Communities are simply groups of people coming together to interact. As community site owners, we have little control over what these individuals will choose to talk about – sure we can define clear site rules and state what kind of content or conversations are off limits, but apart from this we have little control over how conversations will evolve.
Unpredictability is great for a community
We shouldn’t try to restrict user interactions – by doing this you will often stifle the most interesting debates. If your community is one that a regular member can visit and not be sure what conversations will be taking place on a given day, you are well on your way to success.
Moderation should always be light, and people should be guided rather than forced to obey your rules.
Responding to a community revolt
Unfortunately at times you will fall out with your community. You may decide to close or delete a thread, change your policies or rules or even ban a once popular member. The nightmare begins when it appears your community (which you have poured your heart and soul into getting established) turns against you.
Don’t panic or make rash decisions
The first thing to consider when dealing with a community revolt is to ensure you do not make any rash decisions. Consider the following:
- What are the reasons for this community revolt?
- Are you willing/able to calm the revolt?
- Is this just a knee-jerk reaction from your members that will soon die down?
- How many of your members are actually causing problems?
- What is your best course of action to diffuse the situation?
- Is the revolt actually beneficial?!?
Finding the reasons for the revolt
Communities do not revolt without reason. This may sound obvious, but make sure you clearly understand the reasons for the current problems. Clarify the issue with your members; make sure you understand their grievances so you don’t end up addressing a problem that doesn’t exist!
The easy way out?
Is there an easy way to address this revolt? If you closed a forum thread, are you willing to reopen it to diffuse the problem? Have your members raised some valid concerns causing you to rethink your actions? There is no shame in admitting you are wrong – your community will only come to respect you more for it.
Is this a serious revolt?
Often communities exhibit knee-jerk reactions to what are often quite trivial things. You will find that more times than not, allowing them to vent their frustration or unhappiness for a few days will see the dissent quell and things will soon get back to normal.
See how things run for a couple of days before determining the seriousness of the current situation.
How big is the problem?
Many communities are dominated by a minority of strongly voiced and opinionated users. It can be easy to think that your whole community is against you, when in fact this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Before you jump to conclusions, take the time to actually find out just how many people are currently causing problems – it may well be significantly less than you assumed.
Diffusing the situation
If the revolt is still going strong after a few days and you are losing visitors it is clear that you will need to take action.
After following the steps I have described above, you should by now have a clear idea of the exact issue that is damaging your community. Now you need to decide on what action to take.
Perhaps you need to reverse a controversial decision you have made. Maybe you just need to clarify your position on a certain issue and refuse to budge.
Whatever you decide, make sure you tread carefully and remain calm, professional and courteous at all times.
The wildcard – is a revolt a bad thing?
I thought I would throw this one in as a sidenote – perhaps you should consider whether a community revolt is such a bad thing? Just take a look at the recent community revolt at digg – this generated huge traffic for digg, created a huge number of additional links to the site, and increased their brand awareness even further.
Perhaps the odd revolt now and again is no bad thing, and just goes to remind you that online communities do consist of real, emotional human beings!
Have you suffered a revolt in your community? Have you witnessed forum fury? Blog bashing? Chat room chastisement? Share your experiences here and let me know how you dealt with it.