Using Vanilla Forums helped The Mix to create a thriving young community that helped provide support and advice for those who need it.
The Mix (themix.org.uk) is a multi-channel support service for young people in the U.K. that was formed from the combination of two charities: YouthNet and Get Connected. Both charities were founded in the mid-1990’s, but in the last couple of years, they realized they could do much more by combining forces.
Together as The Mix, they provide integral information, support and advice for young people under 25 on a range of issues, including mental health, money, homelessness, finding a job, relationships, drugs and more.
They provide this lifesaving assistance via chat and forums, as well as a helpline and e-counselling for those who need it. Over the years, they created more than 2,000 pieces of helpful content – from blogs to articles to videos – about any topic that affects youth.
James Pickstone, former Engagement and Support Manager, came to The Mix from YouthNet with the task of leading this massive community and all of its assets. One of his major projects was the migration of The Mix forums – a space consisting of over 9 GB and the millions of posts made over the last 18 years.
The Community – a Safe Space
The Mix is a special place that keeps people coming back – and giving back. As James pointed out, “A lot of people initially come to The Mix with an acute situation or a one-off issue, and they just want to talk about it. The community gives them the help or useful advice they need, and they feel better about the situation. What happens next is special: they stay connected because of the relationships they’ve made and next thing they know, they’re presented with the opportunity to return the favour, and help others.”
This is one reason why the forums are such an important part of The Mix. As James noted, ”Community support at The Mix is unique because it comes from other young people with authentic experiences. Youth who have gone through similar situations before can talk from a position of authority to those who are going through it right now. For example, let’s say you’re going to University for the first time. You’re moving away from home and feeling sad and lonely. It’s a bit scary. You can talk to others who’ve already done it a couple of years ago – they can talk you through it and give you tips. It’s a trustworthy experience.”
James shared one man’s life-changing journey with us, to illustrate the difference authentic connection can make. “One day a guy arrived in the community because he was worried his girlfriend was pregnant. The community chipped in to show him support and give practical advice on what he could do next.
Because of the help he received, that guy stuck around and became an integral part of the community. He began helping other people and eventually became a moderator. Shortly thereafter, he became an apprentice in our office and now he’s a permanent staff member. He made quite a journey through the community, but he also made a real life journey as a result – he came from a small town and is now living in London to work with us.
While his story may be unique, the sense of journey is not. Everyday, we see people come into the community for a difficult situation, then see it come out as something positive. And they, in turn, give back.”
Another thing James pointed out is the powerful way The Mix community supports mental health. “The wonderful thing about our community is that it’s there anytime you need it. If you see a counselor or therapist, you’re usually limited to a certain length of time, and you need substantial financial resources to sustain your counseling for longer. The cool thing about our community is although it’s a qualitatively different experience, it’s there for as long as you need it and doesn’t disappear when therapy ends . This means we have a lots of users who’ve been talking about their mental health for years within this forum, which is something you simply couldn’t do without a community space.”
The Challenge – Migration
As you can see, the community forums of the Mix were not only integrally important to the organization, but to the health of its users as well. When it became evident that the vBulletin instance they were using could no longer keep up with the needs of their team, they knew they had a major problem on their hands.
As James confided, “It was no longer fit for our purposes and support was lacking. There were bugs and broken features everywhere. The worst was when someone would try to post and things would break. It would load indefinitely, then they’d have to manually refresh the page a couple times to see if their post showed up. It was a terrible experience for the community member, at a bad time in their life. The whole process became so complicated and unmanageable that it limited what we could do with the community.”
But finding another solution wasn’t just as easy as making a quick switch. James’ biggest worry was the migration itself. As James said: “People had poured their heart and souls into these posts. They meant a lot to them. The last thing I wanted was to lose all their content.”
The Solution – Vanilla
Despite James’ concerns, The Mix team knew they had no choice but to look for something different. James told us about the process. “We did lots of extensive research internally. We looked at a whole bunch of options. In the end – and hands down – Vanilla gave us the platform we needed; one that would match the look and feel of what we had, but allow us to continue to make changes and grow from there.”
The Benefits – A Unified, Personalized Experience
It was important to The Mix team that the migration experience not be too a drastic change for community members right off the bat. The look and feel had to stay the same as they slowly rolled out changes. This was a relatively simple task to accomplish. Once The Mix switched to Vanilla, they were able to easily customize the look and feel with access to the CSS and HTML.
They were also able to work on unifying the experience. Every service offered by The Mix now comes with its own login system and Vanilla’s SSO capabilities make it easy to integrate.”
At the end of the day, trust is everything to The Mix community. After working closely with the members to ensure they were part of the process, feedback from The Mix community has been very positive. And according to James, “The Vanilla team did an amazing job in the transition, too. It was painless and went off without issue.”