The value of your association’s online community is strong; it’s a place to engage members, answer questions, and encourage networking but when comments between members escalate should you step in?
Know the Rules
Every online community or website should have an acceptable practices page or a publically posted set of guidelines for participation. In it, detail what sorts of comments will be moderated and/or removed. Mention your stance on vulgar language or offensive commentary.
While some of this may be objective, you can cover it with a blanket statement about how the community manager reserves the right to remove posts or individuals from the community.
Creating and posting guidelines will ensure you have a document to refer to should you need one. Your decisions will seem less arbitrary than if you deal with each scenario as it comes.
Documenting Bad Behavior
While it’s within the moderator’s discretion to remove members from the online community, this should be done as a last resort. Contact the offender privately. Document the discourse. Explain the ramifications of her actions should she continue along the same line and tell her it will not be tolerated.
Walk the Line
Incendiary comments on online communities can escalate quickly but there’s equal danger between shutting down a thread and doing nothing. If you take down a thread too soon, you don’t give your members a chance to find a compromise between their differing opinions. If you don’t act soon enough, hard feelings may make reconciliation impossible.
Your actions as an online community moderator affect more than just the individuals involved in the squabble, the entire community will be watching how it is handled.
In order to time your intervention correctly consider the following:
- Is the difference of opinion eroding into a personal attack? If so, remove the post and contact those involved privately. Reiterate community expectations.
- Do these individuals have a past? If a member’s personal life is being aired in your private online community, remove the post immediately and speak with those involved.
- Is this just a difference of opinion? If everyone is respectfully disagreeing, monitor the post for escalation but do nothing. A difference of opinion is healthy for an online community as long as respect is at the center of the discourse.
- Is a gang mentality forming? Is it turning into one member against the mob? If so, speak with the dissenting opinion and find out if he is enjoying the back and forth, after all, some people love debate. If he does, do nothing as long as it remains respectful. If he doesn’t, consider shutting down the topic or removing it in accordance to your community guidelines.
The key to healthy private online community discussion is respect. If that is at the center of the posts, you’ll rarely have to moderate. If however, the tone becomes harsh and disrespectful acting decisively and quickly in accordance with your community guidelines will ensure all parties feel treated fairly.
Have you ever traded your community manager hat for a community moderator one? If so, what happened?