Retiring a Project Gracefully

On Wednesday, a client asked what they should do with a current program if their funding ran out.

The first answer is, don’t let your funding run out. Manage the project against agreed-upon metrics, and if it’s not meeting the metrics, pull the plug or redesign the campaign. But what the client really was getting at with the question was that they didn’t have an exit strategy or retirement plan for the program.

Many people start a project by defining success, but few think about what should happen if it’s not successful, or has run its course after a period of time. As you’re engaging in a new project, one of the first things to formulate is an exit strategy. What if the project fails? What if funding runs out; what if the business shifts dramatically and the campaign is irrelvant? In the Web design world this means broken links, but in the social media or applications world, this means abandoned users, lost engagements, terminated conversations and bad SEO.

Go into each project with a defined plan of how you gracefully end the project. The plan should include:

  • Comunications to key stakeholders
  • An audit of referring links, properties that might be consuming your content, and related dependent sites and services
  • Migration details to redirect URLs and RSS feeds
  • A clear path to service existing users and visitors with a viable alternative

In addition to the above, consider the following:

  • Never name anything with a date. For example, if you create a Twitter account for a special event and include 2010 in the account name, you won’t be able to use that feed next year and you’ll have to rebuild your audience.
  • Use a platform that makes it easy to set up redirects to alternative properties.
  • Track your pingbacks and referrals so you can go back to them and let them know you have a new site or community they should link to.
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