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Wait!

Before you hit the send, reply, submit or post buttons, ask yourself this question? Do I want the whole world to see this?

While the “whole world” concept may seem a bit dramatic, if something you’ve written gets in front of the wrong set of eyeballs it will certainly feel as though the whole world has seen it.

While it is never our intention to flat out embarrass ourselves, plenty of people do it everyday and I think it can be avoided rather easily.

How you might ask? By operating like a public official. As a journalist, I know that I can submit a Public Records Request and get copies of emails received and sent by anyone whose salary is paid by taxpayers. So, even though my salary is paid by a private company, I operate as if I’m accountable to the masses.

As the Managing Editor of an online community my written words are often shared publicly and I am extremely aware of that. What that does is make me communicate very carefully and with an amazing amount of tact, even when the situation may warrant a different type of response.

If a member attacks me in an e-mail, I respond professionally even when it kills me. What I’ve found is sometimes my response prompts them to change their tune and a real conversation often follows. That isn’t *always* the case but it happens often enough.

I received an email from a member a few days ago about a woman she thought was attempting to scam the community with fund raising efforts for her terminally ill son. She had conducted quite a bit of research and shared the results in the email.

I didn’t bash the woman but I did indicate in my reply that I was going to remove the blog from the homepage immediately, investigate further and remove her from the community completely if she was running a scam.

Well, the member who emailed me posted my entire response in a blog warning the community to be leery about the woman in question. I didn’t know she would do that because it was an e-mail between the two of us and quite honestly I was not thinking about it when I responded. But boy am I glad that I’ve programmed myself to be careful with my responses. That could have been ugly.

The point of this post is simply to raise your awareness. You never know where your words will end up, so be careful.

Reputation management should start with you.

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One of the most successful franchises I’ve launched in my online community consists of regular profiles of community members.

The GOLO Profiles are a big hit, and people are always looking out to see who will be profiled next. It has become quite the badge of honor, and the information that people share with me is pretty amazing.

I’ve learned of alcohol addictions, bad breakups, DUI arrests, spouses living in the country illegally, eating disorders and other tales, some sinister, others uplifting. And no, my name isn’t Jerry Springer.

It started out as a germ of an idea that grew in a way I never expected. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about growing successful online communities is you simply have to try a bunch of things and see what resonates with the community. It’s a bit of trial and error, but when you hit big, you’ll know it.

Being interviewed for a GOLO profile is so prestigious to some, that they’ve expressed a bit of nervousness at the beginning of our phone conversation. When that happens I gently remind them that I’m no Barbara Walters and assure them that my editing skills will serve them well in the end and they will certainly come across as interesting. I then promise that we’ll have fun, and we always do.

It’s a simple formula, and one that you can certainly emulate in your own community. Here’s how it started for me:

  1. I selected a member and asked her to be the first interviewee.
  2. We set up a time that fit both of our schedules.
  3. I called her and we spoke for about 25 minutes.
  4. We had a blast.
  5. I transcribed the interview.
  6. I edited it down to a Q&A format.
  7. I posted it the following week.
  8. People immediately wanted more.
  9. I repeated number 1.

If you aren’t doing something similar, I strongly encourage you to give it a try. If it doesn’t resonate with members, move on to something else. But I’m betting it will. And I hope you’ll come back and tell me all about your success.

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Now that we’ve discussed the reputation ruiner, let’s move on to another type of online troll.
If you frequent news sites, particularly those with unmoderated comments, chances are you’ve come across this one. I refer to them as “the heartless jerk.”

These are the people who leave crude comments on stories about death, place blame on the victims of random house fires, and otherwise exhibit a complete lack of empathy when everyone else is doling it out in droves. They may say that a cancer patient deserved to die or even wish death on others.

This is not about seeing a situation differently, offering a different perspective or playing devil’s advocate. These types of trolls are just mean.

Timothy Marshall of Duzo Design recounts one such incident:

A high school classmate of mine died tragically, and when I read the news about it on a local news website there were a number of commenter’s leaving the most absurd and tasteless messages.

Trolls tend to exist on websites where users can remain anonymous. In this case people say things they wouldn’t normally say, just to get a response. It is so easy for them to just change identities, personalities and names online.

On pages where usernames stick and identities are clear trolls are less frequent. And when they are they can not hide from their actions. It really comes down to whether or not users will be held accountable for their actions. If you don’t hold them accountable they will do just about anything. Hold them accountable and they will be more rational.

