Figure out which content you’ve got and archive whatever isn’t working for you, e. g. fulfilling some sort of purpose. Good purposes include building trust and expertise, answering customer questions and facilitating sales. Not such good purposes are things like get some content out there because we’re naked without it!
Archive that Stuff!
For whatever currently published content that does not fulfill a good purpose, either archive it or get rid of it entirely. It does not help you, and it may very well harm your company.
Get someone in charge of content. Not surprisingly, a Content Strategist comes to mind but definitely get someone to steer the ship.
Listen to the customers and the company regarding content. The company may be setting out content that’s confusing to the users. The users may be asking for something that can’t quite work. It may or may not be in the company’s best interests to fix either problem, but at least you’ll know what the issue is and,
Start asking why content exists out there in the first place.
This process begins with a content audit, e. g. know what you’ve got out there. Then talk to the users. And, once you finish these processes, you can start to think of a strategy.
Yes, it’s really that much time before actually creating any content. Why? Because doing the ramp-up now will save a lot of headaches later. Think it’s a bear to audit and check every single piece of content on your site now? How are you going to feel about it next year?
I bet it would thrill to only have as much content to deal with as you have right now, at this very moment. So start swinging that lasso now. It’s time to audit.
I have to say, while I can see where Ms. Halvorson is coming from. Furthermore, there was also a large chunk of the book devoted to, essentially, justifying the Content Strategist’s existence. And perhaps this is necessary with a new discipline – I don’t know. But it does make for an edge of defiance, e. g. this discipline is good enough!
What’s the rest of it? There are really only two areas that I haven’t delved into: Groups and Notes (and keep in mind, FB changes constantly, so these could go away).
Groups: a lot more self-explanatory than you might expect.
They are, of course, a means for people to gather themselves together. Facebook is enormous and so, instead of looking through several million people to try to find someone who likes, say, Star Trek United, you can hunt for a Star Trek group, join it and, voila! Instant collection of people with an interest similar to your own.
Joining in a group affords few obligations. Get invited to a group event? Well, it’s nice to RSVP, but not necessary. New discussion in the group? Well, it’s nice to participate, but you don’t need to. Add photos? Again, lovely, but no one’s holding a gun to your head.
Managing a group differs a tad because it’s good to keep it lively. I’ve already talked a bit about groups before in this series, so I won’t repeat what I’ve said. However, mainly you want to keep discussions going (if any) and interest up. Gathering an enormous number of fans (yes, I know they are called Likes now, but what’s the human term? Likers? That just sounds weird, Facebook) helps with that.
This helps because it’s a somewhat objective means of showing interest in your group or cause or company, but since there’s a proliferation of dual accounts, that’s not necessarily much of an achievement. Plus, since it’s so easy to toss a Share or Like button on any site, and Liking is so easy, having a lot of fans often just means you got your group in front of a bunch of people who are fine with clicking on a Like button, and nothing more. A group with 1,000 fans is not necessarily going to be easier to monetize than a group with only 100.
Notes became yet another means of getting across information. The main difference between them and discussions? The replies seem more like subordinate-appearing comments versus discussion replies.
Yeah, it’s a difference without much of a real distinction.
The main usage I’ve seen for Notes consists of old-fashioned “getting to know you” kinds of notes. You know, the kind where you’re asked your favorite ice cream flavor or the name of your childhood pet. I’ve been on the Internet for over a decade and a half and, frankly, I think I’ve seen all of these by now.
The last bit about Facebook is its very ubiquity. One of the reasons why it is so successful is because it’s, well, so successful. E. g., a long time ago, it hit a tipping point and started to become famous for the sake of being famous, and got bigger pretty much just because it was already huge.
It is well-known to be a worldwide phenomenon. Mentioning it is so obvious, so simple and so well-known that it practically isn’t product placement to talk about it any more, much like mentioning a telephone in a movie isn’t really product placement to give a profit to Alexander Graham Bell’s descendants.
See you online. And, yes, I will friend you if you like.
As a part of our required readings for the social media writing class at Quinnipiac, we read On Writing Well, by William Zinsser. This was a terrific book.
On Writing Well covers a multitude of issues that writers can face. Zinsser gives writers the freedom to occasionally break some rules, or at least to bend them. Moreover, he gives reasons why one type of construction might work better than another.
