Creative Commons License photo credit: mikecogh

In a perfect world, the members of your online community would contact you through the method that you direct them toward.

But, this isn’t a perfect world and you can’t expect that people will always do so. Going beyond that, you can’t really be angry if someone contacts you through a publicly available email address or instant messenger username. Well, you can, but I don’t know if there is any purpose.

Instead, what you should do is direct them back to the appropriate channel by contacting them through it. For example, I prefer the private message system on our community for most sensitive issues. If this is one of those instances, then I might respond to an email or instant message conversation and say that I am going to continue the conversation through the private message system and then do so immediately, answering their inquiry.

This means that I am both helping them and directing them back to the appropriate means of communication.

Obviously, if you have someone who is purposely being abusive, creepy and/or crossing some lines (like calling you at home), you should deal with that differently and seriously, as appropriate, but I find that most people don’t do that sort of thing. They are simply looking for a response and found some contact information posted online.

It can be contact information on your site, as well. For example, if you list your instant messenger profiles on your profile on your community, you can reasonably expect people to use them.

This may be hard for some people to accept, but when it comes to your community, what you do off of your community can have a direct impact on your community. So, you don’t get a free pass to act like a jerk because someone instant messaged you instead of emailed. That is still a negative interaction, regardless of where the member contacted you. You are still the administrator or manager and you still have to hold yourself to high standards. When viewed by others, the member’s possibly poor social etiquette will pale in comparison to your overreaction because you are supposed to be the leader.

Your main focus, in cases like this, should always be on helping while redirecting through the proper channels.