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CommunityAdmins.com (i.e. the big logo on the top right portion of this page) is a community for people who run communities, but also moderators and users of communities, in general. Anyone interested in online community. But, the focus is certainly on the management aspect.

I thought that I would highlight five recently active, interesting discussions that popped up on the community. If you have any thoughts, please feel free to jump in!

1. Cult Threatends Legal Action Against Forum

An administrator shares the challenges that his or her community is facing, in dealing with a supposed “cult” and it’s threats against negative comments posted on the site.

2. Do You Used Non-Disclosure Agreements for Members of Staff?

In addition to standard staff guidelines, an NDA is also a viable consideration for many administrators.

3. Staff Members Doing Whatever They Want

The thread born out of this post on ManagingCommunities.com has inspired some interesting discussion and real experiences of staff members who have crossed the line.

4. How Much Can You Make with Forums?

Administrators share the ways they generate money and the expectations that you should have when doing so.

5. Private Communities: How Do They Work?

Finally, a discussion on private communities and who they will work for and won’t work for.

If you have any interest in discussing the management of online communities, I would definitely recommend joining us at CommunityAdmins.com.

Unhappy with the activity on your community? One way to take matters into your own hands is to start topics on your forums, allowing people who want to participate to add to the activity, rather than having them feel as if they have to create the activity. After you get past the standard sort of threads, you may be wondering: where can I get ideas for new ones? Let’s talk about five of my favorite ways.

1. Social Bookmarking and News Sites

Digg and MixxMy favorite way to find interesting and/or funny content that I can share is on social news sites. My two favorites for this purpose are Digg (add me) and Mixx (me). The quickest way to do it is to visit the site and open up the main category pages or the categories that most interest you and scan the top stories. Share the ones that you feel are the most interesting and appropriate for your community.

There are plenty of other ones, like StumbleUpon (me), Yahoo! Buzz (me), Propeller (me), reddit (me) and Kirtsy (me). There are also niche sites dedicated to specific topics that may be even more helpful, such as Tip’d for financial news and Sphinn (me) for online marketing news.

2. News Aggregators

Google News and Yahoo! NewsThese sites allow you to see the biggest news stories of the day, from a very wide array of publications, from just a single site, which can save you time. The ones that I recommend are Google News and Yahoo! News. The sites are pretty straightforward.

But, perhaps even a bigger benefit is the ability to search for news related to your community’s niche in one place. So, for example, if your forums were about the Jonas Brothers, you could run a search for “Jonas Brothers” on Google News. You would then be able to see all related headlines and you can even sort them by date to find the most recent ones, if you need to. Or if your community was about or was interested in breastfeeding, you could monitor that.

A cool way to monitor these sources is with an RSS reader. For example, here’s the RSS feed for the Google News search “Jonas Brothers.” You can also subscribe to e-mail news alerts.

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Tracy O’Connor of I Hate My Message Board spoke on Twitter of a situation she was dealing with on her community, where she was trying to determine whether or not she should act on something that had been done within her community. This inspired me to talk about how I personally deal with this sort of issue.

At this stage, most issues tend to be cut and dry on my communities. I’ve been at this for a while and can usually spot when something is appropriate or it isn’t. Something is either inappropriate or it’s not. Something is either a violation of our guidelines or it’s not. If it’s not, then it carries on. If it is, it is dealt with.

But, then, once in a while, there are issues where I am not sure, and I have to think about it. Sometimes, I’ll bring it up in my staff forums so that I can get their feedback in considering the issue. In both of these cases, I find it helpful to ask myself and them two questions. With these two questions steering feedback and steering the thought process, the answer usually will become clear. These are the two questions:

1. “If this were to happen everyday, would that be good?”

It’s not this one instance of the issue that is such a big deal, necessarily. It is the idea that this thing, if allowed, will continue again because people will have the belief that it is acceptable. Is that something we want? It can be easy to dismiss something that has happened once, but it won’t be easy to dismiss something that could happen all the time. Think of it in that way.

2. “We want to be inviting to people of all viewpoints. We want someone who disagrees with this person to be able to join our site, explain his or her perspective and not feel intimidated. Does this encourage or discourage that?”

Many times, with one of these question issues, it is how someone has chosen to approach an issue that they disagree with. Most of the time, we’d want to have an environment where someone that would disagree with them would feel comfortable becoming a part of our community and joining the discussion. If someone is impeding this, that’s not consistent with our overall goals.

When you’re dealing with complex issues, it can help to simplify and to come back to your core. What are you all about?