For Zinsser, the start and the end pack heavy punches. On Page 54, he writes,
“The most important sentence in any article is the first one. If it doesn’t induce the reader to proceed to the second sentence, your article is dead. And if the second sentence doesn’t induce him to continue to the third sentence, it’s equally dead. Of such a progression of sentences, each tugging the reader forward until he’s hooked, a writer constructs that fateful unit, the ‘lead’.”
Not only is this good advice for fiction writing, it’s excellent for report writing and for writing for the web. How many times have we had to slog through a ton of prose before getting to the good stuff? How many times have we tried to hang in there when we’d rather be doing anything but tackling an opaque garbage can full of prose?
Active Versus Passive Tense
Many writers are told to prefer active to passive tense when writing. Zinsser explains why, on Page 67,
“Use active verbs unless there is no comfortable way to get around using a passive verb. The difference between an active-verb style and a passive-verb style – in clarity and vigor – is the difference between life and death for a writer.”
A little over the top, maybe, but it does get the point across.
Don’t dance around your subject. Be bold. And be clear. Be terse.
At least, that’s what Mark Zuckerberg would want us all to think, wish and feel. I can understand that, a desire to make a website about as universal as possible. Once the site stopped being exclusive to collegians, the inevitable business model was to universalize it. And the site, today (although that will probably change), has about the best chance to become a truly universal web experience as any site.
So, are you on the biggest social media site on the planet? About 1.82 billion daily users are, as of this writing (late 2020). But, wait, not so fast. Is that number truly accurate? Absolutely not. After all (and for different reasons), my husband and I each have more than one account. Do you? Even if you don’t, I bet you’ve got at least one friend who does, and probably lots more.
And that is perfectly all right, and is absolutely permitted by the site (although they’d like to change that). And they are trying to….
Facebook also pushes for users to go with their correct names. Why? Because if you can hide behind a username, you might flame people more than if you can’t. Real names also (in theory) help to eliminate duplicates. But in all honesty, how many guys named Mike Brown do you know? I can think of two I’ve known in my life and that figure is probably more like four or five.
Even middle names might not fix such a duplication issue. There are probably several men with the name of Michael David Brown in the world.
Also, though, another use for real names is better marketing. If you Anglicize your name, then an advertiser might miss that you’re Hispanic, and incorrectly market to you.
Not So Fast On Those Real Names
We have all seen names which are not quite so perfectly right, though. How many of us have seen married women using a middle name of something like Was(whatever their maiden name was)? Hence Susan Davis might call herself Susan WasSmith Davis. It’s not a perfect solution, and you don’t really have to do that, anyway. Still, there are plenty of people who do.
Others might place a nickname within the middle name field. Robert Bob Brady, or Richard Dick Daily. But again, they might not have to. The more common nicknames are already going to come up in a search, even though, in both of these examples, the nickname starts with a letter different from the full name.
Still others may try to use stage names, but Facebook would rather you just created a fan page or had someone do so for you. This is not just to nicely help you keep your personal and professional lives separate. It’s also to market to your fan base better.
No Real Name, No, I Mean it, Facebook!
Then there are people who have damned good reasons for never using their real names, such as people escaping domestic violence. Facebook has gotten better and more sensitive when it comes to such needs.
The site’s main purpose (in case you’re just coming into the light after a few years on a desert island), is to sell advertising. Its offshoot purpose is to connect people, of all stripes, for free. But it’s those connections which sell the advertising.
There’s a lot else to it, at least on a general basis. But it’s still a valuable business tool for any Social Media Marketing Campaign.
But never forget: you’re the product Facebook is selling.
The Best Parts of the Site for Social Media Marketing
Facebook’s main virtues, when it comes to your business, can currently be divided into three basic areas:
Personal pages and peripheral connections to same
Company pages and groups and peripheral connections thereto, and,
Offsite connections back to the site
By “peripherals”, I mean all the extra stuff that goes along with the site experience, and not computer hardware peripherals.
The Concept of Universalish Reach at Facebook
Beyond just the sheer numbers, Facebook is extremely good at putting people together who are similar. You always get friend suggestions, yes? Those people tend to either have friends in common with you, or they have some other characteristic in common with you. That ‘in common’ bit might be home town. Or it might be favorite sports team. Another possible connection could be where you work.
