Categories
Community Management

Community Management Tidbits – Drawn to Scale

Community Management Tidbits – Drawn to Scale

Community Management Tidbits – Drawn to Scale – There are little forums, and there are big ones. And there are forums with a very personal touch, and those without. It should come as no great shock to most people that smaller communities tend to have a more personal slant than much larger ones.

Getting Started

When you first start your community, like it or not, you will be building traditions. Perhaps your organization welcomes everyone personally, either in a topic or by sending a private message. Maybe you even mail out some swag the old-fashioned way, using the postal system. Or you write it up in a newsletter.

Growing

This is all perfectly fine when you’ve got a community of fewer than 100 users. But what happens when you hit 1,000 users? Or 10,000? Or, like Able2know, the site I’ve been managing since its inception in 2002, where you go from 2 users to over 950,000??? And of course there will be more to come.

Suddenly those nice personal touches become nice for everyone but you and your staff. Suddenly, they are nothing more than a burden, like a nest full of baby birds, constantly demanding a feeding. Yesterday.

When they don’t scale, they start to really stink after a while.

Setting Expectations

Hence you must start setting expectations early. If you want to welcome everyone, recognize that, if you can automate at least some of that (or delegate it), then it will be far more sustainable for far longer. Many forms of forum software allow the administrative team to send out a private message upon an event. One such event can be confirmation of an email address and/or a completed registration. Hence you can set up your software to send out a welcoming message.

Welcoming Messages

What should your welcoming message say? Only you truly know your users. What you say to the members of a gun owners’ forum will probably differ from what you say to a board dedicated to people looking for international pen pals. But either way, there are a few messages you might want to get across, no matter what your audience:

  • Welcome to the site!
  • Here is a link to the site rules
  • Come and introduce yourself (if you’ve got a specific topic or forum where people are supposed to introduce themselves, put the link here)
  • You can find forum announcements/the site blog/major news here
  • And here’s where you go for help or if you have an issue (this is where a link to your Help Desk, or the address for support, should go) and
  • Here is how to get your account removed, if you allow that.

Scale and Respect Your Users’ Time and Interest Levels

Including all of that information will help to head off some newbie questions at the pass. But don’t make the message too long as no one will read all of it. All you can hope for is for a good minority (say, 30% of your users) to read or skim most of the message, so make it short and bulleted. Hence it should comprise more of a reference than a one-stop shopping place where your users can find answers to their questions. And that will help to assure it can fulfill at least some of its purpose. User-centered, information-centric design is key here.

The personal touch is lovely, and you may still wish to use it every now and again. Certainly if you bring in a larger staff, it will allow for some of that, or at least allow for it longer. But if it gets away from you, don’t be afraid to scale and go to an automated solution. After all, no one expects Facebook to send a personally tailored note whenever they join the site or make a change in their status or friends list.

May your site become that large, too.

Categories
Community Management

Community Management – Snakes in the Garden

Community Management Tidbits – Snakes in the Garden

Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?

It’s inevitable. Virtually every community open to the public is going to get its share of trolls and spam. To keep from being overrun, you need to be vigilant.

Trolls

A troll is, essentially, a disruptive presence.

Community Management Tidbits - Snakes in the Garden
Troll in Trondheim (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But know your community. Chances are that a community of young mothers will have a far different tolerance level for disruptions versus a community of gun enthusiasts. And disruption also has a situational definition. Because a community of atheists very likely does not want to hear from someone extolling the virtues of prayer. Similarly, a community of fish owners may not wish to read about how to make fish ‘n chips. Or maybe they do.

Shaping the Dialogue

You, as the Community Manager, can shape the dialogue. And one thing you can do is to help dictate the community’s response to, and level of tolerance for, off-topic digressions. For example, with the possible exception of a dating site, few communities will welcome new people as their main subject of conversation. Yet every community probably should have a means for the currently existing membership to welcome newbies. This is not only common courtesy; it can help newbies to stick around. So decide just how much going off-topic you wish to allow.

Getting Help

Next, enlist your super user(s). A super user is, essentially, someone who loves the site, is around a lot and probably makes a lot of good or at least decent content. These people can often be tastemakers so you can enlist their assistance to defuse a troll’s behaviors or bring discussions back on track. Or, at least, these people can take the lead in creating and promoting other content, thereby burying and nullifying a troll’s handiwork. Furthermore, if your super users can create, promote and magnify their own content, that can assist your other users in wielding a great and powerful weapon against trolls: ignoring them.

