CREATING A SUCCESSFUL AND SUPPORTIVE ONLINE COMMUNITY – PART 2: Community Management and Moderation

Community management is a balancing act at its core. You have to decide what you’re willing to deal with as a community manager, as well as what you will have zero tolerance for.

Moderation – Deciding What Is Acceptable and What Isn’t

I put up with a lot of assholes early on in my community building career. One thing I wish I had zero tolerance for from the get-go is rude or entitled people. Early on, I worried that making people mad would cause my community to fail, so I let some community members talk down to me and they were often rude or even mean. It was the wrong way to go about things and led me to feel burned out and exhausted. Cut out the crappy people as early as possible. It will make your community a better place!

Your community does not have to be for everyone! It can be tempting to try to make space for “everyone”, but it is better to have a specific audience you intend to serve. It’s okay to expect that audience to be kind and respectful to those who are doing the work of running things. If someone can’t do the bare minimum of following the community rules and being kind to staff, you should remove them. Most platforms have an option to kick/ban/remove members who fall into this category.

On the flip side, you should hold yourself and your staff to a high standard. Staff needs to be kind, respectful, and professional when interacting with the community, even if they are volunteers. They should avoid public and private fights with members and they should hold themselves to the same standards expected of members.

I’ve watched communities I enjoyed fall apart because staff constantly fought publicly with members of the community and fought with each other.

You can use all of these considerations to help write rules for your community.

Rules Should Be Clear and Enforceable

Guidelines for a community should be direct and concise. The clearer the rules are, the easier it is for members to follow them. Some rules may require a longer explanation and if this is the case, you could consider linking a document that outlines things with more detail. Usually, these documents are for folks who like to follow a rule to the very letter or for folks who want to flirt with the lines of the rules and see how far they can push things.

Also, I still make one big mistake sometimes – I put “please” a lot in sentences when I write out rules. I do it so often, that I now force myself to read through any rule I write and remove “please” from them. It makes the rule sound polite and nice in my head, but over the years I’ve noticed that people think they don’t really have to abide a rule that is asking nicely. Remove any language that might make it sound like the rules are optional. It will strengthen the language of the rules.

Here are some examples of bad vs. better rules:

Bad Rule:

Please don’t make yourself the center of attention constantly, it’s annoying!

Better Rule:

We do not allow venting, spamming, or trolling.

Bad Rule:

Please, be nice!

Better Rule:

Treat other members with respect and kindness. We do not tolerate Hate Speech, Bullying or Racism.

Transparent Moderation Procedures

It is crucial to outline what happens when someone breaks a rule in your community. Staff should be familiar with this process and, I usually include a condensed version of it in my rules so members are aware. For me, I often follow the “three strikes, you’re out” process unless someone broke a zero-tolerance rule.

  • Strike 1: A gentle reminder, public or private, that we don’t allow the behavior they participated in.
  • Strike 2: A stern but formal warning that we don’t allow the behavior the participated in.
  • Strike 3: They’re out. Ban them.

For Strike 3, sometimes I would explain to the person why we banned them from the community, but it may not always be necessary. It can take a lot of time and effort to write out “here’s why you got in trouble and can’t be apart of this community anymore” so as long as the communication in the past was strong, it’s okay to skip an explanation at that point in my book.

Taking Community Suggestions

Member suggestions can help you improve your community. I’ve had outstanding community requests over the years that helped me create new systems and programs that benefitted the community as a whole. Not all suggestions are gold, though. There will be members who make suggestions with only personal benefit in mind or suggestions that require a lot of time/effort from staff.

When you consider implementing a member suggestion, focus on what will benefit the community the most and not cause burn out for you/your staff. For instance, a massive catalog of creators in your organization would be great! BUT do you have time to put that catalog together and maintain it? Try to do a cost/benefit analysis when you consider a member’s suggestions. Here are some questions that might help:

  • How much time will it take to set this up? How much time will it take to maintain it?
  • Will 50% or more of the community benefit from this suggestion? 80% or more?
  • Is this suggestion in-line with our vision for the community?
  • Will this suggestion add clutter to our community?

The last question is one that can be tricky. The suggestion could be great and easy to maintain, but if a member asks for something that fits a gaming community and you run a writing community, it may be right to say ‘no.’ Compromising your vision/goals for the community can cause a space to become watered down and directionless, so it’s good to keep the vision in mind as you implement suggestions.

And it’s okay to start something based on a suggestion and remove it down the line if it doesn’t get used! I’ve begun programs that did well for the first few months and then took a dive. If something goes a few weeks/months without interaction, it’s okay to re-evaluate the program and remove it. You can always implement it again down the road if you want to!

Join me for Part 3 of Community Creation!

I’ve mapped three parts for this walkthrough, you can them check out here:

Part 1 – Rules, Philosophies, and Platforms

Part 2 – Moderation and Community Management

Part 3 – Community Growth and Branding (Coming Soon)

The last blog in this series will be published in the next week, so be sure to subscribe for updates!

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Aubrey Lyn Jeppson is a Freelance Writer. Who really wants to live in reality all the time? Writing affords her a much needed escape from the mundane into the fantastical. She's always looking for other writers and artists to collaborate with. Email her at aubrey.l.jeppson@gmail.com.

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