Saturday, November 1, 2008

The importance of providing a space to air grievances

A specific component of any overall forum strategy is to provide a space where members can address their grievances. While management may take issue with negative personal comments or the use of vulgar terms, forums should be used as a sounding board for members to discuss company policies or changes they find disagreeable in addition to the socio-cultural exchange. By giving members platforms to vent frustration community managers can accomplish several goals.

The first is providing the company with a rapid source of feedback to proposed changes and secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the members understand that they have an established place for voicing their opinions. The transparency of this approach is a key concept in that members are able to ascertain intent. Rather than taking complaints off site where dissent can fester into malcontent or destructive acts, the members more often receive timely input from staff which can serve to diffuse the negative and correct misperceptions.

As noted in the Maslovian model, economic viability provides for meeting basic needs. Once the resources are secure the individual is able to progress toward more community centric endeavours. Forums existing on commercial websites with member driven sales are particularly vulnerable to anxiety and reaction over policy changes. Providing arenas for members to discuss their concerns and perhaps find solutions enhances the good will within the forums as conscientious people assist others with problem solving.

A final crucial goal accomplished by providing the means to criticize the company, staff, actions and policies openly in the forums is that this significantly contributes to feelings of trust and loyalty. Not only the members, but the media and general public are able to see that the owners are not afraid of criticism. Staff should not retaliate against those who speak out and in fact should invite the airing of honest opinion without feeling the need to continually defend itself or cater to every pressure brought to bear. This approach serves to reify the company's consistency between what it says and what it does. It attests to confidence in both long and short term goals and the good intentions of the staff involved. Many companies invariably go astray by attempting to censor, ignore, placate or otherwise shut down negative discussion in their forums. The predictable result is their participants observe the lack of corporate certitude and begin to lose faith.

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