The 7 Troublesome Member Personas in Your Online Community And How To Manage Them

Erica McGillivray
July 17, 2014
May 3, 2024

When a community becomes popular, it's very likely that it will attract drama, trolls, and controversy. It's inevitable.

From my tween years participating in AOL chatrooms to organizing co-ops in Oregon Trail to now managing a branded client community, I have grown up hearing the phrase, "Don't feed the trolls” before. But this phrase is incredibly misleading for community builders. Your strategy should not be to ignore “trolls” and call it a day.

Instead, you need to identify the different personas of troublesome members in your community and take action according to their motivations. Notice how I used the term “troublesome member” here, not troll. The term troll should be reserved for one thing and one thing only in your community: the glorious toy from the 1990s.

Identifying and Responding to the 7 Troublesome Member Personas

Before you think about how to respond, make sure that you have established official community guidelines. Once those are in place, you can go about identifying and responding to these troublesome member personas in the way that makes the most sense.

1. The Antagonizer:

How to spot these members:

  • Love to start conflicts and fights among users
  • Usually very active members
  • Can be arrogant or brash
  • May be prone to emotional outbursts

Common phrases from The Antagonizer:

  • "Are you dumb?"
  • "That's not smart."
  • "That's the stupidest thing I ever heard."

2. The Instigator

How to spot these members:

  • Similar characteristics to The Antagonizer
  • Latch onto others' issues, which usually have nothing to do with them
  • Main goal is to disrupt the community and create the biggest scene possible at whatever cost.

Common phrases and attributes of The Instigator:

  • Outrage
  • Riot
  • Rebellion
  • “Who's coming with me?”

How to Respond to The Antagonizer and The Instigator

Dealing with antagonizers and instigators requires moderation. If left unchecked, these members can create pure chaos in a community. In any scenario, you should write an email communicating the issue and why the member’s actions violate your community guidelines. Depending on the severity of their actions, responses can range from a firm warning email to a full-on banning of the member's account.

3. The Whiner:

How to spot these members:

  • They come and go in the community; often very active in short stints and then will disappear for a long time.
  • Always looking to place their blame on anyone or anything other than themselves
  • May use excessive exclamation marks

Common phrases of The Whiner:

  • "I hate your product."
  • "It's not working for me!"
  • "It's your fault!"
  • "I hate your service!"

How to Respond to The Whiner

The Whiner is one of the most common personas that you will encounter, particularly in customer/client support communities. These are also the members that you have the best chance of turning from negative, unhappy members to community ambassadors and/or promoters. The best way to manage Whiners is by reaching out or calling them. In your message or call to them, use the 5 WHYs approach, also known as root-cause-analysis. This allows you to pull back the layers of their problem until you identify the root cause. This will help de-escalate sticky situations with challenging members in your online community.

4. The Disapprover

How to spot these members:

  • Very sarcastic
  • Usually have very intelligent, developed POVs, but their delivery is riddled in cynicism.

Common phrases of The Disapprover:

  • "Why are you doing it this way?"
  • "Are you serious?"
  • “Way to go, guys!"
  • "This is so obvious to do x instead of y."
  • "Come on, guys."

How to Respond to The Disapprover

The Whiner and The Disapprover are quite similar, though The Disapprover can be the more challenging since they are likely to be your most passionate members. Again, get on the phone with them or contact them privately and ask them the 5 WHYs. Once you have done root-cause-analysis, it’s up to you if you ban the member (i.e. they are just completely disrespectful and not willing to work with you and your team, though this is rare), issue an initial warning, or schedule a follow-up call.

5. Group Gossiper:

How to spot these members:

  • Frequent commenters
  • Strong desire to get to know everyone in the community
  • Usually the first to break news and/or spread rumors before news breaks

Common phrases of The Group Gossiper:

  • "Did you hear?"
  • "Did you know?"
  • "I can't believe this happened!"

How to Respond to The Group Gossiper

Often, The Group Gossiper is just someone to keep a close eye on rather than react to. The only time you need to respond to this member is if they are spreading malicious rumors that damage the brand and/or are spreading rumors around security flaws or bugs (then react as you would to The Jerk, The Disapprover, or The Bug Finder). However, these members can be a powerful voice for your community if you're careful about how you become their ally. Don't give them too much power, but it's a good idea to get them on your team early-on.

6. The Bug Finder

How to spot these members:

  • Infrequent posters, but frequent lurkers
  • Analytical

Common phrases and attributes of The Bug Finder:

  • "I discovered this bug"
  • "I hacked into x system."
  • It's less about common phrases and more about analyzing the context and tone behind their posts.

How to Respond to The Bug Finder

The first thing you should do is evaluate this member’s claims. This may require you to put on your technical hat and/or engage your development team. If there is little to no truth to their claims or they are just trying to start trouble, handle them the same way as The Instigator. If there is some truth and weight to the issue they've identified, you need to spell out what you are planning to do with this information (preferably both publicly to the community and privately to the member).

7. The Jerk

How to spot these members:

  • Non-constructive posts
  • Spiteful outbursts
  • Makes attacks on people, not problems

Common phrases and attributes of The Jerk:

  • Profanity
  • Use of racial slurs or other offensive language

How to Respond to The Jerk

Of the seven personas I outlined above, the most straightforward is The Jerk. As a community manager, it's your job to ensure that your community members feel comfortable. The quickest way to destroy a community is to allow personal attacks to go unchecked. When you come across a member resorting to personal attacks and/or racial slurs or offensive language, you should confront them right away and either flat-out ban them (depending on how consequences are imposed in your guidelines) or issue a severe warning. Of course, before you hit the ban button, make sure you do your research first and document everything. At the very minimum, you should have screengrabs of all their troublesome posts, the IP address(es) where they are posting from, and a copy (or database dump) of their posting activity.

Key Takeaways:

No matter what type of person you encounter, it's important to take a step back and analyze the situation fully first. As a community manager, it’s your job to foster a great culture where community members want to contribute and feel safe and valued when they do so.

Now a question for you: What tips do you have for dealing with troublesome members? Please share in the comment section below.

--- Image Credit: Robert Taddeo

Erica McGillivray
July 17, 2014
May 3, 2024

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