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Promote kindness and foster interpersonal relationships through the power of vulnerability to outshine toxicity in your online community. Before my time as a Community Advocate with Invision Community, I focused all my attention on my own online community, BreatheHeavy. Pop music and Britney Spears news are the bread and butter of BreatheHeavy. As you can imagine, fans of pop stars are energized, vocal and unapologetic. There’s real potential for conversations to slip into negativity. 16 years ago when I launched BreatheHeavy, I hadn’t realized I took the first steps towards becoming a community leader. It never occurred to me such a role existed. My mission evolved from forum administrator to community leader, and during that process, I discovered a love of community building. Along the way, I’ve learnt invaluable lessons about toxic community culture (shade a pop star then let me know how that goes for you). What is online community building? It’s the act of cultivating culture and creating connections on the Internet. It’s an essential aspect most businesses don’t focus on enough because it’s hard to quantify its value A.K.A. the bottom line. I spent the majority of my career writing news articles. My resources went into content creation on my company’s blog section while my community members, completely segregated from my news posts, ran rampant. I recall thinking, “negative comments are better than no comments!” That thought eventually led to the demise of my community. The trolls had infiltrated and won. Credit: Unsplash A mob of toxic commentators had free reign, thus scaring away quality members. Freedom of speech is imperative, but it also has limitations (screaming “fire!” in a crowded theater is not applicable to free speech). To better understand how we can combat negativity in our communities, let’s first define what makes a community toxic? When a member or group of members devalue the community. Their negativity permeates throughout the community in such a profound way that it repels others from contributing, engaging and worst of all: not returning. As much as I hate to admit it, toxic members are powerful. They can influence your community, albeit in the opposite direction of what community owners want. Their role deteriorates the community they call home. The compounding effect of flippant responses, snide remarks, indifference, arguments and attacks ultimately creates chaos. The sad thing is... they’re usually unaware their behavior is adversely affecting the community. If they’re oblivious, there’s no opportunity to turn things around. In an effort to better understand their motivation (and avoid smashing the ban hammer), I personally reach out to these members in a private message. Call me a sap, but I’m a firm believer that people can change if you communicate with them. This is a great opportunity to send them a private message. People just want to be heard. When someone exhibits toxic behavior... ask yourself why, and more importantly... can you help them? Typically, a troll’s demeanor stems from what’s transpired in their real life, and it manifests onto your community (lucky you!). Know there’s a motive behind the negativity; a harsh reality they may not want to face. You’re not necessarily required to reach out, and a suspension is a lot easier, but taking this upon yourself as a community leader to uncover what’s really going on is an unrequited and selfless act that’ll set your community apart. In other words: it’s a very kind thing to do. Credit: Unsplash Kindness in communities The most profound way to fight toxicity in an online community is by not fighting at all. It’s by offering kindness to those who need it the most. That’s done through outreach and personal displays of vulnerability. Members on the other end want to know they’re talking with another person. A person who also encounters struggles in life, but found ways to not only overcome those hurdles, but lean into them as they forge mental fortitude - an important component for successful community leaders. Your past challenges can inspire change in peoples’ futures. A powerful way to do this is through being vulnerable. Dr. Brené Brown, who’s extensively researched what it means to be vulnerable, said it best: “The difficult thing is that vulnerability is the first thing I look for in you and the last thing I’m willing to show you. In you, it’s courage and daring. In me, it’s weakness.” It’s easy to expect others (in our case toxic members) to share with you some real life hurdles they’ve encountered. It’s much more difficult for us (the community leader) to shine a light back on ourselves and share that vulnerability back. However, it’s the secret ingredient to creating a perfectly baked community cake. The act of opening up to an anonymous person in need not only can inspire them to change, but it opens a door towards further self-discovery. Being vulnerable with your members empowers them and you. So the next time you notice a toxic member’s pattern regarding how they post, take a pause. Remember there’s more behind the curtain, that hurt people hurt people, then take the opportunity to be kind, practice being vulnerable and watch your community garden blossom. How do YOU battle toxicity in your Invision communities? Sound off in the comments below. Hero Image Credit: Unsplash

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