7 Ways Detractors Can Help Your Community Culture

By Andy Steggles posted Jul 08, 2014 08:49 AM


What happens when a member posts a negative or inflammatory comment in your online community? Having negative comments, or "detractors," in your community is not a bad thing; in fact it’s a great opportunity for an organization to demonstrate transparency and a culture of openness. There's a saying, “The conversation is happening whether you’re listening or not.” If a member voices a concern related to the profession/industry, or even about the organization itself, the odds are that other members have similar thoughts. It’s best to address concerns head-on and open up a dialogue about the issue. Although after looking at the moderation analytics from over 400 organizations representing over 100,000 communities, it actually appears to be a fairly infrequent scenario.

Here are seven key "Detractor" considerations for private communities:

  1. Unlike LinkedIn, most professional private communities are by their very nature “private” and made up of industry professionals, who usually join the organization to network, learn and share with other like-minded individuals that have been vetted by a membership application process.
  2. Member profiles are populated with full names, contact and bio information, personal and other industry specific demographic information. It’s a living, breathing resume which has every post that a member has contributed attached to it. I definitely don't recommend allowing anonymous profiles (there are some exceptions to this which I'll post about later). Having personally identifying information visible to other members means that people are completely accountable for their activities in the community. When professional reputations are at stake, people are significantly less likely to be negative.
  3. Creating clear Terms of Use or Community Guidelines, which outline rules of participation in the community, help you set the right tone with users. All users must agree to the terms in order to access the community. While all our clients are supplied with some out-of-the-box Terms of Use, we recommend you review and customize them to be applicable and appropriate for your members. In many cases, the terms clearly explain that participation must "add to the organization's body of knowledge", with consequences also noted for those who violate the Terms of Use.
  4. As part of your implementation process, you should proactively outline steps to take in the event of an inappropriate post or comment. Your policy around this may involve having a core team of respected members ready to respond quickly and positively to negative comments in a constructive, open manner. After all, these leaders are the ultimate defenders of the organization’s decisions and direction.
  5. If organizations are still concerned about certain individuals or groups, don’t auto-subscribe every member to each community at launch. Instead, auto-subscribe only the segments of your membership likely to keep discussions productive and professional, such as special interest groups and governance entities. If you know of a user you think might be problematic, simply don’t auto-subscribe them. A “detractor” can have a much larger impact if they start posting negative comments during your launch, versus after the community has been established.
  6. Remember, you can always put detractors on probation, moderate their contributions or take them out of the community altogether. Having dealt with over 15 million combined users, I have found it's very rare for an organization to progress to the point of removing someone from the community. Be sure to include the grounds for probation and expulsion from your community's Terms of Use or Community Guidelines, so the process will be documented, and should you have to suspend or remove a community member, you will be able to point to the specific rule they violated.
  7. A good community manager will not run for the hills when someone posts something negative. Instead, they will recognize and appreciate the member’s candor. Embrace a culture of openness and promote transparency within the organization, and be prepared to act swiftly and according to the established plan for dealing with such circumstances. Remember, with the right plan in place, your biggest detractors can sometimes become your best promoters.

If you don't have a plan in place to deal with detractors, you should create one. Don't let your leadership be caught off guard if a negative comment is posted. The best way to mitigate the situation is to respond openly and quickly (before the daily digest is generated).

Do you have a “Community Disaster Preparedness Plan” in place?