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It's every community manager's worst nightmare — a community turned against you. If it's never happened to you, chances are it will. And what better way to learn what to do than to hear it from someone who's been there?
The May edition of the San Francisco Online Community Meetup welcomed Jeff Elder, Social Media Director at Storify. Elder's talk, What to Do When Your Community Wants to Kill You, drew from the lessons he has learned facing angry communities. Elder, who has also managed online community for Lowe's, broke down his approach to community crisis into five simple steps.
As much as you may initially want to step away from a problem, your community will be more inclined to come around when you assume responsibility. Giving any impression that you may be backpedaling only risks increasing your community's anger and hurting your chances of repairing the damage. Be transparent about what went wrong and apologize. Let your community know how you plan to fix the problem and avoid something similar from happening again.
The job of a community manager is to make community members feel safe. Too much negativity does not foster safety. Dealing with fallout can bring out the worst in some community members, who may attempt to dominate the conversation. When this begins to happen, it's all the more important for managers to use their authority to control the situation. Failure to assert control risks letting a bad situation alienate members and detract from other matters.
Once you have owned up to the problem and offered a solution, it is time to steer the conversation in a more productive direction. Even in the midst of crisis, community members will have other concerns that need to be taken care of. Remind your community members that you are there to help them and how you can help.
Take the time to educate your community about your services or platform. The most valuable thing you can give as a community manager is useful information. One way Storify has done this is by providing how-to guides for their platform. Giving your community members information empowers them to help themselves and others - hopefully avoiding future problems.
Crisis should not derail taking care of your organization's day-to-day business. At some point you will have to stop focusing on any extended fallout from a crisis and get back to business. It's worthwhile to remember that your community only got angry because they cared. Move on by giving your community what they care about. Your organization can only be prepared for what's ahead by moving forward.
To learn more about online community management, visit the San Francisco Online Community Meetup page and RSVP for future meetups.
Susan ChavezOnline Community & Social Media Team, TechSoup Global@Susan_Chavez
I'd add: be ready to lose some community members, and wish them well if they leave. It's not necessarily a sign of failure if some, or even a lot, of community members leave because of a change or disagreement - it may actually be a necessary part of a community's evolution and, eventual, improvement. Stay positive and be ready to implement a plan to reach out to potential new members. The best case scenario is that some community members who have been around a while but didn't feel welcomed as leaders, or didn't feel there was room for them to participate, may emerge.
That's a great point, Jayne. It's good to remember that communities will evolve and our job as community managers is to help the process along to the best of our abilities.
This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License.
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