Recently, I watched a couple of people argue about what the community manager role should encompass. One was more of a marketing guy and the other had a more community oriented background. Their viewpoints aren’t important, as much as how they chose to express them.
I happened to be subscribed to this particular discussion and as they want back and forth, I noted that both of them were being a bit in your face and disrespectful. Though I agreed with one more than the other, I found myself thinking less of both of them, surprised by the words that they chose.
In my eyes, community managers are supposed to be the very definition of civility – polite, courteous. That is what most of us work hard to cultivate in our communities and so we should exemplify it. I try to do so not only on my communities, but off of them. That’s one of the reasons you’ll never see me saying things like “this band sucks!” It’s very important, to me, to recognize that everyone has different tastes and preferences and that is where civility toward (and respect for) others begins: understanding that we are all different.
We all have our moments where we slip, but we should strive to minimize those moments because when we speak, we not only speak to the person that we are answering, we speak to everyone who will ever read that comment.
Take, for example, this review of my book on Amazon.com. It is the first one star review I have received. If someone feels like the book is that bad, so be it. Reviews should be honest, good or bad. The book has 64 reviews and an overall 5 star rating and I am humbled by how well it has been received. This person went to a different level, though.
If you anonymously say that the book is terrible without explaining why, that may be frustrating to me personally and possibly a little unfair, but it happens. However, you bring it to a different level when you say that your opinion of the book makes you wonder whether or not the other reviews, nearly all of which were possible, are truthful. “How on Earth can anyone have anything positive to say about such a shallow and above all expensive book that delivers nothing?” That is a great, very nasty question. A book that costs $13.20 is “above all expensive.”
Then the reviewer describes the book as a “trap” and apologizes for the negative review, “but other clients deserve to know the truth,” as if his opinion is a fact or commonly held truth. In short, the review was pretty nasty. There are a lot of things I could say to a person like that. But I’m not threatened. Don’t get me wrong, it does bother me very much. However, I know that people who know this space value my book and I know that it has helped a lot of people.
So when I commented, my comment wasn’t really for the reviewer or for my satisfaction. It was for everyone who would read the review and see how I responded to it. That I am willing to be polite, even if you are not, and offer assistance if my book doesn’t help you the way that you thought it would. It might seem fun to eviscerate someone who posted such a nasty review, while hiding behind anonymity. But, that fun would have been fleeting and it would have been replaced by a feeling of discontent and disappointment in the fact that I allowed myself to slip down to that level.
The bottom line: Alex the anonymous reviewer has nothing to lose. I do. If I act in the way Alex did, some people will lose respect for me.
I have some views about what a community manager is and isn’t. Those views are steeped in my understanding of the space. Not everyone will agree with them. Time permitting, I am open to discussing those disagreements with people, but if I feel the conversation is starting to go down a bad path and the other person is no longer being civil, it becomes highly likely that I will excuse myself from the conversation.
The world will not end because I chose not to argue about community management with someone that I feel is wasting my time or becoming disrespectful. I’m not letting them “win,” I’m simply deciding what the best allocation of my time is and maintaining my own personal standards as far as the types of discussions I want to engage in.
The internet has a deserved reputation, as far as online comments, and that creates a cynical outlook. When someone allows the internet to name their baby, which was a hoax, we expect that they’ll pick a highly unfortunate name (thanks to my friend Chrispian Burks for pointing that out). As community managers, I think we have a great opportunity to impact the level of discourse online in a very positive way, to create outlets where serious discussion can be had in a respectful, polite manner. Let’s lead the way.