Now, let’s face it: if you work in a huge Fortune 50 company, then you’ll have tons of coworkers. And the chances are beyond good that you won’t know everyone. You may not even know everyone in your office building or even on your floor.
So sometimes when a friend request arises, it may feel like a mystery. Hence – look for a commonality.
Clutches of People
But let’s get back to the people you do connect with. It’s perfectly natural to hang out with the people you went to high school with, or who love the same sports team you do. You might feel more comfortable with fellow cancer survivors. Or you might want to set up a political echo chamber. Another thing you might want to do is spend time with people in the same profession as you.
But no matter what, we people tend to group together. It’s a natural tendency. We’ve been gathering together since before there was a Homo sapiens species.
Facebook just exploits that. Really, really well.
And if antitrust cases go one way, they might not in the future. But we don’t know that yet.
(someone just like you, perhaps), what sorts of judgments would you make? What seems off? What’s being suppressed, which should be promoted, and vice versa? Is the picture clear or fuzzy?
The gist of that article is, take control of your information, keep it as a uniform brand and check it every month or so. The corollary to this is one from Shama Hyder Khabani, which is, essentially, don’t spread yourself too thin. Concentrate in only a few places.
My Own Information
Absolutely agreed. When I google my own last name, 32,900 hits come up. And, fortunately, my own website is in the top 2 spots (Yay, SEO!). My Entrepreneur profile (writing I do for work) comes up as third. Fourth is Twitter. Fifth is my LinkedIn profile. Further down the first page yields my two Facebook profiles, then my Amazon author page. And then something from a site called MuckRack (huh?). Finally, there’s my author profile at Businessing Magazine.
Putting my last name into quotation marks yields only 8,420 hits. All of the same usual suspects come up on Page One of the results. And nothing is too weird or scandalous. Even MuckRack, which essentially just scrapes for your name, doesn’t have anything bad. Hey, Yahoo! Finance published me!
How Accurate is the Information?
To my mind, checking and rechecking every single month might just be a bit excessive. Is there a need to keep your profile accurate? Sure. Flattering, or at least not damaging? Yes, particularly if you are looking for work. But to keep it sterile and perfect, as you scramble to make it perfect every moment of every day? Eh, probably not so much.
I would like to think (am I naïve? Perhaps I am) that potential clients and employers will see the occasional typo and will, for the most part, let it slide unless the person is in copyediting. I am not saying that resumes, for example, should not be as get-out perfect as possible. What I am saying, though, is that this kind of obsessive and constant vigilance seems a bit, I dunno, much.
Will the world end if I accidentally type there instead of their on this blog? And, does it matter oh so much if I don’t catch the accident immediately? Even when you consider that I’m a writer. After all, I should know better, yes?
I mean, with all of this brushing behind ourselves to cover up and/or perfect our tracks, and all of the things we are leaving behind, where’s the time and energy to make fresh, new content and look in front of ourselves?
Clean Up Your Presence
To me, there is little joy in reading a blog post or website that looks like it was put together by someone who’s barely literate. But there is also little joy in reading sterile, obsessively perfect websites and blog posts. A little imperfection, I feel, is a bit of letting the ole personality creep in there. Genuineness – isn’t that what the whole Social Media experience is supposed to be about, anyway?
I refuse to believe – I hope and I pray – that a bit of individuality isn’t costing me potential jobs or the company potential clients. And if it is, then that saddens me, to feel that, perhaps, there is a lot of lip service being paid to the genuineness of Social Media but, when the chips are down, it’s just the same ole, same ole.
Genuineness is great. One you can fake that, you’ve got it made? Gawd, please, say it ain’t so.
Social Media Continues its Relentless Pace to Try to Make You Stay Put
It’s a relentless pace out there. And much like the holidays accelerate the end of the year, and we suddenly look up on January 7th or so and wonder just what the hell just happened, social media is continuing to not so much reap the whirlwind as to be the whirlwind. But at the same time, there’s an effort afoot to slow down and control the whirlwind.
