Can you use negativity in a positive way?


(Rebecca Braglio) #1

I’m currently working on a strategy to increase engagement in a community that tends to create the kind of engagement that is…negative. Negative = venting, complaining, frustration.

In my review of the current activity, it seems as though the members are not interested in improving their situation, bettering themselves, or taking a more pro-active approach to their situation. While the paid content on site is generally self-help and lifestyle/medical focused, which tends to be more positive, the forums are just negativity.

In looking to creating an engagement calendar for the year, I’m thinking that trying “challenges” and “fun” activities aren’t going to jibe here. Any thoughts on ways to take negative engagement (I mean, if you can’t beat them, join them…") and turning it into a fun engagement tactic?

Closing a community that's become a "moan zone" or opening new?
First time here? Welcome!
(Duncan Field) #2

Hi Rebecca,

This is a great question, and something I’ve struggled with myself. Last year I was involved in a project aimed at sharing stories within a certain demographic (law students and young professionals in the legal field), aimed at inclusion. The worry was that by framing the discussion on difficult times, that we’d foster a culture of co-misery, and attract the people who are seeking that. The trouble is that commiserating, or venting, is very empowering - it allows people with circumstances that are either beyond their control or believe to be beyond their control to take positive action. This is why it is so difficult to avoid, because it feels healthy but can often become a trap. It doesn’t help that the behavior is often validated by like-minded people. I totally sympathize with your problem. I actually wrote an article on a similar thing, I can PM you the link if you’d like.

What I would suggest is a subtle steering of the conversation, maybe by scheduling directed question threads, as is often done here. Something like “How do we improve [blank]?” or, “Does anyone have any book suggestions for [Blank]?”, or even things that might seem peripheral to your main purpose (fitness initiative, book club, getting people to talk about other parts of their lives), I find this helps people flesh out more of their lives, so that if your community is about illness, it allows people to engage with parts of each others’ lives that are separate from that illness, for example. By asking direct questions, you change the value of their contributions from simple stories, which can be drawn into a negative narrative at times, to also including the value of their contribution of resources, articles, etc.

Maybe that’s tricky because you want people to use YOUR resources, but having a marketplace of current ideas will also help you target what topics to develop resources for. It almost acts as your own market research (as long as you are aware of the particularities of your members).

(Sarah Hawk) #3

You’re very welcome to post the link here @duncanfield, if that’s appropriate.

I’d be interested to hear how some of our CMs from terminal illness communities handle this kind of thing. I imagine there is a lot of (understandable) negativity in those situations. @Priscilla – any insights?

(Matt Calder) #4

I think your idea of trying to channel the energy through engaging activities is a good one. I’ve found that community members who are really good at complaining often make the best community leaders and advisory council members. Often they are complaining because they care and there’s passion there you can tap into.

(Priscilla McClay) #5

Thanks for tagging me in, Sarah. I think there have been some really good replies here already. Interestingly, although there is naturally a lot of “venting” behaviour and a lot of sad posts on my community, I don’t feel that it has the same problem that Rebecca has described.

Firstly, my policy is that our members should never have to feel bad about writing a negative post - feedback from the people we support is that they often feel obliged to “be strong” or “put on a brave face” for people in real life, so I am careful to emphasise that the community is a place where they can be honest about what they are feeling and have a rant if they want to.

If your members pick up on any hint from you that you are trying to make them be more positive, or “better themselves”, I suspect they will not take kindly to it!

Secondly, I would say that there is still plenty of positive and inspiring content on my community - members are very supportive to each other and do share plenty of ideas on how they have coped, as well as positive memories of their loved ones, for example. (In fact, we have just published a booklet on practical tips for coping with grief, entirely made up of tips shared by our community members).

This has partly come from conversations I’ve stared, but also a lot of it has come organically from the members themselves. Examples of threads I’ve started have been “How do you cope on the anniversary of a death?” (leading to lots of people sharing nice ways that they’ve paid tribute) and “Do your pets help you cope?” (I wasn’t sure if this was too trivial, but it got a great response.)

What about having an area or sub-forum on your community where the venting behaviour is actually encouraged? Sort of - “This is your space to have a good moan and let it all out.” By directing it into one area, you might be able to work on developing the sort of engagement activities that others have mentioned in other areas, without your members feeling that you are trying to censor them.

