Public relations when closing shop?
February 24, 2013 10:35 AM   Subscribe

I am interested in hearing personal experiences with deciding to end a project. How did other people react to the news? How did that make you feel? What did you do? What do you think you should have done differently?

I am getting pity emails, like people think I am ending my project for emotional reasons. This seems to be a pretty standard reaction to me personally, one which both baffles and offends me. I routinely inspire the "gosh, I feel so sorry for you" type reaction. It is usually not accompanied by any genuine attempt to be helpful. It is generally delivered in the most insulting way possible, like any personal problem I have ever had is evidence of stupidity and incompetence on my part, which is not remotely true.

Further, people who valued the information I was trying to share so little that they could not remember the url and had to ask me for it are announcing how cherished my wisdom is and they want to copy it while it is still available. I know this is actually pretty standard human behavior. If you announce something is banned, being discontinued, or otherwise of very limited availability, people who never had any interest will suddenly want it. I have had a class on social psychology. I know this is a well studied, well established phenomenon. But it is really making me grumpy.

So I am trying to figure out what to do that is more constructive than giving a piece of my mind to some total stranger who has sent me a pity party email. I am hoping someone else who has been through something similar can clue me. Did you have a standard reply? Did you just ignore emails? Any other thoughts?

(I asked this same basic question elsewhere yesterday and got zero replies.)

posted by Michele in California to Human Relations (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: When I get this kind of reaction from strangers, I think to myself, "Gee, how sad that their mind works that way." and ignore them (some people love misery - I love ignoring those people). From acquaintances, I give them a million dollar smile and redirect them: "Actually, I'm just far too busy to keep up with it. Thank you for your concern, though! See you at [thing you'll see them at]!" From friends, I give them a toned down version of the acquaintance response, with a gentle reminder that I am, in fact, a capable person (a cue to them that they inadvertently made me feel as if perhaps they don't think I am, so as to avoid hurt feelings in future). Close friends, of course, mainly already knew of my decision to curtail the project and replied with "Onward & upward, baby!" messages which helped balance out the "Oh you poor dear" emails.

Your feelings are natural, and I've experienced similar things myself in the past. I edit my response based on how much of an effect I can have on behavior, and how much that behavioral change might benefit my relationship with that person (insofar as there is one).
posted by pammeke at 10:47 AM on February 24, 2013

If it's important to you to respond, you could have a standard email you cut and paste into a response.

Something like "Thanks so much for your thoughtful message! I have really enjoyed working on foo for the past [length of time]. I'm so glad I was able to [help people, provide useful information, ?]. If you want to stay informed about foo, I recommend these valuable resources ..."

If you are moving on to another project, you can add that as the last line. "My new project Foo1 is kicking off in [month] and you can follow it at [url]. Thanks again!"

You can't change what they are saying, but you can be positive and clear and move on.
posted by bunderful at 11:00 AM on February 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

It sounds like you might have made a big announcement about the end of the project to people who weren't actively engaged with it, which could seem unusual/unnecessary. Generally in that situation it's lower-drama to just let it fade, and if someone inquires explain that you've abandoned it and are now working on ___.

Would you have felt strange if these people didn't respond at all to your announcement? If so, they probably picked up on that and said the only things they could think of -- trying to make you feel better about the project's value, giving you advice for future endeavors -- hamhanded though the responses might have been.

Was your initial message upbeat, emphasizing what new projects you're focusing on instead? Because that invites a response of "good luck with that, sounds interesting!" If not, maybe the lack of other explanation led some to assume that your reasons were emotional.
posted by ecsh at 11:14 AM on February 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The only type of project that I ended that could have been public was a blog. I did achieve what I wanted (it got high for some search terms in google, people wrote to me and used the ideas), but it was just meant to be an experiment and I eventually grew bored with it. People develop new projects, new ideas, and few people probably have the time or energy to keep at something for years.

So I ended it quietly. No big "this is the end" post. I just stopped paying for the hosting.
If I had the need to have a goodbye post (did not but it is one possibility), say thank you to those who have contacted you in the past, you are using your time and energy to work on other projects, and end it at that. There is no way to perceive that as having emotions or negativity, etc.

Some people still write - just be polite and share whatever info is requested and offer to keep in touch if they would like. They did take the time to write you and let you know thanks, even if it wasn't the way that you wanted.

