Creative Commons License photo credit: davispuh

I recently spoke to students from Arizona State University about forums and how to get the most out of them. One of the topics that we touched on was building social capital within forums. I talked about how I build credibility within the communities that I manage. There are 5 keys to it.


Participating in the community as a contributor, outside of your role as a manager, in a genuine way helps your members to see you as a person – not as a machine in a dark room deciding the fate of the universe. This makes it easier for them to emphasize with you, which can be really helpful to furthering your goals as a community.

People don’t emphasize with machines, they don’t feel compassion for machines – they simply want them to work. I don’t want my members to see me this way.

Praise Others

Praising worthy people endears you in a very real way – especially with your staff. When we hit goals or reach milestones, I pretty much always thank my staff and acknowledge their contributions. I also acknowledge members and try to acknowledge individual members where it makes sense. Do I know that my work actively guides the community and that I have done a lot to push it down this path? Yes, but as my grandfather used to say, “self-praise stinks.” It means nothing for me to praise myself, but it means everything for someone else to praise me.

That is why I choose to praise others. Doing so helps to create a community of people that appreciate each other and makes me stronger, personally. Appreciated people will stand behind you and will fight for you.

Be Direct and Honest, But Respectful

I will point to this story as an example. To sum it up, there is a member who joined my community 4 years after it had launched. He had issues with the guidelines – mainly, he wanted to talk to people a certain way that was inappropriate. He was banned. But he made a genuine apology and said he’d do better. So I did something I rarely do and I unbanned him. He’s been a pretty good member overall.

But four years after that situation, he had the same issue with the community. He wasn’t able to call people names and complained that the community was too nice. Once again, I made it clear that it wasn’t alright. He disappeared and came back. Four years later, in 2013, he had the same complaint. And again I gave him the same answer: the community has always been like this. It was like this four years before he joined, it was like this eight years ago when he was banned, it was like this four years ago when he had the same issue and it is that way now. The community won’t change for you.

I have been honest with him and I have been direct. But I have also been respectful. When you take this approach, many people can’t help but respect it. Even if they disagree with me, even if they disagree with the policies, they still have to respect it because I am honest and direct with them. I tell them to their face what the issue is and I don’t try to hide.

Be Responsible and Accountable

When a mistake is made in the management of the site, whether it is something I do or a member of my staff, I always correct it, take responsibility for it and apologize. Often this is done publicly. I am the public face of the mistake. Even if a staff member did it, they made the mistake because they thought it was what I wanted. I never say “Joe did this” or “Susan is sorry.” I say we did this and I apologize for it.

This builds trust because people see that I don’t just let mistakes stand or sweep them under the rug. They aren’t a big deal, but the way I respond to them builds credibility.

Be Accessible

Finally, running an online community is a lot like saying, “hey, contact me!” People will contact you, so you may as well make it easy for them and create simple ways that they can get a hold of you. I like private messages through the community or email through our contact form.

When people contact me, I help them if I can. I direct them to the proper page, I give them the correct information. If they have a question about whether or not something is appropriate, I give them the definitive answer. If they need help changing their profile, I guide them. I do whatever I can, kindly and respectfully. When people know that they can contact you, and get an answer, their comfort level with you grows.

For me, it is these 5 things that have allowed me to slowly build, over a period of time, the credibility that I am fortunate enough to have.