As you may know, I’ve been writing articles about community management for a while now. I’ve written them for vBulletin.org, with a general focus on that software and how it can be adapted for a good forum. I’ve written them for The Admin Zone (and every other website merged into it), with a bit more of a general focus,
And I’ve wrote a fair few on Medium too. Like the ones about how Reddit could be replaced by a decentralised alternative or how things we consider ‘new’ problems are actually anything but.
But this series will be a bit different. Why? Because of general, overly complicated list articles, each post will give one simple piece of advice for community management. These pieces of advice will in turn be simple things people are getting wrong in the world of communities, with a hope to improve the scene and move things away from the troll and flame war filled battleground that seems to be the internet at the moment.
So, let’s get on with it. Here’s my first piece of advice for community managers:
Treat all members of your community equally. In other words, apply the rules in a normal, fair way to everyone who joins your site or service.
It’s pretty simple advice really. Unfortunately, it’s also advice an awful lot of community managers completely fail to grasp.
For instance, quite a few tech forums seem to have this idea that a ‘genius’ should be treated with kid gloves compared to a newbie. That the guy who’s an expert at programming should be allowed to be as abrasive and generally abusive as possible because he’s ‘a cornerstone’ of the community.
It’s one of the two main reasons a lot of tech sites have terrible communities. Because the ‘intelligent jerks’ can get away with murder and everyone else has to walk on eggshells at all times.
And they’re not the only ones that make said mistakes.
Mainstream forums and social media sites make them in their own way. Namely, acting like celebrities are above the law.
So, you’ll get situations where the rich and famous are attacking ‘nobodies’ and getting no punishment for it whatsoever. Or even in some cases doing things like posting content otherwise against the sites rules or doxing those they disagree with.
Yet here’s the thing:
You as a community manager do not need to tolerate any of this.
You are not dependent on a rich, popular or skilled individual to keep your community active.
Seriously. Your social network will not die if you ban Justin Bieber or Donald Trump or the UK Labour Party or Microsoft.
Yes, those people and companies have followers. Yes, some of those people may be annoyed if their idol gets the boot.
But you are not dependent on them for a successful community. There will never be a single user or small group who the forum or community needs to keep active.
In fact, my experience is entirely the opposite. If you ban a jackass for being abusive to people, you’ll find more people will register on your site as a result. Jerks don’t just hurt the existing community, they drive people who would otherwise participate there before they become a part of the community at all.
I know that. I made the same mistake as you on my first forum. Treated a bipolar jerk as too much of an important member to ban. Guess what happened?
It drove away people who were otherwise good contributors, and likely kept many others from becoming part of the site. I know that because once he was gone, membership rates shot upwards. In my desperation to keep a ‘friend’, I lost great contributors who would have made the community a hundred times better.
But they’re the best in my market!
Perhaps at the moment. Or perhaps just out of the people you know.
Cause believe it or not, we’re on a planet with 7 billion people living on it. Do you really think that out of all those people, just one guy has the skills you need?
That out of 7 billion people, you just magically happened to find the world’s number 1 genius at your chosen field?
Yeah, I don’t think so either. Heck, most people probably never met the ‘world number 1’ at anything, outside of maybe a sports game.
What’s more, even if you did…
It doesn’t matter for your community. You’ll find a new member or ten who’s either equally as good or better. Or if not, at least willing and capable of learning to be. No one in a community is irreplaceable. A community never depends on a single person alone.
So, if someone starts causing problems in your community, chuck them out. Regardless of their popularity, expertise, personal wealth or authority status.
Your members will thank you and your service will be much better for it.