Managing a community can be stressful.
You’re dealing with hundreds, maybe thousands of personalities all clamouring to be heard. A thousand different variables can cause a thousand different arguments that blow up in a thousand different ways. After ten years of looking after forums, I’m still regularly faced with situations that I couldn’t possibly have predicted. This can get on top of you pretty quickly, and over the years I’ve developed a couple of ways to deal with the stress. Some are strategies, some are things to remember, and some are rituals to The Dark God Malgor, Lord of Insanity, We Give Our Blood In His Name. I’m going to use a list format this week, because those are very popular.
Internet communication has many downsides, but one big positive is that it’s entirely voluntary. If you’re ever having a hard time with a member of your community, you don’t have to be there. Get up, go for a walk, paint a picture, reaffirm your oath to The King Of Spiders. Sometimes there’ll be things you have to come back to, that’s part of your responsibility as the boss. On those occasions, taking a break to walk around and unwind a little will probably lead to a better decision when you come back.
At other times, you can disengage completely. You don’t have to respond to someone who’s being difficult or abusive, life is too short. You don’t even need to tell them that you’re disengaging. The ability to disengage from a situation is one of the most powerful social actions you can take, second only to swearing a dark pact to send your adversary to The Hell Of Hot Knives.
2. Remember: This too shall pass
I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess at how many internet confrontations I’ve been involved with over the years. Thousands, certainly, maybe tens of thousands. Every infraction, every banning, every locked thread is an opportunity for someone to take umbrage. Depending on the luck of the draw you might get a simple hurt reaction, a raging torrent of abuse or five paragraphs of carefully written personality dissection. It’s going to get through to you sometimes, even if, like me, you’ve exchanged the heart of a changeling for an impermeable soul shroud to protect you from such things. Maybe they’ll go too far, go on for too long, or just hit you at precisely the wrong time of day, but even seasoned vets let things get to them sometimes
Remember when I said that I’d been shouted at, flamed and otherwise cajoled tens of thousands of times? I can remember maybe three of them, all recent. That’s not to say that some of them didn’t feel really important at the time, they did. But it passed, as any other thing of frankly limited importance will. The trick is becoming aware of this in the moment. When you’re having a hard day on the forums, sit back and remind yourself that you’re not going to care about this in a couple of weeks.
3. Let off some steam with the mods
A private mod forum is essential to the smooth running of a forum. Not because there’s much you really need to hide from the populace, but because it gives you a place to hang out, unwind and most importantly of all kvetch at vast length about the general populace. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s a necessary part of losing your cool when some of the... quirkier personalities in your community are making a lot of noise.
One of the main reasons people come to forums is the sense of community that can develop. That doesn’t just apply to your users, it applies to the staff as well. Get to know the mods, talk with them, joke with them, share with them. It’s amazing how easily stress can be deflated by having a peer nearby to say “I know right?”. Not to mention that these bonds of trust will help your staff to serve as much better thralls should you ever need to bind the unwilling in service to The Many-Faced Betrayer. Never forget, tears are the fuel for his dark machinations.
4. Set aside some time to do something you really want to do
Thie advice should be credited to Kevin, the tech admin at our forums. In my early days at Penny Arcade, far before my assertive haircut and blood oath to The Queen With A Thousand Eyes, I used to occasionally despair of the often thankless task of looking after the forums. His advice was that every now and then I should think of something to do on the forums that would make me happy and simply do it without worrying what people think.
Before you reach for the mass banning tools, that’s not really what he meant. Instead of smiting your enemies, use the time to come up with a thread idea, an activity, a game or some other way of participating in the forums that will bring a smile to your face (preferably not a mean one). Hopefully, it’ll remind you why interacting with strangers over the internet can be so rewarding, and if done right it’ll be just as much fun for your users as it is for you. Don’t set any kind of goal for yourself other than spending that time enjoying yourself. Trust me, it’s worth it.
5. Relax, the Weeping Ones will rise no matter what you do
We’ve all seen the omens, and it won’t be long before the great tentacles of The Piercing Goat are wrapped around the world. When the Isle Of The Moon rises from the depths and brings with it wracked sobs that signify the end of all things, you won’t really mind all the little niggling things that bugged you on your forum. Remember, as excellent as the modular feature set and comprehensive spam control tools of Vanilla software are, they won’t save you when the seas are boiling. Only swearing fealty to one of the Barons Of The Dread Armies can do that, and honestly, you’ll probably end up envying the dead.
Until next time guys.
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.