(Darren Gough) #6

We did this and it worked fantastically. What we actually did was set up two boards - one on “this site” which was a general feedback place open to all to view, one which was a hidden board to anyone logged out but was available to every registered member. This was the “IM ANGRY AND ITS YOUR FAULT” board (well, we didn’t call it that but you get the idea!)

The results were pretty conclusive. Once members knew about these boards most of the anger moved there as we let it be known that the team would actively monitor these boards, as opposed to be reactive on the main community, which was our legally defensible stance.

The Main Site board became softer - still people with issues but more of a “could we have…” “im not sure this is right…” “Spam attack…” and the sub board was the vent area.

We found general complaints across the site, whilst still happening, were significantly reduced and simply by being heard members usually got it out of their systems and calmed down. We tried to action as much of the complaints as seemed reasonable or productive for the greater community. Some of it was actually great feedback.

Was it perfect? No. We had serial complainers who saw it as a hotline to complain about everything, always but most importantly they were now doing it in one place, hidden to site visitors and felt they were being heard.

We also had a virtual pub where we loosened the rules a bit and another hidden sub board (available to members) dedicated to discussion of current affairs. We still moderated within the law, but figured by having these areas where they could be a little more robust, it offset a lot of the disruption in other places.

Pistonheads used to do something cool also (probably still do - not been there in a while). When two or more members were getting out of hand, often around 11.20 on a Friday night coughs pub coughs they’d be moved into a private room and told to slug it out. They’d carry on shouting at each other, run out of steam and often find the whole thing hilarious. They’d then make up, often turning into friends, and get moved back into GenPop :slight_smile:

Closing a community that's become a "moan zone" or opening new?
(MHCommMgr) #7

So true @Matt_Calder . Many of our community leaders are the most challenging members for us. They are super invested, so they have a lot to say. I would love to figure out how to positively turn their passion. Right now I am considering taking a longtime member who has been negative, and give her a pretty big community leadership position, and just say to her what our goal is, and see if she is interested in working with us to help achieve it because she’s been recommended. I’m hoping this will do the trick, but I hesitate to offer it to her because she’s been such a downer on the groups lately. Your comment is making me think she deserves the reach out. Thanks!

(Darren Gough) #8

i’d be careful here.

Whilst I think there are good examples of where people who can sometimes be negative can be turned into great brand ambassadors, there are usually 5-10 member of any community who are there to be angry or disagree with any decision the community takes. Often they will use some sort of rolling eyes / shrug / joking emoticon to show that it’s all meant in good spirit. It’s like their eternal get out.

Don’t spend too much time trying to convert them - I’ve tried it in the past and it’s hugely resource intensive and rarely gets a positive reaction. Often your efforts will be construed as “they’re trying to buy me off / shut me down / i must have been right all along as they now want me on the team so i’ll be more angry”.

Certainly we shouldn’t label all negative people like this, but know who your top 5 always angry people are and disregard them.

(Rebecca Braglio) #9

Ah, yes Priscilla! I’m particularly keen on avoiding upsetting anyone who doesn’t want to be “empowered” or “get better.” We do want to encourage them to vent as it is a safe space to do so.

This idea of a “groan” board is very interesting to me. I’m going to think about this one. I kind of like it.

(Rebecca Braglio) #10

I would love to check out your article - please do share! Your tips are exactly what I’m looking for to get started off - and I had a book club type idea in the back of my mind.

(MHCommMgr) #11

@Darren_Gough totally appreciate the other side of the coin here. In fact, our leadership has encouraged us to actually reach out to negative people and ask them nicely if they’d like to move on from the site. This is a major departure from the past philosophy, which was to keep top posting power members at (nearly) all costs. We tolerated a lot of challenging behavior and spent a lot of energy on people who now continue to be negative. The thought is that there is a bit of a co-dependence here, and maybe just actively reaching out and allowing them to let go will give them the permission they need to move on. I’d love any thoughts on this. For me it’s not a major priority (I want to find the good apples and focus on them) but I do like the idea of knowing the bad apples and not enabling them (any more, ha ha ha :grin:).

(Darren Gough) #12

Yes we went through that exact same journey - top brass insisting we did everything to placate them > finally agreeing they weren’t worth it. It’s easy to confuse “top posting” with “top quality”.

So one thing that did work great for us (which I think I’ve mentioned elsewhere so forgive me if this is deja vu!) was sending personal messages to disruptive members simply asking “is everything ok?”. I was amazed how often this simple, human to human approach got them replying “yeah im sorry i’ve been having money/family/work problems and i’m venting in the wrong way” and they changed!

