As community managers we surround ourselves with people of differing ages, genders, backgrounds, attitudes and opinions in our communities. It’s part of what makes communities so interesting. We get to understand the differences and similarities between members, draw an overall consensus and then provide valuable insights to our clients.
Dealing with members with such varying backgrounds, opinions and outlooks can therefore be a difficult process. We aim to get to know people throughout the period that the community runs, and it is true that as we go along, you get a better understanding of what you can talk to some members about; how much you can ask them and importantly what topic of conversations are taboo or not. In the first weeks though it is worth being cautious as something that you may say flippantly without even thinking may actually be offensive to a member.
Think about real life, the first time you meet someone, it is pretty unlikely that you’ll be asking them who they voted for in the last election or how much they earn each year in the first few minutes of conversation. Sure these may be relevant questions at some point but think about how you would feel being asked this in the first week of a community or the first time you meet someone.
A good example of mine was a discussion which took place around Easter which aimed to investigate how much the meaning of Easter had diminished over time and the reasons for this. Whilst most of us have an opinion on the matter, it was early in a community and had the potential to create divisions between those with differing opinions of a religious nature. Whilst healthy argument can be a good way to really delve into the true thoughts of members, fractures in the membership surrounding issues of religion or other sensitive topics can be very damaging.
Trust must be built up with members in order to get the best from them. It is built over time and you can’t expect someone to provide you the most insightful responses without their trust.
A tip that I now have in the back of my mind when talking to members in the community is that if you are any way concerned or worried about what you are writing and how it could be understood by a member then it is safer to not ask the question at all.
Sometimes it’s not the questions that we ask which are important in getting the best out of members but the ones that we don’t.