When an influential community member goes rogue

by Martin Reed on 4 March 2010 in Articles

bad online community member

Not all members of your online community are created equal. Some are more popular than others, some contribute more often than others, and some are just more influential than others.

These influencers are of huge importance to your online community – and they’re also a little dangerous. You need to keep them onside, but you also need to be seen to treat them the same as everyone else.

So how do you react when an influential member starts posting offensive, argumentative or abusive content?

Remember your community guidelines

Your online community needs to have rules or guidelines. Not only do these show newcomers to your community what is expected of them, it also gives them a taste of your community’s culture and personality. They also give you the moral authority to intervene when things get out of control.

If you don’t have clear, published guidelines then you’ll struggle even more than normal to get your members to accept any intervention you may need to make.

When it comes to your community’s most influential members, you’ll want to refer them to the point in your rules that they have broken – you can’t afford ambiguity.

I don’t like seeing long lists of rules when I visit an online community. Firstly, most won’t bother reading a long list of rules. Secondly, the list suggests you have covered every conceivable action or type of content that is not permitted. Thirdly, your community comes across as repressive.

Keep your rules short and simple – people aren’t stupid; simply state that ‘offensive content’ is not permitted rather than listing a hundred things you consider to be offensive.

Influence before action

Using moderator privileges should always be seen as a last resort. The more you have to intervene in your online community, the less responsibility you are giving your members. As a result, you will only end up encouraging them to continue posting similar content or reporting posts they deem offensive (rather than working together as a community to turn attention away from such content).

Influential members see themselves differently to other members – they know that they have influence; they know that they are popular and they know that they have a lot of power in the community. If you want to keep hold of that member, you need to tread very carefully if you come across any change in their behaviour. You need to try to use your influence before you use your moderator privileges.

Let’s say one of your influential members posts something that you feel is unsuitable for your community – here are three strategies you can employ:

1 – Try to steer the conversation

Here’s an example for you. Recently, a member of one of my online communities wrote a post as follows:

New Telephone Greeting:
Wouldn’t it be amazing, if this caught on all over the country…?

“GOOD MORNING, WELCOME TO THE UNITED KINGDOM

Press ’1′ if you speak English.
Press ’2′ to disconnect until you can.”

Personally, I found this a little distasteful – however I didn’t think it was serious enough to warrant deleting the post or warning the member. Therefore, I replied with the following statement:

What about Welsh – an officially recognised language of the United Kingdom (or Cornish for that matter)?

This brought what could have been a divisive discussion to a close – the member in question chuckled about my reply and I think they secretly knew the point I was trying to make.

2 – Privately contact the member

Sometimes you’ll witness outbursts from members that are completely out of character. If that’s the case, it always pays to reach out rather than simply deleting or editing their posts. They may have recently received some bad news, another member may have been baiting them behind the scenes, or maybe they just misunderstood someone else’s comment (or you misunderstood theirs).

It’s always worth privately contacting members that suddenly exhibit uncharacteristic behaviour. Don’t be confrontational – explain why you’re getting in touch, ask if everything is OK and see if you can help.

In the majority of cases, a member you contact in this way will delete or edit their own post – which is always the best outcome.

3 – Get other members to intervene

The really successful online communities are ones in which the community manager rarely has to intervene – because members do that themselves. A positive online community will see members draw attention away from negative content, and give more attention to the best content.

The more you intervene as a community manager, the more responsibility you are taking away from your members. Next time a conflict starts to arise, consider contacting a member you trust – see if they’re willing to try and diffuse the situation. Once members see that they are able to diffuse situations themselves, they’ll take more responsibility and you’ll have a far more constructive online community.

The same, but different

If an influential member of your online community goes rogue, you should treat them in just the same way you’d treat any other member that acted inappropriately. The only difference being that with influencers, you need to be even more careful to ensure that you’re doing things the right way.

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{ 35 comments }

Andrew March 5, 2010 at 4:20 am

These are really great guidelines. I for one agree with personally contacting the member in question first and if the member doesn’t listen or doesn’t respond well, then it’s time to bring the matter to the moderators of the community and if still the member would not cooperate then let the whole community decide.

Jonathan March 6, 2010 at 3:41 pm

I like this guide. I have a forum myself, and I always try to be neutral whenever there is a conflict. It doesn’t mean that I won’t support a side, but I won’t use my “administrative” powers just to edit/delete posts that I personally don’t agree, except of course, if it’s really spam or trolls.

Nicole Price March 8, 2010 at 9:26 am

The way you handled that problem shows a mature and tactful way of handling a potentially damaging post. I have experienced other sledge hammer methods which are counterproductive.

Simon March 8, 2010 at 6:46 pm

Probably the most dangerous thing you can do is anger one of your more influential or popular or regular community member. It would be like a retail shop not wanting their best customer to come back.

bad for business all round and in the case of communities, those rogue individuals can have a damaging effect by spreading false hoods…

Tom March 8, 2010 at 8:54 pm

I, too, try to use humour to de-fuse or side-track a member going too far. It works far much more better than coming down heavy.

