Abandoned outposts

I’ve been reviewing the social web outposts we’ve set up as an organisation over the last couple of weeks alongside thinking about digital strategy.

All of this has led me in some interesting thoughts and discussions but one thing that doesn’t seem to get talked about, even when thinking about governance, is shutting profiles down.

There is a cacophony of talk around JFDI to get started and well-argued debates on why or why not to enter certain spaces in certain ways. However, I’ve seen very little about using the monitoring skills you’ve learned to know when something really isn’t working, shut up the social shop and move on.

I think it’s worth thinking about what I mean by ‘working’. It could of course be defined in many ways (probably differently by organisation and citizen). It might mean that you’ve still got some control over the message you want to put out (or at least think you do!) or it might mean those magical mysterious fan figures are rising so validating your presence.

I think where I would draw the line at ‘not working’ is where despite doing everything you can there are no visitors, few fans and no engagement. At this point, with tough times a-facing us all, you have to question whether continuing is worth the (probably skant) resource.

But how many of us who are managing / championing social media in their organisation have thought about this situation and developed a strategy to actively deal with it? Or are we guilty of taking the path of least resistance and abandoning these organisational outposts?

Is this one of the areas where our social media efforts are different from other channels? How many of us would just abandon an organisational website and set up elsewhere? Or keep supporting the cost of printing when we know there is no readership or demand?

In those situations we’d be more likely to review and regroup – maybe take a different approach, maybe cease altogether. We’d probably have a debrief whatever the decision and take some lessons learnt to wherever our communication / engagement waggon train heads next.

It might be the easy thing to leave these sad little abandoned outposts scattered through cyberspace but perhaps we need to think of the impact on reputation, the message sent to even the few who do visit it and what we’re missing out on knowing by not looking at what we can learn from failing.

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21 thoughts on “Abandoned outposts

  1. Hi Sarah

    I think you make some really good and agreeable points.

    It strikes me that some failed attempts are perhaps of the ‘build it and they will come’ approach, providing blindly led intensive action to try and generate interest where none exists, with some individuals digging their heals in, knowing that what they are doing is right, but not recognising that how they are doing it is wrong.

    I think thats what I am getting at in my Personifying Local Authority blog (see website), where my thinking has actually moved on from that even, and that I am now really trying to work on how an organisation can be brough to life, permeating the concsiousness of citizens so a more natural, and valuable engagement is caused.

    Not sure if this is the type of response you were after, or how closely it really fits with your blog, but it struck a chord with me. Good stuff, an interesting read.

    S

  2. Thanks Spencer.

    I agree that I think some of the failures are from storming in when it’s the wrong place or approach. I think this is why I’m thinking of overall strategy – from the very beginning of research into what, where, when and why through to the how and then learning from the experience – whether it is success or failure!

    I’ve read your ‘personifying’ post and it has definitely got me thinking. It’s a massive concept and I’m definitely interested in further thoughts on how to achieve it.

    S 🙂

  3. Great post Sarah. agree completely about “abandoned outposts”. I spend a lot of time stopping the setting up of presences without a strong business case/measurable objectives that have the potential to become abandoned once something else more interesting comes along.

    And I believe there is an impact on reputation from how presences are managed or, more importantly, aren’t managed. An abandoned outpost is the same as a derelict vacated front office, probably with the post gathering inside the front door and the windows needing a good clean – not positive for reputation in anyone’s book.

    We shouldn’t be afraid of failure – not everything will work in the social web – but we must know how to recognise when something’s not working, know the exit strategy and when to trigger it, and make sure we collate and share learnings before moving on.

  4. It’s a pretty standard bit of community planning to have a closing down strategy and I think it’s enough to simply be unsentimental enough to be able to turn off what isn’t working – or indeed those things which have come to the end of their life cycle. All it takes it to keep a list of everything that has been set up so you remember to shut it down when the time is right.

    It is important to take that action though. Just leaving things never looks good.

    Cough. http://blogs.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/digitalengagement/

    Cough.

  5. I agree wholeheartedly Sarah, an insightful, thought-provoking posting.

    As Spencer highlighted ‘build and they will come’ just doesn’t work any more, but try telling that to someone in Environmental Health or Community Safety with an obsession that they’ve just go to have a presence on ‘X’!

