How To Create a More Positive Community Environment Online

Two words that often don’t go together: internet and positivity. More than ever in today’s political climate, we look at our devices and get hit with a barrage of bad news, frightful imagery and hateful comments.

As community managers, we facilitate the interactions people have online. How can we make sure that our little corner of the internet remains a place of kindness, optimism and productive conversation?

1. Banish the Trolls

Recent research has given us a new way to think about trolls, who they are and why they behave like they do. It helps to start thinking of trolls less as “they” and more as “us”. Trolls are not necessarily sociopaths sitting in a dark room firing off nasty comments left and right. Often, they’re nice, normal people just like you and me who in one moment descended to trolling because of two factors:

  1. The person’s mood. Trolling is most frequent when someone is generally feeling lousy, often late at night and on dreaded Mondays.
  2. The community environment. Trolling is contagious. If a discussion starts off with a troll comment, more troll comments will likely follow.

While we can’t do much about #1, we can avoid the multiplier effect of having one or two nasty comments spiral into an entire conversation of negativity. To minimize trolling and foster an environment of positivity, catch those trolling comments early before they snowball into a full-on discussion of hate.

2. Be Human

“We apologize for any inconvenience… We’re sorry you feel that way… We’re not allowed to reveal this information…”

Have you ever been on the receiving end of any of these phrases? How did they make you feel as a customer or app user?

This is where it pays to be open with your community and talk to them like the human beings they are. Be conversational, be appropriately friendly and use simple language—because that’s what people respond to best.

You lead the conversation in your community, so when your members know how receptive you are to their questions, concerns and ideas, they are more likely to contribute using positive language. Respond like a corporate drone (take United Airlines as the perfect example of what not to do), and negativity will prevail.

3. Meet Nasty With Nice

Most of us community managers see our fair share of complaints from users and customers. All too often, someone makes a complaint during a moment of frustration, and their words can be less than kind. This is especially true online, where the barrier of a computer screen makes someone forget that there are real humans on the other side reading their comments.

A community manager must be the bigger person here by addressing angry comments with positivity. Strip away the mean-spirited tone of a post, get to the root of the problem and respond nicely to address the real issue. When you meet nasty with nice, you’ll often find the poster’s follow-up comment will adjust to your nicer tone.

Within your community platform, try emphasizing during the commenting process that a person’s post is going to be read by other human beings, not robots devoid of feelings. You might find that people will drop the hate.

4. Serve Your Lurkers

In many communities online, the amount of people who read posts without contributing can be as high as 99%. These are people who are most definitely members of your community, but are not the type to contribute very often or at all.

Imagine now that that the discussions in your community are seen not just by the 10 people that have commented, but by 990 other people passively reading. How can they get value from the community discussions? By ensuring posts maintain a tone of positivity and stay focused on the topic, those lurkers may one day feel safe to join the conversation. Don’t leave them out in the cold.

5. Promote The Rules

Rules help a community function, and putting community rules front and center makes them more likely to be read and adhered to. Take inspiration from one of the biggest online communities in the world, Reddit.

Reddit has community rules, and each subreddit has their own specific rules as well. The rules are reinforced every time a user submits a post, and moderators swiftly remove posts that violate the guidelines. This works extremely well for Reddit, and can work for your community too. Don’t shy away from establishing community guidelines—they´re hugely beneficial for keeping your community a happy place.

How do you ensure a positive community environment?