Not Sure If TrollingMy approach to “trolling” on my communities is very simple. I don’t care. I don’t bother myself with trying to identify people as trolls – and I don’t encourage or allow my members to do it in public, either.

My belief is that good guidelines filter out the vast majority of harmful or annoying trolls. People aren’t kicked off of my communities for “trolling.” They’re banned for repeated violations of our community guidelines, such as inflammatory comments, profanity, general religious discussions, and so on.

I say this as someone who has managed communities that were targeted by groups with a plan to “troll” the community. These things happen. They come in waves. It’s a process. Identify harmful content, remove any trace of it, ban the offenders (sometimes more creatively) and don’t allow people to give them attention.

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As professionals, we are diverse. None of us has all the answers. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. We have areas we are known for (fair or not). We have skills that people don’t know we have. We are always improving and growing.

There is one semi-persistent blind spot I encounter as I talk with community professionals. It’s not the ability to look at numbers and use them to make a decision. It’s not ROI. It’s not growing activity. It’s not scaling a community.

It’s the law. Specifically, the law as it relates to our profession. Even if you have a legal department to run things through – which many don’t – an understanding of the law empowers you to confidently take action and manage your community.

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FandangoIf you are going to have online ratings and reviews on your website, community or app, they need to have integrity. Or they are garbage. It’s that simple.

Walt Hickey at FiveThirtyEight published an interesting, in-depth piece about how Fandango, the overwhelming leader in online movie ticket sales, is manipulating user reviews to cast movies in a more favorable light.

Usually, when a reputable online review site rounds the average rating to display a star-based rating, they will round to the nearest half star. For example, when my book received a 3 star review earlier this year on Amazon, it dropped my review average to 4.7. This meant that the book was listed as 4.5 stars, because they rounded down, to the nearest half star. Later, after I received a couple of 5 star reviews, my average went up to 4.8, and the book was 5 stars.

This is the behavior that we generally expect, as consumers. It’s not what Fandango is doing.

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Marcus LemonisI’m a big fan of Marcus Lemonis, who helps struggling small businesses on CNBC’s The Profit. I even tweeted recently that I’d love to work for him. I really identify with how he goes about his business, and it reminds of my Dad and the lessons he’s taught me.

One of his mantras is that successful businesses need the three P’s: people, process and product. This is a great, simple way of expressing how to build an enduring company. It’s just as applicable to building a successful online community.


Community professionals are not a dime a dozen. There are great ones, bad ones and plenty in between. Some are just starting out, others have been in the field for more than 20 years. Your budget often dictates who you can hire and how long you can keep them.

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Last week, The New York Times published an article about the “bruising workplace” at Amazon. I didn’t think much of it because it seemed to only show part of the picture. It’s not hard to find a collection of people with alleged horror stories about a big company. You can find a bunch of people I’ve banned from my communities or kicked off of my staff that will regale you with tales of what a terrible human being I am.

I would be open to applying for a job at Amazon. I eyed this one, but I am not a “game industry veteran,” despite my passion for gaming. I’m a big Amazon fan, as I’ve made abundantly clear. I’m a long-term shareholder. Disclosures aside, I have been critical of them before. But for those reasons, I enjoyed reading the rebuttal written by Nick Ciubotariu, an Amazon employee. I even shared it on my social media profiles.

However, there is at least one thing he got wrong, in my opinion, and it is this quote, which was included as an update to his post:

“I tried to post it in the comments section of the New York Times article. I’m sad, but not surprised, to say it was moderated out.” (The emphasis was Ciubotariu’s, not mine).

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Credit: slgckgc (CC BY 2.0)

Credit: slgckgc (CC BY 2.0)

On Saturday, I went with my brothers to the “Weird Al” Yankovic concert in Newport News, Virginia. I’m a big fan of Weird Al, and it was our second time seeing him. He puts on a great show, and we had a lot of fun.

If you’ve never been to a Weird Al show, it’s a little different from your average music concert. During the performance, the physical energy of the crowd more closely resembles what you might see for a big name standup comic, rather than what you’d expect from the fans of a popular rap, rock or pop artist.

In general, when I go to a concert, I’m not among those moving the most. I stand, I clap, I bop along to the music. I don’t tend to put my arms up, scream, etc. I’ll sing along if the artist wants it or I feel just right. But I am not among the most animated in attendance.

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Credit: mario) (CC BY 2.0)

Credit: mario) (CC BY 2.0)

A few months ago, there was a conversation on one of my communities where members were talking about other forums that they participate in. This is a natural thing, and it crops up every so often.

Rather than being afraid that members will leave for these other communities, I embrace these types of discussions because I believe in the atmosphere we’re creating. I’m secure in what we are and don’t feel the need to block other forums from being mentioned, simply because we both focus on the same topic. It’s not my job to monopolize the time of our community members.

That said, one of the tools that I have in my arsenal is the ability to block specific websites from being mentioned. We use our word censor in a proactive way, and it covers URLs. This has come in handy time and time again. I’m very judicious how I use it – mostly, it’s utilized to stop persistent spammers.

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“Free speech” and “freedom of speech.” These are terms you should never use to describe your community. It’s a common mistake made by people who mean well, but are brand new to community management.

What they generally mean: you can say whatever you want, as long as you follow these guidelines.

But that’s not free speech. Free speech doesn’t discriminate. Free speech isn’t just what you want, it’s what you don’t. There are some exclusions to free speech that exist in the law, but they don’t relate to most of the issues that you’ll face when working with a community.

What people will think you mean: I can say whatever I want!

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reddit Alienreddit is currently the talk of the online community world. For me, it’s a lot of old lessons coming back to the surface, yet again. Which is why I haven’t written much about it. But I saw a great comment on reddit by Slickdeals chief product officer Bryant Quan. I’m a long term user of Slickdeals, and I found his executive-level perspective to be quite compelling. His thoughts are re-published here, with permission.

I was one of the original founders, former CEO and now the Chief Product Officer, and as such I’ve had the opportunity to put a lot of processes in place, as well as help ask the right questions whenever we do things. Naturally all communities have their nuances and differences, but in the end, it boils down to respect. Respect the community: honor your users and content contributors for the work and effort they do.

Often this results in us taking a tradeoff in what we call “technical debt vs. community debt,” where instead of creating friction for our users, we take on a technical burden instead. For instance, we launched a redesign recently, and instead of forcing everyone over, we maintained a classic version of the website. We told ourselves that we would maintain two versions of the site for the foreseeable future and do our best to improve the redesigned version to the point that it compels people to switch (“lets make it so much better that they willingly switch”).

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European Court of Human Rights Credit: James Russell (CC BY-SA 2.0)

European Court of Human Rights
Credit: James Russell (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Earlier this month, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Delfi, a leading Estonian news organization, could be held liable for comments posted on its website by readers.

That, in itself, is a scary prospect for community professionals. But the judgment is even worse when you consider that Delfi’s comments weren’t a total free-for-all. They may not have had the greatest moderation strategy in the world – far from it – but they did have comment guidelines, a report comment function and a notice-and-takedown system in place. The day the aggrieved party reported the comments to them, they removed them.

However, the party wanted more than removal of the comments: they wanted financial compensation. When Delfi balked, a lawsuit was filed and, 9 years later, we arrive at this judgment. The Court not only placed the liability on Delfi, but was critical of the simple existence of anonymous comments and provided confusing guidance on how Delfi could have avoided liability; outside of not having comments at all.

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