What happens when a member posts a negative or inflammatory comment in your community?
Negative comments, or "detractors," in your community aren’t a bad thing -- you shouldn’t shy away from tension if you want an interesting, valuable and relevant community. In fact, negative comments are usually a great opportunity for an organization to demonstrate transparency and a culture of openness in a controlled area, rather than in places like Facebook, LinkedIn or Yelp where you have no control.
People in online communities will talk
There's a saying: "The conversation is happening whether you're listening or not."
If a member voices a concern related to the profession or industry -- or even about the organization itself -- odds are other members have similar thoughts. They may already be discussing amongst themselves or on other platforms, and if you don’t know what they’re saying anything, can’t respond to their concerns -- or don’t even know the conversations are happening in the first place.
It's best to address member concerns head-on, and open up a dialogue about the issue -- don’t delete posts or completely shut down a member just because they have an opinion you don’t like. Now is the time to show your company’s transparency and how much you value member feedback, even if it isn’t what you want to hear.
Here are seven reasons those detractors and negative comments on your community aren’t as bad as you might think:
1. Better Than Social Media
Unlike general social platforms, like LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter, branded communities are self-selecting. Most professional online communities are by their very nature "private" and made up of industry professionals who joined the organization to network, learn and share with other like-minded individuals. Members were probably vetted by a membership application process and have a social stake in how they’re perceived in the community. Having “negative” conversations in your community keeps it amongst the people who are actually affected by the conversation, rather than opening it to the general public. And the comments and insights that come out of those conversations are from people who really care about the topic, rather than random people lending their opinion.
2. Less Anonymous
There are pros and cons for anonymous post in your community -- some think it opens up conversations, others think it unleashes trolls. In your community, you have the power to decide which side you stand on. On other platforms, you don’t have control -- posters can add anonymously or pseudonymously, and leave untraceable comments.
In your community, member profiles are populated with full names, contact information, bios, personal and professional information. It's a living, breathing resume with all their community contributions attached -- every post, document or resource they’ve shared. Personally identifying information visible to other members means that people are completely accountable for their activities in the community. When professional reputations are at stake, people are significantly less likely to be negative -- it doesn’t mean they can’t be critical about your organization, it just means their comments will stay more in line.
3. Create Clear Community Guidelines
It’s important you set the stage when people first join your community. Create comprehensive community guidelines every member must follow and be familiar with. They don’t have to be cumbersome, but all users must agree to the terms in order to access the community.
Rather than writing a long list of things you don’t want members to do, take this as an opportunity to educate and outline what you expect. You can even add a section about productive ways to disagree with members, so people know the difference between good conversation and detractive disagreements.
In many cases, the terms clearly explain that participation must "add to the organization's body of knowledge." It’s also important to outline the consequences for breaking the terms and conditions, such as a “Three strikes, you’re out” rule.
4. Come Up With a Plan
Before you even launch the community, proactively outline steps to take if,and when, someone writes an inflammatory or inappropriate comment. Your policy may involve creating a core team of respected members ready to respond quickly to negative comments in a constructive, open manner. After all, these community leaders are the ultimate defenders of the organization's decisions and direction -- you’re not always the best person to defend the organization. Fellow members are, since they’re in the same peer group as everyone else.
5. Don't Autosubscribe Everyone to Everything
You want robust discussion and high engagement. Should you auto-subscribe all members to certain discussions? There are pros and cons for auto-subscription or self-subscription depending on what your goals are.
If your organization is still concerned about certain members or groups of members, don't auto-subscribe them for everything. Instead, auto-subscribe only the segments of your membership likely to keep discussions productive and professional, such as special interest groups or governance entities. If you know of a user you think might be problematic, simply don't auto-subscribe them. A "detractor" can have a much larger impact if they start posting negative comments during your launch when the community is young, versus after the community has been established.
This doesn’t mean they won’t eventually sign themselves up, but not auto-subscribing is a small preventative measure when you first start your community.
One important point: don’t assume they’ll behave badly. If you do, you could enact a self-fulfilling prophecy. Give them the benefit of the doubt, make sure they know the rules, and they may surprise you.
6. Enforce the Guidelines
Remember, you can always put detractors on probation, moderate their contributions or take them out of the community altogether -- if you included those steps in your community guidelines. Outright removing a member from the community is usually pretty rare, but it’s a card you can play if needed.
Make sure to document the process and give them written warnings than can be referenced. It’s also important you are able to point to the specific rule they broke.
7. Remember: You're In Charge
A good community manager doesn’t run for the hills when someone posts something negative. Instead, they will recognize and appreciate the member's candor and have a plan for how to deal with it. Embrace a culture of openness and promote transparency within the organization. And be prepared to act swiftly, according to the established plan, when you have to deal with those issues. Remember, with the right plan in place, your biggest detractors can sometimes become your best promoters.
If you don't have a plan in place to deal with detractors, work on creating one now -- don’t be caught off guard if or when something happens. The best way to mitigate the situation is to respond openly and quickly -- with a plan in place and leadership support, you can turn that negativity around.