What happens when a regional club becomes more national? Is it possible to re-brand & evolve without losing that which makes it special? How do you do that? We caught up with Scott Pinkterton of trueEvo (aka: Midwest Evos), who told us about how their community evolved.
Scott Pinkerton was one of the first people we ever interviewed here at GBXM. Back in December 2009, Scott told us about why and when he started MWE, and what made them special. They’ve been around since 2007 and have consistenly pressed on toward their growth goals without losing sight of their vision and purpose. Says Scott, “While those are living documents [flexible, open to change -bd], we feel very strongly about having a set of ‘guidelines’ that keep us all on the same path and working towards the same goal.”
Sometime in early 2011, the MWE site team began to feel like it was time for a change. They wanted to open up their community to all Evo owners and enthusiasts. A year was spent discussing ideas and what they’d seen taking place on other Evo forums and the decision to move forward ended up being a no-brainer.
AN EVOLUTION COMMUNITY EVOLVED
I asked Scott why their tight-knit regional community would want to open up to everyone like that. How had their community changed to prompt such a decision? And how did their core membership take things?
“Well, last year we started to notice that MidwestEvos was starting to run a bit stagnant in the region. Basically, less new midwest-based members were finding us, as our marketing efforts and word of mouth had already been spread to the corners of our region. Cars would sell and we’d get new members, but (still) lose other members. We saw this over and over, but new midwest faces were hard to come by.”
MWE saw 4 primary types of enthusiasts (from a forum perspective).
- those who love their car, but not forums
- those who love forums, but didn’t frequent MWE
- current MWE community members
- those who didn’t even know about MWE
Realizing they should focus on helping those Evo enthusiasts who aren’t getting what they need from larger, less friendly communities while keeping up their efforts to find those who didn’t even know there was an “Evo life” on the web, the MWE team began to study the analytics – web traffic – very carefully.
Scott told me, “I noticed we had been getting an increase of new members from states outside the midwest region and – not only that – but also an enormous amount of hits and page views from almost every state in the country overall.” At this point, the picture became crystal clear – Midwest Evos needed to evolve.
“We needed to open up and offer what we have here to everyone. By no means did this mean we weren’t accepting non-midwest based members before; we just wanted to let everyone know our doors are open to any Evo owner – no matter where they call home.”
A SUCCESS STORY
“It’s just been amazing,” says Pinkerton. “I mean, in 2009 we were doing very well. The forum wasn’t just a forum – it was a community – and we all treated it as that. We’ve continued to grow in that sense. The more members we seem to get, the larger a community we become. The larger we become, the further we’re able to spread the good word.” In addition to attracting more new members, they’ve also upgraded their forum software to the latest release, and have jumped to a dedicated server to provide better speed and control for their current members, while preparing for more traffic and bandwidth.
Clearly, Scott and the Midwest Evos site team were thinking about retention as well as attracting new members. These are very serious issues affecting a lot of online automotive communities these days. I asked Scott, “How do you prepare a community for such a – dare I say it – evolution?”
“This is a tough one. There were a lot of growing pains and we will continue to feel those for a ways down the road. This was a massive move for us. The forum leaders and I were aware of the positive and negative ramifications. We discussed this for a few months before really mentioning it outside that group.” At first, they were split down the middle. Everyone seemed to be in favor of the transition to a national stage, but not everyone liked the idea of changing the name and community identity. Still everyone understood why it had to be done.
HOW’D THEY DO IT?
They started by slowly building up discussion on the forum and their Facebook page. Changes were scheduled strategically so as to avoid hitting their members with everything all at once. The first hurdle was to get off shared hosting and migrate the site to a dedicated server, which the site team announced, thinking MWE community members might want to know why they were moving. The site got faster, but not many people seemed to notice.
Next, they updated their forum software and remodeled the site with a new skin/theme. Says Pinkerton, “This was Change: Part 1, and MANY did not like it. Human nature though; some embrace change while others run from it. Ultimately, people adapt.” The new look was left to sink in a bit and, a month later, the big news was announced – Midwest Evos would be dropping the “midwest” focus and actively courting the global Evo community.
trueEvo was born. There were mixed reviews (again, change), but Scott says an overwhelming majority of people were excited. “People generally stated that as long as we stayed the same and the same people hung around, then they couldn’t care less what the name was or what the logo looked like.”
