Author Archives: Richard Millington

About Richard Millington

Richard Millington is the founder and managing director of FeverBee, an online community consultancy, and FeverBee: Online Community Management Course, an exclusive course in Professional Community Management. Richard's clients have included the United NationsThe Global FundNovartisOracleOECDBAE SystemsAMD and several youth & entertainment brands. Richard is also the the author of the Online Community Manifesto. Check out his newest book, "Buzzing Communities: How To Build Bigger, Better, And More Active Online Communities."

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?


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?

cartoon drawing of a face off

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 

20 Conversation Starters That Will Get Your Community Talking

Are you struggling to stimulate activity in your online community? Do you have lots of members but little participation? Try asking the sorts of questions that stimulate discussion in every online community.

Here are 20 to get you started:

Roosevelt and Churchill in conversation

  1. What is your favourite ………. ? Asking members about their favourite anything will stimulate a response. Try it.
  2. What is your average day like? People love to talk about themselves. Ask them what their average day is like and they’ll tell you. They’ll also compare it with anyone else that answers.
  3. What do you think about ……….? Giving opinions is human nature. When you ask for opinions you’ll get a lot.
  4. What advice would you give to the person above you? Careful about these. Can stimulate a lot of activity, can also get way out of hand. Useful for a light-hearted touch to your community efforts.
  5. Can anyone recommend ……….? People like to be helpful and show off knowledge. Asking for recommendations will solicit knowledge and engagement from users.
  6. What is the worst thing that has ever happened to you whilst ……… ? Self explanatory. Let members share their stories. It’ll almost certainly boost activity and return visits. Members will slowly get to know and like each other.
  7. Can anyone fix ………. ? Present a difficult problem, let members try to suggest ways to fix it.
  8. What is the best/worst ………. ? Opinions, opinions, opinions. Solicit them in as many different ways as possible. Pick a sub-category and ask people for their best/worst suggestions.
  9. Who do you most admire? Pick someone in your niche you most admire and tell others why.
  10.  Is {x} really better than {y}? Make it controversial. Pick an issue members will be split on – but not divisively so. Ask questions about it. Let people take sides.A question and exclamation mark of jigsaw puzzle pieces
  11. If you weren’t ……… would you ………. ? Create a hypothetical situation in which all members can give their opinion on something radical.
  12. Who/What are your top 5 ………. ? Ranking is addictive. Ask people to rank their top 5 anything and then try to create an overall ranking based upon the community.
  13. How would you handle {topical issue}? If your members in charge, how would they handle a topical issue in your sector?
  14. What ………. do you use? Relevant in almost all online communities, ask people to compare what relevant products/services they use. Companies love this information too.
  15. Does anyone know how to ………. ? Does anyone know provokes interest, the how to can be broad or specific. People are likely to participate.
  16. Has anyone tried………. ? Again, has anyone is all-encompassing and people are likely to share their experiences.
  17. Is ………. right about ………. ? Take someone’s stance on a topical issue and throw it open to comment by the entire community.
  18. What would you do if ………. ? Create a hypothetical situation, perhaps a problem lots of people face, and ask members what they would do. Life problems work well here.
  19. What should every newcomer know about ……….Well, what should every newcomer know about something relevant in your sector? It’s great advice – perfect for a sticky-thread.
  20. Share your pictures/top tips here. Sharing advice and pictures can be an easy win for stimulating activity. Try it. I suspect you will find it easy to gain lots of valuable insights.

Your mileage with any of these questions will vary depending upon the topic sector and the progress of your community. However, if you’re looking to generate some activity, you can try a few of these basic conversation starters to get going.

The more open-ended the question, the more everyone can participate. When you post a question, try prodding a few members to reply and get the activity started.

Images courtesy of Zorba the Geek and Horia Varlan

How to Increase Activity in Your Community

Guest post by Richard Millington

Over the past 12 years, Richard has helped over a hundred organizations develop successful online communities. His clients have included: The United Nations, Novartis, Oracle, EMC, The British Medical Journal, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, OECD, AMD, BAE Systems, Greenpeace, Autodesk and many other brands. 

The majority of communities struggle to sustain high levels of activity in their communities. We typically only hear about the rampant success stories. It’s fun to believe that a community will just attract members and explode to life.

Unfortunately, that’s probably not going to happen. It’s going to take a lot of hard work, an understanding of why people participate in communities, some principles of activity, and a clear plan of action.