Not everyone, of course, but could be a good first step. The trick, we found, was not to be specific, try and second guess their issue or try and be “mates”. It was simply a short, friendly check.

(Rebecca Braglio) #13

wow I’d love to learn how you break down that conversation of asking them to move on — how do you word that?

Closing a community that's become a "moan zone" or opening new?
(MHCommMgr) #14

@irreverance gave a script for just such a message in a post on another thread (which I must admit I resurrected from the dead, in bad form). I have bookmarked it and am pasting link below because I’m too much of a newbie to figure out how to quote an old thread and reply about it here. His post was very illuminating and I saved it to help me create some communications for just this type of member going forward. Another member mentions on the same thread taking a page from the book by @richard_millington to do this. Perhaps @Darren_Gough will share his script as @irreverance did, but here on this thread… I will share some examples as soon as I come up with them!

(Sarah Hawk) #15

That’s classic! I’ve never heard of that approach. Does anyone here have a similar policy in their community?

(Gear Buzz) #16

We have a “Moan Zone” and a “Good News Chanel”.

The first was created to act as a “shrinks couch” for venting, the later as a boastful / blow your own trumpet area.

It seems to work well.

The Moan Zone is very popular!

(Jessica Malnik) #17

I’ve had a similar journey too. While in most cases, negative feedback is a sign that the member cares enough to let you know and give you ever attempt to fix it. In these cases, I’ve been amazed how effectively sending them a quick email asking them to jump on a Skype or phone call can be. Meeting in-person can be even more effective. Most of the time just shutting up and listening can disseminate 80% of their negativity. The other 20% is finding a solution to the problem.

Through my own naivety and lots of falling down, I have found that there are some people that are just profoundly negative. Everyone has a bad day, but if they are a repeat offender (think 3 or more times in less than 6 months), they generally fall under this bracket. It’s usually better to send them a polite email saying the community isn’t a good fit as opposed to continuing to bend over backwards for them. Trust me, that email never gets any easier to send though. :frowning:

The worst thing you can do is continue to bend over backwards for them time and time again as all you are doing is taking your time away from actually making the community better and helping more members.

This is a lesson that took me over 2 years to fully grasp though.

(Darren Gough) #18

Exactly this. Some people are just happier when they’re miserable. Odd but true.

(MHCommMgr) #19

Having spent the morning dealing with some very negative people, I am looking for advice. It’s a complicated situation, but the long and short of it is that we had some very robust communities for about 8 years or so, and with our most recent site redesign, some of our power members are claiming that other members they cared about left because of the site redesign and that their communities are not the same. They use a private forum for our power members as a place to complain about every thing that they don’t like about the site redesign, to accuse us of having sold our souls to the devil (because our company was bought out). I’ve been told by our president that I can ask negative people to leave now, which I may have mentioned in a previous post. I’m wondering if people can share times this has worked for them (specific situations) and how/why, because I think I’m very close to having to do it. They complain on and on about how the place has changed, but they never leave like the others they say have left because of the redesign.

(Bo McGuffee) #20

Fwiw, I have rarely asked people to leave. If it comes down to me making that decision, I let them know that their behavior is incompatible with what we’re trying to build, that I don’t believe that this particular community is a good fit for them, wish them luck finding a place they can express themselves as they want, and then ban their account. There’s no discussion, since that presumes that discussions have already happened and there is no point in dragging it out any further. It doesn’t sound like you are there with your people.

What I generally do when people are having difficulty with change is talk with them privately, because the conversation can be more open. As we talk, I recognize the validity of their feelings (change is hard), remind them of the rational need for change (new blood = continuance of the community), remind them that some decisions need to be made from a perspective outside of the community itself (in other words, by the business), and encourage those who are having difficulty with the change to reflect on how comfortable they are with it, and if they aren’t let them know that you would respect their decision to find a place where they would feel more comfortable.

It’s a very polite way of saying that they don’t have a say in that particular, business decision. It also places the responsibility for their own actions (and the consequences) on them. At this point, they know that the situation is not going to change and that they have to make a choice: deal with it (and say) or don’t (and go). Only if they continue to cause an uproar, would I consider banning (as mentioned earlier).

Reading back over that, it sounds like a bit of a hard line, and I guess it kind of is. So I want to temper it a bit with a reminder that pain needs to be heard. Make sure to listen to their sense of loss while you try to keep the focus on the purpose of the change, which is to resonate with newcomers and promote the future of the community.

I hope that helps.