In the social space we talk a lot about relationships: Finding them, developing them, keeping them. But what about leaving them? People don’t much like talking about the end of things because it often feels like a reflection of our own adequacy or value, which in turn makes us treat the process awkwardly.
Relationships, however, are temporal – they wax and wane as needs and circumstances change. People we want to be our friends don’t have the same desire or the time to invest. Organizations that we feel are perfect customers (or employers) for us don’t always feel the same way, or are focused on something else, or they don’t have the resources to work with us. Employees leave because their interests or needs change. Enthusiastic customers change their strategies and no longer need us. This is a natural rhythm but so often instead of accepting that, we take the change personally which is when we start either trying to hang on or defensively rejecting the other party, removing them entirely from our frame of reference. Both of those approaches miss an opportunity.
The ability to support the waning of a relationship is just as important as the ability to support the growth of one. Why? If you make it comfortable for someone to leave you behind as they move forward, you make it comfortable for them to re-engage you later. Additionally, if people continue to feel great about your relationship, even if it is weaker, they are more likely to advocate for you with others.
It is scary letting go of a relationship but what I’ve found at The Community Roundtable is that we receive a ton of value by leaving people well, in the following ways:
- Some community managers are not interested in being members at TheCR Network. We point these people to all the free content we publish (as well as to other resources) and hope it is valuable to them. We want to be an industry resource and those who get value from our content often become advocates for us. A lot of people in this group refer others to us as a resource. It is a great win-win for us.
- Some individuals interested in becoming members don’t have the budget. We also point this group to our free content but we also often stay in touch with them and engage them in various ways: ask them to present a case study on one of our member calls, do a podcast with them, refer them to speaking opportunities, engage them on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+. A portion of this group does become members when it becomes feasible for them and they are often advocates. It is a great win-win for us.
- Some of our members change jobs or are not able to participate actively and so they do not renew their membership. While we wish everyone could stay, we know that is not realistic. We still keep them in our circle and engage with them in public spaces or help them with career transitions if we can. Some of them have returned as members after moving to different organizations and many of them have continued to be fans. That’s a great win-win too.
So often in the business context it seems we will do anything to find and convince someone to buy our products and then trip over ourselves to try to convince them to stay. From my perspective, when we push too hard to establish or keep a relationship, the other party ends up resentful or unhappy, neither of which endears you to them and is unlikely to encourage them to recommend you.
The community manager is often the most logical person to keep the connection with people who have receded in their interest – however loose that connection is – and understanding how to let someone gracefully bow out can help create committed advocates. Do you have a good story from when you let someone fade only to find them come back, more enthusiastic than ever? We would love to hear it!