Listen to Your Community, But Don't Let Them Tell You What to Do

You know how interviewers love asking about your greatest weakness, or the biggest mistake you've ever made? These questions may sound formulaic, maybe even borderline cliche, but be careful when you answer: they are more important than they seem.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

Hear, hear. Really there were more responsive “community owners” (or what to call it). So annoying when you take the time to report bugs, flaws or things which could increase the usability of something and it’s seemingly just ignored. I want your software/webapp to be great, don’t you?

Oh yeah? Where’s my underscore search then?

In my mind, this is when Minecraft started to go wrong, for example – when any half-baked idea got coded up and thrown into the next release, and some random RPG elements with a ‘storyline’ were bolted onto the game structure. Of course, they just provide a nice illustrative example – I feel like a lot of games are good examples of “Don’t listen to your community too much.”

Having members who want to participate in discussions about the site itself is amazing and rewarding.

I agree with the items on this list but I’d include a 6th that goes something like this: Your meta users are (likely) mostly “power users”. Don’t focus on the meta discussion so much that you forget about the community members that you aren’t hearing from.

Oh come on now… people loved the El Camino! :wink:

Please read Caseyf’s comment again.

It’s so very important.

this is something that the MetaTalk section of Metafilter does really, really well.

So, in a nutshell, I was telling the people who loved Stack Overflow the most of all to basically … f**k off and go away.

Jeff, I want to love the stackexchange sites, and I do often find them useful in doing my job, but to be frank you’re still telling users to take a hike. The site moderators have extremely twitchy trigger fingers when closing questions as off topic. Maybe they are just adhering to a policy that’s too strict, but this is a real shame because I see a lot of really interesting questions shut down for not being “specific” enough. And what’s the alternative? Where is the appropriate place to ask & discuss some of the more open ended stuff? If not with the stackexchange community, then who? I’ve been a lurker since the beginning and recently started participating but I very quickly became frustrated at the amount of genuinely engaging topics that are being squelched.

I would argue that this is more about selection from anything. While there are things that are interesting to explore, listeners of classic rock radio stations probably don’t want to hear hair metal and tv sports channels don’t air content about home improvements. When you go too far off topic, it’s your core audience who becomes disaffected, and they’re the ones who make your community.

So when people go too far off topic, these posts should be dealt with as such and explanations given about why material isn’t topical. Can the moderation process be more sensitive in dealing with these issues? Certainly. This is the best moderation system we’ve got right now though, and I think we’re far better served by incremental change than worrying about a small group of people who can’t be accommodated.

“Listen to your community, but don’t let them tell you what to do.”

But on the other side of the coin, don’t allow this sort of thinking to proliferate to the point that you think you know better than the community. If nearly everyone in the community disagrees with your idea (example), then there’s a good chance that this idea is part of that 90% (see lesson #1).

@Adam, in my experience the more interesting and open-ended questions have ended up on programmers.stackexchange, which is a site I find myself frequenting more than Stack Overflow by this point.

i am delirious and exhausted from relentless assaults by the tattered, bitter remnants of the Bush Cartel… but finding this webpage tonight~ reading your advice here and being forced to recall the Brat enabled me to also recall after i chased your fine wikilink.


1 Like

Sounds like hard won, beautifully formulated common sense to me. Thanks for sharing!

Item #3 is the biggest takeaway for any community manager. Actually, having a community managed at all is already a blessing.

An example: I’m a user of Amazon cloud services and with some other community members have been begging Amazon for one specific feature for several years in a row. It is structurally being ignored, whilst other requests do get attention.

It is humiliating and frustrating. They could say no. They could say maybe later. But instead they say nothing. Step 1 of communication is acknowledging the other party exists.

There’s a short phrase that describes this exact responsibility: “Listen to what the customer wants, but give the customer what they need.”

Brilliant. I say this stuff to customers every day at UserVoice (and I probably got some of it from our lunch last year, Jeff).

You have to listen to your customers. But you absolutely shouldn’t say yes to everything, and you absolutely shouldn’t pussyfoot around saying “no”.

You are so right, sometimes (rather most) I have seen the customers themselves don’t know what they want.

As the poor sod responsible for user experience and product decisions regarding Firefox from versions 1.5 through 4, I’d like to say that I agree completely and wholeheartedly with everything in this post. On our best days, Mozilla works this way … but we have sparingly few days like that, and far too many Subaru Brats to show for it.

Well written, Jeff. Should be in every textbook or guide about community management.

By Sturgeon’s Law, 90% of Stackoverflow questions are crap. What’s more 90% of all SO Answers are crap. Even funnier, 90% of your blog posts are utter bullshit. Yep, sounds about right.

Or doesn’t Sturgeon’s Law relate to you? Get off the high horse, my son.