you’ve held valuable data of theirs, try to find a way to give it to them.
I created a Google Doc where the Master Teachers could drop their contact info and notes about what they would/n’t like to be contacted about by other MTs. I reminded them that they could connect with our Education Team to learn more about teaching online classes and evolving with us.
These folks stuck with you and your work up until now, so if you respectfully involve them in a transition which directly affects them and offer them meaningful next steps, it’s likely that they’ll still spread the good word about their experience with your brand. As one of our earliest teachers said in his response to learning about the end of the Master Teacher program, “Thanks for changing my life (and thereby, helping to change all the lives I’ve changed).”
Just like we rarely see stories about companies that have failed, we rarely talk about communities that reach the end of their roads. There’s much to learn from both, so let’s help each other out and share!