One possibility is how are you ending this project? Have you told people anything (i.e. no one is reading what I am writing so I'm giving up, etc.?) If you are sending out those type of messages or conversation, then they may be reacting to that and you could modify what you say moving forward.
posted by Wolfster at 11:15 AM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I recently ended two public projects, a blog and a hobby review "career". With the first, I posted my resignation letter, of sorts, right up front--because readers were expecting daily updates. I, too, was floored by the outpouring of support from people who previously had never seen fit to comment. With the reviewing, I kept quiet at first--but then realized that some sort of public statement was necessary when I found people speculating (incorrectly) on my motivations on another blog.

Responses to both were fairly heartening, though. One of the things that I think I did right was to acknowledge that I recognized that for readers, even if they were never participant, they're losing something, too. "Yes, it is very sad!" Because I've missed blogs when they've disappeared, even as I respected the creator's choices. The other thing I think I did right was to emphasize that I was happy with this choice, that it was right for me, that it was something I thought long and hard about but, in the end, felt good about, too. "It was really the right time for me. I'm so excited to have the energy freed up for other projects." Hard to pity someone who seems energized by fresh possibilities, you know?

If I'd do anything differently, it would have been to post the second "resignation letter" much sooner, to curtail any rumors about why I was doing what I was doing.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:48 AM on February 24, 2013

Having glanced at your link in the profile, I do wonder if the tone there might be contributing to these emails: you're ending the project not because it's the right choice for you but as a reaction to other peoples' behavior. Even if it's true that other people contributed, emphasizing that this is the healthy and right choice for you so that you can dedicate your energy to, say, getting yourself financially stable and focusing on your health might invoke less of a frustrating response. In short, your close-shop message seems to continue arguments that are already swirling around you, instead of shutting them down. Which some readers likely read as an invitation for outreach--of advice or of pity.

But if you don't want to change that, I'd focus on not perpetuating conflict in response. "Thanks for your concern. I'm doing well, thanks, and focusing on [whatever]" is probably all that's needed to shut everything down. Don't rise to the bait and continue the argument. No way that will end well.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:55 AM on February 24, 2013 [7 favorites]

Agree with PhoBWanKenobi that your closing message comes off as really angry and lashing out, and that that might be why you're getting feedback along the lines of "I'm worried about you" rather than "Thanks for your work, this has been a great resource, best of luck with your next project".

I think bunderful's idea of having a boilerplate reply written from an "as if" perspective--by which I mean, as if you were responding to the feedback you would have found optimal--is one good strategy.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:09 PM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Further, people who valued the information I was trying to share so little that they could not remember the url

Some people (including me) have poor memories at times. That may not be as indicative as you think.

I've been doing Visible Stuff On The Internet for well over a decade, and been deeply involved in several projects and hobby communities, several times with a leadership role. Here are some things I've discovered, which may or may not apply to your individual situation.

1) Big announcements ("I'm stopping this now!" "Troll X has driven me out of the community!" etc.) provoke way more drama than the silent fade. They can be read as a Flounce, or just make people feel like some response is needed.

However, if there seems to be a lot of public question about why you stopped doing something, then it may be fine, some while after the fact, to reply saying "oh, yes, I set that aside for a while because [vague thing about other distractions/obligations]."

Doing it this way also saves face if for some reason later on you decide you want to return to your hobby. The Embarrassed Return After A Loud Exit is a common internet-community event, and it often looks kind of silly. Just about the only exception is if someone said something like "I'm having a baby/starting chemotherapy/spending a year in Peace Corps/getting deployed" and the Return is more like "hey, that event went well, I survived and now I'm back!"

2) Publicly complaining how the community treats/views you, or how you view how the community views you (etc.) is also a route to drama. If you have a problem with an individual, treat it as much as possible in private with that individual. If you need to gripe and rant, do that with friends in private. Do not, do not, do not post a public post about how the community treats you as a whole. Do not air your grievances in public unless you have a compelling reason to do so (like someone has committed a fraud or other crime that you need to warn people about).

3) The more you talk about your personal life or motives, the more other people feel entitled to comment on them as well. That can be good or bad. I tend to be conservative about sharing this information in my higher-profile outlets (blogs, reviews, forum posts), more open with subsets of my community that I am close to (in-person meetups and private chats).

4) Even if some input strikes you as condescending, misguided, or just flat stupid, you can rarely get yourself in trouble by waiting several days -- enough to suggest that you're not urgently interested in the conversation and they shouldn't be either, but not enough to seem rude -- and then responding with a bland, courteous "thanks for your note."

