Earlier this month IMDb announced they were disabling their message boards, largely because they are no longer providing a positive experience (read: trolls), their users have migrated to IMDb’s social media accounts and the message boards are only used by a small but passionate audience.
There’s a few solid takeouts to learn from the closure of IMDb’s boards:
- Don’t underestimate your lurkers – just because they’re not posting in the message boards doesn’t mean they aren’t reading. Lurkers are a valuable part of any community but because they aren’t visibly commenting it’s easy to forget about them. Lurkers are still consuming content which can provide insight into what’s popular not just for your community but also your wider site.
- Implement solid community guidelines. This is the foundation for a happy and healthy community and it sets the tone for the type of behaviour that is acceptable. However, it’s not enough just to write them and slap them in the footer and hope people will find them. You need to refer to them frequently, place them somewhere prominent on the site, include them in your response anytime someone breaks them and make them part of the on-boarding process for new members. Which brings me to my next point.
- On-board new members. Send them a welcome email, show them some easy ways to get started with the community, make them feel involved and let them know how you want them to behave. Remember without boundaries there’s anarchy, so be up front about what the boundaries for your community are.
- Set up a team of volunteer moderators. The small but passionate community that IMDb references in their press release are gutted that the message boards are closing and would happily take on moderation duties to see it continue. Give these volunteer mods the power to remove and edit posts so they can enforce the community guidelines.
- Give users the option to flag inappropriate content or report anyone in violation of the community guidelines. This is an important step towards the holy grail of community self-moderation. It’s also something you can task your volunteer mods with checking and actioning.
- Don’t feed the trolls, in fact shut them down. Better yet let your volunteer mods and community members do it. If you have a solid set of community guidelines, active moderation and a strong sense of community the trolls won’t get the reaction they’re looking for and they’ll move onto somewhere else… you know, like Reddit or Facebook.
- Don’t neglect your user experience. One of the most confusing features of the IMDb message boards is the lack of line break or font change in signatures, which stuck an odd paragraph on the end of many posts. Having an easy-to-use, easy-to-read interface is crucial for building habitual use among your members.
- Hire (or outsource) an experienced Community Manager. This is possibly the most important takeout for any community, particularly one that is facing a tide of negativity. Having a skilled CM at the helm will help steer the ship away from any toxic behaviour towards a vibrant and healthy community that members will love. A Community Manager sets the tone for what is and isn’t acceptable, and without one you’re inviting a free-f0r-all. Just as an online community is an investment, so is an experienced Community Manager.
It’s not uncommon for a well-established community of this size to have a team of volunteer moderators running the day-to-day management, freeing up the Community Manager to focus on top level strategy and finding new ways for the community to deliver ROI to the business. A healthy and passionate community, led by an experienced Community Manager can deliver value to a business in many ways, such as increasing loyalty, decreasing customer service costs, providing user generated content and being a source for product innovation. Set your community up to succeed and it will benefit your business for years to come.
IMDb, there’s still time, you don’t have to do this. Where will we go to see if others felt the same way about a movie or TV show? How will we find out quirky facts or nuances that we missed? IMDb we love you, please don’t close the message boards.
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