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Community management and tricky personalities

April 22, 2016
Community management with difficult personalities

If you have a healthy community, you will have members who love you a little too much. It’s part and parcel of community management to have a spectrum of behaviour after all.

Community management with difficult personalities You’ll also have a big amorphous group in the middle who rarely says anything. And you’ll have the almost troll and the outright troll who can’t do anything but complain.

Life sure is a picnic when humans and the internet are involved!

The first rule of community management is to remember the online world is an amplification of real world personalities. Yes, even the troll who intentionally tries to kick up dirt for fun has to have that element in their personality for it to be so appealing online.

The difference is the facial cues and body language that might deter them is absent. And the consequences of being too overzealous, always silent or a complete bastard are missing online.

That’s why you’ll get an amplified version of these traits in a community management setting. The subtle cues and nuances that make us check ourselves are gone.

As a community manager, this can suck the fun right out of building a thriving community. It can also make social media seem less and less appealing over time.

So it’s important to make sure the community doesn’t dictate too many of the terms. Especially if you’ve got a high octane, highly explosive mix of personalities.

Here’s a community management strategy that helps you guide the naughty to the nice. And the bits between. 

Have community guidelines that work for you, not against you

Community guidelines aren’t hard rules where community members should feel beaten down by regulation. They should offer both carrot and stick.

Think about things such as privacy of members. Focus on encouraging members to interact to foster positivity and do what you can to avoid cynical responses.

Have a clear outline or charter posted in a prominent position that explains what lines not to cross. But do this in a proactive way of highlighting what good behaviour means as opposed to listing a bunch of “don’t do” lessons.

Know your community members 

Make it your duty to talk to the different kinds of personalities to get a sense of them. Create personas of the people who stand out in a crowd for the positive and negative reasons.

Dig deep and try to understand their behaviour so you can disrupt or encourage it.

And create personas for the kinds of community members you want to attract as well.

Then experiment with ways to attract, excite and glean participation from each of the personality types. Incorporate that into your personas.

The aim of the game is to grow your understanding of your members.

Have a disaster plan specific to community management

No amount of “that won’t happen to me” will protect you from situations when the crowd turns against you. But having a disaster plan will help you activate a community management strategy that minimises impact.

AND it is a great thing to use to help keep community manager emotions in check as you untangle the mess, too.

When we don’t know what to do, it’s far easier to let panic set in. So channel your inner scout and be prepared.

Use the super fan and super troll to their best advantage

You can turn a troll by asking them to invest emotionally in a community. You can use the love a super fan has for you to help moderate the community.

It does take time and effort to groom the super user to a point where this is feasible. But it can be extremely rewarding.

Channelling the harder to manage personalities into positive roles can help you cut down the legwork and the head damage. And they can become official or unofficial moderators that help set the tone for your community.

Have a strategy behind your content

Many a community manager slaps up questions and funny memes and links to story without context. You definitely shouldn’t plan everything and leave it on auto-pilot. But you shouldn’t rely on ad-libbing either.

People join communities because they want to identify with them. They want to be able to grow with that community. Your community members are testing their identity against what you offer them.

Using your content to encourage that growth will help that silent majority open up over time. And it’ll help give the detractors a visible roadmap.

Consistency reinforces what is and isn’t wanted behaviour. And it helps build trust over time.

Don’t take the bait 

Some community members want to push your buttons.

If you let them, they will own you. And they’ll continue to own you until you shut it down and time passes.

You also need to lead by example. Because behaviour comes from the top of the pyramid and trickles down.

That’s why it’s never a good idea to use your community to shame others. Or to allow fights and issues get out of control. Or to pick sides visibly or when giving out special treatment.

The minute you show you’re easy to rattle, the more some community members will goad you.

Adapt to the community member

Community management is a lot like puppy training. If you’ve got someone who is too calm, pep them up and invite their silly side. If you have someone who is trying desperately to get your attention, teach them being less needy gets more praise.

Even if your troll is cranky all the time, use LAER (listen, acknowledge, explore, respond). It can help make them feel validated and that you are listening. Even if you deliver an answer they may not like.

Think about the kind of behaviour you want from your community member. And focus on what you need to teach them to get them there.

Be transparent

I can’t stress this enough. If you’re a community manager who believes you don’t have to share information with a community, you’re boned.

The minute you can’t handle scrutiny is the minute you invite suspicion. If you want people to believe in you and share their conversations, business acumen, ideas and day with you, make sure you’re an open book!

Community members who are happy give a lot of time and energy to your endeavour. Most community members do it for free or even pay to be a member. So if they want to look under the hood occasionally, damn well let them look.

Be brave enough to curate the content

Legally, you don’t want to have to take responsibility for every comment made in a community. Disclaimers in guidelines help with this aspect.

But allowing it to become a situation of “he who bleats loudest wins” is another problem entirely. And I’m not convinced that the “play nice but remember we don’t check the advice shared here” will hold up in a court of law. Especially if you end up with multiple incidences where a super user has lead people astray.

You see it in business communities all the time. The people who know their stuff try to answer the queries with thought, grace and information. Then comes along someone who is desperate for the gig that shuts everyone else down.

Pretty soon the silent majority start to notice that a few vocal (and often incorrect) people are the real sheriffs in town. It drives the smarter, less bullish members away. And this in turn increases the chance of Doctor Doucheburger tainting even more of the group with self serving advice.

Even if you’re not liable in a legal sense, it will tar your community with the Doctor Doucheburger brush. So genuine members seeking genuine advice won’t trust the group when they need it and you the most.

You may not be able to fact check every post. But you can intercede when loud bullies derail the learning process on a continued basis.

And you should be smart enough to check to see if the fledgling super users you have are ones you should prop up and support. At least so they can get a word in edgewise.

Supplying valuable and useful information is what a community setting is all about after all!

Include a referral policy to other help channels 

Some community members seek belonging for reasons that you can’t provide.

If you have someone you suspect requires counselling or a mental health intervention, this is beyond your duty of care.

But having a clear channel to support to places like Beyond Blue and Lifeline that can help takes the pressure off the situation. And it helps people reaching out to you get the help they need.

Plucking weeds from the community management garden

The community manager dream is to build a healthy, self-sustaining community. So don’t be afraid to weed out people who don’t benefit the community on the whole. Or who are unlikely to benefit from and give benefit to your community plans.

Examples of the community members you want to discourage and weed out are:

  • People who don’t interact unless they are promoting themselves. Especially members who promote the same message from group to group. You’re entitled to ask them to take part spinning bowtie moments!
  • People who continuously rain on the parades of other participants. Some of these guys won’t stop. So if attempts to win them over and turn them to the positive fail, you may need to show them the door
  • People who aren’t seeking advice or to interact but are seeking attention. There are varying degrees of this sort of person in any community group. Sometimes you will find you have a member who wants all eyes on them. Again, this may be a sign of a mental health issue, so tread lightly. Refer them on to other more suitable groups or help.

The final word from this community manager: Set a culture that encourages the good

Being consistent, planning content and adopting a transparent helps set the community’s tone.

It also helps you take on less head damage while instilling the kind of behaviour you want from the people who participate.

And have fun with it! Make sure you’re a leader but also one that people want to be around and follow. Aim to help your members, not to star in their lives.

Next we’ll discuss community management process. Be very, very excited. 

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