It’s a perennial truth of life: a very small (but excruciatingly annoying) minority of people will try to ruin things for the rest of us. It was true in school, it’s often true at work and it’s most certainly true on the internet.
And nowhere is it more true on the internet than on forums. Even the best-constructed, most innovative forums run by the most digitally conscientious companies face forum trolls. At the end of the day, no forum is immune. This is one of those situations where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Spotting and eliminating trolls early on, before they have a chance to derail a perfectly illuminating thread, is the essence of the game we’re playing here. And it’s a game you want to get good at.(
Read on for 3 simple, yet ultra-effective strategies for managing trolls and preventing would-be trolls.
Establish a Clear “Two Strike” Policy
This one’s a highly effective tactic for a variety of reasons. For one thing, it’s an obvious play on the classic “three strikes” warning, so your intentions will be instantly recognizable to potential offenders. The sooner you can make it clear that your forum is a place of education, openness and implicit goodwill, the better.
Since the traditional mandate is “three strikes”, upholding a “two strike” policy instantly shows you mean business when dealing with trolls or would-be trolls.
Just remember to layer your “two strike” policy within your wider forum rules and guidelines. For instance, if your forum maintains a strict policy against profanity, someone who transgresses twice would be banned from future forum participation.
A variation on this idea to consider: instead of banning a member indefinitely, perhaps imposea “trial ban” of anywhere from one week to one month. This gives the individual time to consider his or her actions, but isn’t so long that you risk being forgotten about altogether. This approach also helps maintain membership numbers over longer spans of time.
Using Gamification Wisely
It’s not uncommon for forums to use a points-based system of some kind(i.e. members earn a certain number of points for each constructive post or thread they create.)
Forum owners using point systems then set up certain features of their forum — thread creation abilities, access to certain site material, etc. — that are strictly accessible to members possessing a certain number of points. There are a number of major benefits to such a system, including incentivizing increased participation and being a potential deterrent for bad behavior.
Let’s explore that last portion in a bit more detail. Human beings are very prone to what’s known as the “sunk cost fallacy”. The sunk cost fallacy says that people are much more likely to value something if they’ve already invested large amounts of time, money or attention into it.
If a member has invested enough time and effort into your forum to accumulate points, they’re naturally going to value their position and participation more than they would for a forum on which they’d spent little or no time, or on one without a points-based system.
As far as redistributing the member’s points, it’s best to do this randomly and anonymously. Ideally, the member who receives the redistributed points will assume they’ve received them for their own contributions. This avoids animosity on the part of the offender, while simultaneously helping to ensure a productive environment.
Create a Self-Policing Community
This suggestion is by far the most effective you will ever come across — and by far the most difficult to implement. Why, exactly? Because it’s the one solution that you’re not in control of. You can have plenty of influence over how you implement this tactic, sure, but no fundamental control over the results.
Let’s dive a bit deeper. When you have a community of members that’s unified around a topic they care about and are loyal to your brand or company, the odds that they’ll tolerate trolls in their midst is relatively small.
This is particularly true of niche forums, where members naturally feel a sense of connection to each other through the topic they’re discussing.
So if you happen to fall into that category, consider yourself one of the luckier forum owners out there. There’s still plenty of hope for creating self-policing communities in any kind of forum. It’ll just take a bit more ingenuity on your part.
Online forums are usually uplifting places where it’s implicitly understood that members are there to learn and share ideas with mutual goodwill. And 7 times out of 10, those are the exact conditions you’ll encounter.But there’s always that one person (or several) who’s statistically certain to get up to trolling at one point or another. Intelligently implementing these 3 strategies on your forum will go a long way toward running off any lurking trolls.