To Derek Draper re:

Labour List GrabLabourList is warming up in advance of a full launch. Some Tory voices have been pretty disparaging (maybe they’re a bit scared?) but I can see it gathering momentum. One thing that needs a bit of work is the ‘community management’. So here’s my advice to Derek Draper, who’s leading the charge…

Hi Derek,

Good luck with LabourList. It’s a great experiment and I’m sure you’re going to have fun with it. I’ve been a Labour party member since before I could vote. Now a blogger, social media consultant, freelance community/moderation manager and, in a previous life, Community Manager for eBay in the UK where managing the moderation and growth of a large (and sometimes cantankerous) community was my bread and butter.

Welcome to my world. You’ve got a background in media relations and experience as a psychotherapist and those are both damned useful. But you’re not an internet type and (as far as I know) have never managed an online community. I have. Here are some words of advice:

Give up control now.
If for one moment you think you can control this thing you’ve started, give up. You’re wrong. It has a life of its own already and you’re barely days in. Of course, you can temper it and remove the obscene and offensive content but you will never suppress people with views you don’t like. Don’t even try. The best you can do is encourage positive contributions and amplify voices that resonate with LabourList‘s aims. You’re not going to change a single made-up mind. Don’t bother trying.

Loonies land first
Call them passionate or call them obsessed. Those with a well–rehearsed rant, long standing grievance, pet peeve or just plain bonkers agenda always turn up first (often because they’ve been turned away elsewhere or others tired of the same rubbish again and again have stopped listening). LabourList is just a new place they can vent. It’s tempting to play tough and it’s fun to spank them but actually it’s best (always)… to ignore them. That drives them crazy. Smile and wave.

The host sets the tone
If you’re combative, you’ll get combative back. Studied politeness to all is the only way. Everyone might be ranting around you but never rant back. It’s essential to be even-handed and fair no matter how hard you’re being criticised or however rude or personal someone is being to you. Recognise and reward the sort of behaviour you want to see more of. For instance, thank people for constructive contributions. That can be in public or privately. A personal email of thanks from a cimmunity host, welcoming future dialogue works wonders. You’ve been getting snippy on some of the comments threads: it’s hard to enforce a positive tone when the host isn’t setting much of an example.

Keep on ignoring the trolls.
Just in case you’ve forgotten already. Maybe your patience is fraying. You want to retort. Don’t. Keep on ignoring them. Do not feed the trolls.

The deft hand of moderation, moderates moderately
Moderation is time-consuming and therefore expensive. Newbie moderators tend to want perfection but it simply isn’t possible. Prioritise. Swearing and obscenity are top priority, alongside threats and very anti-social behaviour. Delete and warn. Prevent repeat offenders from being able to post.

Moderation isn’t a binary choice. It’s not a case of either a free-for-all or not publishing anything until it’s been approved. Report buttons that let the community participate are useful. Use filters to screen text that may need review by a human. Let people with a good past record through but approve comments from newbies. There are lots of options. If you sanction anyone, give them a clear reason and never discuss individual cases of moderation in public (if they go public on correspondence, consider any discussion closed).

They’re not journalists, they’re real people (even if they are wankers).
You can’t be as brusque with community members as you might be with hacks. A journalist is doing a job, a community member is doing it for fun. Even wankers need to be treated respectfully. You don’t need to point out when someone is making a stupid point, or make your case every time: it’s usually abundantly clear. (The bloggerheads case is a good one: here’s an example post.) We can make our own minds up about him.) It’s very easy to rub someone up the wrong way and create an ongoing problem: a person with free time and a vendetta is an expensive indulgence in the long run. Try not to create too many. Ignoring people after they’ve had a fair hearing, explaining that there is nowhere for the discussion to go, is acceptable practice.

Never forget the Lurkers!
In any online community, there is a silent majority that matter much more than the minority who speak up. Look past the first few rows and play to the gallery. I reckon in a successful community, that for every commenter there are nine others reading. These people are the audience and keep them front and centre as you build LabourList rather than focussing on the ones shouting loudest. As you rightly say, you’re building a site for 60 million people, draw them out if you can. Don’t drive them away with intemperate treatment of whingers.

Keep on going, Comrade,

Dan Wilson

8 thoughts on “To Derek Draper re:”

  1. If the bloggerheads case is a good one, and people are free to make up their own minds about that, why not link to the specific post(s)?

    Draper is the wrong man for this job. His moderation style has matched his attitude throughout the exercise to date; selfish, deceitful, heavy-handed and mean-spirited.

    Pointing this out to others who might also fall victim to this treatment and persisting at least until Draper stops lying outright about his position is not a vendetta.

  2. Damned good advice for life in general, Dan, not just for blogging.

    I have taken all on board and will make studied politeness my watchword.

  3. Thank you.

    Do you think I was granted a fair hearing at LabourList? Your post (specifically in the passage that also speaks of ‘wankers’ and ‘vendettas’) suggests that I was, but it could just be a false impression given by proximity of these words to your kind mention of my website.

  4. Tim,

    Speaking objectively with a community manager’s hat on, I think you’ve had fair hearing. You have aired your views here, on the Guardian website, on your blog and on Labourlist. You’re voice is ringing loud and clear through cyberspace: you haven’t been gagged in any real sense (remember Nay Phone Latt).

    I’d say you confuse a fair hearing with a) getting every single question you pose answered b) getting substantive replies to each and every post. I reckon in a community like LabourList you have the right to post and the right to be heard. You don’t have a right to response.

    I’d agree that you have been poorly moderated. Deleting comments has clearly made you more dogged. On how you’ve been treated by Derek Draper: I wouldn’t have dealt with you in the same way. As I’ve noted in the main post, his manner has sometimes been unfortunate.

  5. I have not received a fair hearing at LabourList; far from it.

    I don’t think I have confused a fair hearing with getting every single question answered with any kind of reply; in some circumstances, fair *questions* have been deleted outright.

    The result in a case like this is a post that falsely gives the impression that it has been open to comment/challenge, when some challenges to any/all assertions by the author have instead been censored and not addressed in any way.

    Draper recently took this one step further by openly challenging me to respond to a point, then refusing/deleting my every response to that challenge. Draper thereby created the illusion that nobody was able to counter him.

    I have a right to a response in those circumstances, surely.

    My concerns about things like outright censorship on that site have (unsurprisingly) not seen the light of day on that site. What opportunities I might have to be heard elsewhere, including on my own site, don’t enter into it.

    At no stage has Draper reached a point where it could be said that he has offered me a fair hearing. If anything, he has responded with (sometimes carefully veiled) personal attacks.

  6. “I have a right to a response in those circumstances, surely.”

    you don’t, believe me you really don’t

    you have no “right” to a response under any circumstances.

    it is nieve to think otherwise.

    believe me I learned the hard way.

  7. And apropos of absolutely nothing at all…

    posting “I wish I hadn’t bothered posting now” in response to community member complaints is never, ever appropriate. However true it might be.

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