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Get the most out of your online communities

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Today, almost all companies have some form of community interaction, whether it’s an intranet forum, blog, Facebook page or other social media account. To be sure, interaction from your employees, peers and customers generally leads to valuable conversations, but it can also invite unsavoury criticism or worse.

If you’re tasked with managing one of these, how do you keep the dialogue in control? For every intelligent comment or conversation there’s someone who’s disrupting things. Make sure you aren’t distracted by internet drama – stay focussed on the purpose of your site or platform.

Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your online communities.



Is this the right place for a comment?

The first thing you need to decide, even before your community goes live, is if it needs comments to function. The moment there is a space for comments, it will be filled with spam. If comments and interaction are not essential to the core purpose of your site, disable them. Put in your contact details instead, so people can get hold of you.

Setting the right example

It’s important to remember that social media isn’t just about listening; it’s also about creating a dialogue. That means you need to also be involved in the conversation as a moderator. By actively posting, responding to comments and encouraging discussion, you can increase the value of the community and reward those followers who do comment. It’s also a great way to set the tone of the conversation, so be sure to keep your messages honest, productive and on-topic. Chances are your audience will follow your lead.



When is moderation necessary?

You always need to be moderating. A social platform lives or dies with the quality of its community interaction. If you can’t put in the time, you won’t get the benefits. The real question is how much moderation is needed? If your community is outward facing (that is, your potential or current customers or peers can see it, like with Facebook), you may want to keep closer tabs on the content than you would an internal forum.

Not all commentators are created equal

Many of the comments that take things off topic or are insulting are written by “trolls.” Trolls are people who use the anonymity of the internet to disrupt and disturb the smooth running of a site, purely for attention or for laughs. Don’t let them do this to you. Trolls are the major reason you need to moderate.

The first moderation commandment is: don’t feed the trolls. Trolls thrive on attention – if you deny them what they’re craving they’ll go away. Simply ban them and move on.

Another threat to your community’s well being is derailment. Commentators who constantly take conversations off-topic or “off the rails” can make your platform irrelevant to your users. Sometimes, a gentle reminder can get things back on track, but sometimes you’ll need to use stronger measures.

Different strategies for effective moderation

Effective means of moderation is engaged moderation. The level of effort you put in is how much you’ll get out. Here are a few methods you can use to keep things under control; each requires a certain amount of interaction.

  1. Probation: Putting a poster on probation means that you prevent them from posting for a set amount of time. It’s an effective slap on the wrist because it stops them from interacting for a while, but it doesn’t remove them from the community completely.
  2. Banning: This is the ultimate form of moderation and should be used sparingly. It shuts down a user, permanently. It’s the best way to deal with trolls, but it’s also the most heavy-handed. Ban too many users and you’ll end up with a graveyard for a forum.
  3. Shadowbanning. This is a more subtle form of banning. The shadowbanned user can post, but no one else can see it. It deprives annoying posters from the one thing they crave: attention. Eventually they’ll realize that no one is responding to their drivel and they’ll go away.
  4. Disemvoweling. Cut an offensive comment down to size without disrupting the flow of conversation. Disemvoweling is the practice of removing the vowels from a post. It publically lets the poster know that his comment was out of line. For example: “Your posting is bad and you should feel bad,” becomes “Yr pstng s bd nd y shld fl bd.” Clever trick, huh? It takes a bit of effort to disemvowel but it’s an effective way to moderate without banning a user.

Fight the good fight

When moderating a community, remember that it’s not a democracy. You have to enforce your rules and standards, or run the risk of losing control of your own site. Don’t invite comments unless you’re ready to deal with offensive or off topic ones. And when you’re bringing down the ban-hammer, remember that it’s for their own good, and the good of your community.