There’s a lot of information out there about starting online communities. But there’s another part of online community building we don’t talk about as much: how to move an online community.
For all the work you’ve put in, for the time spent, for the relationships you’ve nourished with your members, what happens when you find you can’t keep going on the same platform?
It happens more often than you’d think. A lot of people leading online communities will realize that they’ve outgrown their platform. Maybe they started on Facebook Groups and got tired of the limitations. Maybe they realized that they really want to charge for membership or teach an online course, but their platform doesn’t let them do it.
Whatever the reason, when the time comes to move an online community to a new platform, it’s a scary thing. How do you do it in a way that will keep the value you’ve built? How do you get members excited about the move, and make sure you won’t lose them?
In this article, we’ll walk you through a 16-part checklist for how to move an online community.
(This post assumes you’ve already got a pretty good idea of which platform you want. If you don’t, start here: The Best Community Building Platform.)
If you want more support in building your online community business, come join OUR Mighty Community for free and meet other new and established community owners! We’d love to meet you. Join for free!
How to know when it’s time to move an online community
You’ve outgrown the platform
Sometimes groups outgrow platforms because of membership expansion. This is a great problem to have! If your community has grown so much that you are having trouble handling the complexity, you imagine growing subgroups and filtering members by interest or empowering some other moderators, you might need a new platform for it.
You need more features
This is related to the last point, but if you want live streaming or virtual events, or if you want to build an online course to serve your members, you might be ready to move your online community to a new platform. There are some great all-in-one platforms out there, so there’s no point trying to cobble together 4 pieces of software when you could have one that does it all.
You’re not getting engagement
There’s more to engagement than just the platform. And there’s a lot of work you could do to build better member engagement in your community. But what happens when the platform works against you? This is what often happens with big social media platforms, as creators fight the algorithms to even get seen by their community.
If you’re sick of your members NEVER seeing your best stuff, it might be time for a move.
You’re ready to monetize
You might decide it’s time to move your online community because you’re ready to adopt a monetization model, and your current platform doesn’t allow it. This could be charging for memberships, or else selling courses or coaching. When your platform holds you back from monetizing, it might be time for a move.
You want an app
There are a lot of features you might move for, but an app is important. Many users love to be able to access a community on an app, and since many community-building platforms have one, it isn’t too much to ask to have a service that includes an app.
Before you move (6 months-1 week prior)
So once you’ve decided to make the move, there are some things you can do leading up to your big move to make sure it’s successful. Chances are, the amount of lead time you’ll need to prepare for the move will be related to how big your community is. If you’ve got 15 people in a mastermind, you can probably make the move pretty quickly–with as little as 1 week’s notice. If you’ve got 300 people in a Facebook Group, you probably need to give them some time to get used to the move.
It should be pretty obvious that if you want to successfully migrate all of your members from an old community platform to a new one, your members gotta know about it. Hopefully, they will even get excited about it. Here are the things you can and should think about in the months leading up to your big move:
1. Treat the platform change as a launch
One of the simplest ways to approach moving your online community to a new platform is to treat it like a launch. Don’t tell your members, “Okay y’all, this platform sucks so we’re going to try somewhere else.” Say something like, “We’re so excited to take this community to the next level, with a platform that’s going to let us build deeper relationships, form meaningful subgroups, and I’ll go live once a week!”
You can even plan a countdown for the months or weeks leading up to the launch to build momentum (e.g. “T minus 5 days until our snazzy new space is LIVE!”).
This will get your members excited to be on the new platform, and make it way more likely they’ll make the effort to move with you. And plan a really killer launch event for your new space (we’ll talk about this below).
2. Get their emails
One of the biggest things about moving communities is that sometimes people might get lost in the shuffle, especially if you shut down the old community (which you don’t have to do right away–more on this below).
One of the best ways to make sure the transition is seamless is to collect all your members’ emails if you haven’t already. If you’re already on a platform that requires emails for registration, you might just be able to download this as a spreadsheet. But if you’re on some platforms, especially a social media platform, you’ll probably need to find some ways to make sure you have them.
Here are a few ideas to collect your existing members’ emails:
- Ask! Approach members individually or as a group and ask them if they’d be willing to give their emails.
- Set up some sort of opt-in for the launch of your new community that requires registration–maybe a “Join the waiting list,” or “Register for the live launch event” landing page.
- Start something months before that requires an email sign-up, like a newsletter. Then you’ll be collecting emails in the months leading up, and your members will get used to getting emails from you.
3. Choose the right platform
Hopefully, this will be the one and only time you move your community. So make sure you do it right! After all, you don’t want to have to repeat this whole process next year.
Do your homework and pick a great community platform that’s going to let you do everything you could ever want to do with your community. Don’t settle for where your community is now. Ask yourself:
- Where could it be in 3 years?
- What if I want to start a weekly live stream?
- What if I want to teach an online course?
- What if it takes off and I want my own branded app?
- What if the membership triples?
Pick the right home for your community now, so you don’t have to move again.
4. Promote the switch on other channels
If you have a presence on other social media channels, talk about the shift there too! Again, treat it as a launch and offer a countdown. Maybe even offer a sale or special offer to members who join the new community.
Try to take the buzz beyond your existing community and make sure everyone who follows your brand knows that this is EXCITING! Who knows, you might even pick up some new members with the move!
5. Use the opportunity to redesign
Moving a community is a great time to take stock of your existing community and brand. It doesn’t have to just be about changing software. Think about your work and the people you’re serving.
- What do I want to keep moving forward?
- What do I want to stop doing?
- What’s serving my community members best?
- Has my ideal member changed?
- Has my big purpose changed or evolved?
If you’ve never thought about Community Design™, this is a great time to get serious about it. We’ve got lots of resources to help you, and we even run an amazing Community Design Accelerator!
