Creating A Community Forum

I have created a community space on Reddit for the town I live in: r/aberdeenwa.

Technically, I took over a dead Reddit which I didn't discover until I tried to create a sub and found the name was already taken. It was so dead, it wasn't showing up when I looked for such a thing on Reddit.

I took it over nearly a year ago in late May of 2020 and I didn't really know what I was doing initially. So my early posts were somewhat haphazard and unfocused.

I then had some forum drama where I ended up banning three people in relatively short order. So I made the sub private so I could think about what was going on and what to do about it without the negative stuff growing unchecked while I thought things through, in part just so I was free to think instead of running around trying to put out fires while not understanding what was causing them.

I concluded part of the problem was stuff I was posting. The day I re-opened it, I deleted some old posts, mostly mine, and I've deleted more today.

I got it clearer in my mind what I want to do with the sub and how to position it to achieve that.

The drama may have to some degree been intentional sabotage rooted in small town politics or it may have just been one troll plus a global pandemic and so forth coinciding and giving birth to a kerfluffle. I tend to have low drama communities when I'm in charge, but no community is ever 100 percent harmony all day, every day.

You also don't get a sense of community until you have a crisis. Handling a crisis well will help create the sense of community, so I'm not really too bothered by the kerfluffle.

But it means if you run a community discussion board, you need to be able to deal with some friction and you need to learn some moderating best practices that will help you genuinely reduce drama instead of putting out the fire with gasoline which can happen if you make the mistake of giving drama too much of your attention.

The key to moderating well is understanding that some folks are kind of like two year olds who have discovered the thrill of Pushing Da Button. If they can get a rise out of you, they will be back for more.

Even people who are not intentionally being jerks and troublemakers will tend to give you more of the things you "reward" with attention. Some folks do a poor job of distinguishing positive attention from negative, so the non-obvious and most important part of moderating is learning to bite your tongue about some things and quit "picking at old wounds" so they can close and heal.

It can be challenging to figure out how to do that as a moderator because it's your job to enforce the rules about what people can't do there, so you actually need to be willing and able to let folks know "Don't do this here."

Too little in the way of feedback about what not to do is an obvious bad thing. Too much in the way of feedback about what not too do can be a less obvious bad thing where you think "People are just so badly behaved!" and you don't see that you are putting out the fire with gasoline by giving so much attention to the bad stuff and not enough attention to constructive things.

This is a previous post I wrote elsewhere that may be helpful: A Pragmatic Approach To Thorny People Problems

I created some post flair for the sub because that serves as a quick and dirty "search by category" on Reddit and I see it as a means to help people figure out what kinds of content I am trying to foster. If you click on one of the tags, you can potentially get an immediate sampling of things to help you figure out what kind of content is wanted here.

I have tags like News, History, Urban Vibe and Fun Facts. I'm new to doing flair and that list might evolve over time as I figure out what I am doing.

Part of the goal is to help show people what I am trying to build and how to contribute their piece to that if they want to participate. I've gone back through the forum and added flair to a bunch of old posts to populate those categories so people can readily see some examples.

So far, I'm the primary person who has posted there. When other people have posted, it's somewhat often been a one-off question about the local area.

So I considered adding a tag for Questions to help gather those up and I've decided against that, at least for now, for two reasons:
  • I am concerned about inadverently actively encouraging something that could potentially be a bad thing for the forum. The occasional good faith question is fine, but I know of a place-based sub where low-value questions from outsiders is an ongoing issue, so that's maybe not a thing I should be actively encouraging people to do.
  • I'm also concerned about that being a potential privacy issue for people who posted the question expecting it to get buried over time and not be easily discoverable.
I don't know if not creating that particular label is the right decision or not, but that's my current thinking. If you want a real sense of community, you need to actively foster trust, respect privacy, etc and not just go with whatever gets the most clicks or the most traffic.

As noted in my last post here, locals here seem to have a really negative opinion of the town and I've seen evidence that outsiders also think the place just sucks, like this 2016 video which trashes it as "The fifth worst city in Washington."

The big zinger for Aberdeen in that video is that they think the weather here just sucks. I find this hilarious because I came here in part for the temperate weather.

Fortunately, I'm not afraid of a challenge because I've got some work ahead of me if I am going to successfully change attitudes and change how people perceive this lovely, lively little town.

One of my goals currently is just take my cheap phone with me when I run errands and take pictures while I am out and about so I can provide original content for that sub. Part of the point of that is to just start letting people see this town through my eyes since I actually like it here and I actually think there's a lot of good stuff here.

Popular Posts