Community members despise corporate lies or “marketing language” that paints a rosy picture even though they are being stomped on by a policy change or benefit reduction. Use transparent communication when breaking bad news to your online community. It is bad enough that you must deliver a Debby-downer to your passionate membership, but do not make matters worse by lying or using smoke and mirrors to distract them. They know exactly what is going on and their anger and disapproval will only increase if you choose to treat them like idiots.
For example, in the past I have discussed starting out low with your community incentives but many communities go for the home-run right out of the gates. They want to bedazzle new members or they feel they need to bribe away members from competing communities. In many cases they have not conducted proper financial planning and cannot maintain their generous incentive scheme and at some point they need to reduce their community offerings. Someone from PR or a traditional marketing manager will swoop in with the “message.”
It is a colorful tale explaining that removing the best incentive will improve community camaraderie and will make the community more agile for future development. By reducing that hailed benefit the community can now pursue other fabulous options.
“Instead of getting a cash payment for your contributions, we now will send you a 15% discount on any one purchase from one of our outstanding eCommerce partners!”
It is just like cash, only that you need to spend your own cash to get a discount on already marked up products; awesome. You might be shaking your head, but I have seen blatant examples above communicated to a community. Guess what happens? Not only is the community brought to an unholy rage by the reduction in service, but they go supernova when you try to shove BS in their face.
Do not let someone with zero community management experience try to craft the message to your members. Most likely they write messages that hit print media to a GENERAL audience and might create fan dissatisfaction, but you will not know because they do not have a direct avenue to vent that dissatisfaction. Community members usually have a direct feedback pipeline to you or your customer satisfaction team. They also are COMMUNITY members. Do you lie or enrage your neighbors and then expect zero negative fallout? They are not a general audience. They are your company’s friends and fans so treat them like you would treat your friends and fans.
If you need to reduce a community service, incentive or any other community related feature be up front about that fact. Of course you do not need to disclose the confidential financial status of the company, but acknowledge it is a disappointment. Let them know that you already know they will not be happy about the decision. Try to come up with an alternative and promote that alternative, but do not try to convince them a Chevy Malibu is a much better car than a Lamborghini Countach.