A few weeks ago, I asked for feedback on my upcoming book reading/presentation at South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive 2009. In so many words, I wanted some thoughts on what I should talk about. Thanks so much to everyone who offered their thoughts, including Dave Taylor, Krist, Gwen, Wendy and others.

After much consideration, I have decided to go with a proposal I will call “The Art of Responding to Feedback From Your Community.” Based on a blog post I wrote in January, this talk will focus on my 3 simple steps for responding to feedback that you receive from… well… your community. I have a fun twist in mind that I think people will enjoy and I will not be telling you what it is. I will give you one hint, though. We’ll be doing it live.

The bottom line here will be that it’s ALL ABOUT FEEDBACK. And I plan to showcase this. This post can’t do it justice. You’ll have to come!

After the talk, I’ll be doing a signing at the SXSW bookstore and I am really looking forward to meeting people. The presentation will be on Saturday, March 14 at 12:30 PM ET on the Day Stage. The presentation will go about 20 minutes and then I’ll head to the signing. It should be a ton of fun. If you can come, please do! Please RSVP on Facebook.

In January, I wrote about how not to lock topics. Reader Jeremy wrote this comment:

There is a certain online forum for a photo gallery I use where the Moderators are just plain mean. A good portion of the time when someone asks a question the moderator is the second or third person to respond, and it’s with a snippy comment about searching before you post, and not posting questions that have already been asked/answered. They often go on to lock the thread. Often times when searching for information, I’ll come across these threads long before the ones where the original question was answered!

I’ve even seen people ask questions about that gallery on other websites, just because they were afraid to be scolded by these mean moderators.

The moderators never help by providing links, just rude comments. It’s a shame their product is so good, because their attitude is not…

The emphasis is mine here as this is what I’d like to talk about today. There are a lot of support communities out there. I run two communities that would fit in that vein: the phpBBHacks.com Support Forums and PhotoshopForums.com.

But, back before I had them – before I had phpBBHacks.com, specifically – I noted a tactic I saw all too much. The moderators on some support forums, or the support team, would chastise people for asking questions they deemed repetitive or simple. They’d tell the people they should search, they’d lock their topic – they’d be snide and disrespectful. It bothered me so much that I made it a founding principle at phpBBHacks.com for my Support Team. That policy was, simply, if you are on my staff and someone asks you for a solution, you don’t tell them to search – you link them to what they need. Even if the question has been answered a million times. No exceptions. While I am sure there were slip ups, I am always quick to correct them. I am pretty fanatical about this.

When you are on staff at a support forum, chances are that part of your responsibilities are to actually help people – to support them. If you are telling people to search, you aren’t doing that. I don’t count this as teaching a man to fish – rather than giving him a fish. Teaching people how to search is another discussion for another day. What you exist to do is to give people a solution, not to send them off into the never ending search results.

The reason that they are using your forums is because they really don’t want to search. They want an answer, that’s why they are asking a question. Provide them with that answer, if you can. If you don’t know, don’t tell them to search. If it’s a question that has been asked a million times, write a tutorial and link to it each time. People will ask the same question over and over again – that’s natural. Maybe the more important thing to ask yourself is why – why are they asking this question so much? Can you do something to prevent that? Or help it? But, if you can’t, just write a detailed tutorial and whenever someone asks the question, link them to it and encourage them to ask questions if they have any, after reading it.

The same goes to pointing people to an FAQ in a flippant manner. “Did you read the FAQ?” “Why didn’t you read the FAQ?” “Before you posted, you should have read the FAQ.” Don’t send people to long FAQs, send people to what they need. Give them their answer. That’s your task. It’ll make them happier and you’ll be better off. And people will come back.

Do I allow regular members to suggest that people search? Yes… but, it has to be done respectfully and not in a condescending, “you’re a newbie” way. When it comes to a support community, it’s important that both the question answerers and the question askers receive respect.

Questions for the comments: Do you run a support community? If so, how do you instruct your staff to handle repetitive questions?

On January 28, Mahalo CEO Jason Calacanis sent out an e-mail to his private mailing list titled “We Live in Public (and The End of Empathy).” The e-mail talked about the state of the internet as it relates to how people behave online and how accountable they are for those actions. There is a dehumanizing element to the internet that is fed by anonymity and the fact that you don’t have to see or face the people you are talking to, or about. Jason posted the e-mail on his personal site. I’d recommend reading it. If you are a community manager or moderator, parts of it – at least – will resonate with you.

Jason invited replies, so I decided to send him one, since I enjoyed the e-mail and found myself identifying with parts of it. I can’t share all of what I sent, but here are some of the more important thoughts.

