Conflict is inevitable in any community. Yet many organizations still fail to plan for how to mediate conflict and tension. It’s important that we do: when you let conflict fester and turn into a full-blown crisis, it can destroy the community you’ve worked so hard to build.
So what can you do to mediate conflict in your community, no matter what size or purpose the community serves? Here are three lessons from the massive community platforms of Airbnb, Twitch, and Wikipedia.
Like Airbnb, start with a solid foundation.
You’d be surprised how many platforms launch without a basic proactive conflict mediation strategy or even thoughtful community guidelines in place. Proactive policies need not be complex, but they should cover these key areas:
- Values: What values guide all of your actions (e.g. We value welcoming, safety, understanding)?
- Rules: What content/language/topics are absolutely not allowed in this community?
- Policies: When we see a conversation become tense, how do we moderate it? Who needs to be involved?
All of the major platforms have these components built into their Trust & Safety policies or Community Guidelines. But one of the platforms’ whose foundational policies really stands out is Airbnb. Their public-facing policies for dealing with issues in their community includes the following:
- A community overview that covers their proactive strategies for building trust in their community.
- Separate content guidelines based on the activities of their members, for both hosts and guests (this is common practice among two-sided marketplace platforms, for instance, Etsy does this for buyers and sellers, Kickstarter for backers and creators, and Lyft for drivers and passengers).
- Rules grounded in their values (referred to as “Community Standards”).
With these strong principles in place, it becomes much easier for Airbnb’s leaders to mediate conflict in a way that is consistent with their standards and values.
Of course, make sure to run these policies and rules by your legal team, if you have one, and other key stakeholders.
Like Twitch, use technology as the first line of defense.
One of the most prominent and public-facing examples of automated moderation today is Twitch’s MooBot, a bot that Twitch streamers can use to moderate chats without having humans do any heavy lifting. It’s a perfect example of where machines can help assist humans in moderation and rote task management in communities. It’s helpful for nipping conflict in the bud.
Some things to consider automatically moderating: public sharing of phone numbers and addresses, keywords including profanity or hate speech, or obscene image identification. Oftentimes, these violations can help predict larger future conflicts. Automation will not entirely remove the need for humans to escalate conflict mediation, but will certainly expedite the process.
For the times when conflict needs to be dealt with by moderators, you don’t have to go it alone! You can elevate members of your community to moderate alongside you and get more permissions with a tool like Vanilla’s Ranks.
Like Wikipedia, design for complexity.
Conflict mediation is rarely simple. Instead of assuming that rules won’t get bent and trying to endlessly update rigid guidelines, design for complexity and flexibility.
Wikipedia gives us an example to follow with their Arbitration Committee (aka “ArbCom”), which is where issues are sent when editors themselves cannot agree on a decision. The Committee has faced its own conflicts internally (regarding Gamergate, in particular), but the ability for editors to vote democratically is ultimately a powerful tool to keep Wikipedia a place focused on expanding knowledge. It’s a good idea for any community leader to establish a committee of other leaders who can keep one another accountable to dealing with complex conflict in their community.
Many large forums, including those built on Vanilla, create a separate group or chat to discuss complex breaches of Community Guidelines and support one another through times of conflict.
Have a Plan
The key takeaway from these large platforms is that you should deal with conflict proactively and prepare for complexity before it’s too late. Professional conflict mediators agree that open communication and discussion are key to resolving conflict. Avoiding conflict or tension and hoping it will go away only ensure that the conflict breaks into a full-blown crisis that could break down your entire community. What will you do to ensure this doesn’t happen to your community?
About the Author
Carrie Melissa Jones is a community leader, entrepreneur, and community management consultant who has been involved with online community leadership since the early 2000s. As the founder of Gather Community Consulting, she consults with brands to build and optimize communities around the world.