Community Design™ Resources:
6. Get your members’ input
While you’re thinking about what your refresh on a new platform might look like, why not solicit some input from your existing members? After all, they’re the ones who spend time in your community. Unlike you, they experience it as users. What could be better than getting their feedback on your new space?
Do this carefully. This doesn’t mean posting generic messages saying, “I need to build a new space… what do you want?” Here are a couple of ideas to intentionally and carefully get members input:
- Member surveys: Surveying your members with some questions about how your community is working for them is a great way to get input into what your new space should do (do this even before you tell them you’re moving). There are lots of free options to create online surveys you can send them.
- Talk to your super members: Every community has those people who work extra hard to make it great. Schedule a few chats with them, either 1-on-1 or in a small group, to get their ideas for what your new community platform should have.
- Talk to people you want more of: If you’re using this opportunity to redesign the focus of your community, don’t just talk to the people already in it. Set up conversations with some of your ideal users who aren’t in the community yet. See what problems they’re working on or dreams they have and how they fit with your adapting vision.
7. Revisit your costs and pricing
Maybe you’re switching from a free to a paid community. Maybe the platform you are hosting on has some expenses. This is a great time to revisit how much (if anything) you charge for your community and to see if it still fits your business model.
As you revisit your pricing model, here are some things to consider:
- Membership churn: Members leave sometimes, and that’s okay. If you have access to the data, or if you can figure it out, take stock of what your membership churn has been for the last 12 months.
- Average new members: Look at your average number of new members every month for the past year.
- Membership costs: Are your membership costs reasonable–both for your members and for you? Resist the urge to charge too little–our research shows that people value what they pay for. Charging a membership fee makes people more likely to engage.
These numbers also give you some ideas of what to prioritize for your new community. Maybe you need to focus on getting your new-member numbers up. Maybe you need to focus more on keeping your existing members and getting the churn down. If you do this math you can actually figure out the value of each change to your bottom line.
The week of the move
Okay, so you’ve done a lot of great prep work and now it’s time to actually migrate your online community. Here are some things you can do THE WEEK OF your move to make sure it goes smoothly.
8. Host a launch party
We talked about this above, but DO host a launch party or special event. You might decide to include things like special guests, giveaways, or live streaming to make the most of the week and keep the excitement high.
Make sure to promote the launch across your platforms, on your old community site, and via email!
9. Share your new vision
Hopefully, you’ve done a bit of this with your promo material, but the launch party is a great opportunity to share your new or refreshed vision for your community. Give them a taste of a year in the life of the community, and what they can expect to happen if they stick around for a year. Announce your monthly themes, or tease some of your special activities.
This is a great chance to get buy-in on your fresh direction.
10. Create a great welcome sequence
Plan a fantastic welcome sequence that all new members will get as they arrive in the new community that helps them understand the shared purpose. Good community platforms will let you do this, even automate it. Cultivate a great member experience from day 1.
We have a free training on creating an magical new member welcome experience in our Mighty Community!
11. Run an email sequence
If your community is large, and you did the work to collect their emails in the months leading up to your move, consider running an email sequence around the launch. You can include details of a launch event, but also any special offers around membership fees, deadlines for joining, reports on how it’s going so far (“social proof” that your community is amazing–e.g. ”78 people have already joined!”), and anything else that will encourage people to take the step of joining a new community.
12. Set a deadline
People respond to deadlines. Ask anyone who’s sold anything online, and they’ll tell you how effective a “last chance” email is. Find a way to work a deadline into your online community migration. This doesn’t mean you need to say, “if you don’t get into the new community by next Friday, you’re out.” But consider creating soft deadlines around a membership deal or special offers that will incentivize people to move to the new community ASAP instead of when they eventually get around to it (which might be never).
After the move (1 week to 6 months)
Once you’ve done the hard work of moving an online community, there are some things to do in the months to follow to make sure as many members as possible make the move and your new community thrives.
13. Use the old community to promote the new one
You can use your old community space as a promotion tool for your new one, even after you’ve gone. If members had stuff going on in their lives and missed the move, you might still catch some stragglers later on.
Here are some ways you can use your old community to promote your new one:
- If it’s free, consider keeping the community in place with a pinned post inviting members to the new community (e.g. on a Facebook group).
- If you own the domain, consider setting up either an automatic redirect or a landing page for the new community there.
- Set up a standing special offer for those who come from the old community site.
14. Don’t double post
Don’t keep double posting in your old community and your new one. You want members to know that they need to be in the community to get the good stuff. If you just double post everything in your old community, you’re disincentivizing your members from actually making the switch, splitting your focus, and hurting your new community’s chances of survival.
15. Keep emailing lost members
You may have members who want to make the switch to your new community but haven’t taken the time to do it yet. Don’t give up on them. These are warm leads who know and (hopefully) love your work, so do keep emailing them from time to time.
Recognize that they may come back months later, and don’t write them off. Keep them posted about the great stuff that’s happening in the new community.
16. Accept you may lose some people
This hurts a little bit, but there’s some friction involved in moving an online community. It’s important to recognize that you might not be able to keep everyone. There might be people who have been thinking of leaving who will use this as an opportunity to do so. There might be people who just ghost.
Unfortunately, this is just a fact of life. It’s not a reflection on you or on your community– maybe it’s just not what they need right now. And that’s okay.
Focus on doing great work serving the people you have, do the best you can, and recognize that migrating your community to a new platform is going to help you grow in ways you can’t imagine.
There’s no reason why moving your community has to be a terrible experience. If done right, it should invigorate you and your business, and help you clarify who you serve and why. If you follow these directions as you migrate your online community, you’ll be in great shape on the other side of the journey.
Get more insights from our Mighty Community and find people who have made the move successfully!