    Simon’s approach of measurable objectives is one that I definitely subscribe to. At a certain organisation of recent memory I tried (in vain) to get them to agree some KPIs specifically for Facebook and Twitter in order to measure the quantity and quality of the interactions.

    I maintained that such KPIs would demonstrate the effectiveness of the channel and whether the approach was right or needed modifying, or perhaps that it should be ceased altogether. In other words evidence would be the driver for how the channel was taken forward, if at all. I wasn’t listened to, all they were interested in was the number of fans and followers.

    An exit strategy should be a standard element of a social media strategy: “Of course no one wants that profile we’re going to set up on (for example) My Space to fail but we must plan for what we will do if it becomes obvious that it is not working. But how will we know it is not working well or effectively or whatever? Some basic KPIs perhaps?”

    An exit strategy will set out an optimum way to cease updating the presence and at what point to delete it (I believe it would be folly to do both on the same day). If this is agreed up front before the channel is used, then turning it off *should* (!) be so much simpler for all parties.

    BTW Sarah, if you’d like sight of the KPIs that didn’t get accepted to include something similar in your digital strategy, just ask.

  6. Thanks for all the comments – really useful 🙂

    I think this idea of KPIs is interested and John – if you’re happy to share I’d definitely be interested in seeing what you put together.

    I also agree that exit strategy and knowing when to fire it is vital. I wonder if it’s something that a lot of people starting their socmed stuff now think about. If you’ve had to fight to even get started is raising the possibility of failure too scary a thing – even if it is sensible and right?

    It’s an interesting thing and a part of the lifecycle I don’t think many are or want to actively think about. But now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve some outpost demolition to get on with 😉

  7. Nice post that raises an issue many would like to forget, namely these abandoned outposts. In my time I have set up some of what are described as abandoned outposts. Many start in a spurt of idealism and if the cold water of realism were poured over them in the shape of KPI’s then of course they would need to be shut down. This post is a timely reminder that some housekeeping is required when it comes to an organisation’s web presence. Basic I know but at times some of these abandoned digital outposts once mentioned set off panic “Does anyone have the user/pass?’

    Though in my opinion taking out these digital outposts should be the last option. If for example one of these outposts could be maintained on a drip feed RSS that pushes content to them this might preserve the life on the outpost. I agree that these abandoned outposts pose a reputation issue however while the outpost might have all the signs of failure; not many people visiting the site or interacting with it but like those football teams up North these digital efforts might be sleeping giants. Then again you might be better off closing them down, do a wash up exercise and move on. Maybe the reluctance to do this is because your employer see’s the digital effort a kind of black mark against you even worse poor judgement. Better to keep suggesting yet another Facebook page, safer ground all round.

    In addition in regard to your digital outposts what about the ones that are doing well but it is not you that shuts them down or suddenly demands payment for you to continue. This is increasingly a concern when adopting new digital tools the problem of when free turns to pay plan and you are skinned.

    Good post and something for us all to think about.

  8. Thanks Shane.

    In looking at this again this morning I’ve been thinking about the issue of ‘preserving for posterity’ or the lack of archiving tools for social media. Or maybe I’m just ignorant of them if they exist!

    For example – where as an organisation we have closed or consolidated websites we always take a back up copy on CD for reference etc. We’ve got a little library of them which are used infrequently, mainly by our team. However, how easy is it to take a complete record of a Facebook page / a blog etc if you were about to shut down?

    I’m currently looking at a blog set up by a previous Derbyshire poet laureate and very well used. However, now it is languishing slightly in terms of updates. It is to all intents an abandoned outpost but I don’t really want to wipe all trace – it’s a good art / poetry archive and so might escape any cull. As with everything comms nothing is as clear cut as it first seems!

    I think the issue around suddenly being faced with a paid-for service which was previously free is also a good point. Something I’ve been meaning to blog about (in collaboration with Andrew Beeken, Julian Scarlett, Alistair Smith and Jamie Summerfield) in relation to Hootsuite (which lots of us use for corporate feed management) annoucing paid for options. Not quite a hostage situation but you can easily see how those could occur with profiles out there.

  9. Have a chat with Helen Hockx-Yu (helen dot hockx-yu @ bl dot uk) at the British Library about their web archiving programme. They may have a solution for ‘preserving for posterity’ without cluttering up your own servers/sites! See http://www.webarchive.org.uk for more info.

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