A Line in the Sand
Creative Commons License photo credit: the_girl

During the “Building an Irresistible Private Member Community” panel at BlogWorld Expo, I mentioned that one of the biggest challenges that I face, when managing an online community, isn’t spam or some form of hit and run vandalism, but when a veteran member, that you expect better from, does something completely inappropriate.

Those are some of the most personally challenging, stressful situations that I encounter. When someone who has contributed a bunch to your community is veering off the path and you have to correct it. It’s never fun, but that’s why you’re the community manager. Not to have fun, but to do the hard things.

From that point, there are a handful of scenarios that can play out. The best case scenario is the member understands what you are saying, can see where the issue is and they adjust for it or keep it in mind. The worst case scenario is that they continue to go down hill, forcing you to bring about a final resolution, e.g. banning them. Never easy, just another hard thing that you have to do.

But, I have come to a certain understanding that puts this decision in the proper context. After managing communities for a long enough period of time, I realized that I don’t really ban people. People ban themselves. This isn’t a way of shirking the responsibility at all. I am responsible for the ban, but realistically, it’s the member who makes this choice. Let me explain.

When I make the decision to ban someone, that decision is carefully made and is based completely on the member’s actions. I try to ban in a consistent manner and by the time we ban someone, in a case like this, they must have really gone off the deep end because, as long as someone seems well meaning, we work with them and send them notifications and try to productively work toward an understanding. To be banned, to put it simply, you either were a big jerk or you have demonstrated that you do not care about the community, it’s members, staff or guidelines (usually both).

We have a great system of documentation and a member is banned (largely) based on that documentation. When they have reached the point where they need to be banned, when other options have been reasonably exhausted, they have reached that point and it is done. It’s a consistent thing. But, the member decides when and if they reach that point – we just try to guide them.