As your online community grows in popularity, you will need to deal with a number of different personalities in order to ensure the continued harmony of your community. You will also have to deal with abusive members, who may become increasingly persistent as your site becomes more popular. During this time it is essential that you do not lose sight of the fact that you are still in charge.
Considering the opinions and wishes of your community members
If you fail to consider the opinions of your members when making decisions, you risk alienating your membership base. If community members feel unvalued and ignored, they will soon lose interest and the loyalty they have to your site will diminish. That being said, it is important for you to remember you are still in charge and have the final say when it comes to decision making.
If you are thinking of introducing a new feature, or changing the design of part of your site, you should always consult your members. Even if you don’t implement all their suggestions, the fact that they have been asked will make your members feel valued and add to their sense of shared ownership of the community. Community members like to feel as though they are involved in the future development of the site – by involving them as much as possible, you will be strengthening this perception and increasing their loyalty to your site.
At the same time though, you need to make the final ‘judgement call’ as to whether what your members want is right for your community. I would be very wary about going against the popular sentiment of your community – after all, your main priority as a community developer is to keep your members happy. However, at times your members may make requests which you do not wish to fulfil – they may want you to lift the ban on a persistent abusive member, or introduce a feature which is currently out of your budget. These are the times when you need to remember who is the boss. You are in charge, and you make the final decisions.
Always be professional and consistent
If you decide to make a decision that is against the will of some of your members, you should explain the reasoning behind your decision. Your explanation should be professional and demonstrate that you have fully considered the feelings of your members. Perhaps even more importantly, you need to ensure you remain as consistent as possible.
If you ban an abusive forum member, and ignore requests from your members to allow them back, you will lose credibility if you act differently on a separate occasion. If you decide to rescind the ban on one member but keep it in force on another, you will appear inconsistent and potentially weak as a leader. You also risk accusations of favouritism – if your members latch onto this, you will find it extremely difficult to remain credible in their eyes.
Act confidently at all times
If your members sense you are a weak leader, they will test you and take an increasing number of liberties to see what they can get away with. Abusive members will become increasingly troublesome as soon as they sense a leader who lacks confidence. In order to be confident, you need to have clearly defined rules on what you do and do not accept, and a planned course of action on how to deal with guideline violations. Once you have plans like these in place, when trouble strikes you will be able to act more confidently as you have a set plan of action to follow.
If you are unsure about something, for example whether a forum post contravenes your rules or guidelines, or whether you should delete a thread or ban a member, take some time away to think about the decision. You need to ensure that the decision you make is the right one. Ask yourself whether you can justify your actions if your community disagrees with what you are planning to do. If you can, then take action and do it confidently.
It is important to give your members a say in the development of your community. You should ask them for their opinions and feedback and you need to understand how important it is to keep your members satisfied. On the other hand though, you need to balance this with the fact that you are in charge. You make the final decisions, and your members need to respect this fact. Your members will respect your leadership as long as you are fair, professional, confident and consistent.
Have you experienced times when you felt you were losing control of your online community? How do you feel a community manager can exert leadership without repressing or alienating its members? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment below.