Reviving Dead Slack Communities - The Slack CM Newsletter Issue #11
Taking over a badly managed, chaotic, promotional, unsexy Slack community? This one's for you.
Hello, my community friend.
I’ve been awaiting you.
On this cold and dark day in London, I want to talk to you about the most hellish of Slack spaces.
Those that your organisation mindlessly set up a long time ago.
Where members were added randomly, just to have a ‘community’.
Without clear goals, structures, and guidelines.
Those communities that turned into dead spaces full of self-promotion, and mindless marketing.
And then you came along. Hired to turn dirt into gold.
But how do you take these completely dead communities and breathe some life into them?
Well, that’s today’s topic! If you’re in this exact position, then this article is perfect for you.
And if you’re not, then take this article as a reminder of the absolute basics and first principles of community building.
This topic is the brainchild of your fellow reader Nicole!
But before we get to that…
This week’s words of encouragement
Please remember all the communities you used to manage, before your current role.
Remember that the work you put into them is still showing today!
Just because you move on from a community, doesn’t mean it moves on from you.
Anyway, let’s get into it!
Reviving Dead Slack Communities
For every great Slack community out there, there are 5 bad ones.
Since community management’s rise in popularity, more and more companies are hiring true community builders to come in and rebuild those dead Slack spaces.
And this is one of the hardest tasks you could get. I’d argue that it’s even more difficult than starting a community from scratch.
Because you’re not starting from a neutral point of zero. You’re starting in a bad place. It’s your job to completely change any bad habits that the company and your members have picked up over time.
Here’s what we will talk about:
- Understanding the Community
- Aligning goals and setting expectations with the organisation
- Creating an action plan to clean up the community
- Cleaning up the community (Guidelines, channel clean up, enforcement, removal of members)
- Encouraging engagement/conversations
Understanding the community
When you see a dead community, it’s easy to make assumptions about everything that’s going wrong.
Yes, there is always some low-hanging fruit for changes, but you can’t have a true long-term impact if you’re not an expert of the community.
Additionally, being an expert of the space will help you manage the expectations of the organisation and set better goals.
The first thing I’d recommend you do is to put on your research hat and start learning.
By the end of your research phase (which should actually never end) you should be able to answer these questions:
What are the different member profiles in the community?
What are the goals of each member profile?
What is the community currently doing to meet the needs of members?
What exactly is going wrong? This has to be far more nuanced and deep than saying that there’s too much self-promo.
This is how you get there:
First things first, read everything members are posting.
Go through the promotional material. What are members promoting?
Get an idea of the different member segments. A common theme between these dead communities is that there are too many different kinds of members, all with different needs. Find out who they are and where they came from.
Reach out to members for 1-1’s. Just get 15 minutes of their time and have a chat about why they joined the community, why they’re still in there, and what they like/dislike.
Find the questions that members are asking in the community. Is there a common topic, or member profile that asks and shows real engagement?
Figure out who the true super-members of the community are. Every community has at least 1 or 2 community veterans. People who’ve been there since the beginning.
Speak to them. Ask them about the early days and what went wrong.
Congratulations! You’re an expert of the community now.
Aligning goals and setting expectations with the organisation
This is the most important thing you need to do.
Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the organisation that hired you.
They probably had some goals back when they first set up the now-dead community.
Those goals obviously weren’t reached.
They’re also probably not sophisticated community builders, otherwise, the community wouldn’t be dead.
And the less you know about community, the less you know how crazy difficult it is to manage and revive one.
From their perspective, the job isn’t that hard, right? You come in, you get rid of the self-promoters, you do some engagement magic, done.
On top of that, the less you know about community, the more you want from it.
So what do most organisations want from their community?
Free customer support?
Maybe all of the above, and preferably right now?
Now back to you. You have to set the record straight.
You need to give the business a reality check, you need the business to re-evaluate its goals, and you need the business to agree to an action plan.
How do you do that?
If you’ve done your research (mentioned in the last section), then it’s time for a slick presentation. Get all the stakeholders into a room and present what you’ve found.
My tip is to share real member stories. At this point you’re probably still a newbie in the organisation and people will assume that they know far more about the members than you do.
