Working With A Million Member Identities

“Actually, you’re wrong”.

…probably isn’t the beginning of a conversation which is going to end well.

Community management is not customer support.

You’re not just dealing with problematic issues, you’re dealing with thousands, perhaps millions, of unique (and often problematic) identities. Publicly contradicting the advice of someone who considers themselves an expert will provoke a defensive, negative, response.

This can lead to an ongoing tit-for-tat discussion where neither side wants to back down because everything is in public. Backing down means accepting damage to a member’s identity.

If you’re deep in engaging with dozens of members every day, remember your work is about helping members nurture a positive identity – ideally an identity they associate with being a positive contributor to your community.

All the tiny judgement calls you’re not even aware you’re making in each response have a defining impact.

For example, if you’re going to provide contradictory information to a member who considers themselves an expert, it might be best to deliver the information in private. Maybe they can update their own post with the updated information? Now they have more unique expertise they can share with the group.

Or you can affirm their expertise (and identity) and add additional context at the same time in your own responses. A few extra words of context here can take you far.

Too often, the times we believe members to be acting irrationally are simply members acting naturally to protect their identities.

Before replying to members take the extra few seconds to judge their identity today. If your response threatens that identity, reconsider it.

The very best community managers I know are naturals at this. The rest of us need the practice.

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