Community Migration Playbook and Guidelines to Inform your Platform Move

June 23, 2016

Many organizations have successfully deployed communities to replace legacy portals, extranets and intranets that are targeting either (or both) internal and external audiences, that are enabled by leading commercial platforms such as Salesforce, Lithium, IBM Connections, Jive, or open source platforms like Liferay or Drupal.  However, as with many enterprise software-based solutions, business conditions and opportunities change which often involves migrating from one software vendor to another.   There are many potential business factors that are driving the need for the migration, and in many situations, the opportunities include creating a more unified and compelling experience for your community members, reducing technology platform costs, aggregating disparate experiences into one, and/or taking advantage of SaaS and Cloud first platforms such as Salesforce and its Community Cloud product that more seamlessly integrate with existing investments in marketing, sales (CRM), service and backoffice systems of record.

Over the past six years at 7Summits we’ve worked with a number of clients on initiatives that have involved migrating from one community platform to another.  From these projects we have compiled a number of best practices and guidelines to guide our clients and employees. If you are considering a community migration, we hope some of the following will help guide you in your journey.


The business drivers for community migration

There are a number of reasons to consider migrating from one community platform to another.  While these reasons typically vary from client to client, the key drivers generally fall into one or more of the following buckets (keeping in mind this list is not exhaustive):

  1. Platform Innovation – Your company originally chose platform A because they were the leader, however now platform X has more compelling feature set and product roadmap
  2. Silo’d Data and or Business Process – i.e. Your Community platform  is failing because it doesn’t integrate to business processes, or data is silo’d
  3. Costs of Customizations or Integrations – i.e. Your company customized the community platform to integrate business processes like customer support, and the ongoing remediation and maintenance is outweighing the benefits. Platform X offers this feature out of the box.
  4. Enterprise Software Benefits – i.e. Your organization is committed to an enterprise platform like Salesforce (with licensing and support benefits) and already using its CRM and Service Cloud offering, and no longer see the value in having a separate community platform like Lithium.
  5. Licensing Cost Savings – You can reduce license costs of the original community platform if you move to platform X.
  6. Poor Adoption and Engagement – i.e. Your original community hasn’t achieved widespread use, and visitors aren’t coming back as frequently as you planned.
  7. User Experience – You have an opportunity to simplify, improve and consolidate a number of disparate processes, tools and point solutions e.g. marketing, sales and service by switching platforms.
  8. Scalability – Platform X offers a strong value proposition by enabling you to incorporate additional use cases, consolidated business processes, and audiences as you expand your digital strategy and grow your business.

Getting Started:  Developing a migration strategy

Community migrations are not typical technology projects!  There are a number of factors to consider so that the migration results in the desired outcomes that led to the migration in the first place.  Insufficient planning increases the risk of hurting the community you’ve worked so hard to build.  It is painful to see a once vibrant community turn into a ghost town post migration.

There are a number of key elements to a successful migration, which include determining to what degree the migration needs to preserve:

  • The community experience – how the site looks and feels, navigates and is organized
  • Profiles and reputations – retaining the identities your community members have developed and invested time to create, both in terms of their profiles as well as the activity in the community
  • Community content/data – retaining and maintaining the integrity of the discussions, files, photos, videos as well as features such as Links and @mentions.

Inadequate migration strategies often lead to disastrous results. For example, one failed community migration we observed converted all questions and answers into flat PDF documents, which resulted in losing all context for the content and impacting search (e.g. dates, authors, locations, etc.). Additionally another failed migration I’ve observed moved all discussions, but did not retain the identity of the author and replies moving everything under one user profile and identity “Data loader”. Imagine if you were member of that community, and invested time and effort to create and contribute valuable content, only to login to the new community to see your posts and reputation vanish.

Developing a strategy to appropriately preserve the community experience, select features like profiles and discussions, and structure of the existing community is vital to maintaining active members and community vitality. That strategy typically begins with a detailed analysis and inventory of your current community platform.  The following questions can help pinpoint the critical considerations as you formulate a migration strategy and plan:

Strategy related questions:

  • Describe the top 3-5 business objectives associated with the community (e.g. call deflection, consumer loyalty, etc)?
  • Who are the unique audiences and personas for this community?
  • Are there known friction points and or challenges these audiences face using the community to be addressed as part of the migration effort?
  • Are there any restrictions/business rules that are any associated with community use cases (e.g. special permissions, restricted access areas, etc.)

