Online communities deal with a lot of varied personality types. In my ten years of running online communities, from large to small, I've seen 'em all. As online communities grow and add members, there are bound to be all kinds of conflicts. Luckily, most of these are minor and are usually reserved for things like interface changes or "moved my cheese" issues, but sometimes they can escalate into full-blown "I am quitting this site!" rants. Yes, that's right... the dreaded public "I quit!".
Wheter someone has a legitimate gripe with a site policy, a personal issue with another member, or even just has personal problems in their own lives that they project onto their online community, the "I quit!" can be damaging to the community as a whole. It starts a dialog that can quickly turn into a mob mentality. People tend to see the "I quit!" post (we call them /quit posts on Icrontic, our tech and gaming discussion community, which comes from the /quit command in IRC chats—/quit makes people immediately leave the chat in a huff) as a chance to air their own frustrations—often that have nothing to do with your site itself. People who may not normally get angry online may suddenly find themselves caught up in the moment and join in on the bashing.
For a large-scale example of this (and I feel sorry for their social media teams!), check out the online rage that happens when a site like Instagram or Facebook makes a policy change that angers their communties. Recently, word got out that Instagram changed their Terms of Service, and many interpreted the news as "Instagram will be selling my photos!" (which turns out to not really be the case). This led to rage-filled public Tweets and Facebook posts, most of which boiled down to 'I am quitting Instagram! I am mad!', which of course incites others to copycat. "Oh, Bob is quitting Instagram because they are selling his photos? Well, I'm quitting too! This is outrageous!" As we all know from the numerous social media hoaxes that spread around like wildfire on a daily basis, most people will not bother to research something before stating their opinion on it; they'll be influenced by the opinions of their trusted social networks and follow suit.
This phenomenon happens on discussion communities too. Someone will have a gripe. They'll post (sometimes ranting and frighteningly long) /quit tirades. I've seen epic, feature-length /quit posts in my day... and it can be frightening sometimes to think that someone poured a significant amount of time and brainpower into telling your community exactly why they are quitting.
So what do you do with /quit posts?
So say someone publicly announces that they're quitting your site. What do you do?
I've seen far too many community managers deal with it in a terrible fashion: they will coddle the user. "I'm so sorry you are having these concerns! Please don't quit! Let's talk!"
This solves nothing and only damages your credibility as a community manager. First of all, the most important thing to remember is that these conversations are public. You are not talking to one angry or unstable person; you are talking to the entire community. If you let the community know that you can be bullied by individuals, you are setting the tone for the rest of the group's interactions with you. It is very easy to see, in these cases, that it is one (the community manager) against the many.
You have to remember that you're not only an individual; you are the voice for the community or brand that you are representing.
Another damaging thing to do is to ignore the posts. Some moderators will just ignore them or even close the discussions without participating. This leaves the post out there for everyone to read (and since it's on your site, it represents your brand or group—don't forget that), and will always just be there floating in space. Another strange phenomenon that happens is that the /quitter often comes back (how many friends of yours have /quit Facebook over the years, only to return?), and now they have an embarassing reminder of the moment in their history that makes them look somewhat silly. I've seen people come back to communities and privately ask for their rants to be deleted.
The absolute worst way to deal with quitters is to take an argumentative or defensive tone in a public setting. Publicly arguing with quitters or defending your community from whatever points they brought up immediately makes the community manager look petty and can really make the community manager lose credibility in the eyes of the community members.
The best way to deal with /quit posts is to delete them (or move them to a private moderator-only discussion forum for archival purposes) entirely, and immediately. If /quitters want to discuss their reasons for quitting the site, invite them (privately) to do so privately and on an individual basis.
This solves not only the potential embarrassment of a member who wants to return to the community, but it avoids the drama that a public /quit post creates.
And hey, we could all use a little less online drama in our lives, right?
Guest post by Brian Ambrozy. Brian has been the Editor-in-Chief of Icrontic, a leading technology and PC gaming community, since 2003. Overseeing a staff of reporters covering everything from computer building and video games to technology legislation and internet policy, he has produced and covered a range of stories in an engaging, welcoming, and accessible manner."