Jan 02

Online Community Management: From Avatars to Trolls, the A to T (Zed that is) of Managing Online Communities

A few odd things in online community management

Unless you are using one of the big platforms, you are likely to run into rogue users, forum users, group or online community members, who will ignore, twist or reinterpret your rules, or will make you realise you need to add another one to the list. So here are a few rules – feel free to borrow them – to keep in mind.

Avatar – Keep it decent, keep it friendly

Do not feed the trolls in you online communityThe picture on the profile is who the user is to the rest of the world. Make sure you explicitly state that you reserve the right to remove some profile images if they are inappropriate.

Suggested rule:

Avatars: Use a nice, friendly picture of yourself, if possible. No nudity, pornography, obscenity. No political, racial or offensive signs, symbols, gestures.

ALL CAPS – No shouting in public places

Using capitalisation too much is tabloid style in an online community. Whether it is a post or a status update. If you use it, you are either annoying by nature (everyone must read YOUR UPDATE), or by profession (spammy internet affiliate guru that is). Suggested rule:

Capitalisation: Do not capitalise you entire post or title. It will get your account suspended.

Count Counts

These are the people who would not miss an opportunity to make themselves heard. There are two ways to handle them. You can either put them in charge of one or two topics, threads, issues and ask them to look after those for you and also let the others speak.

Alternatively, if they do not catch your drift, feel free to politely ask them to give commenting and posting a break because the whole community reaks of ther posts. This usually upsets them, but they will learn.

Suggested rule: Increasing post and comment counts: Only one thread per topic. Repeated or duplicate topics/threads/subgroups will be deleted without notice.

Flamez – Burn Baby Burn

There is nothing like a good debate in a community. People have a better sense of belonging, they feel they own the discussion and the community. But if your community is about nothing but argument upon argument, it is not a healthy community. It will not thrive. It is an environment that is characterised by aggression and verbal abuse.

It is your job to make sure that arguments aim to come to a consensus and that show participants that disagreement does not need to mean a lack of respect.

Suggested rule: Treat others the way your would like to be treated. No disrespect or abuse is tolerated. Do not test this rule.


A smilie a day keeps the doctor away. It eases tension. It puts a bit of a friendly touch into a professional debate. Two smilies are one too many.

Suggested rule: Smilies and similar goodies: Only one smilie is funny. Keep down the noise.

Lurking is good

Encourage people to read before they write. There is nothing more annoying than 1000 rookies asking the same questions 1000 times, because they could not be bothered to run a search among existing threads. A friend of mine has a really likable policy. Only one thread exists about a topic. Admins consolidate new topics under existing ones if they are more or less duplicates.

If your newbies ae particularly slow on the FAQ, Houserules and the Terms & Conditions, prevent them from posting for a while. Three days or 30, with the message – “Please read our FAQs before your post a question” – plastered all over the welcome email and their profile.

Suggested rule: Read the FAQ first.

Off topic

There is nothing more annoying then hijacking the participants of a thread, group, team who are really enthusiastic and active with a totally unrelated albeit very provocative comment, post, idea. Don’t let that become common practice. It is also a form of spam, comment spam.

Suggested rule: Keep your comment on topic and to the point. Comment spam is flagged and deleted.


As an admin, you can demand others to respect you, but respect is rather earnt them commanded. Show respect to all members of your community. Protect those who are less able to articulate their opinions. Make sure they are not subject to abuse. And make sure you do not tolerate disrespect. Never. Not even a little. If you give in once, you lost the war.

Feel free to publicly demonstrate that disrespect towards fellow group members, admins or moderators meets a zero tolerance policy. Most people will like that. It makes your community a safe place to be in.

Suggested rule: The admins here speak softly but carry a mighty big stick.


Every community has them. They feed on attention. They wither when they are ignored. These are the users who are the loudest, meanest, most aggressive, abusive people who expect you to jump at their every whim. Ignore them in public. Most trolls can be tamed with a few behind the curtain sessions. If your cannot, chuck them out, but never feed them.

Suggested rule: For Trolls: we do not take to your kind here. Be kind or be gone. For all others: DO NOT FEED THE TROLL. (Ignoring them makes them shrink.)

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