Community. Inspiration. Education. These are the words that adequately describe most online forums designed to serve a particular industry segment. But there’s another word that goes hand-in-hand with the first three…
Sometimes I’ll read a thread on a board and I’ll get the distinct impression I’ve just hopped into a Delorean Time Machine back to high school. (And by “board” I can mean a traditional forum, Facebook Group or Yahoo! or Google group). Am I the only one who has ever felt this way? Here are grown men and women, acting like it’s “Freaky Friday” or something and they’ve traded bodies with their 13-year-old. Whether it’s name-calling, false accusations, slander, complaining, tattling, you name it, I’ve seen it. I can’t help but wonder…
“Are forums worth the fuss?”
If I’m being honest, the answer is…of course.
The three words that opened this blog post (community, inspiration and education) are the reasons all the DRAMA can be worth it. But the drama can get to you. So here are six tips for dealing with the drama:
- Pace yourself. Do you remember the 80s/90s TV show “Cheers” starring Ted Danson? There was a character on the show called “Norm!” His butt was practically a permanent fixture in the bar. Some people are like that in forums. They are always there. Don’t be a Norm. Pace yourself. If you find yourself getting frustrated more and more, take a break.
- Contribute. If you’re an active participant, try to give back as much as you take. If you’re new to the forum or to the business, you may be more of a “taker,” i.e. always posting questions, but never answers. There’s nothing wrong with that. We’ve all been there. But as you get a feel for the place, and as you learn more, start offering answers and solutions based on what you have learned.
- Don’t add fuel to the fire. Once drama starts to build up, don’t add fuel to the fire. If you find yourself typing a 3-page reply on a forum in a moment of frustration, stop what you’re doing, open up Text Edit (or some equivalent text editor) and type everything so you can get it out of your system. Then hit save, sit on it for a day, re-read it, and take out everything that your more level-headed self can see is inflammatory. If you have access to a spouse or significant other who is more objective, have him or her read and it give input. But whatever you do, treat it like email. Don’t fire off an emotional response as soon as you feel it. (I must admit, I’m only good at this about 60-70%% of the time. 🙂
- PM personal issues. If someone on a board says or does something that really upsets you, consider contacting them personally via a private message or email vs. publicly attacking back. In some cases, you may need to address an issue publicly on the forum if incorrect or miscommunicated info about you was given. I can understand that. But, if you find yourself going head-to-head with someone and it’s more personal than professional, PM them. Or better yet, pick up a phone.
- Find another forum. If the drama on one forum gets really bad, find another more professional or courteous forum. There are a gajillion of them out there. None of them are perfect, and they all deal with drama from time to time. But, some do tend to be more drama-inclined than others.
- Build your own personal network. This is my personal choice. For the past few years, instead of heading to the forums to get answers to my questions, I’ve built up enough of a network where I send personal emails to a handful of trusted colleagues. Twitter has also been a great source for me to get answers to questions I’ve had.
Play nice, give back, and remember to act your age, and forums will continue to be a positive resources.
Update: I want to publicly address a comment from my friend and colleague Steve Moses (see comments below) about the fact that I tend to drum up my fair share of “drama.” It’s no secret that I like to write provocative topics. I also like to debate. There’s nothing wrong with healthy, respectful, and courteous debate. The issue I’m talking about here, and I apologize if it’s not clear, is when people get nasty, rude, immature or downright mean. I’ve seen comments on all kinds of forums and Facebook groups from both photogs and videogs that go beyond healthy debate. All the samples I gave above are what I’m talking about (e.g. name-calling, false accusations, slander, etc.)
I don’t see anything wrong with controversy, if dealt with in an adult-like manner. I think a good example is this particular dialog. Steve offered a provocative, yet fair question about my tendency to raise issues that incite drama. I took Steve’s comment in stride, addressed its validity (i.e. I raise provocative topics), and gave what I hope is a respectful and well thought-out response. We could go back and forth like this all day as long as we’re respectful of one another. There’s nothing wrong with that IMHO and that’s not what I’m addressing here. What I tend to see though is these kind of “discussions” devolving into the “high school” arena.
I hope this helps clear up any confusion.
Lastly, let me leave you with yet another video from Derek Sivers. Remember that on the other end of that reply is a real person with real feelings. Not just some nameless avatar.