What do you think? Do you agree with Timothy?

Would these heartless jerks, be so heartless if they were held accountable?

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As I delve more into the life and times of internet trolls, I seem to find out more and more about this particular species and how they are viewed by the masses.

The perception of what constitutes a troll is extremely varied and the stories about their actions are colorful to say the least.

Can one who bashes a hotel restaurant on as many platforms as possible all due to one bad experience be considered a troll? Holly Warton, owner of Enchanting Group, says yes.

Here is her story, as given to me on LinkedIn:

There’s this one troll that visited one of my hotels back in 2001 or so. He didn’t even stay with us, he just ate at one of our restaurants, and apparently the waiter hit on his girlfriend. Since then, he has berated our hotels on both the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forums and the Trip Advisor Forums. He’ll take a break for a few months and then come back every once in a while.
I just mentioned this guy the other day to a fellow destination expert on Trip Advisor, and she remembered the guy by (user) name. He’s famous for attacking our hotels, and everyone knows it’s because of the problem with this girlfriend. Kind of funny, kind of irritating.

So there you have it. A clear illustration of one man’s attempt to tarnish a hotel’s reputation because a waiter hit on his girlfriend. Holly’s not happy with it, as she characterizes it as “kind of irritating.” But she also finds humor in it, and I suspect that may be because she can’t do anything about it.

In the next Troll Patrol, you’ll get an account of one man’s experience with a news website and his thoughts on the upside of requiring visitors to use real user names.

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I’m pretty sure this post is the beginning of a new series called Troll Patrol. It is as much for my personal sanity as I work through some of these issues, as it is for your reading pleasure and hopefully your benefit.

I do understand that the word “troll” is quite subjective, particularly among community members. Some people consider anyone who disagrees with them a troll, (I disagree) and others think that anyone who happens to show up in the same blogs as them on a regular basis, are stalkers…aka “trolls.” And there are others who do seemingly have personal trolls, who live to make them, and others MISERABLE.

It is truly amazing how a few troublemakers in a community can make it unbearable for others and it is equally if not more amazing how adults can display such behavior that is beyond juvenile.

I have had two grown adult males in my community going after each other like three year-olds for weeks. And believe it or not, it all stems from one calling the other overweight. Believe me, I am not making this up.

I received an email from a member today illustrating how they completely ruined a heartfelt blog with their back and forth bickering when others were trying to have a decent conversation.

That exchange, coupled with this plea from a faithful member sent me over the edge and I sent them both threatening emails. The message was this: “Either it stops, or I end it. You choose.” I indicated that if I had to end it, it would not be pretty and neither of them would be able to come back. Period.

What a shame that community managers have to result to such antics. I have children at home, but apparently have several hundred at work as well. Good grief.

Now, I am not saying that either of these gentlemen are trolls, though the label certainly fits the guy who started all of this mess.

But nevertheless, this is a problem. It will not go away, but I’m ready to discuss it.

What are your issues with troublemakers and trolls, and how do you handle them? If you have any unique situations, please share them, and if you would like me to discuss a particular topic surrounding this terrible topic, please let me know.

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It is with much pomp and circumstance that I announce the launch of my new website, GrowingSuccessfulOnlineCommunities.com.

It will serve as home base for my book, 18 Rules of Community Engagement: A guide to building relationships and connecting with customers online set to publish in late May or early June.

I have to give major kudos to Phyllis Zimbler Miller and Yael Miller, the dynamic duo behind Miller Mosaic. They conceptualized and designed the website and treated my like an A-list client.

If you have a book to market, you need them in your life. Period.

So please visit the site and sign up for a free chapter of the book. I plan to incorporate new features including weekly two-minute podcasts called “Angela’s Answers” where I will offer quick tips on managing online communities as well as answer any questions submitted by readers. (That idea came from Phyllis, as did many others.)

And if you haven’t ordered your copy today, please consider it.

Thanks to every reader of this blog for your support and I look forward to our continued relationship.

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It’s no secret that I’ve been seeking endorsements for my soon-to-be-released book, 18 Rules of Community Engagement.

I think it’s going to be a great read, but I’m biased and I could be saying that to justify all of my late hours and lack of sleep. I hope I’m wrong about that, and the following endorsements lead me to believe that I am. I hope their words spark your interest in the book.

“Angela begins the pioneering task of setting the rules for online communities in this must-read book. Her sass, wit and sheer knowledge of this unknown frontier are great guides for anyone wanting to enter the online community space.”

