Keep Your Forums Friendly

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Forum-based communities are a great way to help your site grow in popularity. However, if your forums become riddled with junk posts, advertisements, and general spam, it can disgust new visitors and turn potential community members away.

Your Users Can Make or Break Your Site

Friendly, helpful and polite users make your forums a happy place to be, and this will boost your site’s reputation. Conversely, a malicious user can spell doom: they can damage your reputation and cripple your forums. Today, we’ll look at what you, the community owner, can do with regard to abusive members of all kinds.

Keep in mind that the larger your community becomes, the more bad members you will have, and that keeping all of them out is next to impossible. If your forums haven’t witnessed mean members yet, it’s only a matter of time until someone comes along with the intent to harm your community.

What is Spam?

"Spam" generally describes forum posts about anything that’s irrelevant or inappropriate.

Spam can include posts that continuously invite members to visit a certain Website, or a situation where a member posts a large number of messages in a short amount of time. In short, spam is any content that you don’t want to appear on your forums.

Keep Malicious Users Out

The key to operating successful and attractive forums is to keep troublemakers and unwanted solicitation out.

Promote Moderators

The most effective way to do this is to promote some helpful and well-known members of your forum to moderator status (see Greg Bernhardt’s Super Moderator Guide for tips on how to choose moderators). Moderators are members of the community too, and won’t want to see it abused by spammers.

Set Some Ground Rules

Another effective way to keep aggressive users out is to develop a list of rules, and post them publicly for members and guests to see. Your rules should be as specific as possible, and you may want to state clearly how you’ll deal with malicious members. This will:

  1. help discourage current members from clogging up your forums with junk threads
  2. stop malicious guests who might consider registering in your forums just to spam
  3. let your moderators know what’s not acceptable, and what to do with rotten users
What to Do Once They’re In

No matter what lengths you go to in order to discourage spammers and unwanted users out of your forums, some will inevitably sign up and start causing trouble. What do you do?

Many Webmasters hit the ‘ban’ button, but beware! Banning may seem like the best way to get rid of malicious users, but try to fight the temptation! I learned the hard way that simply banning members from your forums won’t solve your problems.

In one particular case I banned a user and he went ballistic! He got friends to register, and they all attacked my forums at once, filling the place with inappropriate pictures, hate-posts, advertisements, threats, etc. It was so bad I had to delete the database the forums were running on and start again from scratch.

So take my advice — and try to sort things out amicably. Reserve banning as a last resort, and instead, see if you can find an alternative way to deal with hostile members. Let’s take a look at your options.

1. Confront Abusive Members

There are many ways to stop abusive users. Most users "go bad" for a reason. The best way to get them to stop doing the wrong thing is to contact them, ask them what’s making them so upset, and ask them to stop.

While you’re at it, take note of the aggressive user’s IP address. You may need to use this later, if you’re forced to contact the user’s Internet Service Provider.

If your forums software allows you to send private messages, send the offender a friendly message to let them know that they’ve stepped out of line. Most users will value their membership to your forums, and they’ll want to avoid being banned. If your forums don’t allow you to send private messages, email your abusive users.

The first time you confront an abusive user, avoid using threats, as this willsimply encourage them to continue their bad behavior. Instead, just tell them that they’re acting in an unacceptable manner. Be friendly, and ask them to stop.

2. If at First You Don’t Succeed…

So you contacted the abusive member and asked him or her to stop, but he or she ignored you. Or maybe they sent you a nasty reply.

It may seem hard not to be angered by this, but don’t lose your cool! The next step is to contact the user again, but this time, send a more formal message. Take a firm tone. Remember to be clear about what it is that the members has been doing wrong, and be sure to explain the consequences this time.

3. Bad Boys for Life

Some users just want to cause trouble. If, after you’ve contacted the malicious user twice, their behavior has still not improved, it’s time to ban. Sometimes there just isn’t any other way.

After being banned, the user may contact you with threats or make an effort to register again in order to unleash terror on your forums. If this happens, contact the abusive user’s ISP (using the ISP address you collected earlier) and let them know about the user. Most ISPs don’t want to let abusive people run amok on the Internet and may suspend their services.

Conclusion

I hope that you found my tips on avoiding and taking care of aggressive users helpful. Nobody likes to have their forums ruined, and I hope that none of you have the misfortune to experience any site crippling attacks. Hopefully, these tips might just help you avoid some of the more common pitfalls!

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