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Invision Community Blog


Our take on managing successful online communities

Matt
 

How to cultivate a positive community

A positive community is a wonderful thing. It's fun to read and almost irresistible to join. You instantly feel welcomed and quickly make new friends.

Carefully managed communities tend to be respectful. Individuals may occasionally argue and disagree, but these are short term incidences that do not affect the community.

Is this by chance or by design?

Your role as a community leader will make all the difference in how your members react to each other. Your community boundaries will have a direct impact in the number troublemakers that infiltrate your community.

I'm sure you've come across trolls and troublemakers on your digital travels. You may be unlucky enough to have met some on your own site. Some trolls may be quite benign and productive members of the community. That is, until something or someone triggers them.

Some trolls like to annoy others because they are bored. Others because they are angry. Whatever the reason, they can be a handful to manage well.

A well managed community offers excellent protection against trolls that may join only to cause trouble. The troll has no fun against a charming community unwilling to engage in hateful behaviour.

Therefore, a positive community is essential in protecting your members, as much as it is making a welcoming atmosphere for new members.

Community Leaders
Your community leaders are there to model good behaviour.
How your leaders speak to your members is very important. If they are rude or offensive, then the community will view that as the culture you endorse and act likewise.

It's important that your leaders refrain from becoming embattled in aggressive discussions. An ideal leader is cool, calm and impartial. If members see your leaders engaged in heated debate, they may follow suit.

A good strategy is to use a leader's forum or Pages database where they can discuss contentious topics in private and agree on a way forward together. Forcing your leaders to remain impartial and discuss the topic elsewhere is a great way to retain professional separation.

If your leaders want to engage in debate, then allow them to create a personal account. This allows them to air their personal views inline with your boundaries.

It is vital to remember that your leaders carry your brand and message at all times.

Create a strong terms of service
Invision Community's terms of service feature is ideal to outline your community and what is acceptable.

Be positive with your terms and rules. Creating a positive culture from the earliest interaction with your site is important. This sets out boundaries in a friendly way.

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Invision Community's build in terms editor

Avoid using negative words such as "don't" and "can't". People tend to skip over these words. It is better to be positive, for example:

"A signature CANNOT have more than one image"

Could be better explained as:

"Your signature may have a single image".

This positive interaction feels better but still enforces your rules.

Keep the number of rules to a minimum. Visitors connect better with sites that aren't laden with rules and threats for stepping out of line. Indeed, reading a terms of service that outlines punitive action for every minor misdemeanour makes the site look unruly and embattled.

Even good productive members have bad days and may display out of character behaviour.

Weeding out the early signs of trouble
Not all arguing is bad. We've seen some dynamic and informative topics that have flowered from an initial disagreement.

The first step is identifying which behaviours you find unacceptable. Your community and culture will define these boundaries. What is acceptable for a casual community with a very young demographic may not be acceptable for a very formal conservative site.

Is this member trolling? A classic troll is someone who seeks to derail rational conversation through abuse, hectoring or needling. A troll isn't someone that disagrees with you, your product or your choices. Civil disagreement is the foundation for any rich discussion. A troll is less tolerant and their end goal is to aggravate others.

Is the member new? Perhaps they are unfamiliar with the expectations of your community. New members can often be eager to impress veterans and may come across as over excitable. 

It is worth noting down topics which have the potential to derail and check in on them often. You can add hidden replies that do not trigger notifications. This is an ideal way to leave notes to other community leaders.

The best judge is often experience. It may take a while to develop your sixth sense with your community.

Motivation through rewarding good behaviour
Invision Community is equipped with a reputation system which is linked to the number of positive reactions a piece of authorered content obtains.

The simplest expression is the humble 'like'. To encourage members to like and thank others for useful content empowers individuals and motivates them to post more good content.

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Thumbs up!

You may wish to send a personal message offering thanks for exceptional content to your members. A brief personal note is a welcome gift in today's world of often impersonal automation.

We have seen communities that post up weekly topics linking to great content. Likewise, you can leverage featured posts to draw attention to your good content.

The Our Picks feature is yet another way you can promote great user submitted content. It must be very rewarding to see your hard work showcased to the rest of the community.

Avoid special forums for 'unmoderated discussion'
Some communities try and address the balance between the need for rule enforcement through moderation against the desire to offer a venue for raw discourse. This usually presents as a special forum often labeled as "Unmoderated", "The flame zone" or similar.

