Worst Case Scenarios in Online Community

What a way to start the day, with a good gripe session about the troubles with managing a community. It was most amazing hearing stories of flare-up's in other online communities.. it helped me remember, hey, the flare-ups which have occurred in the communities I manage are not unique. Of course I knew that, I've been involved with online community since the 1980's, but somehow I forgot that and part of my mind believed our problems were unique.

It's just a fact.. some of the users of any forum will not fit well with the community. They'll be causing trouble, they'll see authority as the enemy, they'll keep pounding away at their truth over everybody else, they'll be abrasive and abusive, etc. Each situation is different but they will happen. There are human beings involved with online community, and human beings will be, well, uh, human?

This wasn't just a gripe session but geared to sharing what we learned from dealing with our problem users.

Managing change can be hard - the users grow attached to things being the way they currently exist, and change can be threatening. But change is necessary.. the recommendation was, for a major change, to announce the change, give 6-8 weeks for the change to sink in, then do it. "Major change" in this case was a radical change in the membership requirements. A longer transition time was found to be a negative.

Supervillians -- sometimes a problem user is so bad you think about banning them (or worse.. ). But what happens after the banning? If it's trivial for the user to create a new account perhaps they'll return again, and again, and again, and again. They can become a martyr and become stronger each time. It depends on how the banning plays out in the community. It's best to avoid banning and to avoid this whole scenario to begin with, some suggestions of other ways are:-

  • Probation periods (temporary ban)
  • Don't feed the troll/argument.. engaging in the argument, no matter how tempting, just feeds the argument..
  • Establish a venting area where there are no rules and it's purpose is to blow off steam
  • Have a mode where a posting is hidden from everybody but the poster.. this is a tricky way to fool a "griefer" into thinking they're speaking their piece but without the griefer's words bothering others.. it can blow up on you if the griefer finds out what you did... oh what a tangled web we weave
  • Make people earn the right to post.. such as requiring a period of lurking before they can post
  • Never rise to the bait that would lead into an argument
  • Don't publicly chastise
  • Be consistent
  • Take disputes offline if only because an offline conversation can be different than a public one

Trouble makers might make good moderators.. maybe.. That was a recommendation but I have a hard time believing this one.

Your members, however, can make for very good member ambassadors and very good moderator teams. Sometimes unpaid member volunteers will for some reason feel motivated to spend hours and hours working with the community.

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