You’ve heard it said before. We’re currently living through an historical shift with not one, but multiple worldwide events which will shape the course of our future.
This may sound a tad melodramatic, however, if you speak to anybody working in online communities today you will realise it’s not an overstatement. We're all asking ourselves, "when will the crazy end?!"
In the past month there has been a surge in online conversations around the following:
Police Brutality and reformation
Eradication/removal of controversial historical monuments
And, of course, a little thing called a global pandemic which is just gearing up for its second round of infection, has led to a worldwide quarantine, and resulted in a shift of our main source of communication and connection - online communities.
Traditionally, the role of the online community manager is to encourage connection and collaboration. Part of this role is to remain as objective as possible when conflicting opinions emerge within the community while keeping within the parameters that have been set by the organisation. This is a lot easier said than done when you’re managing conflict.
Usually just one of the polarising topics I mentioned above will prove the worth of your community manager and her ability to not just maintain, but grow your audience in a positive direction. Having multiple topics with naturally conflicting opinions could mean the death knell of your community.
So - exactly what should your community manager do in an unprecedented time, facing multiple, controversial conversations thrown into the mix all at once?
Below, I outline some of the best practices for managing your community during not one, not two, but many difficult conversations:
1. Keep to your guidelines, no matter who is speaking
I can’t stress that enough!! Maintain that clear line that must not be crossed. The more that language and behaviour deteriorates on your threads, the more the ‘troublemakers’ will think it’s okay to behave in such a way. You need to be strong and consistent - set the standard - but use a reasonable and neutral tone.
I’m a fan of sharing company guidelines within a thread from time to time. It can be a good way to remind the community that this is a safe space for discussion but it's not meant to be a free for all. Don’t allow the loudest to ‘frighten’ the quieter users into silence or leaving the community (coming away with a negative view of you, your brand, your ethos).
2. Allow space for discussion
Before your community manager and her team begin hitting that moderation button, take a step back, and allow for emotions to flow. Remember that everyone is different at handling their frustrations and may just need a space to vent.
3. Continue to be a part of the overall conversation, know your limits
If you’re known within your community at all, it’s important to keep yourself present. That level of normalcy can be a huge comfort in a chaotic time. But learn to keep a certain level of distance to allow your community members who wish to share their stories to have the floor. It’s not always necessary for you to share, but rather give the community its voice. It’s a balancing act.
4. Keep vigilant and present
As above, allow a modicum of space for discussion but ensure it remains civil. Knowing when to stop a conversation before it degrades into a flame war is something that comes with time, and practice. Simply keeping yourself present and reviewing the conversations many times in your day can help you determine where and when to step in.
Knowing the difference between a disagreement in opinion versus judgement and ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ comes with time, and ongoing review of intention, interpretation and tone.
If/when you have to remove someone or something, it's a good idea to answer some questions but NEVER discuss that particular removal or ban.
5. Check yourself before you wreck yourself
Some opinions will differ greatly from your own - if you find yourself getting heated or suffering from content overload, ask a colleague for a second opinion:
Am I taking this too personally?
Is this triggering me emotionally?
Is the conversation crossing a line, or simply sharing an opinion I disagree with?
Checking in with your colleagues is NEVER a bad idea. Online community management is the work of many individuals coming together to ensure the betterment of the overall group.
Make sure your entire organisation and leadership team are kept aware of what’s happening
These times are going to challenge the entire organisation from the top on down. The best way your leadership team can make the right decisions is by being informed. Don’t shy away from sharing the community sentiment - good, and bad. Share how you’re handling things, or if you’re unsure how to handle certain things and make sure they know how best to support your hard work.
And if I may, I’d like to sign off this piece by sending out a huge, heartfelt “THANK YOU” to all of you community managers doing your very best for your communities during this very challenging time. You rock!