Share quotes from your 1-1’s with real members and let the stakeholders see what people are saying about the community.
Talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly.
But please note: At this point, you should definitely not share a plan of action.
You know the community’s needs, but you might not know the business needs yet.
My recommendation is to present your findings, then give the stakeholders a week or 2 to digest the information.
I’m sure the business has already given you its goals for the community, but that was before they got the reality check.
Allow the stakeholders to re-evaluate what they want and what they believe is possible. Then get into a room again and find out what their new goals are.
Once you know the new goals, it’s time for an action plan.
Creating an action plan
You need to create a plan for what it is that you’re actually going to do with the community.
I’d recommend dividing your action plan into tactical, short-term actions, and strategic, medium-term goals.
But please note: At every step of the way, you need to remember your member research AND your organisation’s goals and needs.
Unless you’re the luckiest person in the world, your members’ needs and your business needs won’t be the same.
But thanks to the previous step, your business now has a better understanding of the community’s needs.
Short-term action plan
Your short-term actions should be more focused on your members’ needs.
Before you can pursue the business goals, you need to clean up the community a bit.
For example, this is what your short-term plan could look like:
Set clear community guidelines
Identify and remove inactive members
Reduce self-promotion, or at least contain it
Encourage engagement by creating weekly conversation topics that are focused on a specific member segment
Remove members that aren’t in line with with the businesses long term goals.
Medium-term action plan
Here you should be more focused on the re-evaluated needs of the business.
Once you have a cleaned-up community, what are the steps you can take to help the organisation reach its goal?
Often this will involve cooperation and communication with other teams within the organisation.
For example, if your business wants more sales from the community, then your plan could look like this:
Educate and involve sales staff in the community
Decide what a qualified lead looks like in your community
Set a process in motion where sales staff can reach out to those qualified leads within your community
Set up some KPIs to measure your progress against.
Sue me, but I don’t think it makes too much sense to create a long-term plan here.
As you work on the community, and as your business gets a better understanding of the community, the long-term plan will change.
Go with a short and medium term plan for now.
Now it’s time to clean up the community.
Cleaning up the community
Now it’s time to get your hands dirty. Depending on your community, you won’t need to do everything that I’m going to mention here.
Feel free to skip over those sections!
Creating new guidelines
Every community needs some guidelines or a code of conduct.
They help members get a clear idea of what is encouraged and what isn’t allowed in your community.
More importantly, you need guidelines to back up your actions when you’re cleaning up the community.
For example, let’s say you want to get rid of a self-promoter.
You reach out to them, you tell them they should stop and they ask you why they’re not allowed to self-promote a product that fits the community’s theme.
Without guidelines, you need to have a long, awkward, annoying discussion.
With guidelines, you can just send the self-promoter a link. Tell them that it’s against the rules, and you’re done.
This example was directly taken from Lenny’s Newsletter’s Slack community.
It doesn’t matter if you’re promoting a useful product. Absolutely no self-promotion, and therefore no discussion.
Don’t start your guideline from scratch. Use a template and take it from there.
Here’s a useful article for that.
Cleaning up channels
This one is pretty straightforward.
You need to clean up the dead and empty channels in your community.
It’s always better to have 8 channels that are always active, than 100 niche channels with barely any engagement.
It’ll make your moderation task much easier, and it’ll also make your community look far more organised and alive to new joiners.
Comb through your community and identify channels with very little engagement. Just archive them. If no one is speaking in them, then no one really needs them.
Secondly, try to find channels that you can combine.
For example, as a start, it’s better to have a single channel about all things marketing, rather than 5 channels about social media marketing, email marketing, SEO, PR, and ads-based marketing.
Here’s a secret tip: Create a #promotion channel for all the self-promoters.
It’ll give them a space to throw their things into the community.
And honestly, no one ever checks that channel.
Check out tips #3 and #4 in the issue below for more tips on channel organisation:
Enforcement and moderation
Sadly there is no silver bullet that will immediately turn a chaotic community into a well-moderated one.
It’s just a lot of manual work.
First off, you need to lead by example. Make sure that you’re always posting things in the right channels. Don’t overuse the @channel or @here tags.
