Jeremiah is an analyst for Forester- here’ s a high level overview (very high level) of a presentation he gave Forum for Women Entrepreneurs and you can read more on his blog:

I’m a little uncomfortable seeing those slides. I think you know I am pretty quick to hat tip – I, like most social network strategists, stand on the shoulders of giants. I do miss giving credit from time to time, but I try. There’s been a huge amount of research, PHDs and study in the area of virtual communities in the last 20-30 years (and I’m sure we’re about to see another round of in-depth research for PHD’s eh Lee? :P) so perhaps it’s no longer specific people that need to be recognised, but certainly, the lifecycle of a member (lurker through to contributor) belongs with say, Amy Jo Kim and Jenny Preece (from the late ’90s). But there’s no hat tipping in this presentation, they slapped a Forester sticker on it. Oh except for a couple of graphics. Like I said, it’s not bad and might be justifiable but makes me a tad uncomfortable.

At the end of the live keynote (I watched it on UStream at 4am while you were snuggled in your pajamas, innocently dreaming dreams of bunny rabbits and icecream and new shoes) Jeremiah said something that I most violently disagree with. Roughly (I can’t get to his website to see if there is an exact quote there) hand over your community to your community.

Do NOT ever ever ever hand over your community to the community.

Let me repeat that: do not ever ever hand over your community to your community.

It totally goes against everything that social network anthropologists, digital ethnographers, whatever observe. Apply Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to your online community – security and safety included!

If you are a blogger, be aware that a social network is not a blog, where you have a limiting, controlled, public relations style discussion. I keep a Rules of Engagement in a prominent place on my blog, but that’s just because I’m weird.  :p  Rules are not mandatory on a one-to-many blog, but they are certainly mandatory on a many-to-many social network. You are not stupid: setting up a community and then ignoring them is not something any sane company would do. So I’m not even going to harp on about “listen” “engage” “talk to” – a few years ago, this was big news, but it’s not now. Everyone nods in the conferences and workshops I run, when we talk about engagement. They used to sit back with their arms folded, frowning and ask about controlling the conversation. Happens less often now.

But you do have responsibility for keeping your members in a safe, friendly, law-abiding environment. You are the host, it’s your house, they abide by the house rules or they know where the door is.

What do you do?

  1. Tell them what you want (Code of Conduct, etiquette statements, reminders).
  2. Show them (be a leader, be involved).
  3. Discipline if they don’t follow (private message, temp ban, perm ban).
  4. Never give up, never get angry, never hand over control

Be prepared to take drastic action – even the most drastic of all, ignoring 95% of them screaming. They’ll get over it. e.g. Zuckerberg ignoring a petition in which 1/3 of his membership signed up in 48 hours to have News Feed and Mini Feed turned off in Facebook. If necessary, acknowledge their request, deny it, then move on. We only have the most viral marketing device ever seen by humanity today, because “that kid CEO” had the cajones to ignore the majority of his membership and keep the Newsfeed. Can you imagine a bank or even an IBM ignoring that sort of pressure? No? Thought not.

Unfortunately, the most vocal minority are the one’s who deeply profoundly believe they have a right to every decision you make – every corporate decision – without them thinking through or caring about the business consequences. An undue amount of attention is paid to your business by your network, everything from wanting new corporate colors and logos through to jobs you are advertising.

Example: When Blizzard advertised a customer service position in a New York newspaper, there was a huge hullabaloo in World of Warcraft’s ten million member community: OMG they are shutting down the Anaheim offices! Well in the few thousand in the community seemed to care anyway. Blizzard weren’t: they were simply advertising interstate. Do you really want to be running around engaging in this trivial sort of debate? As tempting as it is (not!) don’t spoil their conspiracy theory fun.
Sometimes you just have to let them scream, otherwise the whole community goes to hell in a handbasket. {amanda}

When you choose staff to moderate the community, choose lively strong characters from customer service. Do not pick anyone who says: oh my job would be to obey the community. They’ll be sent home in a strait jacket. The community senses weakness and goes for the jugular. Pick a lively character. My favorite moderator was a guy I worked with – admin of Ultima Online – who told people he was gonna shove his banning stick where the sun don’t shine if they didn’t behave. They loved him. Humour and authority are sometimes the only tools you have to stop riots. A client of mine Sulake (they make Habbo) found their most popular moderator is their strictest – a retired school teacher, wouldn’t you know it!

