Community Management: Tales of a Glorified Pool Cleaner

Jun 13 2012   11:06AM GMT

Setting the Tone for Your Community

Chris Leonard Chris Leonard Profile: Chris Leonard

In the first few entries, I focused on some rather conceptual ideas.  This entry will be a bit more concrete as we discuss how to set the tone for your community.  Whether you have just launched new social media endeavor or you have a long standing forum or blog, finding and maintaining the proper tone for your site is of paramount importance.  The tone you set for your site is a signal to everyone who visits as to what behaviors are allowed and how to treat others.

So how does one set a tone?  Well, it’s not all that easy and it’s not a set it and forget it kind of thing. Tone has to be held and maintained. You have to work with your mods and your users to maintain it.This is done through 4 main tools and processes

  1. Your Site Rules
  2. Working with your moderators
  3. Engaging with your users
  4. Managing user-to-user interactions

Strong forum rules keep everyone in line and everyone from yourself, your organization, your mods and your users safe. The majority of users want clear and accessible forum rules to know what exactly they can and should not do. Of course you’ll have line steppers and those who feel the rules are too restrictive, but you are not writing for them.Another key is to make sure your rules are applied as evenly as possible.As in every aspect of life, your forum will have people who are more valuable than others (your 1%, we’ll talk about them in a future entry) and those whom you personally like or dislike.Do your level best to treat them all the same way in public when rules are broken.

In most instances, your moderators will spend more time functionally engaging your social media sites than you will. They are the front line of tone setting. Make sure they understand how you want them to engage the user base and all of them are acting more or less with the same focus.Having an extremely harsh or lenient individual moderator can lead to problems as their actions can be seen as precedent setting by your users.Spend some of your time reviewing the interactions of your moderators with the user base and adjust accordingly.

Engage your users when they step the lines or try to cause problems. Arguments and personal animosities between users are going to crop up. Your job is to separate the parties when it moves beyond a technical discussion into personal attacks. Unless it’s obvious that one party is completely to blame, you need to pull both aside privately and just tell them to cool it.You don’t want to spend a lot of time in he said she said arguments or playing the sides.Just get them to agree to leave each other alone. Praise in public, rebuke in private unless you want a war.Your users have more time than you do to argue, dissemble your words, and search the site for instances where things were handled differently.It’s generally not worth it.

If you allow doorkeepers to hammer every noob question upon arrival, you’ll lose a lot of potential members.  From my own experience I usually ask a tepid question the first time I post in a forum or a blog.  I want to make sure that the members are decent people and gauge the level of experience/knowledge therein before fully committing.  If I’m greeted by a surly individual and no one shows up to say “Ignore Mark, he’s like that. I’m Don, How can I help…” I usually don’t stick around. It’s especially bad form if your moderators act like this as it signals your community that it’s open season on noobs and everyone else for that matter.  Don doesn’t even have to be particularly helpful. He just needs to show that that type of abuse is not allowed.  Being “Don” is a habit you need to get your moderators into.  Again being friendly and helpful even if they are simply bridging the gap until someone truly knowledgeable can answer the question that has been asked.

So what to do about “Mark”?  Private Message – stop doing that.Simple and to the point.Get him to acknowledge this.

You’ll know you’ve set the proper tone when your user base commits to helping you maintain it.

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