On the Principles of Managing an Online Community
What follows are some of my ideas on what kind of frame of mind is required to successfully manage an online community. I believe that the more closely a team sticks to these principles, the easier they will find their job to be. Each bullet point could easily deserve a full discussion of what it implies and how to embody the ideal it sets forth, and perhaps I will deep-dive into some of them at a later date.
These ideas are a result of my involvement in community management and moderation for communities both large and small over the last ten years. They are also influenced by situations that have transpired in communities I do not manage, some that abide by these principles and some that violate them.
When discussing community-generated “content”, the specifics of what that content may be can vary wildly depending on the community type. Most commonly it may simply be the discussion and camaraderie that springs up around their chosen topic. It may be the actual production of literary works, art, or music. Or perhaps it may be the curation of data or resources for consumption by a wider audience. It is, in effect, the soul of the community; the reason why people will choose to participate in it.
- You do not own the community you manage. The community collaboratively owns itself by virtue of generating the content that makes it valuable.
- You are the caretaker of the virtual space. You enable the community to produce content by cultivating and maintaining the spaces they utilize, allowing the community to realize its collective goals.
- Your position is in service and deferent to the will of the community.
- The will of the community on substantive matters may only be overruled when its implementation would undermine the community's guiding principles, or otherwise damage or dilute the purpose for which the community was founded.
- Community concerns regarding its management must be allowed in the public spaces of that community. The integrity of the management team and its decisions cannot be proven behind closed doors.
- Moderation actions are only possible through the rapport you have established with the community and the trust they have in you to act in the community's best interest. The logic of such actions must be unassailable and documented. Failure to maintain the community's goodwill and trust in your actions self-sabotages your effectiveness as a caretaker.
- You must always challenge your assumptions about the situations you respond to. Maintain a willingness to view an incident from all angles and perspectives. If a reasonable explanation exists as a possibility, malice cannot be inferred. Should a party to the incident be acting in malice, they will prove it through further action.
- Understand the classical modes of persuasion. When a situation arises and you take a moderation action against someone, these are the methods by which they will appeal your decision. Weigh your responses appropriately on the merit of each one.
- Ethos is an appeal to credibility or character. With any luck, this will be the sort of appeal you receive where the party owns up to their mistake and commits to resolving the behavior going forward. The longer an individual has been with a community, the easier this becomes to judge. But even for unknown individuals, you should prefer to grant them the chance to prove their character when lacking a compelling reason to do otherwise. Failure to uphold their end of the bargain will only weaken their position in future appeals.
- Pathos is an appeal to emotion. In the context of an online community, this may be the weakest approach for an appeal. However, humans are complicated and many of us have more situations impacting our outward behavior than we sometimes admit to. This should never be the sole factor in deciding an appeal but may be useful for helping to establish what level of leniency would be appropriate if you have faith in their character.
- Logos is an appeal to logic or reason. Most commonly, this will be a reason they believe their behavior did not violate established rules. If an appeal of your decision has merit on this basis, then the rules which inform the logic of your actions are insufficient or you have acted in error. Relying on the “spirit of the rules” to cover the logical gaps will result in debating what a reasonable interpretation of those rules would be much more frequently than you might prefer.
- Be forgiving. Two possible outcomes exist when allowing a person back into a community: They prove they are reformed, or they prove that they are not; both of which make further deliberation on their situation that much simpler. Permanent removal should only be leveraged in the most heinous and disruptive of situations based on actual malice.
- Manage the influence of your ego to keep a level head. As a caretaker, you will witness and receive all kinds of abuse. These incidents will attempt to warp the situation into something personal and control your response emotionally. Know that attacks against you aren't because of who you are; they are a result of what you represent and the order you uphold. When you remove your ego from the conflict, you remove the only avenue of attack.
- Manage the influence of your ego to ensure fair dealings. Just as your ego might be the target of attacks from hostile parties, you might find your ego lashing out or fixating on the behavior of people you find personally problematic. Strive to limit its influence on your decision-making and temperament. Consider this a layer of self-moderation, where you evaluate your own actions under the community's guiding principles and the established rules. When operating with a team, encourage accountability to each other on this practice.
delcakeThe number of video games is too dang high.
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