In Part 2 of this interview, I tap into Patrick’s knowledge to determine how to deal with the bad members of your community as well as community monetization. Enjoy.
Jeff – Chapter 6. Banning Users and Dealing with Chaos based on what I heard from others was an enjoyable chapter dealing with a touchy subject. How do you deal with those bad members without your forum imploding or falling under a sheath of scrutiny from your own community?
Patrick –I think it’s important to realize that your community is not for everyone. So, don’t try to make it so. Don’t try to make things fit where they have no business fitting. Have goals and stick to them. When someone violates your guidelines, remove their post and tell them why. Kindly, respectfully and truthfully. If they continue, if they persist, if they make it clear to you that they do not wish to treat you, your staff, your guidelines and, ultimately, your community with respect, you have to do what you have to do. And, by that, I mean banning those individuals.
I give people a lot of chances usually, but I recognize when the time has come. I don’t ban people, people ban themselves. They make me ban them. That’s just the way it is. And, once someone is banned, the situation is over. You have to be willing to move on. You can’t focus on one situation or let it consume you. Plenty of communities have fallen due to that sort of thing.
As far as falling under the sheath of scrutiny, there are a few things that we do to prevent that sort of thing. We have professional standards that include not airing dirty laundry publicly. We never, never correct a member publicly and we don’t moderate publicly or tell people what they did wrong in the public forums. When someone violates our guidelines, it is always handled privately, directly with the member and with no one else. On the rare occasion where someone else asks us what happened, we tell them in general detail, not specifics.
Some members get banned and lie about what happened, making themselves out to be some sort of knight in shining armor while we are an ugly, ugly, very stupid dragon bent on burning down everyone’s home. But, in these cases, we are generally able to stick to our standards. People talk, we work. That’s how I look at it. Or, at least, I try to. Everyone’s human, but it’s always important to consider the impact and meaning of your words because they can either do a lot of damage or a lot of good. We all have choices to make. But, as staff and as an administrator, you must hold yourself to a higher standard than your members.
Another thing that helps is that I make myself available to my members and the staff does the same. They are encouraged to contact me at every turn with any questions, concerns or feedback. And I respond to every message I get. I can’t always agree with members or do what they’d like me to, but I can think about what they say, keep it in mind, make changes when appropriate and respond to them in a thoughtful, respectful way.
Jeff –The last topic we’ll cover in this interview is something many in the Performancing audience would love to know more about, making money with forums. Is making money with forums the same as making it with a blog or website? If not, what are some differences and what are some ways in which forums could be monetized?
Patrick – It’s similar. After all, forums are just a type of website. So, how you monetize a general website is the same as how you monetize a community, though there are some differences.
For most people, a bulk of revenue would come from advertising. This can be the traditional sort of display advertising where you can sell direct ads (if you’re lucky enough) or you can work with ad networks that accept forums, of which there are a number. You can use a service like PubMatic to optimize the ad serving to get the most out of your networks.
Advertising doesn’t have to just be in that standard form, however. There are other opportunities, like ads that are threads. This is the sort of thing that spawned the SitePoint Marketplace, which now runs on it’s own sort of classified ad software, but is still similar to forums and forum threads. While one thread itself may not equal a lot of money, when you consider the volume that they do, it can add up to quite a substantial amount.
It’s always important to remember that you have an audience. If you run a niche community, it’s a targeted audience. There are people who probably want to reach it. So, don’t sell yourself short and give away free ads or anything. There is value in reaching your audience and, generally speaking, it’s a privilege that should be paid for.
Paid memberships and premium memberships are another option. Generally, a subscription based service, where you have to pay just to access your forums, won’t make much sense. But, allowing people pay a usually nominal fee for access to certain areas or for expanded profile options, more private message space, a special rank, etc. can add something to your bottom line. Often times, these things are more there for people who wish to simply support the community and not so much about the tangible benefits received.
Merchandise sales can work well for certain communities, as well. Generally speaking, be creative and keep your eyes open for opportunities. Balancing out the need to generate revenue with the user experience is a tough battle that I personally agonize over sometimes. But, you’ll find that balance through time, thought and testing.
Patrick O’ Keefe is the author of the book Managing Online Forums. The book covers all aspects of managing an online forum but it doesn’t stop at forums. Many of the topics discussed within this book could be used in managing online communities in general. You can purchase this book either through Amazon or at most local book stores such as Borders or Barnes & Noble.