Always avoid repressing your members

by Martin Reed on 17 August 2007 in Snippets

It can be all too easy to come down hard on a member who happens to share opinions you disagree with; similarly it can be easy to take action against users who appear to stir up controversy.

You should never forget that your members are your community – if you repress them, you repress your whole community and this can lead to disaster.

Heavy handed moderation means community repression

Repression of your community membersThe most frequent way I see members being repressed in online communities is due to over-zealous enforcement of the site rules.

I am a strong advocate of the laissez-faire approach when it comes to moderation and rule enforcement within online communities.

Rules should be enforced as a last resort – if you come down too hard on your members they will feel hesitant to get involved in any discussions for fear of the consequences. Remember – a community without lively interaction isn’t a community at all.

Very often I see moderators publicly and very sternly telling members that their comments are inappropriate and that they will be punished by way of post or even account deletion if they make a similar comment again in the future.

This is the wrong way of going about ‘reforming’ an individual – not only is this too aggressive an approach to take, the fact it has been made in public has resulted in other members witnessing the wrath of the moderator!

Why you must avoid repressing your members

If your members do not feel comfortable that every single contribution they make is welcome and valued, they will be less inclined to post. You want every single member of your community to love contributing to your online community – you want them to feel obliged to post every thought and comment they have on your forum without hesitation or delay.

If your members hesitate before posting because they fear they’ll be disciplined or humiliated, your community is not in good shape. You should encourage differences of opinion. You should court controversy (within reason!) and you should encourage free and open discussion between your members.

Think about your moderation and rule enforcement practices – are you repressing your members without even realising it?

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Wally August 18, 2007 at 9:23 pm

While I agree with most of what you’re saying here, internet trolls inevitably find any online community. Let’s even just say they’re not trolls but people that want to push the limits just to see where they are.

What I see a lot of forums do is create an Off Topic section where almost anything goes. The other parts of the forums are keep on topic to keep the signal to noise ratio high.

Wally August 18, 2007 at 9:24 pm

Bah, I should proof-read my posts before I click the submit button. Doh. Excuse the grammar errors.

Smiley August 19, 2007 at 3:21 pm

I agree. I did this in the past, ‘scold’ members publically. Not just on my site. I used to do it as a Guide on your own.

Now I’ve learnt it’s really not the best way. Back then I did it because I thought it set an example and reassured members that we want to keep the place friendly and civil.

But it kinda backfires.

Now a’days, if there’s a dispute, I’m more diplomatic about it. I don’t ‘scold’ them. I keep it in PM and keep it much more polite.

More of a ‘request’ as a ‘favour’ than a ‘demand’ for them to not do whatever it is they’ve done.

I think they take it on the chin a lot more then, and carry on contributing.

Martin Reed - Blog Author August 19, 2007 at 3:22 pm

Wally – You’re right; you will often find that some members will deliberately push the boundaries to test what is and what is not acceptable. The key is to ensure you keep any disputes or disciplinary procedures hidden from the rest of your community. The last thing you want is for your members to be afraid to post!

Smiley – Keeping the lines of communication open with troublesome users is always a good idea, as is framing your demands as requests. Who knows – that member (although causing your problems now) may turn out to be your most productive and loyal.

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