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Treading carefully

Posted by Michael Bloch in online world (Monday October 26, 2009 )

User generated content, be it in the form of comments, forum posts, profiles, article contributions or otherwise, can really enrich a site.. and cause their share of headaches too.

In one project I worked on, I had occasion to gently tap a community member on the shoulder who had decided to do his own thing, contrary to what was trying to be achieved in that project.

I was extremely polite, thanked him for his contributions to date, explained what I needed him to stop doing and why and encouraged his continued participation. This was communicated via a private message in order to not embarrass him in front of the whole community; after all, he wasn’t being malicious, just trying to exercise authority where he had none.

It would have been much faster and easier to just say “cease and desist” and be done with it, but I thought I’d take the time to explain why what he was doing was causing a problem in the hope he’d see reason.

Within minutes of me messaging him privately, my comments were republished publicly on another forum and he was having quite a whinge about how poorly he was treated.

I hate to think how he would have reacted if I had not been so polite! In fact, I believe any reasonable person reading the whinge would have thought he was being a little (very) over the top in his reaction.

Anyhow, the lesson here is that whenever you find cause to contact a user to reprimand or even just for coaching purposes, approach it from the angle that the person may be overly sensitive, will rush to his/her online buddies to find validation and that what you wrote may be republished.

This doesn’t mean to say you shouldn’t use an iron fist where necessary of course – but even in those situations, resist the urge to tell the person exactly what’s on your mind by using colorful language – approach it in a professional manner.

For some reason, while users may squawk about their own privacy in regards to communications and would be absolutely outraged if their private comments were published, they don’t seem to give a hoot about republishing a communication from the representative of a company or service. In some of these instances, they will exaggerate or not tell the full story in order to garner support.

Unfortunately, many people don’t recognize that freedom of speech is not only a right, but a huge responsibility. Freedom without accountability is the worst form of anarchy.


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