I always make a point of training my staff on how to make it sound more like a ‘favour’, rather than a ‘request’, when private messaging a member about their behaviour. The users seem to respond much better to:

“Hey, could you do me a favour and tone down for me please? :) we have new people in the room, see, they don’t know you as well as we do and may take your words the wrong way, cheers..”

Rather than:

“Say that again and I’ll ban you! FEEL THE FORCE OF MY FINGER!”

..And lol@the stock photo you chose. Don’t make the keyboard warriors angry. You won’t like them.. when they’re angry.

Sharon March 9, 2010 at 10:57 am

Great list. I especially agree with #2, because most influential members like your community (why else would they visit so often?) and wouldn’t want to see it go down. Unless they’ve truly lost it, there’s probably something bothering them, and reaching out will go a long way towards their trust in you and the community.

James Beziehung March 12, 2010 at 6:30 am

It is all true. Normally person that misbehave on the forums or other community websites is simply provoking an argument with Administrator or other community members. And like in normal life what is the point to involve in pointless argument which makes you look really bad in the eyes of other members. As Tom mentioned, humour is the best and simples weapon against rudeness. It is unbelievable what person can achieve with it. Another thing I want to point out is deleting/banning the posts. I use very often various forums and it is very annoying, when Moderator deletes a post which is completely polite without a reason, Censorship. Good guide though, thanx.

Nicole Price March 13, 2010 at 9:27 am

Tom’s two examples show two different mind sets of the Administrators and it is no great deal to figure out which one is the winner in the long term interest of the site.

Mr Woc March 13, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Hi guys

Its always difficult when a trusted member goes rogue as you say, but it happens, I tend to treat all people the same, as you have to try to be consistant so people know how far they can go, I would always have a quiet word with someone first though, before getting heavy handed and banning them etc.

Woc

Lex March 13, 2010 at 6:20 pm

Haha, wikipedia moderators was the first thought in my mind.

The trouble with a lot of site moderators is they are “tin pot dictators”, out of control in real life and so compensate by petty tyranny wherever they can exert some control.

Ultimately, you can only rely on someone else to do things for you up to a point. You often have to ban real troublemakers yourself, and if you ignore the garden, weeds will grow….

Sharon March 16, 2010 at 7:16 am

Something that James’ comment made me think of: The other problem with deleting is that it completely ignores the problem. The user may not notice (especially if they are a frequent poster) and the behaviour will just continue. Then you have to justify deleting more content, potentially removing content with replies, etc. Too messy. Just talk to them. This also sets an example for the rest of the community regarding what type of behaviour won’t be tolerated.

Nicole Price March 17, 2010 at 9:54 am

Lex’s comment on Wikipedia I think is misplaced in the context of what Wikipedia tries to do. Since it is an online substitute for an encyclopedia, it cannot afford to publish content which does not meet the end requirements. Within this framework, I think that the moderators in Wikipedia are doing an admirable job.

Paul Michener March 22, 2010 at 8:00 am

Whenever I try to reason out with a moderator, he/she will often not reply or even bother about it. I often wonder why. I was starting to think that they were just assholes.

But I became a moderator in one instance, and the administrator told us that we don’t entertain users who have violated a rule because if we do, it will just give an idea to them that they were getting in our skin. In other words, they are just trolls.

Chris Guthrie March 22, 2010 at 7:57 pm

One thing I’d suggest too is to steer clear of starting forums that breed these types of people. For example, the very first forum I started was pretty successful before dwindling off (500k page views per month) but it was focused on video games where the maturity level is often times lacking.

So I was constantly fighting people like this. Other forums I run now are very easy to deal with because they are targetted around older individuals.

2 cents

Big A March 23, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Good point about reaching out privately to someone before deleting their comment. I’ve Sometimes misunderstood the context of the comment or the commentors intention.

David March 27, 2010 at 11:47 am

It is a difficult balancing act. But the suggestions are good and the influental member has to be retained because usually the contribution far exceeds the problem posts. It is best to engage.

Alex Zahnweiss March 28, 2010 at 5:08 pm

I think most forum moderators start becoming tyrants after getting the “power”. Especially in game forums the moderators (often teens) can become pretty obnoxious.

The art of flaming only works as long as there are two or more to the fight. If one of them just chills and just lets it go its all fine.

I think moderators should be chosen not only considering there competence but even more there people skills.

Mick St James March 30, 2010 at 7:51 am

This can be an incredibly sticky situation, you wan to reward participation, and use moderation with moderation ;-) But it can spin out of control, so you must have rules in place before there is a problem.

Jane March 30, 2010 at 8:13 am

Exactly right Alex. An argument is very boring if there is only one person doing the arguing. If you refuse to rise to the bait, eventually the one arguing will run out of steam and go away and find something else to do.

