I recently asked you for challenges that you are facing on your community that I could help with. TommyT came up with a good one.

His community is growing and there is an influx of “new regulars.” For the first time since the community launched, these newer members are larger in number than the members who helped get it off the ground. They knew Tommy prior to launching this community and have a strong rapport with him. Unfortunately, there is a growing culture clash between these two groups.

The older members engage in more lighthearted, tongue in cheek banter, including taking good natured jabs at one another. However, the newer members don’t seem to appreciate the humor of the more established members and sometimes will take offense at something that was said. They appreciate the strict policies that Tommy has put in place and want him to be stricter on jokes that they feel are disrespectful or inappropriate.

This leads to arguments in the forums. As a consequence, many of the established members now regard the newer members as thin skinned or “cry babies,” as Tommy said one of them put it. On the other side, many of the newer members believe the older ones are a nuisance that take away from what the community could be.

Tug of War

Tommy finds himself in a difficult position. He wants the two portions of his membership to be friendlier to one another. It has been suggested to him by a few of the members that he should create two sub-communities where each of these groups could have what they want, more or less. Tommy isn’t a big fan of this because he believes they might just end up in a position where sub-community A hates sub-community B and B members won’t talk to A members and what have you.

As such, he’s looking for ideas for bringing people together before he goes ahead with the separation. Thank you for asking me and sharing this with us, Tommy.

It goes without saying that this is a tough position to be in, caught between the people with whom you have a long term relationship and new members that you’d love to welcome to your community to help it grow. As I read Tommy’s comment, various thoughts triggered and I want to walk through them.

Finding Balance

Every community has a distinct personality, culture and atmosphere. Your community is not for everyone and you have to embrace that. You can change, you can adjust, you can pivot, but you must always be focused on something. If you do not focus, if you are distracted by something shiny, you may as well be pursuing nothing at all.

You know what type of community you are and want to be and that should be your guiding principle. You don’t exist to play doctor or parent to individuals, you exist to serve the community as a whole.

As such, if a comment violates your guidelines and is inappropriate, then you take action against it. If it isn’t, then you don’t. That may seem like a simplification, but it isn’t. It’s simply the best way to maintain a sense of order. Comments aren’t inappropriate or disrespectful just because people say they are. If you want community based moderation, where a handful of down votes can silence someone, that’s a whole different ballgame. That’s not community management.

Community management is about weighing situations impartially and taking the appropriate action, no matter how unpopular it may be. If the jokes old members are making are OK, then they are OK. It doesn’t matter that X number of people complain about them. I want people to report content that they feel may be inappropriate. But reports don’t equal action. That is my determination to make.

You Don’t Serve Everyone

If people persist, then I tell them: I appreciate the concern, but that content is appropriate within our community. If you can’t ignore that content or respond in an appropriate manner, then maybe this is not the community for you. Somewhat regularly, I have a conversation with a member where I will explain that no community is for everyone and our community may or may not be for them. That’s not my determination to make, but I open the door to the possibility and encourage them to find one that will give them what they need, if we are unable to. Life is too short to be a member of a community you don’t like.

I think that being honest and consistent can bring people together because they know what to expect and can either adjust their expectations or move on. The middle ground is understanding that this is how it is. Can you get people to bond? I don’t know. But the first step is in creating a level, consistent playing field. These jokes are OK, they are allowed and they are not a violation of our guidelines. This is our community.

It’s Not About Sides

The key to defusing a civil war on your community is to understand that it is not about choosing a side, it is about upholding the ideals that make your community unique or special.

It may be helpful to put together a bit of a welcome guide for new members if you haven’t already. Give people an idea of what to expect, about how people joke around with one another, etc. This may help some members and, more importantly, may help future members to enter with the proper expectations.

When it comes to the idea of segmenting members, in this case, I’m against it. It just feels like it is for the wrong reasons, to become something you don’t want to be. Segmenting people in this case is like creating a section for people who don’t have a sense of humor. Do you really want to do that? Where does it end? Do you really want to launch and manage what is effectively a second community about the same thing, but with a slightly different personality? Is it worth the division of energy? Only you can decide for you personally.

That said, my general recommendation would be to decide where your focus is and pursue it.