Twitter’s Relentless Pace
Case in point: Twitter‘s recent changes are designed to keep people on as long as possible. They do this by embedding media more directly and making it so that you don’t have to leave Twitter’s embrace in order to enjoy a clip or a photograph. So far, so good. But shortened URLs allow for more malware exploits. It’s like one step forward, a step back and another one to the side.
Facebook’s Relentless Pace
Facebook, yet again, looks to change its layout. The profile is going to become richer and provide more information. This may or may not be useful to users but it will certainly keep them on longer. At least, that will happen in the beginning, when it’s a novel concept.
LinkedIn’s Relentless Pace
Long ago, LinkedIn tried adding Signal to make it easier to track even more of the social media avalanche – and, of course, to try to keep people on LinkedIn as long as possible.
Currently, they are using status types of communications. Sounds a lot like Facebook, eh?
The Common Thread
What these changes had in common, other than, perhaps, novelty for the sake of novelty, is the desire to keep people on site as long as possible. Put some tar down, and have us all stick, at least for a while.
So while the internet spins ever faster, and social media sites attempt to keep up, their overall strategies seem to try to slow us all down. Will it work? Is it a foolish dream to think you can keep people around with such tricks, such slick bells and whistles?
Lack of Content
What disturbs me is that there’s not a lot of content happening. And it would, could, should make me want to hang around. Instead of hiring writers to improve things, or rewarding good current content providers, each of the big three sites is instead pursuing a software solution. But what’s the sense in hanging around a site if the content isn’t compelling? Or are we, instead, merely getting the sites that we, perhaps, deserve?
Hence here’s what happens if my Facebook friends list is dominated by people I went to High School with over thirty years ago. Their status updates and my wall have a lot of news of their birthdays, their children and their careers. But isn’t that what we would expect? And if I instead tip my list in a different direction, and it’s suddenly dominated by the people I work with or diet with or do artwork with, the news is going to be different.
In particular, politically, you can see very different versions of each site, depending on your bubble. After all, a lot of us prefer to see people we like and agree with.
Comparison to Reality TV
One thing about Reality TV is that it’s anything but real if it’s at all successful. Because people just, generally, don’t lead terribly interesting lives (yes, you too, gentle reader). We pick up the dry cleaning. Or we bicker over the remote. We forget to buy sausages and make do with hot dogs. And around and around and around we go. And all three of the big social media sites, when we are not following celebrities and businesses, are really just a big agglomeration of Post-It Notes whereby we tell each other to grab milk on the way home. For “Reality” to be compelling at all, it’s got to be unreal, and scripted. It must become this fight or that rose ceremony or this other weird pancake-making challenge.
The big three older social media sites, when you strip away the celebrities and the companies, can be a boatload of errands or a standard-form holiday letter. You know the kind, where you learn little Suzie has taken up the clarinet. Over and over ad infinitum.
No wonder we need software solutions to keep us there. The relentless pace continues.
Community Management Tidbits – Look at Me! Look at Me!
C’mon and look!
Look at Me!
We’ve all seen it done well, and we’ve all seen it done not so well, and even downright poorly. Now let’s look at applying it to your extant community.
A poorly executed marketing strategy cannot only turn off your preexisting users; it can also get your site marked as a Spammer. And the scarlet S can get your site unceremoniously dumped from Google. And that means, essentially, the equivalent of the death of the site.
Long Story Short: Don’t Spam
In order to effectively market your community, you need to cover three kinds of SEO/Marketing. Those are onsite, offsite and offline. Onsite will be covered later in this series, and that information will not be repeated herein. Plus, it may seem a tad counter-intuitive, but onsite SEO is not that big of a deal. Yes, you need good keywords and you need good content. But after that, your optimization and marketing efforts need to move offsite.
Offsite can be (mainly) divided into three areas:
Directories and Search Engines
Social Bookmarking and Networking Sites and
Directories and Search Engines
Let’s start with directories and search engines. You must submit your site to Google. However, don’t submit to any other search engines. Why? Because others’ share of the market is virtually nonexistent. Hence this is a waste of your time, and they will likely pick up your site from Google anyway. So don’t use a blasting service. Heavens, no. You don’t need it and it is absolutely not worth it.
Directories are even easier. For general interest sites, you can start with only submitting to two.
Technorati – only use this if you have a blog. Just submit your blog and copy in the code they give you, and
Alexa – this is less vital than the other one and the metrics are not that great, but it is a free and easy thing to do.