I agree that teens shouldn’t be moderators. Many of them only do it for a power trip anyway. I think someone should only be made a moderator once they have demonstrated maturity and shown they have the ability to not only defuse arguments, but not to bite back when they get insulted. Having a sense of humour helps too. :)

Ambroselli April 1, 2010 at 11:05 am

Thanks for this guide. I have two forums myself, and I always try to be neutral while solving comflicts. That shouldn’t mean that I won’t support a side, but I won’t use my “administrative” powers just to edit/delete posts that I personally don’t agree, except of course, if it’s really spam or trolls.

Mr Woc April 1, 2010 at 5:13 pm

hi there

I think someone above made a good points, sometimes people make perfect mods and admins on paper, but once you make them a moderator, they go power crazy lol.

So its pretty important to keep an eye on your team and even organise team meetings if you need to !

Woc

Tony April 5, 2010 at 1:05 pm

I used to run a pretty big forum. I had two “influential” members who were so trusted, I gave them access to the admin control panel.

After 2 years of loyal “service” both members decided they could start their own site and do it better. The wife was a coder and her skills were far beyond what I could do.

They set up shop (unbeknownst to me) and then one night, logged into the Admin control panel and sent out an email to all 10,000 members of my site. They told them the site was being shut down and had moved to their new URL.

They timed the move perfectly, as I was on vacation for 2 weeks and didn’t realize what had happened until I got back.

There are many lessons that I learned…..but the one that sticks out most is:

“If your forums are turning a profit (however small) be sure to kick a little something-something down to the people that are contributing and building content on a daily basis.”

My .02

Bensin Kort April 5, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Good guidelines AND good thing I`m not a moderator for a online community. I`d probably kick out everyone that bugged me, not taking into consideration that the forum is built FOR the members..
One other thing that can work to solve a sticky situtation in any given thread is to simply kill the thread. That might look a little North Korea-ish, but if thins get out if hand, why not.

Charlie April 6, 2010 at 2:28 am

So easy for power to go to a moderators head!

Happened on a number of forums i visit, i’ve found it best to give mod rights on a trial period so that they can easily be revoked!

Gene April 6, 2010 at 2:48 am

What’s distasteful about the post? We as community admins can’t always agree with everything what’s on our boards, yet we have to provide freedom of expression. (obviously to a point)

Nicole Price April 7, 2010 at 2:43 am

I quite like the idea of a single flamer having freedom as suggested by Alex, but how does one gets one to just chill? I also think that it is not fair to brand all moderators of becoming tyrants after a while. There are many who are not.

Danete April 12, 2010 at 8:32 pm

This shows how a moderator needs skills similar to a manager. It’s so much more obvious to think about the skills required to deal with a group of individuals when the group meets face-to-face. It is a whole different game on the internet. Although similar skills are needed, the lack of face-to-face can cause a number of problems. Probably one of the biggest problems is missing tone, intent, humor, etc in a post. It is so easy to misunderstand something when all you have are words–no facial expression to go with it. It’s clearly good for moderators to select an appropriate approach from all those stated above, depending on the situation.

Don April 13, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Good guidelines AND good thing I`m not a moderator for a online community. I`d probably kick out everyone that bugged me, not taking into consideration that the forum is built FOR the members..

Charles Richey April 18, 2010 at 11:25 pm

I’ve had to do that with certain commentors. One left and the other obeyed the guidelines. If you’re not going to enforce the rules there isn’t a reason to have them. If you start bending the rules for some its going to come back to bite you.

Max April 28, 2010 at 4:27 am

Influencers or not members should be treated normally when they acted inappropriately in any online community. A warning for the first offend and if he still insist in flaming the thread then used your power as a moderator to do the right thing.

Izzy April 28, 2010 at 5:32 am

I think when an influential community member goes rogue, I think the best thing to do will be to wait a few days before deleting the post. Also I believe that in general, members should be discouraged to rant and rave in the first place.

Marcus Zahnaufheller April 28, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Yeah I moderated a bboard once a while ago and it is a very unthankful job. First you want to do everything right and even ask other users about their opinion…democracy just doesn’t work here.

Felix Tave April 29, 2010 at 12:14 am

I haven’t fully moderated forums, but have been in the “inner circle” of owners and one problem I’ve found is the line between interesting conflict and unpleasantness. A good discussion tends to involve members, especially ones that may not participate otherwise. If it gets too heated though, you end up with just trolls yelling back and forth. Still haven’t quite found the perfect balance (fortunately, it’s not my job to do so) :)

Alan Winter September 19, 2010 at 9:28 am

Board moderation is good but sometimes moderator exaggerate as what need to be moderated. A good debate is a good debate and giving an opinion is what a forum is all about.

Cradz October 8, 2010 at 3:05 am

Sometimes all of the above don’t work though and you just have to kick them out.

I often find they come back under a different name because they love the community and then play nice again. :)

If I show my “angry eyes” icon they know they are in trouble.. lol

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