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Tension in Your Community is Good

Written by Molly Talbert | on December 21, 2015 at 10:00 AM

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone just got along? It’s nice to daydream, but it’s not going to happen (and who wants smooth sailing all the time, anyway?). As a community manager, it can be tempting to tiptoe around members and quash any bubbling conflict, tensions or heated debates. After all, you’re trying to cultivate a welcoming, supportive environment, right?

Although you’re coming from the right place -- a place where you care about your members and the community’s longevity -- it’s actually a disservice to quell all the tension. One of Higher Logic’s own community managers, Jenny Taylor, wrote about this misconception in a recent blog post. We aren’t saying compromise on respect -- respect is a given -- but tension and differing opinions are important and increase your community’s value.

Why do people go to communities?

On a basic level, people go to communities to give and receive relevant information. Community members want to learn new things and derive satisfaction from contributing and educating fellow members. They participate in the community by talking with each other, giving their opinion and listening to other people. These discussions are where many members find real value.

So what if everyone is on the same page? What if no one offers up an alternative idea, or has a unique point of view that sparks conversation? Is there really value in the community? Debate and tension often push community, in a good way, to elevate conversations and increase the value. Contributors feel as if their ideas are being heard and are important, while readers benefit from seeing many different angles, choosing one that works best for them. Tension doesn’t mean nasty fights and unproductive arguments -- it means productive debates, showing multiples sides of an issue and discussing pros and cons. As Richard Millington spoke about in a recent blog post, people are much more likely to leave a community because it is boring than because there are rivalries and tension.

Community members want to be authentic online

In order for members to feel comfortable engaging in a community, they simultaneously need to feel a level of autonomy and support. When those two needs are met, they’re able to express themselves truthfully and know that, if they do so respectfully, they’re supported and their contributions are valued. Giving members the reins can be scary -- if they’re expressing themselves truthfully, occasional tension is inevitable! Not only does that tension show a level of comfort among members, but it’s a signal that your community is maturing. Why does community maturity matter? According to our benchmarking report, the more mature a community, the more ROI organizations usually receive from it.

Be proactive -- make a guide that’s easy to follow

Although tension is good and you certainly can count on it, don’t wait to come up with a plan. Before launching your community, create a comprehensive playbook for members. Outline what kinds of behavior you expect from members and create a guide to help people deal with tension and resolve conflict. This should be a document that all new members see and seasoned members can refer back to as needed.

Equally important is to outline what you do not want to see in the community and what the community isn’t for in this document. Not only does this help people clearly understand expectations, but it helps them align more closely with the community and bond with fellow members.

Finally, it’s your job as community manager to demonstrate those rules and guidelines in action. It doesn’t mean you should dive head first into every single debate, but you can show proper respect and conflict resolution in real time. Since you’re the leader of the community, be an excellent model for your members; they’ll know who to emulate and go to for advice they can trust.

Just because tension is good doesn’t mean people won’t test the boundaries and big issues won’t arise. Be on the lookout for disrespectful or detracting behavior, and make sure it is addressed. Knowing good tension from unproductive tension can be a fine line, but it’s one every successful community manager learns how to toe.

How do you deal with tension in communities? Have you created a guideline so members/clients know what to do and what not to do?


Topics: Online Community Management, Engagement, Online Community

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