There are seven key elements I believe must be considered when building an online community. Over the past few weeks, I’ve explored the first four elements in a series of posts designed to help you build the best community possible.
Following on from last week’s post about showing our appreciation to members for providing feedback, this week’s post is also about appreciating members, albeit from the perspective of an online community moderator.
First, I’m going to outline the role of an online community moderator, using the ‘good, better, best’ approach:
- It’s good investing in an online community moderator because it means that there is a person to review and manage comments, and monitor the behaviour of members, particularly those who have a tendency to sow discord by upsetting others with inconsiderate and unkind posts. This creates a more harmonious environment where everyone in the community benefits: members are more likely to be open and honest with their feedback because any fears they may have about having their opinions reprimanded are allayed, knowing that trouble makers are kept at bay. Subsequently, members are more likely to continue being an active participant of the online community.
- It is better when a moderator also interacts with members as it unlocks discussions, taking them from being a one-way channel where a moderator posts a questions and members answer, and vice versa. Example interactions include moderators welcoming new members; responding to comments (often more than once); and prompting for elaboration on comments, where appropriate. By doing so, members are more likely to feel valued for their contributions, and with the ongoing dialogue, it provides members with a reason to keep returning to the community.
- It is best when a moderator monitors, reviews and manages comments, and engages in conversations with members with a degree of empathy
In my experience, empathy is a critical quality needed by online community moderators.
To me, empathy is best encapsulated in the following quote from the classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, where the protagonist Atticus Finch says to his children, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” In other words, empathy is about putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes, understanding others’ emotions and situation…how others are feeling and what they are going through.
From an online community moderator perspective, this means reviewing and replying to comments with more than a boilerplate response, as tempting as it might be (given the speed and ease at which pre-written text can be copy and pasted into a reply!), and taking a more spontaneous approach, where compassion is exercised as needed. Consider the following example of a member post:
I ended up walking out of both of two of your stores today as no staff seemed interested in assisting me. In the main store I was not acknowledged, assisted or given any indication anyone wanted me there (one staff member avoided eye contact when they walked by hurriedly carrying product). The store was not busy. Way to make your customers feel unwelcome! I ended up going to one of your competitors across the road and had a wonderful experience.
A boilerplate response might be, “Thank you for your feedback. We will follow up with the store manager.” Responding with empathy, however, might read as follow: “Thank you for your feedback. We are sorry about your unwelcoming experience. We are sorrier to that you had a wonderful experience at our competitors. The next time you’re at our store, please contact [phone number] if you find that our staff are not being helpful. We want to make sure all our customers leave happy.”
If you were the member posting the original comment, which reply would you rather receive from a moderator?
It’s often the little things or words written, that make a big difference, and at the end of the day, it may be an online community, but the people that are a part of the community are real. So when an online community moderator replies to comments with empathy, it is more likely to be better received than a generic response. In fact, it could brighten someone’s day!
In turn, it means that members feel appreciated and valued, and therefore, are more likely to continue providing spontaneous feedback unprompted because they are a part of a community where their opinions matter.
Next week’s post is about communication – what format is used when providing information to community members?
Fei is Head of Communities at Evolve, and is passionate about building online communities that bring colour and texture to quantitative research.