How to delete community members (sort of)

by Martin Reed on 7 July 2011 in Snippets

You don’t want members to go AWOL on your community. It stands to reason then, that the very last thing you ever want to do as a community manager is actually delete someone’s account. However, members will sometimes request that you do just that.

Depending on the reason, you might want to wait a couple of days for the member to cool off. If this doesn’t work, or there are circumstances behind the request that you sympathize with, you can ‘delete’ an account without disrupting your community too much.

When you use the automated tools that come with most community software packages, you lose all the content a member contributed when you delete their account. Not only is this a loss to the entire community, it can make existing discussions confusing and difficult to follow if the member you are deleting contributed to them.

Instead of deleting a member, here is what I normally do:

1. Change the member’s username.
2. Clear the member’s profile data.
3. Delete/edit the member’s email address.
4. Change the password so the account can no longer be accessed.

Now, the member is no longer associated with your community or personally identifiable and the community doesn’t lose existing content.

This may not work in every case, but it’s a good first option to discuss with your want-away member.

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Tommy T May 10, 2012 at 4:16 am

I tried this a couple of times, but the problem I got then was they would carry on e-mailing me complaining about the posts they’ve made still on the site.

But if somebody does request their account to be deleted, I do wait 24 hours before replying. Usually they do cool off, then the next day I message them, and ask them what is wrong, if there’s anything I can do, not to worry about what ever has happened, if they need anything I’m their friend and they can talk to me etc. More often than not this approach works. If they’re adamant about being deleted though, there’s not much you can do about it at the end of the day. Sometimes you just have to accept to cut your losses, and learn from what ever made the member so determined to be deleted.

One thing I -never- do, however, is delete inactive user accounts. I’ve seen far too many communities who go “oh he hasn’t been online for over a week, delete it”. *bangs head on desk*