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With all of the kind words and support I received after this post, I thought it would only make sense to provide an update on the relentless community member who is intent on hurling racial slurs my way through various forms of communication.

It’s getting pretty old and pretty sad, and I think I feel sorry for her on some level.

As much as I promote the importance of engaging users online and reaching out to community members to provide them with the best experience, it’s clear that I cannot do that with her.

First it was an e-mail but today it was a complete blog post with paragraph after paragraph of insanity all related to the concept of “Training your n-word.”

Where do people get this stuff? I know that it’s directed at me the managing editor of the community, not me personally (although it IS based on my race) and it’s this persons attempt at ruffling my feathers. I know that.

But as I think about all of the comments I see online on a daily basis and the back and forth about race , particularly as it relates to the Presidential Election, I can’t help but wonder if the cloak of anonymity is providing an outlet for bigots of all races to share their truest, ugliest feelings. Are there some simply welcoming the opportunity to speak their mind without repercussions?

My question is this: Are online forums, communities and comments areas across news websites providing an accurate depiction of our society? Are the things being written representative of what people wish they could actually verbalize? Or is this a phenomenon only taking place online because it’s essentially a free-for-all? What do you think?

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Community managers are constantly multi-tasking. From creating content, to encouraging more user interaction and stroking a few egos along the way, it often feels like your work is never done.

There’s some truth to that actually, because if your goal is to grow a community, that job will essentially never end. While it is of the utmost importance to keep the community clean and within your guidelines, you decide how you will make that happen. You can do it by force, with kindness and tact, or with some combination of three. It’s all about what works for you and the effect it has on the community overall.

I ran across a blogpost today called: The Challenge of Policing Online Communities, and I must ay that I completely balked at the title.

First of all, I don’t “police” my community. There are certainly days when I feel like a police captain banning problem users and busting up troll compounds. And there are also days when I feel like a rookie who just can’t get a break. But those days are much fewer in number than the days I thoroughly enjoy watching the fruits of my labor.

That is called “managing” the community. When you have a passion for your members and your community, you “manage” it. You cultivate it. You don’t “police” it.

I would never characterize my role that way. It makes it sound like a chore. And isn’t policing anything inherently a challenge?

Our words can be self-fulfilling prophecies. If you consider what you’re doing “policing” then that is what it will always be. You will always be in search of offenders and the good guys will simply pass you by.

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If there’s one thing members of your online community want from you, it’s feedback. Positive feedback, or not-so positive feedback, they want to hear from you.

As in most group settings, the squeaky wheels tend to get most of the attention, but if this is where you are focusing your efforts, it’s time to stop. Yes, you have to deal with troublemakers to keep the community in tip-top shape, but you can’t neglect your top posters, continuous content creators and keepers of the community.

If it sounds like a huge task, that’s because it is. It’s an important one too and should be done on a daily basis. It isn’t something you have to spend hours doing, but it’s wise to carve out at least 30 minutes of your day to recognize the members who keep the community afloat, and spend a good portion of their time on your site.

So how can you do this effectively and efficiently? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Comment on blogs or forums and be sure to compliment the author publicly. (“This is a great conversation piece. Good topic.”)
  2. Make a helpful suggestion. This indicates that you value their content. (“Great post. You might want to add a link to your last blog since it’s related.”)
  3. Make a direct request. (Loved the pictures from your garden. When can we expect to see more?”)
  4. Ask a question about their content. (That recipe looks awesome, was it passed down to you?”)
  5. Suggest a blog topic. (I see you’re passionate about drunk driving, you should consider writing a blog.”)
  6. Ask for their opinion based on what you know about them. ( “I’m heading out your way this weekend, any good barbecue spots in Sanford?”)
  7. Encourage communication with other community members. (“Johnny23 is looking for tax advice, aren’t you an accountant? Maybe you can help”)
  8. Make a promise, and keep it. (If you do decide to take more pictures let me know and I’ll highlight them on the home page.”)
  9. Tell them you miss them. (“Haven’t seen you in a while, I hope everything is okay. We miss your humor.”)
  10. Send a personal e-mail.. (Hey, you were one of our top posters last week. Just want you to know how much I appreciate your time. Keep it up!”)