Other directories you can submit to (depending upon your site’s overall purpose) include places like Universal Business Listing, Google Places, CitySearch and Yelp. It can be best to do well locally and rise to the top of the search engine rankings for specific search terms like, say, Indiana Relationship Forums, than to attempt to break into the top rankings for a more general terms, such as Relationship Forums. Consider directories in other languages, too!
Social Bookmarking and Networking
Social Bookmarking and Networking are different animals. Much like for search engines, there is a huge panoply out there, plus it’s tempting to just blast out information. Don’t. You don’t need to.
Only submit your site (and your blog, if you have one) to the following social bookmarking sites:
Forget the dozens of others unless there is a very specific and perfect match between your site and what they bookmark. Because they are mostly tiny, they can be spam factories and they are generally just not worth your time and effort.
Look at These Social Networks
Social networking implies more interactivity, and not just voting links up or down, perhaps laced with the occasional comment.
While there are international ones (and if you’ve got a perfect match between your content and their focus, then by all means establish a presence thereat), you really only care about the following:
Facebook – an official fan page helps for any number of reasons. First of all, it can make your site known to friends, family members, business colleagues and any other connections to your site’s currently existing users. And you can use it to post photographs and links directly back to your site. Furthermore, you can use it as a rallying point during both expected (and unexpected) site outages.
Twitter – even if your users are not, generally, on Twitter, it is still a useful marketing tool. Try feeding in a slice of the site via RSS. Just like with Facebook, this can expand the network of persons who know about your site.
LinkedIn – if your site is attached to a going concern, then at minimum make sure the company listing on LinkedIn is correct. And make sure all of the company’s employees directly linking their profiles to it. Furthermore, make sure your site’s blog and Twitter stream are configured to feed it updates.
Look at More Social Networks
Pinterest – demographics skew heavily female and over thirty-five. Got a restaurant? A shoe store? Wedding products or services? A women’s health collective? A feminist bookstore? Go to Pinterest – but only if you’ve got excellent images.
Got great images but less of a female-centric slant? Consider Instagram instead.
Tumblr – demographics skew heavily under thirty-five and even under twenty-five. Got a video game? An indie film? Go to Tumblr.
Snapchat – demographics skew toward teens and tweens? Consider this fast-moving site for everything from soft drinks to acne cream to fashion.
Backlinking is where you get others to add your site link to their own websites. Back-links help a great deal as Google gives them weight when determining your site’s importance. And that is directly linked to search placement. You always do better when more trusted sites link back to you. Don’t get spammers to link to you.
For your blog, add a blogroll of other sites you admire. Just as importantly, post comments on those sites. This provides value to those other people, so they are more likely to spontaneously wish to link back to you. In addition, don’t leave it all to happenstance. Put a link on your site and approach the webmaster of that site and politely ask for a back-link. Some people are happy to oblige. Others are not, so remove their links from your site after a reasonable amount of time. Some may simply think about it, so give them a little time.
And be reasonable, but also be reasonable with yourself. If you’re not getting link-backs, try to figure out why. Are your requests too aggressive? Or do you ask people with wholly unrelated sites? Do you, perhaps, have no content (or no meaningful content) for them to associate with? Look at your site with a critical eye before throwing in the towel.
Offline Marketing and Optimization
Offline marketing and optimization means going back to techniques used before – shudder – there even was an Internet. Before computers even existed.
Depending upon your budget and your site’s overall purpose, offline marketing can range from something as simple as business cards or baseball caps or tee shirts with the site’s logo to a 30-second spot during the Super Bowl. It can even be completely free. After all, any time you mention your site to someone else, didn’t you just market it?
Look, sitting back and waiting for your site to take off will almost never work. You need to market it, particularly in the beginning. Get your name out there!
You’re doing it. And you’ve got your resume up. You’re answering questions. And you’re joining groups. You’re even meeting people offline. But you aren’t getting an enormous number of invitations to connect.
Or, perhaps, you’re blogging and tweeting. But you’re not getting a lot of readers in either medium. And you’d love to get some of your LinkedIn buddies to read some of your stuff. Maybe you want to use your writing and social media skills as a part of your overall job search strategy.
So the most obvious place to look, and to fix, is your Profile page.
