May 12, 2019

How do you handle demanding members in your community?

Matthew Pierce @triangle

As the cliche goes, "communities are tough".

Today I pushed out an update to https://paneljam.com (a collaborative, freemium drawing community) that I was really proud of: I'd solved rendering issues in the drawing app that caused progressive lag as drawings became more complex. This was something that many had complained about, and finally, I'd made the drawing tools smooth like butter.

I thought this would be great! ...Except, the most active artist on the website was actually pretty ticked. As it turns out, they'd been drawing using a mouse on an older computer, and relied on the lag to 'smooth out' their strokes.

They expected that I immediately create a user setting to opt-in to the old, unoptimized drawing engine.

I told them that I would look into it, but that it wasn't a priority at this time. Perhaps unwisely, I joked that maybe it could become a priority if they decided to join the premium membership.

Well...here's how they responded on our Discord:

"I honestly think you should have focused on making PanelJam the best possible experience for free users as a priority, to get a large userbase that enjoys the best that can be experienced. Once you have the big activity, you start providing the Premium features. This is a "long term" thing, baseball teams either "build up" or contend, and I don't think PanelJam is ready to contend yet, as the very few "Backwards Jam", or "Speedy Jams" got to show. We need a site like OpenJams (which doesn't exist), where everyone is free to use layers, text tools, and other game modes, and they subscribe to the site to support you, not for the features. So this is me, signing out. Bye PanelJam, it was a blast! (huh, I already have 21 drawn panels coming out in finished games... but at last they won't be jaggy XDD)"

They left the Discord before I could reply, and they changed their profile picture on the site to read "I wasn't a priority".

So... how would any of you respond to something like this? Should I even be bothered? It doesn't seem like this is a user who would have ever paid, but at the same time, it's a collaborative community dependent on user-generated content, so I feel an obligation to do my best for everyone who joins the site...

I responded (just for the rest of my Discord members to read) to explain that this is a project I've built on my own in evenings and weekends, that paid memberships really just cover the expenses and help with marketing, and that if you would look through the site's changelog, the large majority of improvements benefit all users.

But, I'm not sure if I handled any of this right. I don't know how to feel about it, and I could sure use some perspective.

Can anyone share similar experiences running a community, or offer some words of wisdom?

  1. 5

    Nope - back yourself.

    Sounds like a typical internet whinger. Focus on building for the 80%+ who love what you're doing.

    1. 2

      Right on

  2. 3

    Ignore. Keep the focus on the product. The game is long-term. Always.

  3. 3

    Wow, I love your project. You can be so proud of yourself. Don’t let drama queens drag you down.

    I agree with what Rosie said. Make sure you always respond very professional, respectful and understanding.

    Still, I am also a believer of: your project, your rules. So, I would monitor what this behavior does to your community. Does it affect others?

    My guess is that it is not. And then, no need to worry. If it does, it’s your project. Do what feels right to you.

    I also always wonder why people that give so much for free (me included) quickly feel so apologetic or even guilty about earning for what we do. At least that’s how your comment about the paid membership read to me.

    1. 1

      Thanks for the insight Michaela!

      Learning to feel confident that I should feel confident in deserving rewards for my work has been an ongoing challenge, that's for sure. Part of the difficulty with this project is that without the artists, the website has no value. So no matter how much effort I put in, I know that the platform is worthless without the community. I'm trying to find the right balance between give and take, but of course, I want to nudge free members over to paying so that someday I can work on this fulltime.

      Maybe the real answer is that I just need to focus more on my marketing, rather than trying to squeeze anything more out of the community that is already there. Similar websites have worse tools and gameplay, but millions of visitors each month... while PanelJam hits 2000 uniques in the same time. But dang, SEO is an uphill battle.

  4. 2

    It doesn't help his profile pic is at the top of the board for a constant reminder about it! Sounds like they threw a tantrum!

    It sounds like you responded well, the only thing I might add is asking whether others feel the same about his comments. What have others said?

    Another option is to send the person an email/message, perhaps wait a few days to get a more level headed (over emotional) response from you.

    I don't think you should be bothered (especially if no one else has commented on the situation), it doesn't mean it is easy to deal with yourself. These things are such a punch to the gut and can be so draining mentally/emotionally. Some people just don't seem to understand that people who run these communities or projects put their heart and soul into them.

    If more people start supporting this member, then maybe you have something to think about. Even then, it's a maybe.

    I also don't think whether the user would have ever paid is necessarily part of the conversation at this stage. There is value in all (or most!) community members, free or paid ones. It's important to treat members as individuals and with respect, be human and nice to all of them, even if they don't behave the same way back. And even if this particular member doesn't see you behaving respectfully back at them, then others will see that and make their own judgements too. People often won't respond, but will lurk and remember the 'dramas'.

    At the end of the day, you have to do what you feel is right. That is in align with your goals of the community. What does your heart/gut say? It sure would end up sucking if you listened too much to a certain group of people and end up with a community and product that you aren't truly proud of.

    1. 1

      Thanks for the empathy and wisdom, Rosie :)

      After letting it stew overnight, I've found that the only comments on the PanelJam Discord have been positive support for what I've been doing. So, I'm not too bothered by the drama anymore. I'll continue to just respond politely to these kinds of things, and likely be a bit more careful about joking around with some members.

      You're right, paying or not should have no effect on how I treat users. It can be difficult to feel that way when free members are the most demanding of my work, but there's no need for me to address that directly.

      Moving forward, I'll take it as a lesson learned and know that I can't please 'em all. As long as my work on the project has a positive effect on the majority of the community, I'm happy.

  5. 1

    You dont care if they are happy or not, just check if they keep using it. If they stop using it, create an option for it, else they will be used to (cf facebook messenger).

  6. 1

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