Easy enough? Why not get started today? Pick a number between 10 and 20 and decide to issue that many or more compliments to your users on a daily basis. It will show them you care and that you value their time. It will pay off as they become more loyal and you’ll ultimately see the fruits of your labor.
Do you have any helpful hints on connecting with users? Feel free to share.

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I’ve always known on-the-job stress.

As an assignment manager, I worried about missing a big story or crucial interview, sending the news crew to the wrong location and various other scenarios that involved me ending up in the news directors office for singlehandedly destroying the ratings and making us look like losers on the air. It rarely happened, but the stress existed just the same. When Governor Lawton Chiles died on my watch when I worked at WFLA in Tampa, I stressed about getting it on the air first. It was a constant state of wanting to be first, and best. The sense of urgency was constant. No stress there, right?

As a news and special projects producer, I worried that my words weren’t powerful enough, my intro was too weak or I lacked the great video needed to keep the viewers interest. It was stressful to know that the exclusive interview it took two months to land could bail at the last minute leaving little if any time recover.

While managing media partnerships In the newspaper industry, the worries were also constant. Different, but constant: Will our news partners air our content, will we collaborate successfully, and will I ever get these print reporters to understand that multimedia reporting is not an option but a requirement?

Well, now I’m dealing with user-generated content and the game has changed tremendously. I’m managing content from people I cannot control in any capacity. They are nothing more than a screen name and an e-mail address. Some are even less. I don’t know their intentions or whether or not they’re who they say they are. Quite honestly, I’m not certain about much of anything in this particular space.

New stresses consists of relentless trollers intent on wreaking havoc on the community and calling me out in public blogs and making crude references to my ability (or inability, in their anonymous eyes) to do my job by faceless names who really have no real idea what my job entails.

I recently found a kindred spirit in a post by blogger Jeremiah Owyang: Social Punishment: The Bozo Feature .

In the comments area, I found Marc Meyer who wrote that he’d actually received a death threat from a user. There is a level of insanity in that but it is real. Someone took his role as a community manager seriously enough to wish him dead. Sad, but true.

A member of my community indicated in an e-mail to my boss recently that my moderating policies have caused her “undue emotional stress.” Someone else warned that he would continue to bring a flurry of problems through his posts and purposely disrupt and even attempt to ruin the community if I did not completely remove another member from the community. And just yesterday someone commented that I must be “sexually repressed” because their blog posts riddled with sexual innuendo and inappropriate content had been removed.

I am not making this up.

Are these things worthy of stress? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s important to note that this kind of thing can really get to a person. So, if you’re a community manager dealing with any of these issues and wish to start a support group, I’m in!

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When is the last time you made a suggestion to a member in your community? I hope it’s been within in the last day or so. If not, you’re missing out on opportunities that could grow beyond your wildest dreams.

Suggestions come in many forms. They can be direct or indirect. But most importantly, they must be targeted and somewhat flattering.

I read a comment left on a blog by one of my users that was hilarious. I immediately left a comment for him telling him how funny it was and suggesting that he write a blog about it and include the whole story.

That blog was posted in less than 10 minutes.

I told another member that I would love to see pictures of the garden she’s always talking about in the blogs, and voila…an image gallery soon followed. This member is now one of the most active posters, uploading bi-weekly image galleries of her garden. I’ve rewarded her by placing the galleries on the home page, increasing her exposure in the community.

As community managers we often get so caught up in our tasks that we forget we have a very influential position. And from time-to-time, it should be exploited for what it is.

Ask a cyclist to blog about safety while biking. If you see someone discussing books, ask them to create a group for book lovers if your site offers that feature. The clues are all around you, just open your eyes and see them for what they are.

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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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