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How to Deal With Disruptive Community Members

Written by Molly Talbert | on August 25, 2015 at 10:00 AM


We love our communities and members. For the most part, everyone participating is collegial, helpful and respectful—which is why members keep coming back, posting and collaborating with each other.

Sometimes, there’s that one member (or maybe several) who provoke in conversations. Maybe the provocation is outright and obvious. Other times, it is subtler and nuanced, but gives you a bad feeling. Maybe the member is trying to stir the pot, or they’re oblivious to their impact. Either way, something must be done to maintain the respectful environment you’ve been cultivating.

When this discussion came up on HUG, our users’ group, several community managers weighed in on the discussion. Each of them had dealt with occasional poor behavior, including users being antagonistic yet subversive enough that it was hard to spot or call out violations.

Sometimes a “tough love” approach can go far. Since you’re the moderator, protecting your community, decide what behaviors you want to see and what you don’t want to see. Clearly state those parameters in your community guidelines. Once those parameters have been set, don’t be afraid to enforce them. You’re the boss here! If someone strays into territory you deemed dangerous or counter productive for the community, don’t be afraid to take action and uphold the standards that everyone agreed upon when joining your community.

Don’t worry – your community guidelines don’t need to become too long and demanding. Sometimes simpler is better. One participant in the HUG discussion suggested something simple and concise: “Be nice. Own your own words. Assume good intent. Keep it relevant. Share – don’t sell.”

Another way of creating guidelines is to make them positive – outline what members can talk about – rather than the traditional, restrictive guidelines. Flickr, the photo sharing website, took a similar approach. In their guidelines, they created a “Things to do” list and “Things not to do” list for all community members. It’s easy to look over quickly and understand what is and isn’t allowed.

However you establish guidelines for your community, it is just important to enforce them and set a precedent. Luckily, this shouldn’t be too hard since it is pretty easy for most members to follow.

What if you see someone continually breaking the rules? Take a few moments to pick up the phone and call them. Maybe they don’t know they’re breaking the guidelines or that their posts are coming off as a little brusque. Here is an opportunity for connection and education. Sometimes intent and/or tone can be lost in translation when posting and people don’t realize how they’re coming across.

“My assumption is that people just don’t know better until they prove otherwise,” said Cindy Taylor, the systems coordinator for the Association of Independent School Admissions Professionals. “…Honestly with some heated topics, people just feel passionately and get out of hand and it’s not their true nature.”

Although there are certainly posts that need to be deleted or members who need guidance on how to remain constructive, all conflict isn’t inherently bad for your community. In Buzzing Communities, Richard Millington says that conflict is, in fact, an essential part of community. In anew community, members are too hesitant to be honest and just want to all get along. In a truly developed community, members are able to honestly express themselves and have established ways of dealing with conflict. A certain amount of debate is important and healthy. 

What are your methods for keeping up community guidelines and creating a positive online space?

Topics: Online Community Management, Member Experience, Online Community

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