We've all seen it; the "Trolls" posting negativity on forums, the Negative Norman that hooks a community and brings its people down, the Debbie Downer who loves to hate. One negative comment has the power to bring down the entire ecosystem. So, how do you handle this negativity in your community? Do you erase the comment? Remove the member? Delete the forum? As community managers, builders, leaders, and members, we all see the negativity, but what’s the most efficient and effective approach to handling it?

At our C2C Connect in Palo Alto on Oct 23, we discussed exactly this topic. To present on the matter, we had the pleasure of welcoming Terri Lomax, a Customer Success Manager at Asana by day, and a Blogger, Speaker, and Brand Strategist by night. Terri is an expert on handling drama in an online community, and shared her wisdom with the attendees of the Connect. The conversation began with Terri’s four tips how to handle negativity as soon as, or even before, it arises.

Terri’s tip #1

Set expectations early on.

Before members even join your community, make sure they know what the community is about and why it’s there. Ensure members are privy to what will and will absolutely not be tolerated in the community and why. Kind of like the Terms and Conditions of a phone contract, make sure each member knows what kind of behaviour might get them thrown out.

Terri’s tip #2

Get grounded in your mission.

Why is your community there, why are members there, and what is the end-goal of the community? Members should know, before joining an online space, why the community was built in the first place, and what company or consumer need it satisfies. Put everyone, managers and members alike, on the same page with the Who, What, and Why of the community, so there are no surprises.

Terri’s tip #3

Get buy-in and make this part of the approval process.

Before prospective members join the community, they must read and abide by community standards. If members have to agree to the community’s standards, they know what those standards are, and will be more likely to adhere to them. Again, much like terms and conditions, this process can ensure people are joining the community for the right reasons.

Terri’s tip #4

Get ahead of the game.

Why handle everything yourself? You have a community full of incredible members who care about the community as much (and sometimes more than) you do! Empower your community members to quickly diffuse conflict or negativity by teaching them how to handle tense situations before they even occur. Creating a code of conduct for conflict resolution will bring consistency to the way negativity is handled in the community. During the roundtable discussion, the group added a few tips of our own:

The group’s addition #5

Know the platform on which your community lives.

Jelena Djuric, from Dfinity, addressed the third point, about building an approval process. She reminded us that all forums and platforms are different. “Social channels vary so differently,” she said, and suggested it isn’t always possible to have an approval process. Jelena proposed the importance of knowing the platform of the community, and how that can absolutely change how you handle the situation.

The group’s addition #6

Figure out the real reason for the negativity and address only that.

Tiffany Oda, from Salesforce, shared stories from her history as a community manager, dealing with conflict, and what she calls, “pre-conflict.” She said, “community members are so passionate! That’s why they are here.” The reason the member is disappointed can often be wrapped up in this passion, and is then presented to the community with anger, disappointment, fear, and sometimes CAPS LOCK! What Tiffany found great success in is fishing through comments to find what the member is actually saying. Looking past the capital letters and the angry emojis, and taking into consideration the issue the member is bringing up. Derek Andersen, CEO and Co-Founder of Bevy, chimed in and agreed. Address and empathize with the feelings presented, but the feelings often aren’t the actual problem. He suggested that the community often acts as the voice of reason. Sometimes, a company can make a mistake, and it’s not the community members that are out of control, it could be the company.

That bring us to our group’s next point, #7

Be as transparent as possible

Derek spoke about the importance of an apology. Anytime a member is negative, there is an underlying reason for it, and that reason could very well be something the company did. This is not to say apologizing for the company, no. The last thing you want to do in a community is commiserate with negative members. But offering transparency will help to alleviate a member’s worry. For example, offer an apology not for the new feature your member dislikes, but for the execution of roll out, that the member is having a hard time with it, or that your company made them feel surprised, betrayed, upset, etc. JR Sims, Associate Product Manager at Bevy, made the point of being intentional with how you communicate every message. It is important to “focus on transparency [and] anticipate new features and communications.”

In conclusion...

A smart community manager knows that their community is not always a love-fest for super-users and devoted customers. The best community thrives, changes, adapts, and grows from the conflicts, the questions, and the challenges. Without any unrest, how do you expect to grow and get better? Communities become stronger by highlighting and encouraging questions and challenges from its members.

Terri left the group with a last thought; when we are faced with negativity in the community, we often roll our eyes, give a big sigh, and sarcastically think, “great! Here we go…” She invited us to not let sarcasm drive us, or go into these challenges already defeated, but instead to remember the tools we have, and the reason the community is there. On October 23rd, we ended our C2C Connect discussion with smiles on our faces, and an enthusiastic, larger than life, “GREAT!!!! Here we go!!!!”

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