So Long, Trolls: 3 Tips for Online Community Management

When you launch your company blog or Facebook page, you have high hopes for the quality of engagement with the public. You imagine the comments will be full of cool people exchanging opinions and information, and having lively debates while agreeing that your company is just terrific.

In practice, however, you end up doing a lot of online community management. You’ve got to deal with customers complaining, spammers spamming, and trolls being just the worst. Junk can be eliminated with good software, and you should be ready to deal customer contacts through these channels, but what about trolls? Here’s a framework to help you drive them back under their bridges:

  1. Lay out your community guidelines.

In the words of Monica Geller, “rules help control the fun!” Community guidelines are essential for running a positive and respectful comments section. They also create a sense of fairness by allowing you to moderate with consistency.

Comment hosting service Disqus offers a community guidelines template, with examples from major websites. You can base your guidelines on these and adjust them to suit the tone of your online presence – for example, you may choose to not allow profanity in your comments. It’s up to you, it’s just important to have clearly-defined rules about what is acceptable. Then everyone can have fun.

  1. Act when you need to act.

When someone breaks the rules, you have the right to delete comments and block them. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. If you’re too hasty to shut people down, it can backfire, sometimes resulting in a Streisand Effect where the deleted conversation goes viral.

Light-touch moderation is generally the best, and if you have the option of gently reminding someone about the boundaries of acceptability, do so. If a comment is offensive or aggressive to other users, then remove it and indicate that the comment has been removed for community guideline violations (which is why it’s useful to have them prepared).

If the offending comment is about your company, then it is a chance for you to reply. You can simply reply by calmly restating facts and providing information, use some gentle humor if you’re very confident doing so. At no point should you get defensive or lose your temper, a mistake that has sunk several businesses.

  1. Identify and block trolls.

“Troll” can be a loaded term. A Stanford University study on antisocial online behavior suggests what might be a better name: Future-Banned Users (FBUs). These are the people whose contribution is so negative that you’re just going to end up banning or blocking them. Identifying them early will save you time and protect the spirit of your community.

According to the study, FBUs are identifiable by some particular traits. For example, their posts tend to ramble and score low on readability metrics. They post comments which are irrelevant to the main article or give off-topic replies to other users. In general, they show little interest in engaging in any real conversation, and they become aggressive when faced with any kind of discipline, either from moderators or other users. When FBUs of this kind go unchecked, they can actually drive people away from your community.

Although the Stanford researchers reckon they can identify an FBU after just five comments, it may not be so easy for the busy community manager. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep notes on all your moderation activity so that you can start to see the people who are lowering the quality of your community. Trolls can’t be reasoned with, so do your community a favor and hit ‘em with the banhammer.

Trolls are a symptom of success, as they only bother communities with a lot of activity. So their presence means that you’re on the right track. Keep applying the rules fairly, monitor activity closely, and respond to emerging situations quickly. You’ll never get rid of them entirely, but they won’t stop you building a thriving online community.

Ber LearyContent Creator

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