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Remember You Are The Boss Of Your Online Community

Jul 10, 2008
As online communities become more popular, community developers need to deal with a wide variety of people. As a community grows, it will attract people from different backgrounds with different opinions and different values. This is what makes an online community vibrant and should not be discouraged. At the same time, it is likely that you will come across abusive and disrespectful members. It is at this precise time of the development of your community that you need to ensure you do not lose sight of the fact that you are in overall control.

If you do not consider your members when making decisions regarding the future direction of your community, you may end up driving them away. Members who do not feel valued will be far less loyal and more likely to move to a competitor. At the same time, you need to remember that you are the boss and the final decision regarding the development of your community is down to you, and you alone.

Are you thinking of introducing a new feature or changing the design of your community? If so, you should ask your members for their opinions and involve them in the decision making process. Even if you consequently fail to use their suggestions, they will still feel valued simply because you have considered their opinions. Members of online communities want to feel involved. The more they are involved, the more loyal they will be as members.

Having said this, it is important that you retain the final say and that your members respect and understand this. You should avoid going against the will of the majority of your community as the last thing you want is a community revolt or backlash. Remember that your task as a community developer is to keep your members happy. At times though, you may we unwilling or unable to satisfy certain requests from your members. At these times you need to remember that you are in charge and that you are responsible for making the final decisions.

It is important that you remain professional and consistent at all times. You should explain the reasoning behind your decisions, particularly when the decision you made is likely to be controversial or unpopular with a large number of your members. Your explanation should be professional, clear and demonstrate that you really did consider the opinions and requests of your members. Make sure you give reasons why you came to your decision, and thank your members for their feedback and opinions.

You also need to ensure that you remain consistent if you want to earn the trust and respect of your members. If you ban a member for his behavior, you need to ensure you ban other members who also demonstrate the same behavior. Accusations of favoritism do not go down well in online communities.

Members of online communities are excellent at detecting weak administrators and moderators. If they sense weakness, they will act up and misbehave to see what kind of response they get. The weaker the staff member, the more problems abusive members will cause. To ensure you come across as confident, you should have clear rules and plans of action to follow when dealing with abusive members. By having these plans ready in advance you will find it far easier to deal with problem users consistently and confidently.

Never make a decision on a whim. Think about it, and remember that some decisions are harder than others. If you are unsure how to respond to a trouble maker, take some time away and weigh up your options. If you can justify your decision, then it is the right one to take.

Never forget the importance of involving your members in decision making within your online community. Ask them for their feedback regularly, and demonstrate that you are actively listening and considering what they have to say. At the same time though, never lose sight of the fact that you are in charge. Your members need to respect this fact and you can earn this respect by acting confidently, professionally and consistently.
About the Author
Martin Reed is the developer and owner of a popular UK chat and community website. He also blogs about how to develop successful online communities.
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