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We made a policy change last month. It seems many users didn't like such a change and have started migrating away. It started with a few highly respected members giving "Good Bye" speeches. Then others started jumping on the band wagon.

At first we thought it was just bluster. We've had drama before and realize that people come and go. However, this time the site analytics show the users have indeed jumped ship. Traffic is down nearly 50% month over month.

What is the best way to recover from such a massive dip in community involvement? Revisiting the policy is an option, but those users are already gone. That seems like closing the barn door after the horse has bolted.

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    Are they regrouping somewhere else, or have they scattered? – Monica Cellio Jul 1 '15 at 2:20
  • As far as I can tell they've splintered into two or three groups in other places. – HelpMeObiWan Jul 1 '15 at 4:03
  • Month over month? How long did you wait? It is better to look at weekly data. What community is this? – Chris Jul 1 '15 at 21:25
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    Did you not ask the community about their opinion before actually (abruptly?) changing the policy? Just enforcing it without knowing how the community will respond, seems very dangerous to me and it has obviously backfired indeed. So maybe it would be a good idea to assess the community's take on upcoming changes before implementing them in the future, to avoid such unpleasent surprises ... – just_curious Jul 2 '15 at 17:03
  • I'm just seeing this now and I'm trying to figure what this policy change was. I searched questions in May and June 2015 (and a bit before as well). Both here and on Meta. In case someone actually sees this, can you fill us newbies in? – Cyn Dec 17 '18 at 3:36
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Users leaving your site could be a good thing as well as a bad thing. Undoing the damage will take some planning, endurance, and patience.

Good thing: The policy change has caused members who are disruptive, violent, non-productive, and generally not good for the community to leave. If this was the point of your policy change then I commend you for a job well done! I suspect however, that this was not your intent.

Bad thing:
Lots of your good members are gone and have left the site with the non-productive, non-engaged users behind. Those who remained loyal may end up leaving because their friends left and it's just not the same anymore without them. These are not easy scenarios to recover from. Your site will likely never be the same again.

Possible Solutions: These are not exhaustive, but given the limited information you provided, here are the roads you can follow.

(1) Move on with what you have. Rebuild with those who remained. You will need to engage users and make them the #1 priority. You will likely have to spend some money for prizes for the weekly or monthly contests you are going to run. You will need to post and create energetic discussions on your site as you seek to attract those who are not as active as the members who left. Now is the time to let your members vent as well. They will need to talk about what happened. Be prepared to handle some heated discussions. This is needed for healing and progress. Losing 50% of your traffic is no small thing. Be prepared to offer encouragement while remaining strong and decisive. If you have a team of moderators or staff, they will be crucial to helping the community overcome this event.

Depending on the size of the site, the genre, the history, and the vision of the community, recovery can take about a year. Be prepared for hard work and attention to the site. Pick your staff and your battles carefully. Yours is not the first community to go through a massive blow like this. Learn from your mistakes and improve!

(2) Retract your former position and restore things as they were. You can send out a newsletter to all members explaining the recent events and canceling the changes that were made. You will need to apologize and make better efforts of communicating with your members whenever big decisions like this are to be made.

Keep in mind that the damage has been done - you are not guaranteed to gain any members back. You risk losing your reputation as well. It seems to me that this was a poorly executed decision that was not discussed amongst the members prior to release. Remember that you are part of a community - lots of people are involved. People who join a community to be active are really giving much of themselves. You must respect that and try to do what is best for the community at all times and as much as possible.

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Patreon, a crowd-funding community for individual creators of all types, recently had a controversy like this. They announced that they would now start charging patrons -- the funders -- credit-card fees and other surcharges. Then it turned out that they were misrepresenting what they pay creators and their new fees would be punitive for smaller donors. Lots of creators wrote widely about this, patrons cancelled funding, and after a week or so of chaos, Patron backed down. But they had a problem: all those people had left.

What Patron did was to fall over themselves apologizing, publicly and via email to creators and patrons. Their announcement began: "We messed up. We’re sorry, and we’re not rolling out the fees change." It then talked about the feedback they'd received and echoed back the key criticisms. Creators and patrons came back -- not all of them, but more than they would have retained if they'd just forged ahead with their policy change.

If you decide to revert your policy in light of the departures, and assuming you have a way to contact your now-departed members, you can use the same approach. Admit your error, show them you understand the problem, undo the change, and ask them to give you another chance. Some will have flipped the bozo bit on you and won't return, but if you do this well, you should be able to draw back many of them, especially if you act quickly before they have set up an established community somewhere else.

Your users will naturally be more cautious now that this has happened; from their point of view, you screwed up once and might do so again. So also be extra-transparent in the future and involve the community in decisions that affect them. That doesn't mean you'll always do what they want, but do everything in your power to prevent another case of "the powers that be quietly decided on a policy we don't like; bye!".

  • Responding to this question in the top level comments. Just asking what happened. Thanks. – Cyn Dec 17 '18 at 3:37
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Analyzing web trends month over month is too long to wait. It is better to look at weekly data.

I recommend an apology and revert the policy and post on a reply on the "Dear John" (good bye, see you later) letters.

I suspect the change you made was harsh and a disaster. So you must apologize to have a chance to recover. The internet is extremely fickle.

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    The feels like the start of a good answer. Can you expand on it a bit? Why is week over week better than month over month? – Andy Jul 1 '15 at 22:21
  • Month by month takes months to notice when things go awry... – Chris Jul 1 '15 at 23:19
  • It has been about 6 weeks. We do have weekly statistics, but it shows the same dramatic drop as the month to month. The users have left. What does "post on a reply on the dear John letters" mean? – HelpMeObiWan Jul 2 '15 at 4:45
  • @HelpMeObiWan I understood it as meaning to reply to (answer) the farewell speeches (?). – just_curious Jul 2 '15 at 16:54
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    You didn't answer my follow up questions... Basically, I suspect the change you made was harsh and a disaster. So you must apologize to have a chance to recover. The internet is extremely fickle. – Chris Jul 4 '15 at 16:32

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