Managing Online Forums, a manual for the community admin
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This is not a political article. I cannot stress that enough. Our comments section should remain free of general thoughts about President Obama, the Affordable Care Act or any topic that is generally political and not related to community management, moderation or the circumstance I am about to describe. Thank you.

President Barack Obama joined Quora earlier this week. His first two answers, posted Monday, were both to questions about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) (answer 1, answer 2). They were of good quality, in my estimation. They both answered the question asked and did so thoughtfully. The only negative is that both included brief messages encouraging U.S. citizens to sign up for health insurance prior to next week’s deadline.

Those statements take up less than a quarter of the overall message and, since the discussion is ACA related and this is the President, I can understand how they may be generally forgivable. A tradeoff for getting the President on your platform.

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On Thanksgiving, television producer Elan Gale live-tweeted his side of a contentious exchange with another passenger, on board a flight. If you haven’t heard the story, you should read this Storify post. Be sure to click “Read next page” at the bottom of the embedded tweets and photos, as there are a couple of pages.

There is a lot of speculation about this story and you can do a Google search for that. I don’t know that I believe the story (edit: looks like my suspicions were correct). But for the sake of this article, let’s assume that the story is true and that it is precisely as Mr. Gale described, from his notes, to Diane and her personality.

My family has spent a lot of time working in the service industry, but I don’t think much of Mr. Gale’s actions. It’s hard to take a high ground, as he attempts to do on his blog, when your actions are no better (and, in my opinion, worse) than the target of your criticism.

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Cluster Computing Research
Creative Commons License photo credit: stwn

Once in a while, someone will pop into my community and ask members to fill out some survey. If the first time I hear of you and your survey is from reading a public post that you made in the community, that is not a good look for you.

I’m fairly protective of the community when it comes to people taking advantage of them. While our members are a great resource, the community doesn’t exist to fill out surveys for people. If you wish to utilize the community in this way, you really should ask the manager first and receive permission for doing so.

It’s a courteous, respectful thing to do. You don’t want to assume that your request is acceptable and if you post it and it is not, it’ll be removed. If your request is appropriate, having the stamp of approval from the manager can help you to get more responses as members know that it is alright.

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Espaçosa
Creative Commons License photo credit: elbragon

I have this member on KarateForums.com, who has been with us since 2005. That year, he pushed against our guidelines so persistently and badly that I banned him. He didn’t like our guidelines, he didn’t like that we didn’t let him treat people in a certain way. After I banned him, he emailed me and asked me to give him another chance, pledging to do better.

I very rarely unban anyone. I don’t treat bans like a game, I don’t have temporary bans. We’re flexible, we’re reasonable, we try to work with you. When you have been banned, that means you’ve demonstrated a lack of caring and it’s time to go. But in a very small percentage of cases – a fraction of a percent – I will unban someone if they take responsibility and express a genuine desire to participate in good faith and do better. I felt that this member’s message to me was genuine and I unbanned them.

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Spam Doesn’t Have to Be Automated

Posted by Patrick on September 12th, 2013 in How Should I Participate?

Is that message spam? Two people can give a different answer about the very same message, depending on various factors. But one factor that doesn’t really matter is whether or not the message was delivered by a bot or through some automated process.

This logic doesn’t pass muster and a simple exercise exposes this. Let’s say that I use a bot to post a message on your community, send you a message on Twitter or send you an email, and you decide that message is spam. If I were to manually send you the exact same message, would you magically decide it wasn’t spam?

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Black Mozart by Ryan Leslie“Can’t touch me, the community loves me.”

- Ryan Leslie, Carnival of Venice

Back when I wrote Managing Online Forums, one of the people I reached out to for advance praise in late 2007 was Ryan Leslie.

This wasn’t some blanket spam request. I asked around 17 specific people and of that 17, 14 provided praise. I had reasons for contacting these individuals. At least as far back as 2006, I had been following Ryan’s work and was impressed by him, his background and his entrepreneurial spirit. He’s a uniquely smart, talented guy and I felt that he was on the way to even greater heights. When he agreed to read the book and then provide a blurb for me, I was honored.

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I was talking to Jennifer Sable Lopez, Director of Community at Moz, yesterday and I was reminded of a trend of articles that I’ve noticed, about community management. Essentially, they could all be titled:

I’m a Marketer, Who Has Never Worked as a Community Manager: Here is What a Community Manager Is and Does

Because that’s what they are. I’ll see an article talking about what a community manager is and what they should do and I’ll read it and will feel like most of it is poor advice or an inaccurate representation of the role. Then I’ll look at who wrote it and I’ll pull up their LinkedIn profile and, sure enough, they’ve almost never worked in community and they are usually a marketer of some kind. In motivation, if not in job title.

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Don’t Mess With Forum Owners

Posted by Patrick on August 8th, 2013 in How Should I Participate?

Angry Birds
Creative Commons License photo credit: VikramDeep

You don’t want to mess around with forum owners. And when I say mess around, I mean that you don’t want to anger them by doing something disrespectful or by trying to take advantage of their community.

If there is one thing that forum owners and managers don’t like, it is when someone tries to spam their community. Or scrape the community content. Or otherwise try to abuse their members or what they’ve built. You should assume spam is you referencing a work or organization that you are associated with.

If it is not abundantly clear that it is OK for you to do something, then you should never do so without asking a staff member. And yet, so many do. But that isn’t surprising. What is surprising is that people who want to be taken seriously do it. That’s the crazy part. I find that most people who do it fall into three categories:

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Usually I write articles for people who manage online communities. However, this is an article for people who don’t. People who enjoy online communities and social spaces. Please feel free to share this article with them, as it will help them to see how things work behind the scenes.

When people are afforded with the opportunity to contribute something online – they are given an area where they can share their thoughts, they are able to participate in discussions with other people, etc. – it is inevitable that some people will abuse this opportunity. They will do things that violate the policies of that community or are otherwise bad or inappropriate.

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by hand 07.18.09 [199]
Creative Commons License photo credit: timlewisnm

The other day, I was looking at the Twitter stream of an acquaintance of mine and I clicked on the username of someone he was talking to. I opened that person’s website and I found myself thinking, “that sounds familiar.”

It took me a while to place it, but then I realized that the person was a spammer. Or, at least, they had spammed my community previously. They had joined in 2007 and posted a few spammy messages, even going so far as to encourage people to click ads on his site or commit click fraud, as it is commonly called. I removed the messages and banned the account.

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