How to Deal With Bad Apples in Your Online Community?

“People are strange” we heard back in the 1960s from Jim Morrison for the first time. And this observation resonates well even in the 21st century and across continents.

A deep and quick dive into human nature

As human beings we are more prone to criticize and see shortcomings in any subject matter, in any conversation topic. As humans we may have tough time to give praise, provide constructive feedback or accept compliments about us.

Our brains are buzzing with thousands of impulses and decisions to make every single day. It sounds busy like a beehive.

And all other people around us carry their own beehives, which may create unproductive noise and costly misunderstandings unless we know how to deal with each other.

Willpower is the muscle you build every day, yet you cannot rely on it completely. The reason why willpower is fickle is because it gets depleted as time passes by. Just like the sun moves on the horizon throughout the day until the sunset, so our willpower needs to take the rest.

What is more, we think of ourselves as rational while actually we act deeply emotional and try to justify our emotional choices with objective arguments.

These quirky insights about our nature are useful to social environment and corporate brands. Although these quirky insights may not be always beneficial for us, the humans.

After all, 85% of our decision making when buying products comes from the unconscious mind as Martin Lindstrom reminds us.

How different behaviors manifest in online communities?

The digital world borrowed the biggest magnifying glass from Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson and amplified who we are: how we make decisions or hesitate; how we purchase; how we fall in love; how we search for knowledge or fake news; how we celebrate moments that matter; how we gossip or even troll.

Online communities are the fertile ground for all kinds of seeds to grow. Depending on the skills and engagement level of the gardener aka community owner the online community will either become a blooming orchid or an unkempt backyard with weeds to trim.

There will be always rotten apples that try to influence negatively the healthy and shiny ones. There will be always toxic comments and destructive behaviors which reveal more about the person commenting than the subject of the conversation. In other words, when I am bitter about a product or service it shows that I cannot give constructive feedback and that I have temper tantrum, while some other people stay calm even when they face a negative experience.

How to deal with bad apples in online community?

First of all, we need to differentiate among toxic behaviors at various stages of online communities. It is not the same if members just started out in the community and they maybe did not get the tone, the code of conduct and rules of the game or if they are mature community members that have been there for a while and they keep violating community rules over and over again.

Here are top four recommendations how to solve challenging situations with troublesome community members online:

  1. When members start out in the community give them guidelines and code of conduct along with the welcome message
  2. During onboarding, members should be incentivized to read those guidelines otherwise they cannot move to the next step throughout the community such as: unlocking some features or community themes. By doing so, community owners will ensure that all new members read the rules in the environment which means they are aware of those rules and will be more likely to respect them.

    Rather than being sanctioned for the negative behavior, members should be instructed how to behave in a constructive way.

  3. Handle negative comments gracefully and strategically
  4. Despite being showed how to behave thanks to the code of conduct some people may still spread negativity and contribute little value in the community.

    The platform and people should be ready for such scenarios. The platform is ready when technology tracks destructive behavior and sends red flags in the form of the notifications to troublesome members.

    The people leading the community are ready when they are aware of the human nature (see first paragraphs in this text) and they have the set of rules for each problematic situation. For example, they know when to lead by an example and positive comments instead of falling into the trap of the negativity; when to warn the member, when to delete comments; and when to seriously sanction trolling.

  5. Check facts in the age of distorted attention span
  6. Hopefully, community owners build this entire corner on the internet for some purpose different than profit. Do not get me wrong, profit matters because it will make your community sustainable and this adventure will pay off as the long-term investment.

    However, communities should be built beyond profit: because you want to showcase the expertise of your company; because you want to evoke certain emotions for your brand; and because you want to answer common questions of your audience and be resource for them.

    So, if you built your community on solid foundations you will serve as an expert and you will stimulate knowledgeable kinds of conversations.

    Thus, you may actually create a system for fact-checking where information that members submit will survive the test of technology and time. These pieces of content will be timeless advice and people contributing their know-how will be trustworthy.

    Our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter because of the constant interaction with tech devices and overwhelming amount of information. Still, you better build a system inside your community where no fake news can enter.

  7. Do reality-check with trouble-makers in private and take appropriate actions
  8. Many online communities and platforms for knowledge sharing use the analytics to identify the suspicious behavior and to send warnings to culprits in various forms.

    Conversations one-on-one are the best way to inform those who disobey community rules what they shall expect in case they proceed with destructive actions.

    As a community owner, you can send warnings via emails, via the push notifications on the platform itself, or even limit access to some community features for that particular member. It is also possible to communicate in private messages, to inform them about the second chance and recommend more appropriate and desirable behavior.

    If everything else fails, sanctions should be taken and you can block the member, who will not have access to your community anymore.

    Remember the saying of the elderly and wise people: one rotten apple can really spoil the whole bunch.

    The time you use for building your business and your community is too precious to let yourself slip into micromanaging the trolling ones. Always focus on providing the value for the receptive people and always focus on sustainable growth.

Written by: Milena Milićević