Last week Angela Connor spoke about abuse she received from a member of an online community she manages. Angela said:
Am I a little miffed? Somewhat. But, I’m more annoyed than anything. That isn’t something you expect to have to deal with or see, particularly in the workplace. But, life goes on, and I’ll continue to do what I do, and do it well.
Unfortunately, I would suggest that this kind of abuse is something that you should expect to have to deal with and see if you are a community manager. Sure, you may not have had any trouble up to now, but trust me – it’ll come. I am glad to see that this incident didn’t make Angela rethink her role or duties and that she recognises that she is doing her job well. The fact is, if she was doing her job badly, she would never have received this abuse in the first place.
Online community manager, not online community friend
People are only abusive towards people that don’t do as they are told. As an online community manager, you do the telling – you control your community and its members. If you have taken action against someone because they broke your site rules, you may well receive some abuse in return. Don’t get upset by this – abuse simply proves that you are doing your job effectively.
Yes, you should get involved in your online community and share your personality with your members. You shouldn’t aim to be a friend, though. Friends stick around pretty much unconditionally – sometimes as a community manager, you’ll need to dish out some tough love. This may mean taking action against a member that you have been pally with, or who is popular within the community.
The fact you like a member, or the fact they are popular in your community does not give them license to break your site rules. Being scared of a member is not an acceptable option. If you need to take action against a member, then you need to take action. Sometimes this will result in abuse, but so be it.
See abuse as a positive
Of course, you shouldn’t aim to get members so frustrated or upset that they want to become abusive – that should never be your aim. The fact is though, that some people cannot accept the authority of others. You exercise authority over members simply by virtue of the fact you are the community manager. People may not have a problem with this, and you may love your job but this may well change as soon as you need to take action against a member.
If a member becomes abusive, you have proved that they are the kind of person you don’t want as a member of your community. If you ever had any doubt that your decision to moderate or take action against a member was the right one, as soon as a member becomes abusive you know for a fact that you have done the right thing.
I have received some horrific abuse in my years as an online community developer/manager. On more than one occasion I have been told to ‘watch my back’, to ‘listen out for a knock at my door’, that my site will be destroyed. Nothing came of these threats – keyboard warriors are rarely the big tough guys they make themselves out to be.
In an ideal world, members would accept the authority and actions of a fair, professional online community manager. The majority do. However, when you need to take action make sure that you are prepared for any potential consequence. Expect to receive abuse – that way, you’ll be less shocked and upset if you get it. If you don’t, then great. If you do, make sure you don’t accept it.
The bottom line is this: effective online community managers will get abuse hurled at them from time to time. If you have been managing a community for a long period of time and have never received objectionable messages from your members, I would argue that you are either living in cloud cuckoo land, or you are not being an effective community manager.
Do you think it is possible to be an effective community manager and never receive any abuse in return? Am I wrong when I suggest that you should expect abuse from members from time to time? How do you deal with abuse in your online community? Share your thoughts, opinions and experiences by leaving a comment below.