The digital afterlife no longer takes most of us by surprise. We know that what we put up on the Internet is forever. And we know that unless we do some digital “estate planning,” give a loved and/or trusted one access to our accounts, or keep an updated list of passwords accessible to the executors of our wills, our electronic presence remains on the Internet forever–for people to write on our wall, for better or for worse.
Smart companies have realized this, and have business continuity plans that include transition documents, have more than one administrator for their social media, and have policies to carryout a smooth transition from one administrator or employee to another.
But what happens if your company goes kaput–the one that is run by one person, the one that’s a lean nonprofit, the one that’s run on a shoestring outside your daily job? What’s that company’s digital afterlife going to look like? It’s a hard question to answer, and depends greatly on the circumstances during which you close down company affairs. But regardless how things devolve, I highly recommend the following.
1. Say Goodbye First
It doesn’t matter how big or how little you are, how long you’ve been in business, or how long it’s been since you last reached out to your supporters. Always do your customers and community the courtesy of telling them the news first. By email. Directly. Not only is it basic good manners, it’s smart for any future engagement. Your core community will probably respond with everything from “Huh” to “Oh no!!” And unless they opt-out, they’ll be your next first stop if you begin another project.
2. Then Close Down Publicly
Tell your community first. Then tell the world, and do it quick. Very little remains private, to wit the elegant and charming goodbye letter Andrew Mason wrote upon being fired from Groupon.
3. Don’t Close Down Right Away
This should be obvious, but it cannot be overemphasized enough. If you offer a service, a product, something people have come to rely upon, give people time to find an alternative–not for nothing is Google giving people time plenty of time before they shut down Reader. You may not be a Googler, but all the same, make it easy for your community to continue adoring you–the good karma from that will reap huge dividends down the line. Which is important, because this might not be the last time you begin an organization, you just happen to be shutting the current one down.
4. Say a Final Goodbye
No, this isn’t a repeat. Your first goodbye should have been a notice to your community that you’re ending the organization–and that they might need to tie up loose ends, consider one last pledge, redeem any gift certificates, or back up or download any information they might have stored with you. Your second goodbye is the one where you emphasize how it’s been your privilege to serve them. And where you turn off the lights on your website, and all social media so they doesn’t sit there looking moribund.
5. Give a Two Weeks Notice
A wise friend once said the following about quitting: “The first week, they’re in shock. The second week, they’re scrambling. The third week, they’re mad at you.” It’s not that different with companies. Take a really good look at how long you and your community need to disentangle yourselves from one another. And then plan out your final goodbye.