 Why do people participate in communities?

People participate in communities to satisfy their informational and social needs. The mistake most organizations make is they focus on the former and ignore the latter. The problem with the former is once someone has gained the information they need, they leave. Your challenge is to focus on their social needs.

To increase activity, you need to apply proven community building techniques. These techniques include content, moderation, relationship development, and events/activities. The best communities are able to use all four to sustain extremely high levels of activity.

Principles for high levels of activity

Before we get tactical, let’s cover some basic principles of successful activity:

  • Activity should be planned. Don’t wait for activity to happen by chance. Proactively drive the level of activity in your community. This means have a clear idea of what activity will take place when. Everything else is a bonus.
  • Good activity –vs– weak activity. Good activity is when members interact via discussions, blogs posts, or another medium where they can meaningfully share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences with one another. Weak activity are poll votes, likes, clicks, and anything that doesn’t allow other members to know each other better. Focus on driving good activity.
  • Group identity. Communities with a strong group identity and sense of community also have sustained high levels of activity. If you can build a strong group identity, you will have high levels of activity.

Develop a community management plan

Put together a template community management plan that highlights what content, activities, and discussions will take place in your community over the next few months. Try to have some sort of sustained narrative or broad themes to cover. If you run the 50 Cent community and there is a new 50 cent tour/record coming out, then you might be planning 3 big discussions a week:

  • Monday: On a scale of 1 – 10, how would you rate 50 Cent’s New Album?
  • Wednesday: What’s your favourite song on the new album?
  • Friday: So who has tickets to see 50 Cent in {city?}

Then you might plan 2 online events that week. For example:

  • Tuesday: Live chat with tour manager (it’s not as hard to arrange these as you imagine).
  • Thursday: Community discussion of the week: Theme – best places to buy 50 Cent tour tickets

Then you might schedule regular content for example:

  • Monday: Interview with a community member
  • Tuesday: Community predictions for next 50 Cent album
  • Wednesday: Poll:What was the best 50 Cent song ever?
  • Thursday: 50 Cent crazy fan of the week…
  • Friday: Roundup of the week’s 50 Cent news
  • Saturday: Welcome the newcomers.

Note that the best content for a community is content about the community. You want content that involves you proactively going out there and interacting with members. Imagine yourself as a local reporter and the community being your local beat. Go out there and find stories about what your members are doing.

Now you have fresh activity taking place every day in the community. You’ve given members a reason to continually return and visit your community every day. You might need to individually nudge a few members in the beginning, but over time you will see it taking off.

Practical tips

In addition to having a great plan, there are also a number of practical tips you can implement to increase activity.

  • Remove the dead areas. The appearance of success is crucial. If you have posts with no replies, areas of the community that aren’t used, features that don’t get much activity then remove them. You want your community to appear as highly active as possible. This leads to…
  • Concentrate activity. Just because you can have blogs, pictures, chat boxes, groups (especially groups!), doesn’t mean you should. This dissipates activity throughout your community. This does a lot of harm. Initially you want to concentrate activity in as few areas as possible. For most communities, just a forum is enough.
  • Prioritize interactions over content. Too many communities prioritize content over interactions and then wonder why people come to read instead of participating. This is a mistake. Make sure the latest discussions between members occupies the key position in your community. The Rock And Roll Tribe does this well.
  • Highlight what’s popular. Social proof is a powerful thing. Members want to see what other members are doing. Make sure you highlight what’s popular in your community. If you have a popular discussion, turn it into a sticky thread for other members to see and participate in. Then send an e-mail out to members asking for their opinions/thoughts on the issue as well.
  • Highlight the contributions of members. Remember that members want recognition and the feeling they have influence over the community (or could have). If you regularly recognize the contributions of members (by name!) in content, blog posts, newsletters, e-mails, and discussions, you will encourage more discussions.

Richard Millington is the founder of FeverBee Community Consultancy, The Pillar Summit Professional Community Management training course, and the author of The Community Management Manifesto, The Proven Path, and his newest book, Buzzing Communities: How To Build Bigger, Better, And More Active Online Communities.

We’re giving some books!

Want to hear more from Richard? Ning is hosting a free webinar next Tuesday, November 27th, 1-2pm PST. Show up and you’ll receive half of Richard Millington’s new book “Buzzing Communities” as a PDF download. Submit a great question and you could win a hard copy of the book! Please join us. RSVP today!