Just like with a resume, a news story, or even if you were trying to sell your home, it pays to spruce up the first thing people see. Hence special care should be taken, as this is your first (and it may very well be your only) chance to make an impression. There are any number of things you can do to assure that this impression is a positive one.
And, you can even use it to help you drive a little traffic to your own website and/or blog. Here’s how:
Make sure that you make use of all available fields, and customize these as you are able.
Next, list your blog.
and I also recommend adding Twitter.
So assuming that your resume has been integrated in its entirety, your next task should be to update the summary and specialties sections in your profile page. First of all, the specialties section is essentially just for keywords, so load them up. However, the summary section should be more grammatical. So don’t make it an old-fashioned and generic personal statement. Instead, highlight your main differences here.
Finally, with a little polish, your front door (profile page) can look mighty inviting to all.
There isn’t a lot that you can do about this. You can, however, stretch out the individual phases.
The first phase is discovery. It all starts with excitement. The user has found your forum! It seems huge! The user can’t possibly read everything. It’s all too much. It’s heady, and the user may very well tell everyone he or she knows about you. Or, the user might want you all to him or herself. Either can happen.
The next phase is nesting. The user makes friends and starts to get into an enclave or two. Enclaves are little groups within your forum, whether formal or informal. Even if your forum does not have actual designated groups, per se, this still happens. In a single fathers’ community, for example, a user might hang around with other users who became first-time fathers after the age of forty. In a folk music forum, a user might spend time with (and follow around) other users from Ohio.
This is perfectly normal – a carving of familiarity in an alien sea. But it does set up the next phase.
The next phase is boredom. The community has too much sameness and does not seem to be changing quickly or thoroughly enough for a user’s taste. But the user sticks around, however, grudgingly.
The final phase is departure. Whether that comes with a bang (a user suspension) or a whimper (the user simply fails to sign in any more), is immaterial. Or, there is a third type of endgame, where the user posts a topic about their departure. This topic can be fond, hostile or even a ploy to get other users to beg that person to stay.
Does it always have to be this way? Well, this kind of a cycle is more or less inevitable. The trick is to stretch out the first two phases, discovery and nesting, as much as possible, or to have the user cycle back from boredom to nesting again (e. g. to find a different group to hang with). Or, a positive situation would be if the boredom phase were at least short (and put off) so that the departure phase would not be a suspension. And it would be less fraught with meaning. A user taking leave, no matter how popular that user is, will leave behind less of a hole if he or she is a part of a 100,000-person forum versus a 100-user community.
How do you do this? By phases, of course!
The Discovery phase of the circle game has two essential elements: new users and new topics. Increase both with good SEO and with encouraging as much user participation as possible.
The Nesting phase can be encouraged and promoted by keeping your community a safe, warm and welcoming place. Having formal specific groups is not strictly necessary for this, but it can be of help if your users are struggling in this area. And, if you do go with formal groups, ask your users which groups they would like. They might surprise you. And it (almost) doesn’t matter whether a group is terribly active. It will still serve its purpose, to continue to afford your users with a friendly place within the forum, even if it is small. This is a place they can call their own.
The Boredom phase of the circle game can be delayed and/or truncated by keeping the twin flows of new users and new topics going. This means more and better SEO, offering new features and encouraging your users to continue adding new, interesting and diverse topics. Can’t think of new topic fodder? So try taking a stand on a controversial subject, or ask for comments on a related news article. Or look in your archives, and see if an older subject might benefit from a fresh, new take.
Finally, the Departure phase of the circle game can, of course, be put off if the first two phases stretch out. When departure happens, don’t ask most users to stay. Unless you have a very tiny forum, this kind of behavior will be impossible to scale. And it generally doesn’t put off the inevitable for too terribly long. Instead, try to find out from the user just why they are leaving. Except for purely personal, internal circumstances (e. g. the user just started a new job and has no time for your community any more), there may be something you can learn from and improve on. And asking why will also give you an opportunity, not to entreat the user to stay, but to let the user know that he or she is welcome to return at any time.
Your users’ interest in your community will wax and wane. You cannot always do anything about it, but if an effort is made, your users are generally going to appreciate that. And your circle game will go on.
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.
A troll is, essentially, a disruptive presence.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.