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Be the Snowplow for your Online Community

Khoros Oracle

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What will senior leadership within a brand care about if you start to explain that now is the time to start up an Online Community?

It may sound boorish, but the most critical factor for a business stakeholder is whether the Community will make them money or save them money. For that conversation, you will need a business case...and probably a basic strategy outline too.  But even if the business case is strong and the strategy is sound, the next thing your potential business stakeholder will care about is whether the Community will be a cesspool for the brand’s detractors to pour their ire into.  To begin alleviating that particular concern, you need to explain (perhaps to an initially skeptical internal audience) that Communities with a bit of negativity can still thrive, but only if the Community has the right ‘platform’ and the right ‘practice’ to accompany an already competently managed business.

I am going to expound upon this whole ‘platform’ and ‘practice’ concept a bit more, as it definitely deserves some further elucidation.  The most important part of this blog article is coming up.  Here goes...    

 

Any good Community ‘platform’ worth its salt has proper countermeasures in place to deal overtly with negativity. 

So, for example, a brand can make sure that foul language will not show up in the Community by enabling and modifying a Community platform’s ‘smut filter’.  Furthermore, any mentioning of competitors or things like the CEO’s name are not considered ‘smut’, but they can (and should) be monitored very closely via keyword alerts sent to the Community Management team when those words are used.  These kinds of features in a platform (a ‘smut filter’ and ‘keyword alerts’) are absolutely must-haves.  If for some reason your platform does not have those basic functions, ditch it.   

Good Community Management ‘Practice’ rounds out the rough edges and fills in gaps when it comes to negativity, but ‘Platform’ countermeasures should always come first. 

Platform countermeasures are both firm and invisible to the Community Member. They also have the virtue of not taking up too much of the Community Management team’s time. After the features and countermeasures are set up, the bulwark that keeps negativity in check is your Community Management ‘Practice’. I never begrudge a brand’s Executive team being concerned about negativity in a Community, but simultaneously, I have limited sympathy if they are not willing to improve their own products and services if and when their customers offer constructive criticism.  Platform and Practice are the fundamentals for running a Community.  But self-reflection and the redoubling of efforts are fundamental to running a business.   

Last but not least, I want to mention something that I do not have any data to back up, but am inclined to believe is true (and please let me know if you disagree, or even better, provide data to back up a dissenting view). 

People, by and large, want a brand Community to be positive. 

Even if a customer is mad at the brand, that customer is likely to prioritize alleviating their own pain above just flapping their arms and screaming.  If a brand has a proper platform and follows best practices (we have our own at Khoros, but some very good generic tips are found here as well), customers and the brand will both find themselves in a better place.

You must be a snowplow to get your brand to buy into having an Online Community.  Half measures simply will not do.  Have a business case ready for senior leadership to digest and have your story straight when it comes to explaining, platform-wise and practice-wise, what will happen when negativity occurs (which it will).  Clearing the snow means knowing you will have:

  1. A smut filter that automatically catches and disallows certain words
  2. A keyword filter that alerts select team members when certain words and names are used (e.g. - ‘lawsuit’, the CEO’s name, your competitor’s names, etc) 
  3. A legal Terms of Service that all registered members of the Community agree to when they first register, and that will be the final document that is referred to when dealing with negative members
  4. A list of ‘Community Guidelines’ that is more of a ‘house rules’ list (written in a more folksy style) that is conspicuously posted for all to see so that they are aware of the rules
  5. A Moderation team that enforces all of the rules

You will not and can not succeed with an Online Community for your Brand without the five items above.  But also keep in mind that you probably should not have an Online Community if your Products and Services are terrible.  Heck, you might not even want to work for a company with that particular problem, but you definitely do not want to be the Community Manager for their new Online Community.

Convincing your Senior Leadership team to adopt and embrace the power of an Online Community will be an arduous journey, but as long as they know they will either make money and/or save money, they will at least be willing to hear you out.

Once they start to ‘get the vision’ though, I can guarantee that somebody making decisions at higher levels within the organization than yourself will balk at the idea of people potentially saying negative things on an Online Community….which happens to also sit on the Corporate website!  These detractors require you to be a snowplow again.  In your gentle and compelling talk track which conveniently mentions the 5-item list from earlier you also have to convey the following:

In our future Online Community, we will embrace the Good, work with and try to resolve the Bad,
but we will not have to put up with the Ugly.