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.