Sunday, May 26, 2013

Attack of the Serial Commenters (How to Manage Fans Who Don't *Get* The Rules)

Comments, likes, upvotes, shares - these are all signs that someone is engaged with your community. You use these marks of engagement to measure how well you are connecting with your audience and which members are converting their loyalty or interest into action.

So when you notice that a member of your community always comments on every post, it doesn't seem like it's a problem. Comments are *good*. Then you notice that this person comments on everything whether they have something to say or not. You're reluctant to tell them to stop, because People Talking About This is good, right? You can always pull the conversation back on track if it starts to slide or correct mistakes. This is your job as community manager.

Then one day, you notice that more than 15 minutes of your day is spent managing this one person. They've hijacked so many conversations you start to doubt that anything they've posted has value. And you start to doubt your own ability to manage your community - after all this person is a *fan.* So what if they keep mentioning this other site, or get annoyed with you for correcting them? And why do they annoy you so much anyway?

You have just met the Serial Commenter.

Serial Commenters come in several forms:

New fans who discover your community and spend the next week reading, liking/voting and commenting on everything you've posted for the last month, or in a particular topic.

Old fans who believe that "LOL" is a valuable comment on every single post.

Time-outs who seek to cull favor by adding content, whether or not it is relevant, helpful or legal. These often become the hardest to deal with, those people who simply Need to Stop Posting for a bit, but won't.

Serial Commenters are extremely difficult to deal with. They are often highly, deeply and passionately engaged, but cannot manage to play by the rules. They never take kindly to being gently warned. And more often than not, they have no self-awareness of what you mean when you ask them to stop.

So how do you deal with a Serial Commenter?

First, Time-Out: This is an incredibly important step. Give yourself a Time Out. Take a few days to decide if the comments are harmless, if they might add value to someone who isn't you, or if they stimulate productive conversation in the comments. If any of these are true, bite your lip and ignore whatever it is that rubs you the wrong way. They may simply be new and excited. Give them time to calm down. This person is not a problem.

Second, Etiquette Reminder: Some people are not used to community rules. They may have been hanging out somewhere with less rules, or simply never been socialized. Do your best to surface unwritten rules somewhere. Write down in plain words what you expect of community members. I keep my rules relatively simple, but my expectations high.

Do not be coy, if a Serial Commenter is breaking an unwritten rule, write it out. Some people are not subtle. Don't be rude, but be blunt.

Third, Warning: By the time you have gotten to this stage, you should have already given all the gentle guidance you have to give. At this point you are merely handing the SC rope with with they can hang themselves.  Warnings should be simple. If you choose to enforce a Time-Out for your SC, state the time period, expectations upon their return and the factors you will weigh against them.

Fourth and Final, Escort Them Out the Door: At this point, you have decided that their absence will free the community up. No one need talk around them, explain things to them or help them with a seemingly un-ending list of confusions and problems. Time and energy can be spent on fun things again.

Do not second guess yourself.  Whether it is your personal or professional community you have every right to control it. As we all must sometimes remember, every site/platform/network online is owned by *somebody.* It is a privilege, not a right to post on these. Sometimes we must remind someone of this.

Serial Commenters are not always a problem, but be ready for those that become one with a fair, actionable plan. You owe it to your community.

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