This acknowledges the person and avoids annoying them, but doesn't give them enough fodder to continue the communication. Resist the urge to tell people off -- not just for their sake but for yours. I often frame it to myself this way: do I want to hear more from this person? No? What is likely to be the best route to their silence, responding with pushback or just acknowledging them quickly?

You can do a variation of this even if you have been engaging with someone previously. Again, give it a couple of days of cooling-off time, then respond with something like, "I think I've said as much about this as I can usefully contribute right now. Thanks for your thoughts." If they want to construe that as themselves winning an argument, that's their business -- it gets you out of the conversation with no rudeness or lasting repercussions likely.

5) Exception to (4): if someone is just trolling you, don't bother with acknowledgement. Total silence is the best answer. Other people will figure out which of you is taking the high road quickly enough.

When I've done these things, I've never particularly come to regret them later -- and there are definitely times when I felt like lashing out at someone who later turned out to be nice but just kind of badly spoken the first time we encountered each other. Avoid drama, burn bridges only as a last resort, talk smack publicly about people only as a nuclear option and only if you genuinely think the community needs to be warned about them. (And again, I mean warned on the order of "this person is a con artist and I have evidence you should know about in order to avoid being the victim of crime," not warned as in "this person was rude to me, so watch out, they might say something rude to you too!!!")
posted by shattersock at 12:25 PM on February 24, 2013 [8 favorites]

Postscript: This discussion of flouncing goes into a little bit about the ways people react to "I'm leaving" announcements, and why.
posted by shattersock at 12:38 PM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for the reponses so far.

I don't really want to discuss the closing post too much. Hearing what it sounds like to people here is somewhat helpful but lacks context, a little bit like if I jumped into the fray on MetaTalk and tried to tell longstanding members what their problem is with each other even though I have not been here that long. I remain a member of one email list related to the topic in question where multiple people publically acknowledged that they have witnessed how badly I have been routinely treated for years. This was after I was publically attacked by someone who has a history of such behavior.

I really have no desire to inform the community of what my new projects are, though I have mentioned that I am working on other projects. The degree to which I have been viciously attacked over the years means I have no desire to invite folks of that particular community into my life generally. Hearing the responses here makes me realize that is part of why I do not know how to effectively respond. It makes me feel better to realize there really isn't a good answer, it isn't somehow "my fault" that I don't have a good answer.
posted by Michele in California at 1:16 PM on February 24, 2013

It makes me feel better to realize there really isn't a good answer

Sure there is!

"Hi X, thank you so much for your concern. I'm doing well, and though I'll miss being a part of the community, I've moved on to other projects. Best of luck to you in future endeavors as well."

Boom. Done. Low engagement, low drama, closes the conversation entirely.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:19 PM on February 24, 2013

I am getting pity emails, like people think I am ending my project for emotional reasons.

is probably coming from the bit in your blog where you say
But I am extremely bitter at the abusive treatment I have endured online for years. I just cannot do this anymore.
That would make me want to express my sympathies as well.
posted by gaspode at 1:20 PM on February 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I realize that none of us here have the full context for your departure message, but people are pointing out that if you're distraught by the tone of the responses you're getting, you do have some influence over that. Regardless of what happened in the past, if you don't want a pity party response, maybe avoid making posts that could come across as fishing for sympathy - share your bitterness privately, with your friends, rather than broadcasting it in a public space.

But what's done is done; the best you can do now is refrain from stirring the embers. My advice would be to ignore the emails you're getting. It kind of sounds like you feel the need to get in the last word - but if these are not people you want to deal with in the future, what do you care what they say to you now? There's nothing they're "winning" even if you let their message stand without a response - you're just saving your energy for things that are more worth your time.
posted by DingoMutt at 1:41 PM on February 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: I personally cannot imagine a more callous thing to say than "I am doing well and have moved on to other projects." My condition is deadly. I think that would come across as "Neener neener. I got well and now I am bored with helping you. Time to go do something more fun." The reason I announced my departure is so that folks genuinely interested in the info can save recipes, etc. I do not see the current website as viable. That doesn't mean I am a monster who wants people to die a slow, gruesome death for being mean to me. Since my condition is genetic, it really isn't possible to completely walk away from dealing with it.

I like DingoMutt's reply. Given the turn of conversation here, I suspect the best replies have already been made. I am going to mark this resolved.

posted by Michele in California at 1:51 PM on February 24, 2013

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