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A company's public web forum is shutting down, and I would like to invite the forum's userbase to a new "fan" forum. The userbase is small (less than 100 active users), but the community is not dying of inactivity. Rather, the forums are being artificially shut down. The employee that moderated the forums left the company, and the company doesn't have the resources to continue maintaining it.

The company is unwilling to talk about the forum being closed, and I am unable to contact them. They have expressed no interest in redirecting their forum to my new forum (which is the only "fan" forum) or migrating the forum data to my site.

I am concerned that a public announcement on the current forums would be disrespectful to the company, and give the impression that I am "poaching" users away, although there would be no other online community for this purpose once the official forums close. I would like our community to remain in good standing with the company, in the hopes that they will still have an online community of experts and enthusiasts if they ever re-grow their web presence.

My current thought is that the community is so small that I could privately contact individuals that I want to invite to continue the community at a new forum. Would this action be inappropriate or disrespectful to the forum community and the company? Would any migration be fundamentally inappropriate?

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One of the most important things here is how much the community knows about the site closing down. If it is public knowledge that this thing that they use is going to shut down soon regardless of what they do, I don't see why you can't say "I am unofficially, unconnected to Company X, starting this thing" in the appropriate place on the site, like an off-topic area of a forum or something.

You aren't poaching users - it is hard to poach users from something that isn't going to exist any longer. You are just trying to give those users a place where they can still talk about whatever it is that they are already involved in, if they so choose.

At the worst case, the company asks you not to do it on their site specifically, and you find some other way to advertise what you are intending to do, such as on other social media platforms.

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  • This is exactly how my community began. We were on a hobby forum that was going downhill, the owner lost interest and we got increasingly anxious that our content and network of friends could be lost at any moment. So I setup a forum and PMed all those I felt would be pleased in my endeavor and they came aboard, some were made moderators and therefore ambassadors, and it's grown healthily since.
    – i-CONICA
    Feb 24 '16 at 16:40
  • In your situation, as said, you're not poaching users, you're rescuing them, and they'll likely be grateful that their community isn't about to end, just be moved.
    – i-CONICA
    Feb 24 '16 at 16:45
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(In your question, you said that the company was unwilling to communicate about the forum. However, for future readers for whom this is not the case, this answer should be useful).

If I was in charge of that company, I would love it if a fan was willing to volunteer their time and run the forum for me. I would email that company and ask them if...

  1. They would be willing to let you take over the forum on a volunteer basis. This seems like a win-win situation: they get to keep the forum, and they don't need to spend any time maintaining it. However, if they don't want to host it, or they're worried it could be a legal risk, you could try option two (below).
  2. They would be willing to post a link to a new forum that you created and host yourself. This would still give the benefit of having a forum, and the publicity and increased engagement that brings, but they wouldn't have to host it.

If this company is smart, they won't turn down a free lunch (or forum).

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