When a community manager doesn’t know the answer

by Martin Reed on 16 March 2012 in Snippets

Questions are vital. Asking questions keeps community discussions alive. Asking questions keeps a community manager in touch with the community. You should never stop asking questions – especially when you don’t know the answer.

Recently, a member of Female Forum complained about some of the jokes that were being posted in the ‘Just for Fun’ section of the forums. The jokes in particular were ones that poked fun of specific nationalities and political systems. As jokes go, I didn’t find them offensive – but I could see how they may be to some.

The problem with humor is so much of it is based on issues that, if spoken about seriously, would be offensive to one or more parties. I recognize this fact, but I didn’t want Female Forum to become a place where jokes could no longer be posted, or members wouldn’t want to post jokes for fear of upsetting members or getting their content removed. Furthermore, I didn’t want to add stipulations for the kind of jokes we would or would not allow in the community within the community guidelines.

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t like seeing long community guidelines – especially when they’re hidden within terms and conditions, disclaimers or other legal mumbo-jumbo. First, it’s impossible to cover every single potential ‘infraction’ or word you don’t want to see in the community. Second, nobody will read the guidelines if they’re too long or too hard to find.

So, I reached out to the member that was reporting the posts with the following message:

Hi

I’ve noticed that you have felt uncomfortable with a few of the jokes being posted to the forums of late (I know you’ve hit the ‘report’ button on a couple of them).

To be honest, I’m not sure how to proceed – normally I immediately delete all posts that are reported, but I am not sure how far to take this when it comes to jokes and other forms of humor.

Do you think we should be censoring or disallowing certain types of jokes? I’d appreciate hearing your opinion.

- Martin

Instead of making a decision as one person without consultation, I asked the member in question what her thoughts were. We had a discussion about the issue, and came up with the compromise of adding a ‘Sticky’ post in the ‘Just for Fun’ forum with the following copy:

The Just for Fun forum is a place for you to share jokes and other humorous stories or anecdotes. When it comes to humor, everyone is different – what one person may find funny, another may find offensive. Therefore, please think carefully before sharing them in this forum.

We won’t be banning or chastising people who post jokes that may be seen as offensive but we may remove these type of posts (at our own discretion).

As a general guideline, consider this before posting your joke or story:

If you were the individual/group being poked fun at would you still find the joke funny?

Generally speaking, it may be a good idea to avoid posting jokes that are political in nature. It’s also worth reminding yourself that we have members from all over the world here at Female Forum, so jokes that make fun of particular nationalities or ethnic groups may not go down too well.

We don’t want to stop people sharing jokes – humor and laughter help to bring people together, and that’s what Female Forum is all about. All we ask is that you think twice before posting some of the more potentially offensive or risque jokes.

Thank you!

In the end, I was satisfied, the member who complained was satisfied and we didn’t have to complicate the existing community guidelines. I was initially unsure how to proceed, but by asking questions, a solution was found.

A satisfactory conclusion, then – all because a community manager reached out and asked for input from a member, rather than acting in an arbitrary manner.

Remember – you don’t have all the answers (not all of the time, at least). Recognizing this will make you a better community manager.

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Paul April 7, 2012 at 5:37 am

The Jokes section has got to be a difficult area to moderate. I think you hit the nail on the head. What is funny to some is offensive to others. I think you handled the situation in the best possible way. Sometimes people appreciate knowing that their concern was heard and genuinely considered, even if the problem cannot truly be solved.

Bradley Dowden MD April 10, 2012 at 12:45 pm

I like what you did here! It is way better to ask questions to get to the bottom of an issue than to take extreme actions to satisfy one person.

heather April 16, 2012 at 1:14 pm

do you ship the commnity pack overseas? we are basedin the UK

Martin Reed April 23, 2012 at 12:16 pm

The community building pack is a digital PDF, so it can be delivered to any email address.

Kelly April 21, 2012 at 1:53 pm

I am impressed how well you handled this situation Martin. Thanks for ‘going the extra mile’ to make everyone happy here. It was a difficult situation since most people would not care if you went a littler further than normal with the humor in the ‘Just for Fun’ section as the title suggests. Either way, good work.

Tommy T May 8, 2012 at 9:49 pm

Hi Martin,

Long time no write – hope you’re doing well. Your spelling and grammar is getting awfully American, might I add, no offense, only joking! ;)

But yes you handled the situation perfectly and highlighted the fact that as a community manager and leader, it’s very important to keep close relations with your member base.

I’ll definitely keep this in mind for when I run into similar complaints. You certainly know of my sense of humour, and you certainly know I tend to ‘push the line’ a tad at times so I’m certainly the last person on Earth to chastise somebody for telling a joke.

Which is where you highlighted another valid and important point – just because we, ourselves, don’t see something offensive – one of your members may.

It leaves a difficult situation. Do you punish somebody for having a sense of humour, or do you punish someone for being offended by somebody Else’s sense of humour?

Personally, I’d have told the user complaining to use my forum’s ignore function. They can simply go into the “offender’s” profile, click “ignore” and voila, problem solved. No more jokes. But of course this may leave the offended member feeling brushed off and “outcast” – something which you certainly don’t want to do.

Having a private, friendly discussion with the offended member is definitely the way to go, and a small gesture such as “OK, what I’ll do is add a sticky topic asking people to keep others’ feelings in mind” can be of great benefit all around.

Tommy T May 8, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Sorry for the double post – I just noticed your community building pack, you entrepreneur you! I’ll go ahead and buy it next week. ;)

piyush May 30, 2012 at 12:31 am

I am impressed how well you handled this situation Martin. Thanks for ‘going the extra mile’ to make everyone happy here. It was a difficult situation since most people would not care if you went a littler further than normal with the humor in the ‘Just for Fun’ section as the title suggests. Either way, good work.

Betty Rhodes June 8, 2012 at 8:52 am

As always, communication is the key. What you did was outstanding. You took the courage to manage the situation and not just side on a member. I’ll look into your forum. I would like to be part of that.