Editor: In this multi-part post, Patrick Groome, the administrator for the Penny Arcade forums, shares some of his community management best practices.
1. Not keeping the house clean
Perhaps the most important part of running a forum is perhaps the dullest. The daily, routine business of keeping your forum clean. Remember that every day is going to be someone’s first visit and if they see a forum strewn with spam and troll threads, this will be their first impression. Equally, if a new user has their post left in the spam filter for hours, they’re unlikely to come back and try again another day.
Likewise any rules about issues like signature or image size and content are only as good as their enforcement. If you want a forum free of gigantic signatures and people posting bikini shots in random threads, you’re going to need to be on top of cleaning them up when users inevitably push the boundaries.
Forum cleanup is a trivial matter if kept on top of, and even on large forums should only take a few minutes a day. Once it’s out of control however, it’s much more time consuming to pull things back.
2. Not keeping up with abuse reports
A report function can be an enormous time saver for any medium to large sized board. After a point it’s simply unfeasible for a moderator to read every post, even with a large team of moderators. The report function is only as useful as the people that use it however, and as soon as the users see that their reports aren’t acted on they’ll forget that it’s there. Not only does this rob you of a great tool for managing problems, but it creates new ones as users take things into their own hands. Trolls are a small problem. The real problem is the people that react to them.
You’re much more likely to convince your users to stay calm and ignore potential trolls if they can exert some control over their environment; a report button allows them to do this without causing further disruption to the thread.
Note that this doesn’t mean you should react to all reports. You will absolutely receive reports from over enthusiastic users, people holding grudges, both sides of flame wars and people who are simply trying to cause trouble. Those reports can be either ignored or even punished, depending on your management style. 100% of reports should be read by a member staff however, and users should feel confident that reports are the best way for them to deal with any difficult situations. How you instil this confidence in them is up to you.
3. Engaging with the wrong users
Short of closing your forum entirely and hand picking each member, you will never be able to keep the negative element out entirely. Learning to deal with bad users is an important part of building a good community. You will have users who act in bad faith, who try to annoy you, try to hurt you and try to make it difficult to do your job. These users can be poisonous, both to the community as a whole and to your own enjoyment of your forum.
You will, of course, have to engage with these users to some extent in order to keep them from running riot over your forums. You should make sure however, that you don’t give them the thing they want the most; your attention and your reactions. Getting into knock-down drag-outs with users will only make you look bad, because you’re supposed to know better. There’s a great George Bernard Shaw quote that advises “...never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty and besides, the pig likes it”.
If you get the sense that someone is trying to get a reaction from you, don’t give them one. Don’t come up with a pithy comeback, or an ice burn that will shut them down. Be cold, implacable, and polite. Nothing will annoy someone who’s trying to get a reaction more than failing to get one.
Part 2 of this post can be found here.
Guest post by Patrick Groome. Patrick is the Administrator of the Penny Arcade forums. Penny Arcade is one of the most popular and long running gaming webcomics and organizer of the PAX gaming conference.""