The intention is a good one and the logic makes sense. Provide a venting space for your community in one area to keep the rest of the community friendly.

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Don't make your members bring boxing gloves to a topic!

In our experience, this plan quickly backfires. The unmoderated area becomes hateful, toxic and very unpleasant. Basal desires that are kept in check by your rules and boundaries are left to run amok. 

It's very likely that these discussions become so heated that members leave your site for good. That isn't a desirable outcome!

It's much better to keep your rules consistent throughout all areas of your site. Encouraging contentious discussion is rarely a good thing.

Punitive tools are the last resort
Invision Community is loaded with excellent moderation tools to handle persistent offenders.

We would encourage you to try speaking with a troublesome member first via the personal message system. Give them a chance to explain themselves and remind them of the rules.

If you have exhausted all avenues, you have several options to choose from.

1) Warning
Invision Community's warning system allows you to pre-set different warning thresholds which trigger specific actions.

For example, you may decide that after 10 warns, the member is set to full moderation. This means that their posts are hidden to other community members until you review and approve them.

This is an excellent tool and has success in rehabilitating hot headed members that react quickly and often find themselves in hot water with your community leaders.

Invision Community 4.3 introduced crowd sourced moderation. This allows the administrator to set up thresholds for actions based on the number of reports a content item receives from other members.

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The warning system

For example, you may decide to hide a post after it receives reports from five or more different members.

2) Full moderation
You have the option to enforce review and approval of all members topics and posts. The downside is that it increases the workload of your moderators, so should be used sparingly.

It is a very effective tool when used for a short time after a heated debate gets out of control. It allows you to enforce a time out until the situation has calmed down.

3) Short term banning to cool off
Invision Community allows you to temporarily ban a member from your site for a specified number of hours.

It is especially effective to enforce a break from your site. This allows an otherwise good and productive member time to cool down and reflect on how they wish to contribute. In most cases, the member comes back calmer and ready to post productively.

4) Permanent banning
As a true last resort, you can exclude the member from accessing your site completely. A banned member can no longer access forum lists, topics or posts. They can of course log out and view the community as a guest.

In most cases, members can be rehabilitated through personal messages, moderation or an enforced cooling off period.

A permanent ban can be lifted by an administrator at any time.

Conclusion
Cultivating a positive community can take a little work from your community leaders but the benefits are numerous. A fun engaging community of respectful members is a real joy. The infectious spirit of the members makes it very easy to join and contribute.

There is always a learning curve, so use any issue as a learning experience and give your members the benefit of doubt.

You wouldn't want to punish an overzealous and excitable new member and make them feel unwelcome by reaching for a moderation tool too soon.

Try and guide conversation by using your community leaders to model good behaviour. Try and keep a sense of fun and take the time to get to know your members.

Above all, enjoy the journey! Taking the time to engage in your community is a great experience and offers many opportunities to learn and grow as a leader.

Invision empowers you with the tools to manage and reward behaviors, but it's ultimately your stewardship to thoughtfully design a positive community.

We'd love to know which of these tips you already practise. Let us know below!

Edited by Matt


Comments

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I'd be curious to see how IPS envisages using an IP.Pages database as a leaders-only discussion over trouble members or topics.  How is that better than just using a moderator forum or the actual ModCP? 

There are some big insights on this article that aren't identified on their own but govern some broad principles to community management:

1. Keep your rules uniform -- I think it's important to keep your rules consistent and uniform for all members.  It makes it easier to moderate, easier to remember, and easier to enforce.  It also doesn't allow members to go crazy in certain topics and then have to switch personalities to participate other topics.

2. New members vs Veteran members -- this is another great point that sometimes we, as admins, may forget about.  A new member is just trying to get accustomed to the site, and their enthusiasm shouldn't be mistaken for policy mistake.  I personally focus more on educating  new members when there's a problem ("did you know about this policy, here's what you could have done instead, etc").  A  veteran member, however, should be more familiar with the rules and I'm more willing to be stricter with veteran members than new members.

3. Steward - Users give us their time, attention, intellectual capital, insight, humor, and clicks.  Collectively, that forms a community and I think its important to remember that even though those actions and items are freely given, they need to be nurtured on behalf of something that's not just of my own making.  As an admin, it's easy to take credit for the success of the community.  But I think a proper admin knows that he's really a steward of everyone's contribution.  

 

Edited by Joel R
I write amazing stuff. You should steward me a like.

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