SOCIAL TECHNICAL JARGON
As for how the changes played out, I was curious about technical and social issues might have arisen during the evolution. Scott says the hardware change was fairly simple; basically working through checklists. Pointing URLs (links) to new hardware during a specific window of time can be tricky, though, as different internet providers pick up DNS (domain name servers – they translate IP addresses into all those dot-coms and such) at different times, so the final, official change was scheduled for late at night. In the end, downtime was minimal; a couple hours.
The database and software side was a challenge as the database sizes were very large and getting everything moved over without losing any data meant that we had to shut the forum down again for a short period of time. The move of files and data as well as the upgrade went very smooth and there were little to no conflicts. My staff was AMAZING in helping during these times- whether they helped on the tech end, helped with communications, or were available to make Vbulletin changes, they were key to this going as smooth as it did.
I know there are a few out there that stopped visiting the forum do to the dislike for change as well as a dislike for having to figure out how to re-navigate the forum. Vbulletin version 4+ really made some changes in how one might navigate around, but the truth is that the older versions will stop being supported and all users of VB forums at one point or another will be forced to learn how to use the newest software versions.
WHERE TO FROM HERE?
So now what? Where does trueEvo go from here? How will trueEvo’s future build on MidWestEvos’ past? Says Scott, “We have started to see some slow growth, which is exactly what I expected. I didn’t expect us to go live and all of the sudden have hundreds of new members. We aren’t a new forum. We’re simply a community that opened it’s eyes a bit wider and updated our name and logo. Technically, we’re still MidwestEvos – we always will be. trueEvo is our new name and all new members who join us will know our story; about our midwest-based start.”
“I am currently working on a document explaining our entire timeline. I want our members to know we organized because of a need and desire for community. I want them to know that we were successful and that REAL friendships formed from this idea. I want everyone to know that this will NOT change, and that our attempt at opening our arms to everyone is only meant to grow the family and further increase the Evolution brotherhood, if you will.”
WHY “TRUEEVO?” WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
Scott says, “trueEvo was chosen to replace midwestevos for many reasons. Over the years, we kept hearing the same things over and over. Members and friends would tell stories about this shop or that shop failing to provide adequate service or parts, but that if they mentioned it on other forums they’d just get flamed.”
“This type of activity leads to the truth about things never getting out, as those threads end up closed or deleted. Sometimes, certain vendors or shops have more ‘pull’ or ‘sway’ in a forum based on the weight they carry in that specific community. This is usually caused by money and/or reputation, with community owners facing a potential loss of revenue or an angry honrnet nest of forum drama.”
“To me, that isn’t how it should be… EVER. I won’t support those people, those forums, or those vendors taking part in keeping the truth from being told and the facts from being posted for all to see. We aren’t about money, and no one person or group of people is ever going to sway how we act as a forum.”
“I’ve also seen new ideas and new products squashed before they even got started for the same reasons… Certain people felt threatened and didn’t want to lose business or admit defeat. So the bullying (if you want to call it that) and forum bias just destroys them. How is this helping the community? How is anything but the truth going to better the people who buy these cars and seek advice and guidance?”
“The word that kept popping out at me was ‘truth.’ trueEvo sounded good and it stuck. The meaning behind the name carries weight and we will stick by it. No BS, no lies, no cliques, no drama. This is a true community and not a cash cow forum that allows whomever to post whatever as long as they are paying to do so.”
THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE
For all the companies and brands out there telling us to like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter, it’s nice to see the original social media – discussion forums – are still alive and well, and passionate owner-enthusiasts like Scott Pinkerton and team at trueEvo are looking to the future. I’m going to go on the record as saying trueEvo is a community to watch. We’re going to watch them.
- What do you think about trueEvo’s change?
- Have you ever been through something like this on a forum? How did it go?