Behaviour management is one of the most common pain points in gaming communities. Gamers can be fractious, opinionated and strident when discussing the games they’re passionate about. Tempers run hot on a day-to-day basis. Gamers are also generally more comfortable in online social environments than the average consumer. This comfort makes them more likely to push boundaries, and press the buttons of your moderation staff.
For developers and publishers, this is complicated by the fact that these are customer communities. Order is typically maintained in games communities using carrot-and-stick methods, but it’s harder to use the stick when any alienated customer is potential lost revenue. Problem members are likely to use this to their advantage, believing their purchase entitles them to do whatever they want.
No one wants to run a toxic community. It’s time-consuming and makes your day-to-day interactions unpleasant. It’s never too late to turn a community around (although it gets more painful the longer you wait), but if you start your community on the right foot you can save yourself in the long run. We’re not here to tell you how to lock threads and ban trolls, you know all that. A change in the long-term approach to behaviour management is where the real progress lies.
Don’t be afraid to lay down the law
Community requires a different mindset than traditional PR. The communication is open and bi-directional. An old-fashioned “the customer is always right” mentality is no longer appropriate. It’s been tried over and over again by companies who lacked the courage or will to assert themselves within the community. User curation isn’t optional if you want to have a healthy, friendly community. If you refuse to weed your garden, sooner or later your garden is nothing but weeds.
Well-behaved members take less time and resources to maintain (giggidy). Don’t allow toxic members to bogart the discussion and tone in your community. Set the tone with strong community guidelines and be steadfast in sticking to them. You’ll see pushback from toxic customers with a sense of entitlement, but threats to stop playing/boycott/tell mom are generally empty. A forum membership should be something nice you do for your customers, not an inalienable right associated with their purchase.
Be A Real Person
A lot of misbehaving people in online communities aren’t essentially “bad”. They suffer from a disconnect in perception. Internet communication is still relatively new, and not everyone has made a meaningful connection between words on a screen and the person on the other end of the line who typed them. People find it much easier to be dismissive of other people that they see as “concepts” rather than thinking, breathing humans. Think about how many times you’ve heard awful statements about celebrities, politicians or other people that the general public doesn’t feel are “real”. They’re safe targets, because our brains don’t really register them as other humans, just like us.
This should inform the way you talk to your community. One easy concept that people can hang onto you is “Marketing/PR Drone”. It’s a well known and often mocked stereotype. If your community puts you into that category, they’ll have no problem being rude and dismissive of you. Respect is absolutely core to behaviour management, and this kind of dismissal will make it very hard for you to get anything done.
Be authentic. Speak with your own voice, and the voice of your customers. Everyone has to put on a professional front of some kind, but try and limit any sense of artifice in what you’re saying. Take some time to talk to the people in your community about things that aren’t related to overtly doing your job. The more you communicate honestly, the more the people in your community will see you as a real person. Being real and authentic is the foundation of respect. Without respect, every attempt to manage the behaviour and set the tone in your community will be an uphill battle.
Promote a Positive Culture
It’s easy to get stuck in a mindset of constantly fighting fires in your community. A conscientious community manager will want to be in the trenches banning trolls, splitting up fights and zapping spammers. A certain amount of firefighting is always necessary, but it’s time consuming and disheartening. It’s easy to burn out if you’re constantly interfacing negatively with your community.
Behaviour problems aren’t the disease, they’re a symptom of a poor community culture. It’s important to have a clear vision for the kind of community you want to run, because a community culture is going to develop whether you’re actively steering it or not. Taking the long view of community management will save an enormous amount of time in the long run. When the culture in your community is friendly, productive and non-judgmental, the members of that community will essentially self moderate. You’ll attract the type of members who are attracted to healthy social environments, and that culture will constantly reinforce itself with much less direct input from you and your team.
There will always be trolls. There will always be spam, flame-bait and arguments. No community culture will ever be perfect. It is possible however to make enormous headway in promoting great discussion and a supportive atmosphere in your community. It’s one of the biggest challenges in community management and there’s no single right way to do it, but there are a few principles you can apply to make a good start.
- Create great guidelines for your community. Don’t throw in a boilerplate “don’t be mean to people or post porn” thread at the top of your community. Put a little heart into it. Think about the behaviour you want to encourage, as well as the behaviour that’s unacceptable.
- Look out for less obvious, passive-aggressive nastiness. There are many people who have mastered the art of masking their unpleasant behaviour with a thin veneer of civility. Just because someone isn’t swearing or throwing insults, doesn’t mean they aren’t poisoning your community with rude, dismissive behaviour.
- Recruit great moderators and enable them to do their job. Moderators are the vanguard of your community culture. It’s the community manager’s responsibility to make sure they know what kind of culture they should be trying to promote. Look for level-headed, thoughtful and respectful people in your community and ask them if they’d like to contribute by moderating. Give them clear, practical guidance on what they should be trying to achieve, then get out of their way and let them do it. Too many businesses treat community moderators with deep suspicion, as though they’re desperate to bring down the community and can’t be trusted. Pick the right candidates, give them the right direction and you don’t need to worry. Measure twice, cut once.