Make sure to tag relevant members under relevant threads.
Your community will see your actions, and a few good members will follow your example.
The more annoying part is actually enforcing your guidelines.
There’s no way around it in the beginning.
If you see someone acting out of line in a thread, tag them under the thread and let them know what they’ve done wrong.
If someone is posting things in the wrong channel, let them know that it’s wrong.
If someone won’t stop the self-promotions, DM them and let them know they will be kicked out if they continue.
It will take some time but you’ll see the change.
Be strict about your enforcement as well. It might be harsh at times, but you need to enforce your rules and guidelines.
This is a hot take, but I think you should remove some members from your dead community.
You want your members to want to be in the community. If they don’t want to be there, they can leave.
Having a few active members is always better than 10,000 inactive members.
Every community has some members that shouldn’t be there, or don’t want to be there anymore.
Dead communities have a lot of them.
First off, start with members who have been inactive for a long long time.
Chances are they’ve left the community a long time ago, but they’re still in the Slack workspace.
Send out a few emails and Slack notifications before you kick them out.
Give them a chance to come back, but if they don’t respond then let them go.
If you want to be extra brutal, I’d kick out the members who just aren’t in line with the wider community’s needs or the business needs.
You won’t be serving them in the future, and you’re doing them a favour by letting them leave gracefully.
Again, be brutal. It’ll be tough, but it’s worth it.
If you’ve done all of the points I mentioned above, your community will already feel much cleaner and far less dead.
Let’s move on to encouraging engagement.
Alright, you now have a clean community, but it’s not alive yet.
We need to encourage conversations to make the community feel alive again.
And I’m sorry to say this, but there’s no simple way to do this either.
As you know, you’ll probably have to create a bunch of content to send into the community.
You also need to start engaging conversations that get members to check the community on a daily basis.
Since you’ve done your research, you will have a good idea of what topics members care about.
But unlike our section on enforcement and moderation, you can’t do it all alone.
A conversation isn’t a monologue, and you need your community members to chime in.
Sadly, many members will have already given up on the community, and won’t see the point in asking questions if no one’s going to reply.
I’ve gone through this many many times, and I believe the best way to encourage conversations, is to get your members to buy into the vision of the community.
Make them feel like they’re part of a mission and that they’re the key to re-activating this community.
The best way to do that is to get on as many 1-1s with your members as possible.
Get on calls, build a connection with your members, and get them to feel personally invested into the community.
You’ll make a bunch of friends along the way.
What will happen is that you’ll start conversations, your new friends will see them, and they will respond. Because friends don’t leave each other hanging.
Do that often enough and you’ll slowly build a group of community superstars. People who want to see you and the community succeed.
I truly believe that creating a personal connection with your members is the only way to re-activate a dead community.
And if you want some more creative engagement ideas, check out this article.
I think this might have been the longest article so far.
To end it, I want to talk about the mindset you need to have to re-activate a dead community.
First off, hang in there. It’ll be tough in the early days and there will be more losses than wins. But don’t worry, it’s all just part of the game.
I can promise you that your hard work will pay off.
Secondly, you’re in a time of crisis. You need to have a bias toward action.
Endlessly long strategy sessions and carefully crafted engagement plays won’t be the solution.
It’s the manual tasks that you need to perform every day that will pay off.
From speaking to members to enforcing your guidelines, it’s all repetitive manual work.
Finally, you need to have a crystal clear idea of what it is that you want to accomplish. Hang on to your own vision for the community, and do your best to get there.
On the tough days, it’ll keep you motivated.
You can do it!
More community content:
How to Segment Community Members Based on Activity & Engage Them
This week’s goodbye👋
This was such a monster of a newsletter. I’m honestly a bit exhausted!
It’s also pretty niche, so I don’t expect huge numbers from it either, but I really wanted to write this one.
Most of the time, I see very new community builders get hired for jobs like these. They get demotivated or start feeling some kind of imposter syndrome.
And I hate that!
I love community and I know we need so many more motivated community builders to bring on some change. I hope this article helps them.
Anyway, I hope to speak to you again soon!
- Kourosh, The Waves Guy 🌊