In my previous post about nurturing relationships, I was skewered a bit for not really pinning down the how’s and why’s as much as I was alluding to going out and just doing it. Ok, I get that. perhaps another post is in order in which I suggest specific tools on how to nurture a relationship via social networking. But in the meantime, I wanted to tell you a quick and true story about what happens when the relationship goes bad in social networks.
It goes like this
About 4 years ago I had created an online community to support the sales and marketing efforts of a CPG. Why did I create it? Initially I thought it just made sense to put up a KB with some bells and whistles, but it quickly became evident that something larger was needed just because of the amount of emails and feedback we were getting. I’d like to claim it was some great epiphany but no, it just made sense. So the community was born. 5000 members strong.
Mistakes are made
I decided to manage it. You’ll be pleased to know that I was not transparent and I hid behind a cleverly stupid name. Mistake #1.
Mistake #2, though we had created a rules and regulations, TOS, policies page, I did not adhere to enforcing them. I would capitulate time and time again in my efforts to make everyone happy. Lesson #1/Mistake #2, You cannot possibly make everyone happy as a community manager.
As I kept my distance from the community and only appeared on an as needed basis, my stature took on the persona of something that resembled the all powerful and mighty Oz. I would come in periodically, settle a dispute swiftly, siding with the person who I didn’t want to piss off and away I would go. Further alienating people as I went. Mistake #3 Not abiding by the TOS, having little or no affinity to the members of the community, and essentially being completely out of touch with the nuances of the community.
To alleviate this headache, I appointed 3 moderators to buffer the criticism. The problem was I gave them too much power and they instituted their own brand of vigilante justice. Mistake #4 I was now playing favorites and siding with the moderators who may not have had the best interests of the community at hand, since they were not being paid and were merely the “appointed” brand champions of the community.
Mistake #5 Instead of reasoning and understanding and trying to empathize with the passionate members of the community, I would throw down the swift hand of justice. I would warn members and then subsequently kick them out. Some got second and third chances, others did not.
When the social network relationship goes really bad.
Instance #1 The person I kicked out, did a blog post on how he would like to kick my ass and kill me. Now this person did have some issues but instead of me trying to reason with this person, who was by the way, a brand champion- I kicked them out. This person was a very very popular member of the group and once gone, weakened the core group of passionate users and brand champions. Mistake #6 I didn’t realize how important this person was until they were gone.
Instance #2 Another brand champion was just a bit too busy on the site. Always emailing me, IM’ing me with suggestions, how to’s, criticism, you name it. I took it all in stride but he was always seeing how far he could push things in regards to what he would do for the sake of the group and to his page within the site. I found myself always having to check his page, his comments, his posts, and his avatar to see if he was behaving. I was also periodically geting complaints about him from other members, as well as the mods. Which then meant that I had to talk to him and tell him to chill. It was getting old.
I had warned him on numerous occasions and he would comply and behave for a bit, but not for long. The last straw was him dropping some code on some of his pages which locked down the site for quite some time. That was it. He had to go. So I kicked him out.
From bad to worse
Did he go quietly? No.In short order he did the following: He found every social site that I was a part of and did everything in his power to make my life miserable. He either trashed me, the site, or the product. When he wasn’t doing that, he was creating multiple and I mean multiple personas, and coming back into the community, and proceeding to again, trash me, the product, the company and anything else he could think of to disrupt the site. It was a community nightmare to the nth degree.
So what did I do? I tried to follow behind him and clean the mess up, but that proved virtually impossible. So I did the only thing I could do. I reached out to him and brought back into the community, back into the fold. Why? Because it was easier to “manage him” within the community rather than outside of it. It was a very unpopular decision. Mistake #7 The best move turned out to be the worst moved followed by an even worse move.
By now, most people had had enough and to be honest, at this point, things were starting to die down. The brand champions were moving on, the passion was waning, and there was nothing really happening at the corporate level-that was keeping people involved and engaged in the community.
So yes, in a sense, the moderators and the administrators certainly didn’t help things. Nor did we learn from our mistakes or adapt from them. But on a larger level, the community life-cycle, the people that made the community thrive, and the site as a whole, were diminishing, either by my actions or just the natural progression of things. Could it have been prevented? Hard to say. The easy answer is yes, but how long would that have prolonged the shelf life? Relationships begin and end and begin again, all the time. In some cases it just wasn’t meant to be and in others it is. In this one, there are valuable lessons everywhere, you just have to know how to look, and not necessarily where.
My point is this. All of our social relationships right now are thriving in one way or another but for how long? The natural progression of things dictates that most of them will flame out. At that point what is left? What do we have for the effort? Your takeaway? Understand the value of purpose before the relationship begins in earnest knowing that there is the distinct possibility that the relationship will end.
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Hi Marc –
Thanks for sharing this story – and the point… which is that all relationships and communities have an arc. Some are short and transactional, others are long and intense. The other point is that there are, in fact, some people that need more than the community can give them (community manager included). It is one of the toughest things to manage as a community manager. Most of us like to make things right/fix things and it is just not always possible with certain people. Communities indeed attract needy individuals because they understandably get rebuffed from a lot of one-on-one relationships. There is no clear way to handle those situations although it’s wise to not fuel the fire. A hard lesson to learn and not always clear in the middle of the situation but as you allude some things are just meant to not work out or continue – and that has to be OK.
@Rachel, There were so many learning experiences throughout that journey that I didn’t even mention. If one is embarking on this for the first time, there is no way to even anticipate the things that are going to happen. Life lessons abound but sadly yes, there is an arc to the whole thing.