I just sent a very frank, but polite message to a member who contacted me, mentioning a piece of spam that was posted on the forums, but using it to say that even with spammers like this, I have time free to bother good members who are trying to help (not his exact words, but close enough) by removing their posts that violate our guidelines and contacting them and how he and some other members are tired of it. It was a condescending message.

Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard this, and it won’t be the last. But, it did get me thinking of the member/staff dynamic and how it is sometimes compared, by me and others, to a customer service relationship. This is true in some ways, but it is not the complete story. Community members are sort of like customers… they are your visitors, your clientele, the people who partake in the community that you are cultivating.

But, whereas the goal of customer service is most often to please, community management is a different game. We want people to be happy, yes, but not at the cost of violating community guidelines, standards or norms because those things are a part of the foundation of the community and what you’re all about. Sometimes, when interacting with a member, you must be direct and frank, in a polite and respectful way.

You have to tell them that what they just said was wrong, that this is the problem, that you must do this and that there could be consequences if you don’t. It’s about being honest and setting realistic expectations. Not challenging them to push them, but letting them know that they exist.

So, what did I tell the member above? Well, I thanked him for pointing me to the spam. But, I told him that it was not appropriate to speak to a member of staff in a condescending manner. I explained that his violations are no more or less important than the random spammers and that, just because other people may violate our guidelines, that does not mean that his violations will be ignored or passed over. Whether or not that bothers him does not change the fact that a violation was committed and needed to be handled.

I told him to not speak for other members, only for himself. If he has an issue with how I’ve handled something, please share it, but other members can do the same and they shouldn’t be invoked by him. I explained how, despite the fact that I said in my private message to him to please report violations to us, instead of responding to them, he went ahead and responded to the piece of spam that he referenced. I impressed upon him that warnings and notifications would eventually come to an end and that it was important to focus on himself and his actions and be accountable for them.

And, of course, I said this in an ever so softer tone. Polite, respectful and fair, but direct and honest just the same. I haven’t heard back from him yet. He may not like it or he may understand and adjust. But, the important thing is that I was honest with him, I didn’t sugarcoat the situation and, even if he doesn’t like it or me, I’ve been on the level and forthright and he should know where I stand. I believe there is integrity and value there.