Managing agitated stakeholders online requires careful discipline by forum administrators and moderators.
Over the past 8 months we have learned (sometimes the hard way) what constitutes best practice in terms of project team participation in online consultations. I thought it might be worth running through our current view of best practice. I will revisit this again when we have learned more, as we invariably will.
1. Participation vs moderation
It is important to note that this is distinct from moderation. In terms of the consultations we do on Bang the Table moderation is a simple matter of removing irrelevant, obscene or defamatory remarks. It is a content free process.
2. Use a generic name
So, first things first, identifying yourself as a project member. In all Bang the Table sites (whether bangthetable.com or one of our tailored sites) the client can enter members of a ‘project team’ and these people are identified distinctly from the rest of the users. This enables you to stand out from the crowd and to speak with authority. We advise that you choose a generic title, ‘Project Coordinator’ for example. This ensures that even if the debate gets heated, it cannot get personal.
3. Nominate who should respond and control responses
We think that only one or two people in your organisation should be able to access and use that login so that responses from other areas of the organsation get entered on to the site by those people only. This prevents inconsistent levels of response and the possibility of staff members getting drawn into debate with the community.
4. Don’t get sucked in
I guess this is the first rule – never ever enter into the debate. There will always be people trying to draw you in. Dont fall for it. You are engaging the community you need to hear their views and respond but there is nothing to be gained by arguing. In fact it is contrary to the point of the process.
So, if people spread myths about your project calmly and dispasionately state the facts. Only do this once. If they continue with their myth or misconception just let them. The structure of Bang the table means that your response will appear just near their myth and other readers can and will judge for themselves. Usually they will side with you because the truth is more believable anyway.
5. Persistent questioners
Another thing we come across is the persistent questioner. Not simple questions of clarification but people who are trying to demonstrate their own wisdom by tripping you up. How can you tell the difference – you often can’t at first so we recommend that you answer only simple and directly relevant questions in a web forum.
We advise strongly against getting drawn in to answering complex questions. Instead provide people with a phone number to call or post a document in to the library and refer them to it. This means the questioner gets access to the information but does not get to derail the whole consultation and take it down another road. this is really the same as in a public meeting. You are unlikely to have all the information there but can contact people to provide it later.
6. Don’t be afraid not to respond
This may not sound too helpful but, if in doubt, dont be afraid not to respond. We have had a number of clients who choose to not participate in forums and adopt a purely listening role. This works just fine but it is best to outline your intentions from the outset to manage expectations.
Often you will see people in these forums demanding responses but there is no evidence that the value of the feedback from the community is reduced by not answering. Indeed most people seem happy to make their views known. However, we do recommend some limited participation to reassure the community that you are listening.
I hope that helps for manage angry stakeholders online. I would love to see some comment, experiences and other views so please post replies to this post if you disagree.
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