Technological Solutions

Another solution is to use blocking software, either to suspend the troll’s posting privileges or to curtail them. Or, if available, allow your users to electronically ignore a troll (or at least demote or vote down that person’s posts), by either blocking the troll’s posts or disproportionately promoting those of their friends.

Going Nuclear

Completely suspending a troll from all usage of, and interaction on, your site is something of a nuclear option. It does not mean you should never use this tactic, although I would advise you to use it relatively sparingly. After all, a troll may simply be someone unused to forums, who charged in without looking. Tone and humor are hard to gauge, even with a liberal sprinkling of emoticons. Everyone has bad days and your “troll” could actually be a perfectly good member, or even a superstar user, in disguise, if properly nurtured. So go easy on the heavy-handed moderation if you can. Pick your moments and battles: a person urging suicidal members to go through with it should not be tolerated, but isn’t a debate among music lovers about the merits of Bach versus Mozart, well, healthy?

Spam

Onto spam. Spam is essentially a form of commercial speech. You first need is to define it in your Terms of Service. You may wish to allow your members to promote their own blogs but not their own commercial ventures. Or you may be more tolerant of commercial speech if it’s more on topic (say, a parts dealer’s site being touted on a Chevy enthusiasts’ board). However, you need to get this rule clear, and you need to be consistent in its enforcement. You will, inevitably, miss an exception or two. Accept that as just something that’s going to happen, post your rules and move on. And make certain to make it clear that the Terms of Service may be subject to one-sided changes at any time. This is not the time to ask for a vote by the site’s membership.

Zero Tolerance for Spam

Once you have spam defined, you really should go with a zero tolerance policy. First off, it’s easy to be overrun if you’re not careful. Plus, if you allow spam to remain on your site, you are allowing the spammers to piggyback on your SEO. Excise them and their messages quickly and, unlike in the case of trolls, don’t be afraid to rapidly go to the nuclear option.

You will, inevitably, get appeals on any form of communication you’ve provided to the membership, whether it’s in the form of a Help Desk ticket, a feedback form, an email address you’ve made public, a “contact us” link or something else. Monitor these channels and investigate every appeal. Some will be groundless, while others might not be. So, if it’s at all possible, make sure that you have fully reversible means for excising potentially spammy messages.

Enlist Your Membership to Help

Also, provide your general membership with the means to report spam and get those snakes out of there. The membership will not always perfectly understand your rules or apply them consistently and fairly. But that’s not their job. All you need is a report, and for them to be your eyes and ears on the ground. You, of course, should also be checking, along with your moderating team if you have one. But give your membership the means to report spam and they can help you. They want to help you.

Trolling and spamming are not the signs of a failed forum. To the contrary, they are often signs of success, that your forum is large enough that spammers wish to market to your members or trolls seek to shake them out of complacency. Spamming and trolling only indicate a failed forum if you let them take over your site, drive out all other means of interaction, and those snakes send your other members scurrying for the hills.

Next: Analytics

Categories
Career changing Community Management Content Strategy Social Media

The Deal Behind Online Community and Social Media Job Descriptions

The Deal Behind Online Community and Social Media Job Descriptions

Social Media Job Descriptions! This is a shout-out to Blaise Grimes-Viort, Community Manager extraordinaire. His older blog post still rings true today.

The Deal Behind Online Community and Social Media Job DescriptionsSo in 2010 (it was his most popular blog post), Blaise outlined some differences in Social Media job descriptions.

Blaise’s Theory

His thinking is: there are internal and externally-facing types of jobs. And the internally-facing ones tend to look more like Community Management, e. g. what I do for Able2know. Those tasks include pulling spam, making peace among the users, interpreting site statistics and measurements, or scrubbing graffiti tags. Furthermore, they can also include adding correct tags to topics, and working on that site’s Help Desk. Those jobs tend to be called Community Manager, Head of Online Community, etc. Content Strategist and Content Curator seem to fit into this bucket as well. However, those other jobs can be more about promoting content rather than serving those who make it.

On the other hand, externally-facing jobs are more like what I did for Neuron Robotics. Because in that role, I attended events on behalf of the company, conducted product demonstrations, did outreach and sales, communicated with potential customers, etc. Hence those jobs tend to have words like Marketing or Marketer in their titles.

Blogging seems to be either external or internal. However, it all begs the question, though: what happens when you’ve got skills in both areas? Must you choose one or the other? See, this is what’s been bothering me, all along, about the whole Social Media career-changing experience. There seems to be a requirement that a person drop themselves into one pigeonhole or another.

And I say, why can’t I be in both?

So for more information, check out Blaise’s February 8, 2010 blog entry and make please help to make it even more popular. Kudos to him!