5 Things NOT to Do When You Respond to Members in Your Online Community


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So far, you’ve done everything right. You launched an online customer or member community and—even better—your community members have become active and engaged participants. Your company or organization is producing insightful, high-quality content and your discussion boards are thriving.

You made the plan, you did the work, and everything is going exactly as you hoped. What could possibly go wrong?

The answer? Hopefully nothing—but that doesn’t mean you should completely let your guard down.

It can be a fatal flaw of your community management approach to fall under the misconception that your community is unsinkable. As much as we would all like it to be true, your community isn’t going to run itself.

Deliberate online community management is key to having a harmonious online community that your members enjoy coming back to. While effective community management consists of processes, metrics, and content, the personal interactions that happen within your online community still matter. The last thing you want to do is accidentally drive your members away by taking the wrong tone in your online community participation.

Luckily, these mistakes are all easily avoidable. By being aware of these five things not to do when responding to members in your online community, you can steer clear of trouble and keep your community healthy and growing.

How to Avoid Interactions that Hurt Engagement in Your Online Community

Tip #1) Don’t Take The Air Out Of The Room.

Your community thrives when the discussion within your community thrives. Yes, you or other members of your community management team have a lot of knowledge to answer potential member questions. However, by responding definitively, you risk squashing all future conversation in the discussion thread.

Instead, answer in a way that open ups the discussion and ask others to participate. Now, obviously this rule doesn’t apply to situations where the answer is wholly “knowable,” and not likely to incite any discussion in the first place, such as the date or location of a conference. In that case, you should feel free to flaunt your expertise.

Tip #2) Don’t Scold For Participating.

Even if one of your members isn’t participating in the exact way you’d hoped, you never want to make someone feel like their participation is unwanted. Let’s say a community member posts a question that doesn’t fit with the discussion goals of the community, or is merely in the wrong thread.

By responding, “This type of question doesn’t belong in this community” or “you asked this in the wrong place,” you’re likely to intimidate that member away from participating ever again.

When someone is new to your community, it might take them a few days of poking around and reading through different discussion boards to fully get their bearings. Be patient and remember that part of community management is relinquishing some control.

Tip #3) Don’t Answer Unhelpfully.

You probably aren’t going to answer to every question your community members pose—and you shouldn’t be expected to. If you don’t know an answer, don’t post a response for the sake of engagement, when you are not actually addressing he question. Disguise your lack of knowledge with an unhelpful answer that redirects the question or shows an ulterior agenda reflects more poorly onyou and your organization than not answering at all.

Instead, try being more transparent. Own up to your missing information and make an effort to seek out an answer that will be helpful.

Similarly, if someone in the community is critical of your organization or your products, you aren’t going to solve any problems by avoiding, redirecting, or dismissing the criticism. Instead, by being defensive, you are more likely to alienate your members and cause them to seek out other options for engagement outside your community.

Tip #4) Don’t Blatantly Self-Promote.

When a member of your community asks a question, they likely aren’t looking for you to respond by trying to sell them an additional product or further promote your organization. Community members can smell a sale a mile away. This undermines and taints the purpose of your community and can drive your customer or members away if they don’t feel comfortable interacting within your community without being the object of a sale.

Of course, there are some questions where a product you have might be the best solution. In this case, you can do your best to answer the question objectively, while also mention a possible solution your company has to offer. Let’s say your organization offers a $149 training course that would be perfect for helping a member figure out their problem. Present it as one of several options. That way, you’re providing a resource rather than capitalizing on a promotion.

Tip #5) Don’t Blame Them For Having A Problem.

Your online customer or member community needs to be a safe space where members can bring their problems without feeling scrutinized.

Responding to a problem by saying, “you shouldn’t be having this problem” or “it is your fault that you are in this situation,” doesn’t make that commenter feel supported or welcome in your community—in fact, it will likely have the opposite effect.

Even if the problem a member is having is due to user error, you never want to attack the root of what they might have done wrong to have the problem they’re having. Instead, focus on how the problem can be fixed, not how it happened in the first place.

Common Response Mistakes Takeaway

It’s important to remember that, with all of these types of responses, you need to trust your instincts and strike a happy balance. There might not be a clear-cut “right” or “wrong” way to respond to an issue, but if you are acting with the best interest of your community members in mind, you’re probably handling the situation just fine.

Remember, your online community exists to help customers or members find more success in their lives, career, or daily jobs. Sometimes simply taking the time to consider the reactionary result of a response to a member can allow you to see a better option.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joshua Paul
Joshua Paul is the Director of Marketing and Strategy at Socious, a provider of enterprise customer community software that helps large and mid-sized companies bring together customers, employees, and partners to increase customer retention, sales, and customer satisfaction. With over 13 years of experience running product management and marketing for SaaS companies, Joshua Paul is a popular blogger and speaker on customer management, inbound marketing, and social technology. He blogs at http://blog.socious.com.


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