What Jason talks about, I’ve certainly noticed, as well, and it does bother me. I’ve been managing online communities for nearly 10 years now and it’s something that I battle on a daily basis, so this really resonates with me. I’d like to think I’m “winning,” my communities are free of this type of thing. I could never run a community that worked like that. My communities are friendly, respectful and family/work friendly (for the most part). It takes work to get there, but that’s the environment that I want and that is my goal – that is the allure of the community. We welcome disagreement, but it must be respectful. We don’t allow anyone to call anyone names, to flame people, to beat people down, whether it be a member, myself, a staff member, Britney Spears – whoever.

I caught this part: “At some point, all humanity in an online community is lost, and the goal becomes to inflict as much psychological suffering as possible on another person.” I can say that, in my case, that hasn’t happened on my communities. That’s what I prevent. Funnily, that is one of the reasons I wrote the book, to give a blueprint on how to create a respectful community. Community managers, like myself, don’t have to settle for this sort of stuff, just because there are people out there who want to inflict it and people out there who cry foul when you stop them from doing it. You can stand up and you can protect your community. The problem is that it takes work and not everyone wants to do that. In some circles, it’s also not cool. It’s “censorship.” But, I don’t care.

I had a guy recently come to one of my forums and as his first post, I think, he posted and said that everyone else that had replied to the thread was a “clown.” Not in the funny way, but basically he said, “you shouldn’t take the advice of any of these clowns.” We removed his post and he replied to a member of my staff that the removal of that post reminded him of 1939 Germany. Ah ha, Godwin’s law! Yes, this comparison has happened many times. I’m used to it. I’ve been called every name there is. I’ve written about it some.

But, just because that happens doesn’t mean it needs to be that way. I would like to believe there is room for people like myself, who are cultivating communities with this in mind. Part of the problem is what Jason says – the mentality where people want to get as many pageviews, unique visitors, friends, followers, etc. as they can. For this reason, a lot of people don’t want to offend the users they have, so they let people do whatever they want. Sometimes they pass it off as “well, this is what my user’s want.” They take the traffic, they cash the check, but in the process, they create a community of trolls.

I was on the phone a couple of weeks ago with two people from a major corporation and I was giving them some feedback on an internal community they have going on and I told them that one of the luxuries I have is that I own my sites, I am my own boss – no one tells me anything. I don’t have to worry about someone above me that I have to please with numbers – someone that needs to see that the community has X number of posts, members, etc. to justify it. Results are good, but sometimes to get those results, to please your boss, you sell out the would be soul of your community and that’s sad.

Those aren’t my values and I’ll never run a community where that is OK. I would like to think this is not the majority – that what we hear in these IAS comments is the loud shouting of the minority. I hope so.

Tanner Smith is one of my moderators on the phpBBHacks.com Support Forums. He’s 17 years old and he’s been on my staff since he was 13. Often times, when I discuss community environments and maturity levels with people – age becomes a topic. How someone approaches this topic, how they talk about teenagers, impacts my perception of them as people. I started managing communities in 2000 – when I was 15. I dealt with people who wouldn’t listen to me because I was that age. I will always remember that. And that’s why I will always respect people based upon their actions and their merit – not their age.

Age doesn’t mean a heck of a lot, I’ve found. Some of the biggest idiots I’ve had to deal with have been people in their 20s, 30s, 40s and older. Some of the greatest people I’ve had on my communities have been in their early to mid teens. And vice versa – some of the biggest idiots I’ve had to deal with have been people in their early to mid teens and some of the greatest people I’ve had on my communities have been people in their 20s, 30s, 40s and older. Simply, great people are great people. Age doesn’t make you great.

In other words, when someone comes into my community, my reaction to their age is always “Meh.” It doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t tell me what to expect from them. It doesn’t tell me whether or not they’ll respect our guidelines. The phrase, “we’re all adults here” means nothing – absolutely nothing – to me. It doesn’t tell me whether or not they’ll be great contributors. Age doesn’t dictate personality. Too often, too many people fall into this trap, stereotyping a certain age group.

Anyway, the main reason I am writing this post today is because I wanted to highlight a post that Tanner wrote on his personal blog. Not just because he titled it, “Why I like Patrick O’Keefe’s way of managing forums…,” either. Heh. But, in the post, he talks about his experience watching me manage the community and describes what he likes about it, in three sections: it’s organized, it’s professional and it’s good for users. I think it’s a great read. I didn’t know anything about the post until it was already up. But, having read it, it clicks. This is what it’s all about. Thanks Tanner.