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Community managers walk a fine line when it comes to dealing with problem users, and that fine line can often feel like a tightrope.

On one hand, you want to grow the community, and on the other hand, you have to uphold your standards for the community so that others will find it attractive and want to spend time there.

During GOLO’s first year, I was very accomodating. I rarely marked content as abuse and gave second and third chances. It was only the most egregious offenders whom I banned outright and I sometimes worried that if I was too heavy handed, everyone would leave.

Well, what a difference a year makes. Experience is undoubtedly the best teacher and I am now officially over that fear. If you’re still holding on to it, I challenge you to let it go. It’s really quite liberating.

If you’re having problems laying down the gauntlet in certain situations and keeping people in line when it absolutely needs to be done, try these tactics first:

  • Reach out to the member via e-mail and inform them of the offense. Make sure your tone is pretty neutral, and let them know you will give them a pass this once.
  • If it’s a well-known member who contributes often, remind them how much you value their participation and gently let them know that you were a bit miffed at their recent post, image or other content in question.

If they challenge you in any way, engage. This is often the time when a breakthrough may occur and it also gives you an opportunity to share information about guidelines and why you have them. It starts a dialog that could really turn into a positive. But be careful about how long you let it go on. If they are questioning you just for the sake of ruffling your feathers, shut it down.

Now, if those don’t work or if you come across content that is completely unacceptable and that you could possibly be held accountable for, you have no choice. Those are the times you cannot think twice and you have to act. You can’t get caught up in the fact that this user was your top poster last month or that they are the leader of the most popular clique in the community.

If you do, you will lose control. Some will argue that the goal of the community manager is not to control. I agree to some extent. You do not want to control a community, you want to nurture it.

But keep in mind that boundaries have to be set, and know that certain members will push you until you literally fall off the cliff.

So before you fall off of that cliff, do something. Engage your community, but set the standards and make sure they are respected and upheld. Will you sometimes fall short? Yes. Absolutely yes.

But if you have to choose between falling short from time to time, and falling off a cliff after walking on a tightrope for weeks or even months…I’m pretty sure you’d choose the former.

You’ll feel it in your gut and your heart may even skip a beat.

I know this sounds dramatic but it’s true, and if you manage an online community you know exactly what I’m talking about. .

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August 2008

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This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer. Feel free to challenge me, disagree with me, or tell me I’m completely nuts in the comments section of each blog entry.


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