Forums have been around a long time and will continue to be around as long as people need a place to come together to have meaningful discussions. If you operate a forum that’s more than a few years old, you’ve probably considered switching your forum software, but you’ve probably also worried about what kind of impact that might have.
Migrating your forum to a different platform can be an all around positive experience if you do these three things:
1. Have a good communications plan. There is always a small vocal minority in your community that is going to react badly to any kind of change no matter what. Let your members know beforehand that change is coming. The most effective message is the following: “We really value the community and we are investing time in money to upgrade the software. Software is not what makes our community great, you do. We hope you’ll support us through this transition.”
2. Do a dry run. There is a lot that can go wrong when you migrate thousands of discussions, user profiles, passwords, emoticons, etc. You also want to make sure that downtime is kept to a minimum. A dry run involves migrating your entire database (not just a sample) and doing in-depth QA to make sure that everything looks exactly like it should and to make sure to identify key functionality that has changed. Write out a test plan beforehand with top use cases such as creating a new discussion, changing a password, sending a private message, etc.
3. Create a temporary migration category to centralize discussion about the change. Upon migration, create a category where you can post instructions on how to use new functionality. If you are moving from an old legacy product, the amount of new and improved functionality and platform stability will overwhelm any negative feelings that some members may have. For this category, don’t ask an open ended question like ‘What do you think, guys?’, instead ask for people to report where they see things that are broken and ask questions about how to use the new software.
Bonus tip: Sometimes it’s tempting to do a redesign when switching software. This is fine for many communities but for others it just compounds the distress caused by change. For the more conservative communities, consider keeping key visuals the way they are and changing them gradually over time. Changes to things like font face, size and color, and page background color are most often cited as causing pain.