Community Management: The Dark Side

Image by lacie babenco

Image by lacie babenco

This is the fourth in a series of online community management posts. Earlier posts covered online community manager jobs, what community managers actually do, and what skills are required to be successful in the role. I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that community management is all sunny skies, unicorns and rainbows, though. Communities have their fair share of trolls under the bridge, wicked influences and other elements representing the dark side of the force, as Robert S. Robbins points out in a comment on one of my previous posts. Robert said:

“You seem to be ignoring the dark side of the profession. I’ve seen a lot of challenging issues come up in the online communities I participate in. For example: you’ll have to deal with trolls and other disruptive individuals, you’ll have to deal with copyright issues when content providers put up material they don’t own the rights to, and you’ll have to deal with security when women attract stalkers and kids are being preyed upon. YouTube started out as a video sharing site and then became a social networking site but they failed miserably when it came to managing that aspect of the business.”

The dark side can take many different forms. Here are just a few of them.

Trolls. These are the people who engage in a community with the sole purpose of baiting other users into disruptive and often emotional arguments. The best way to deal with trolls is to ignore them and refuse to take the bait, which usually drives them to leave your community for other communities where they can find an audience and an argument. Don’t feed the trolls.

Spammers. Use every tool at your disposal to deal aggressively with spammers using automated spam control software, like Akismet, and other tools that allow community members to report spam and automatically bury spam comments. As soon as the spammers realize that you are slow to deal with spam, you will find your community overrun with Nigerian royalty who need help transferring money, Viagra ads, foreign brides, and more.

Lawbreakers. This comes in many forms depending on the type of community – members uploading content they don’t own, scammers, and much more. How you deal with it depends on the ways that people are exploiting the system. In general, you should make sure your guidelines clearly state how the community can be used, get rid of any offenders quickly, and put technical solutions in place to discourage the behavior in the first place (reporting mechanisms, etc.)

Meanies. These are the people who make the community unpleasant for the other members: harassment, predatory behavior, bullying and more fall into this group. Again, make sure you have clear community guidelines (Flickr is a great example). Give people a warning or two about their behavior with a pointer to the guidelines, and then get rid of the members who refuse to comply and continue behaving inappropriately to other members.

How has the dark side manifested itself in your communities? What issues have you experienced, and how do you deal with them?