Recently, I received an email from a community manager that was dealing with a lot of abuse, harassment and insults, including threats of death and violence. As unfortunate as it is, that stuff happens to many professionals in this space. That doesn’t mean it’s OK or that it should happen. But we have to acknowledge that it does if we are to deal with it.

From this point forward, I will refer to the community manager who emailed me as CM.

The worst part of the story was how the community manager’s boss reacted. The boss forbid CM from taking any action against the members. If they did any of those things to a fellow user, CM is allowed to take action. But if it is directed at CM, nothing can be done. Members can’t be warned, and CM cannot ban them. CM can’t even remove the post they made. The boss has decided to do this under the guise of wanting people to feel comfortable criticizing their site.

This policy is atrocious.

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“Never understood why companies block replies to confirmation emails,” my friend Ted Sindzinski recently remarked on Twitter. “Fastest path for help = better service = better name. Any time a customer is forced into ‘system,’ it’s going to frustrate. Figure out how to capture without them doing the work.”

I’m a believer in this. That is why my email address is the reply address on every automated email that my community software sends out – and has been for at least 13 years. Not just confirmation emails, but any sort of notification message, too.

Now, I’m not saying that you need to put a real email address on every automated email – but at the very least, you should do so for every email that requires an action. When you ask a person to complete an action via email, you should make it easier for them to contact you if they have a problem completing that action. There is no easier method than hitting reply.

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MetaFilterThe other day I wrote about qualifying new members and the idea of making it harder for people to register on your community. A highly visible example of this is MetaFilter, a 15 year old, well known online community that has charged a one-time $5 membership fee for ten years. They also make you wait one week before you can create a new post. You can respond to posts by others, but not start your own.

A lot of community managers would be scared to even attempt such a thing. Clearly, it has worked for MetaFilter, or they wouldn’t have done it for so long.

I mentioned this in my initial post, but it bears repeating: a measure like this is meant to mitigate the challenges of success. If no one wants to join your community for free, then no one is going to want to join it for $5.

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Everything in ModerationOne of my favorite community management blogs hasn’t published a new post in 10 years.

Last Wednesday marked 10 years since Tom Coates made his final post at Everything in Moderation. From September of 2003 through October of  2004, Coates made a total of 18 posts – 11 of them in October of 2003.

A mention of the blog was included in the earliest drafts of Managing Online Forums, going all the way back to 2004. The blog was not updated, but the link in the book stayed, as the book grew in length and became more published while publisher after publisher declined to release it. When the book was published in April of 2008, that mention remained because I liked the blog so much.

I forget how I discovered it, but once in a while, when I’m thinking about this profession, it’ll pop into my head. Coates shared a lot of value in those 18 posts. Here are my favorites:

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KickstarterKickstarter is looking for a VP of community and it looks like a wonderful opportunity. Real community work in a challenging, but rewarding atmosphere.

What really caught my eye was this: “The VP of community is responsible for three key areas of our operations: Community Support, Community Engagement, and Integrity.”

An Integrity team that reports to the VP of community. I’ve never seen that before, but I love it, and it works. Especially for Kickstarter.

This is how they describe the Integrity team:

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Most community management issues can be tackled in different ways, but we all tend to agree that simple, easy registration is a good thing. How simple? Well, that varies. I’ve seen registration fields that consist of just an email address or, in cases where a username was needed, two fields. You then receive an email which you click on to set a password.

As software is updated, registration forms seem to get simpler and simpler.

Have you ever considered making it harder to register on your community? I know – the horror – but hear me out. There are potentially good reasons for doing so. Registration is a feature, and like many features, it can be helpful as you face challenges.

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When people talk about seeding an online community, they often talk about content. As in, “if we post X pieces of content, then people will reply to that content.” One person, or a few people, post a bunch of content then wonder why no one replies.

This is backwards.

Seeding isn’t about content. You aren’t seeding content to encourage people to engage and stick around. You’re seeding people (sounds kind of like a horror movie).

Optimal seeding is when you bring a good selection of quality people on board. When a potential member visits your community for the first time, you want them to see quality interaction between members who represent what your community can be. Not simply “content,” but people.

You can have all of the content you want, but if you don’t have the people, all you’re left with is articles waiting for the first comment.

jenna-woodulChief community officer is the highest job title in the land – where the land is the online community industry. Earlier this year, I wrote about the career path for community management professionals, highlighting the CCO title and the first person that I had ever seen with it: Bill Johnston.

Bill informed me that he had borrowed the title from Jenna Woodul, the executive vice president and CCO at LiveWorld. I consider myself a veteran of this space, but Jenna has held the CCO title since before I even started at point A, all the way back in April of 1996. Wow. With experience going back into the 1980s, she is easily among the earliest professionals to call this a career.

I always love talking with the true veterans of our profession, so of course I wanted to interview Jenna. We talked about the chief community officer title, its future and how far this profession has come. I appreciate her taking the time to speak with me.

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How to Kick Start Your Forum

Posted by Patrick on September 25th, 2014 in Promoting Your Community

Credit: ToddCC BY 2.0

When it comes to launching a forum, everyone faces the same challenge: how do I get things going? How you answer this question will help determine how successful that you become and how soon. You can either drastically help your odds or (to be a little dramatic) deal your new community a death blow. Or maybe something in between.

It’s not really that scary. It’s about having a process and not trying to skip any steps or take shortcuts. Recently, a Quora user asked, “how do I successfully kick start my forum?” Here’s my answer.

There are three big things you need to do: seed, curate and appreciate.

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It seems like I can’t go a few days without someone with a decent sized audience talking about how bad online comments are. Of course, they say this in a comment posted online – a comment they want you to read.

A lot of these people think online comments should just go away. Others have ideas for how to fix comments. I like ideas. Some of them are good, some are interesting – but many wouldn’t result in any progress.

There isn’t any magic trick when it comes to great comment sections at well-trafficked websites. You have to want it. You have to hire people whose job it is to make your comment section great. Have rules and enforce them. You can’t half-heart it, be cheap or expect it to just “work.” There is no auto-pilot, set it and forget it solution. It’s work.

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