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How to Participate in Heated Online Community Discussions

Sometimes, online community discussions escalate from lively to heated. As community manager, your job is to stay close to the discussion when a hot community topic emerges and to keep the conversation on track and positive, especially if members get a little passionate.

Topics that invoke passion, such as religion and politics, inevitably lead to spirited debate. Your community may have certain hot-button issues of its own as well. For example, in a freelance writing online community, free and cheap labor may be hot issues because writers disagree on whether or not writing for free is the right thing to do.

You can’t leave a hotbed discussion for a few days and hope for the best. As you learn about your community, you’ll also discover which topics cause the most controversy. Even if it’s a new community and you’re a new community manager, a few warning signs indicate that a conversation is about to spawn a heated debate:

  • More people than usual comment.

  • Members take issue with certain comments.

  • The language members use to comment becomes less polite and more heated.

  • Members take sides.

  • The drama seekers, trolls, and people who only come out for a fight or argument appear.

You don’t necessarily have to quash heated discussions, but you do have to stay close and monitor the conversation just in case. As long as members are being respectful, you don’t need to step in beyond providing gentle guidance. If things get out of hand, however, you may need to close comments.

You may want to mention your comment policy and remind members that name-calling and disrespect are against your guidelines. Start asking the types of questions or making the types of comments that take the discussion back on track in a respectful, positive manner.

In certain situations, you’re only recourse is to close comments:

  • If the discussion has gotten so negative and so far off track there’s no saving it: If members are going off track, and no manner of gentle guidance can save the discussion, it’s time to close comments. If you leave them open, you risk the discussion’s becoming a free-for-all.

  • If the discussion is nothing but insults and profanity: Community members have to know they must adhere to your guidelines and comment policy. If they can’t play nice, close the comments. Otherwise, this type of negativity will ensue in future discussions. Nip it in the bud immediately, and folks will get the message.

  • If the trolls and drama seekers are coming out to play: Certain people come out only when there’s drama — or to encourage or cause drama. When these types of members come out from under their respective bridges, it’s time to close comments, because those comments are only going to make matters worse.

When moderating Facebook comments, you can’t close a thread like you do with a forum or blog post. Though Facebook discussions don’t stay on the front page for more than a day or so, if a discussion is too negative, you have to either keep it up for everyone to see or delete it altogether.

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