Watch good cops on the street. They don’t just take statements, they defuse situations with humour and authority. Part of being a host is being a cop. Don’t ever deny that part of the role. This is not purely feel-good marketing, this is also getting involved with abuse, stalkers, predators, identity theft, fraud and flame wars. Buckle up, it’s fun, but it’s not about handing over control to those people!

It’s not just gaming communities. Wikipedia has one of the strictest, most controlled and controlling social network management styles I have ever seen. So much so, that I have complained about it here on the blog. Wikipedia and Admin Zealots.

Technology support and developer communities are a little more mature – after all they have been around online as long as gaming communities, but with a more ‘grown up’ purpose – so you can be less hands on with them. Once the rules are 1.explained, 2. shown, 3. enforced (see above) most Dev communities will self moderate. This is the area that I think Jeremiah is from, Hitachi communities? By the way, I’m not really picking on Jeremiah Owyang. He was just the latest person to walk past me online touting the “customer is in control” nonsense. 😛

There’s also been interesting experiments in pure ‘hand over the community to the community’ from Teppy who now runs virtual world A Day In The Desert. Everything from the code of conduct to the viability of a profanity filter is discussed. But the purpose was to have a community built virtual world, less controlling than Second Life. The key here is the word ‘purpose’. Is your purpose in building the community to continually engage in the minutiae of decision making processes with your community or is it to provide a safe social environment to discuss and create around subjects that are of mutual interest to you and your members? I would’ve thought the latter. I might be interested in building a community for the community for my own satisfaction, but I doubt I could talk many companies into it – so little return, so much maintenance! Anyway, I don’t understand spending weeks in debate on a profanity filter when the target demographic of ATITD is kids re-building Egypt. Or maybe I have the ages wrong? I haven’t been in that world for years.

Engaging doesn’t mean listen, respond and implement. It means listen, think about it, discuss it further, then decide yay or nay. That is, if the request is worthy – learn to prioritise – if it’s not, for gawd’s sake, ignore it. Just keep going about your business. The community doesn’t respect hosts that continually ask how high when told to jump. Again, just because they are all screaming – why is this premium content, why has that been taken away, why do you have to take the servers down for maintenance ?- doesn’t mean you have to obey them. You’ll learn when you can safely ignore a few shouters, and when -oops- it’s building into a huge war and you need to deal with it.

Don’t forget, if you deny them the ability to work themselves up in a frenzy, to get their collective knickers in a knot, they will take the discussion elsewhere. Not a good thing. Sometimes the best thing you can do is

  1. open up a temporary ‘place’ (subforum or a group or ONE dedicated thread)
  2. make an announcement (you have a locked down announcements area, right?) that the discussion/flame war can continue, but for a finite period of time
  3. watch the community enforce it themselves (“omg I’m so sick of this, isn’t the 48 hours up yet?”)

Don’t shut down your forums and don’t over moderate. But don’t lose control!

Yes. Keep control. For all of our sakes.

I’ve touched on a lot here – how to ensure behaviour (explain, demonstrate, enforce), define your purpose (thanks Amy Jo Kim!), choosing staff, prioritising gripes, different kinds of self-moderating, how to stop a flame war spreading over the ‘net. Hmmm too much for one blog post? Soz.

I know some of you new-age hippies are going to disagree with me (lights a troll match) Heh. Please think through the different kinds of control when commenting. You can and should control the discussion on your site. But you can’t at the end of the day control what people say and think and do. Comments?