Five Forum Participants to Watch Out For

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Forums are populated by lots of different characters. But there are some types of people that pop up over and over again. Here are some of the characters I’ve seen, and some tips on how to deal with them.

The Professor

The Professor knows more than you do, and he’s not afraid to point that out. This type of user is actually helpful to have around — up to a point. Having somebody posting useful information is always a good thing. But watch out for behavior that is intimidating to new users. The last thing you want is for potential new participants to be scared off  by a know-it-all. If this user comes on too strong, send him a private note thanking him for his valuable contributions and asking him to help you make new members feel welcome.

The Traffic Cop

The Traffic Cop is a variation on The Professor. He’s a know-it-all when it comes to forum rules and operations. The Traffic Cop is the one berating newcomers for posting in the wrong thread or asking questions that have already been answered. This type of user is far more dangerous than The Professor, because he thrives on making new participants feel stupid. Remind The Traffic Cop that forum rules and procedures are important, but it’s never OK to scare off people that are new to the forum.

The Show-Off

The Show-Off has a sore shoulder. That’s because he’s always reaching around to give himself a pat on the back. But The Show-Off is actually someone you want participating in the forum. For example, in a product support community, The Show-Off will brag about how he accomplished something notable with the product, and that’s great content. Just make sure he provides details so that others can learn from his success.

The Technical Expert

The Technical Expert knows some HTML, so he’s confident he has the expertise to tell you how to configure your software and run your servers. Never mind that he has zero knowledge of your proprietary systems or server architecture. This type of user is especially troubling because he’ll often gain followers in the community when he disputes your explanation of why your community platform behaves a certain way, or why a desired feature is difficult to implement. Respond to him by explaining that you have sophisticated systems and a skilled technical staff that maybe, just maybe, know more than he does. But do it as politely as possible.

The Attorney

The Attorney is reviewing your privacy policy and he’s armed with a link to the FTC website. This user will often join in and provide a “legal” opinion when other users complain about some perceived slight or misstep by forum management. You need to be very careful with The Attorney. In fact, the less you say, the better. Don’t get into a war of words with this person. The best response is to say that you’re not a lawyer and you can’t comment on legal issues. Period.

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