James Adams reacted to Jordan Miller for an entry, Battling toxicity in communities with kindness and vulnerability
Promote kindness and foster interpersonal relationships through the power of vulnerability to outshine toxicity in your online community.
Before my time as a Community Advocate with Invision Community, I focused all my attention on my own online community, BreatheHeavy. Pop music and Britney Spears news are the bread and butter of BreatheHeavy. As you can imagine, fans of pop stars are energized, vocal and unapologetic. There’s real potential for conversations to slip into negativity.
16 years ago when I launched BreatheHeavy, I hadn’t realized I took the first steps towards becoming a community leader. It never occurred to me such a role existed. My mission evolved from forum administrator to community leader, and during that process, I discovered a love of community building. Along the way, I’ve learnt invaluable lessons about toxic community culture (shade a pop star then let me know how that goes for you).
What is online community building?
It’s the act of cultivating culture and creating connections on the Internet. It’s an essential aspect most businesses don’t focus on enough because it’s hard to quantify its value A.K.A. the bottom line.
I spent the majority of my career writing news articles. My resources went into content creation on my company’s blog section while my community members, completely segregated from my news posts, ran rampant. I recall thinking, “negative comments are better than no comments!”
That thought eventually led to the demise of my community. The trolls had infiltrated and won.
A mob of toxic commentators had free reign, thus scaring away quality members. Freedom of speech is imperative, but it also has limitations (screaming “fire!” in a crowded theater is not applicable to free speech).
To better understand how we can combat negativity in our communities, let’s first define what makes a community toxic?
When a member or group of members devalue the community.
Their negativity permeates throughout the community in such a profound way that it repels others from contributing, engaging and worst of all: not returning.
As much as I hate to admit it, toxic members are powerful. They can influence your community, albeit in the opposite direction of what community owners want. Their role deteriorates the community they call home. The compounding effect of flippant responses, snide remarks, indifference, arguments and attacks ultimately creates chaos.
The sad thing is... they’re usually unaware their behavior is adversely affecting the community. If they’re oblivious, there’s no opportunity to turn things around.
In an effort to better understand their motivation (and avoid smashing the ban hammer), I personally reach out to these members in a private message. Call me a sap, but I’m a firm believer that people can change if you communicate with them.
This is a great opportunity to send them a private message.
People just want to be heard.
When someone exhibits toxic behavior... ask yourself why, and more importantly... can you help them?
Typically, a troll’s demeanor stems from what’s transpired in their real life, and it manifests onto your community (lucky you!). Know there’s a motive behind the negativity; a harsh reality they may not want to face.
You’re not necessarily required to reach out, and a suspension is a lot easier, but taking this upon yourself as a community leader to uncover what’s really going on is an unrequited and selfless act that’ll set your community apart.
In other words: it’s a very kind thing to do.
Kindness in communities
The most profound way to fight toxicity in an online community is by not fighting at all. It’s by offering kindness to those who need it the most. That’s done through outreach and personal displays of vulnerability.
Members on the other end want to know they’re talking with another person. A person who also encounters struggles in life, but found ways to not only overcome those hurdles, but lean into them as they forge mental fortitude - an important component for successful community leaders.
Your past challenges can inspire change in peoples’ futures.
A powerful way to do this is through being vulnerable.
Dr. Brené Brown, who’s extensively researched what it means to be vulnerable, said it best: “The difficult thing is that vulnerability is the first thing I look for in you and the last thing I’m willing to show you. In you, it’s courage and daring. In me, it’s weakness.”
It’s easy to expect others (in our case toxic members) to share with you some real life hurdles they’ve encountered. It’s much more difficult for us (the community leader) to shine a light back on ourselves and share that vulnerability back. However, it’s the secret ingredient to creating a perfectly baked community cake.
The act of opening up to an anonymous person in need not only can inspire them to change, but it opens a door towards further self-discovery.
Being vulnerable with your members empowers them and you.
So the next time you notice a toxic member’s pattern regarding how they post, take a pause. Remember there’s more behind the curtain, that hurt people hurt people, then take the opportunity to be kind, practice being vulnerable and watch your community garden blossom.
How do YOU battle toxicity in your Invision communities? Sound off in the comments below.
Hero Image Credit: Unsplash
James Adams reacted to Matt for an entry, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!