Community environment related questions:

  • Current community platform version and hosting model?
  • What visual or functional customizations have been made to the current community?
  • Total number of registered community users?
  • Active monthly community users?
  • Total number of user generated pieces of content (discussions, ideas, posts)?
  • Any additional content types to be migrated e.g. articles, files, blogs etc?
  • Has the standard user profile been customization e.g. with custom profile fields?
  • Are gamification features like leaderboards, points and reputation levels in use?


Technology related questions:

  • Is Single Sign On (SSO) and or a 3rd party identity management provider being used with the community (e.g. Okta, Ping, Microsoft Active directory)?
  • Are there any known integrations between the community and a 3rd party Platform (e.g. CRM, ERP, Service Cloud, Content Management, Knowledgebase, etc.)
  • Are there any known integrations between the community and a 3rd party demand generation or marketing automation or BI platforms (e.g. Adobe, Marketo, Tableau, etc)?


Formulating the migration approach

With the migration strategy in hand, the next step involves developing the detailed plan to guide the migration effort, including the definition of tasks, assignment of resources and determining the schedule.  A  common question we get from clients and prospects is “can you give me a ballpark timeline and cost for migration?” The answer depends on the several variables, such as:

  1. Complexity and volume of content, users, data, customizations and integrations to migrate
  2. Change to user experience and community structure enhancements
  3. Addition of new use cases and functionality in addition to migration items (outlined in #1)
  4. Clean-up and retirement of inactive or irrelevant users, groups and content
  5. Whether we can take a phased approach e.g. migrate, and then enhance

For communities with fairly limited customizations and data, the migration can be completed as quickly as 4 – 6 weeks.  More complex community environments, such as those with large amounts of data, user generated content, files, customizations and integrations often require more time to complete, up to 12 weeks or more. Typically the migration process itself is typically organized around  the following steps:

Migration Approach - 3 Key Steps

From/To:  Executing the community migration

With analysis, strategy and plan developed now you’re ready to execute.  In most situations, one of the most time consuming parts of the migration is moving the users, content and data. As outlined above there are GOOD and BAD ways to do this if you want to preserve the vitality of the community you’ve built.  A key success factor is to make sure you understand exactly HOW and WHERE the users, content and data are being moved and translated from your legacy community platform A to new community platform X.  In many situations, there are significant benefits with using extract, transform and load (ETL) tools to facilitate the migration.

7Summits Migration Playbook and Tools

In many situations, the “when” is as important as “how” when it comes to migrating legacy community content.  For example, in many situations, the following sequence can help facilitate the migration process:

  1. Users profile and Identity: The reason for this is that in community platforms user identity and profile (WHO) is the center of everything. By migrating and provisioning the user profile first, you can move easily map their original content and data in the old environment to its new location
  2. Community structure and metadata: Community structure and metadata (WHERE) is key because it defines the location and or organization of content. This is extremely important, for instance if you were using a group called “Product Support” in your old environment, you will want to recreate this same group in the new community environment so you have a location to move all the relevant content and files here once its provisioned.  
  3. Data, content and files: With your users (#1) and structure (#2) provisioned in the environment you’re now ready to move the bulk of the content and files (WHAT) from your target legacy platform to its location in the new platform. You can now start to associate a user’s content from the old environment with their new profile, and ensure that structure and metadata is maintained (where appropriate).

It’s worth noting that there is also a significant opportunity to not move certain users, structure or data/content that are dormant or lifeless. Use your migration project as an opportunity to effect some spring-cleaning by retiring items that are no longer relevant or active.

In Summary, Migration Considerations

  • Timeline: As you work to formulate your strategy and plan work to define your timeline first, this should include when your community license is set to renew, typically most vendors require a 30-60 day notice period if you do not plan on renewing.
  • User Experience: Existing users are accustomed to the user experience, architecture, features and functionality of the current community platform.  Structure migration of the community in a manner where the future state causes minimal disruption and enhances overall experience
  • Community Structure: While there are similarities different community constructs and functionality differ, invest in mapping your existing use cases/features to new environment and documenting gaps, items to retire in favor of new feature or changes
  • Future Opportunities: Do your homework and ensure that your not only addressing the short term issues in your current environment, but picking new community platform that can grow with your business with a compelling product roadmap

Get Started: Schedule a Migration Readiness Review



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