Tag Archives: “best practices”

How to Deal With Antagonistic Members

Many community managers are either too slow or too fast to remove antagonistic members. They either remove the antagonistic member without fully realizing the role this individual plays within the community, or they spend copious amounts of time trying to convert the antagonist into a happy member.

One community manager I spoke with a few weeks ago had recently spent half a day resolving a problem with antagonistic members. That’s insane, what happens when you have 20 antagonistic members a week? Are you going to spend ALL your time on your community’s unhappy participants?

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Antagonistic members aren’t always bad. They can provoke discussions, highlight topics that other members were hesitant to address, put forward opposing (if unpopular) view- points, and prevent groupthink in communities. Communities where everyone agrees and gets along are dull.

Even the most antagonistic members can unite the community against them. This sounds crazy (and I’ve received plenty of criticism for it), but a community united against a few individuals can actually derive benefits.

The question you need to ask is: Does this antagonistic member kill or boost discussions?

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Antagonistic members might not be breaking any rules, but may still have to go simply by virtue of squelching every discussion they participate in. Otherwise, antagonistic members should be allowed to stay because they have a beneficial impact upon the community.

Don’t fall into the reactivity trap. Don’t get sucked in to spending hours of your time trying to deal with antagonistic members. Make quick decisions and take quick actions.

I often offer clients a six-step escalation process:

  1. Do nothing. This is my favorite step. It doesn’t require much work. If neither the number of participating members nor the quantity of contributions is declining, let it slide.
  2. Reason/befriend/distract. If the antagonistic member is clearly a problem, you react in one of three ways. First, if it’s likely they don’t realize they’re antagonizing members (this is surprisingly common, usually a personality issue), explain they need to tone their language down because members have been complaining. If they have a genuine grievance or concern, try to ask them what the real problem is and how you can help solve it.Finally, if they are focused upon one particular issue, distract them by giving them a column, or responsibility for a certain topic to express their viewpoint.
  3. Suspend. If none of the above works, suspend the member and explain why.  Suspension can range from three days (one day isn’t enough) to one week. You can do this manually or use any system you like.
  4. Ban. If after a suspension they still cause problems, remove them from the community. Lock the account or ban the IP address from registering an account.
  5. Edit/Repel. Some members continue to register new accounts (or mask their IP address). They’re intent on causing trouble. Some community managers get caught in a cat-and-mouse game. They ban the new accounts and others continue to spring up. An endurance game, it continues until one side gets tired. It’s best left to volunteers. I’ve had some success by editing comments posted by the member to something softer (usually complimenting other members).
  6. Contact ISP/Police. If the member continues to return or is engaged in threatening/illegal activity, either contact their ISP or the police. You can jump straight to this stage if necessary.

The goal of this process is to move from one stage to the next whilst spending as little time on antagonistic members as possible. The danger is rarely antagonistic members themselves; it’s the amount of time you spend on them. Over time, you neglect your happy members and can lose many members as a result. Make sure that doesn’t happen to you.

Images courtesy of th02 and raidho36 

How User Guidelines Help Your Community

By Patrick O’Keefe

Online community guidelines detail the types of behaviors that are and are not appropriate on your community. They include things that some might consider obvious, but they also include items that are somewhat unique to you and your community. I liken an online community to a country. Each country has culture, laws and social norms that make it different from every other country.

I believe user guidelines are pretty important. Let’s discuss why.

  • They Level the Playing Field and Mitigate Uncertainty

The absence of guidelines leads to people making up their own or thinking that anything goes. With no official set of guidelines that is applied consistently, you instead get everyone else’s interpretation of what they believe “should” be alright. In some cases, this may also lead to them defending their interpretation against the interpretation of another member. Certainly, that can get messy. But the uncertainty of it all is a big turn off because most people aren’t going to be the ones bold enough to try to set their own guidelines. They are more likely to join a timid group that is unsure of what is acceptable and, as such, just tries to play it as safe as possible. For some, this will just mean that they decide to go elsewhere, to another community that has a more established structure that matches with what they are looking for in a community.

Good guidelines, like good rules and laws, tend to help us to all participate on a level playing field.Once we know the ground rules, we are free to express ourselves in a manner that respects them. Some may view guidelines as restrictive but, just as much, they free people up because they no longer need to worry about what might or might not be OK.

  • (Some) People Look for Them

Now, I know what you are thinking. “No one reads them.” You’ve probably heard someone say it before. However, the truth is that some people do read them. I’m not saying it is a lot of people, but some members do seek them out, especially new members, but also veterans in search for a refresher. Those people who do look for them are trying to do the right thing. They want to make sure that something is OK. This is why it is not only important to have guidelines, but to link them in visible areas, such as your header, footer, near areas where contributions are made (like reply boxes), in staff member signatures, etc. If everyone knows where they are housed, it maximizes the usefulness of your guidelines.

  • They Serve as a Vision Statement (of Sorts)

Community guidelines are a living document and, more than a set of rules, they speak to the type of community you are and the audience that will most appreciate what you have to offer. No community is for everyone. Even a community for everyone isn’t because not everyone wants that. Your guidelines help to demonstrate this and help people to come to that understanding sooner. Vision statements tell people where an organization wants to go in the future. Your guidelines should speak to that. And if a part of your guidelines ever stops speaking to that, you should change it.

  • They Give You Something to Refer To

This may be the biggest one. If you try to apply any sort of standards to your community and you don’t have any sort of public guidelines, it feels unfair and arbitrary. How can people know that something violates the guidelines if there aren’t any guidelines? If you remove content without guidelines to refer members to, then it looks like you are removing content based on imaginary rules that only exist in your head. It doesn’t inspire confidence. When you remove content, you notify the person who posted it and tell them why. When you tell them why, you include a link to your guidelines, so they can see the publicly posted standards that all members must adhere to.

To sum it up, having guidelines isn’t about making sure that everyone reads them. Instead, they exist to serve as a point of reference, so that everyone knows what standards exist and what is expected. There is no guess work, there is no mystery. This helps to create an environment of honesty and fairness.

 

Patrick O’Keefe is the author of “Managing Online Forums,” a practical guide to managing online communities, and “Monetizing Online Forums,” a guide to generating revenue from them in the right way. He blogs at ManagingCommunities.com and can be found on Twitter at @iFroggy.

 

Images courtesy of OregonDOT and mtsofan