-Maren Hogan, Principal, Red Branch Media

“Being able to attract and manage over 11,000 members proves that you’re an expert when it comes to community engagement. In this book, Angela Connor not only shares her own experience, but includes the opinions and ideas of other community practitioners. The result is a book that should be considered required reading for anyone involved or interested in the art of community building.”

– Martin Reed, Community Developer/Manager, CommunitySpark.com

“A very conversational, wonderfully written, action-oriented, read with excellent examples. “

–Janet Clarey, Analyst & Sr. Researcher, Brandon-Hall Research

“In an era of rapid-fire change, Angela understands that Community is a slow-burn enterprise. She has created a personable, practical primer for those individuals and companies interested in enabling connectivity and exchange.”

— Venessa Paech, Community Manager, Lonely Planet

“Angela Connor tells you the score on running an online community with verve and humor. She knows what she’s talking about, and if you run an online community or want to, you should listen.”

— Lisa Williams, Founder and CEO, Placeblogger.com

“In 2009, savvy public relations and marketing professionals are honing in on the importance of connecting with targeted, niche online communities. Angela pulls on expert insight from thought leaders across the social Web to provide an easy-to-digest slate of guidelines to remind us all of what it takes to connect effectively with target audiences. A crucial read for any social media newbie looking to learn the online community rules of the road.”

–Scott Meis, Sr. Project & Social Media Director, Carolyn Grisko & Associates Inc.

“Angela lays out some great points on community engagement with real life examples that give readers the how-to when implementing these strategies within their own business. Not to mention, it’s all written in a simple to read manner.”

-Sonny Gill, Social Media Strategist, SonnyGill.com

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I am always going to be an advocate for online communities. If you are a regular reader of this blog you know that I am passionate about online communities and enjoy sharing my experiences and hearing about yours.

You also know that I am honest about how difficult it can be to do this job well given the fact that so many people hide behind the cloak of anonymity and live to wreak havoc. They are driven by the amount of grief they can cause and measure their personal success by the amount of misery they can produce. My week has consisted of a lot of that, and it has been trying to say the least.

It got so bad that I had to lay down the law in a very public manner, and I can’t even begin to tell you how many people I banned. There is such a fine line between growing community and destroying it and community managers have to tread very lightly so as not to employ tactics that will result in a mass exodus. It’s an extremely slippery slope.

After all, we need all the members we can get, right?

WRONG. I now know that not all members are created equal, and some we can and simply should do without.

I believed that I needed every member I could get when we first launched GOLO and I worked hard to keep everyone happy, sometimes to a fault. If someone announced that they were leaving, I took it personally and did whatever I could to get them to stay. I had milestones to reach and goals to accomplish and I had my eyes on the prize.

That was then, this is now. When someone announces they are leaving I will be the first to wish them well, especially if they are a known problem.

We cannot allow our communities to be overrun by troublemakers and trolls and we have to take a stand. No community is the same and I am learning that the tactics that one community manager uses may not work for me. The solutions are not one-size -fits all.

The best thing for us to do is keep the conversations going and realize that we all have different communities, procedures for handling abuse, and various registration systems that may not allow us to do things in a similar fashion.

But I digress. My point here is simply this: Our jobs are tough and sometimes we have to be just as tough. Yes, we need members, but we don’t need everyone and sometimes we are better off without certain people, and that’s okay.

So build your community, but don’t be naive, and don’t let them trample you. There are other fish in the sea. Find them, and let some of the others go back into the depths of the deep sea, where they belong.

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I consider myself a social media evangelist.
Do I use Twitter every day? Yes.

Do I have a Facebook account and do I use other social networks? Yes.

Is this relevant? Not really.

Social media is so much more than just social networks. It’s about blogs, video sharing, photo sharing, micro-blogging, forums and much, much more. It’s about connecting, socializing and making our worlds come together by interacting with each other by using online technologies.

I explain Twitter to people lots of times, I write blogs and produce videos over here in Holland to make people aware of the power of social media. Almost no one ever heard of Twitter or Facebook.

I believe social media is a very powerful thing. And we are merely at the beginning of it’s true evolution. I am passionate about social media and what it can bring to individuals, businesses and organisations.

If you feel passion for something and you share your passion with others, you are an evangelist. Whether for social media, Ben & Jerry icecream or Harry Potter books.

These words belong to Holland’s Renato van Bloemenhuis of Relentless Ideas. You can connect with Renato on twitter.


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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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