Dealing with Suicide Threats in an Online Community

About a year ago, one of the community members in the Get Satisfaction community posted a question on how to handle a community post where one of his users threatened suicide. To this day, I still remember the sick feeling in my stomach as I worked with my boss and legal team to find a way to help him.

With today's tragic passing of well-loved comedian Robin Williams, I felt compelled to bring this topic back up.

Depression is a very real disease. I've struggled with it. I have family members who struggle with it. And I know many people lose their fight to it on a daily basis. If you don't yet have a plan for handling a post where a user threatens suicide, or other bodily harm, now is a great time to put one together.

Work with your legal team to help with crafting a post that can be used in the event a user threatens personal harm. Strive for a post that encourages the user to reach out to a suicide hotline, or other form of professional help. Don't offer judgement or advice — just resources. 

Additionally, determine how to provide this information. Depending on your community platform's capabilities, you may need to address the public thread, or you may think it's more appropriate to message the user privately. If you do address the public thread, please CLOSE the thread to additional comments and try to move it away from the highly trafficked areas of the community. Additional attention from other community members can end up doing more harm than good. You and your team may also want to discuss whether or not to reach out to local law enforcement and provide information about the user who is threatening harm.

Once you have all of this documented, include it with the rest of your team's emergency response and escalation plans. 

If this situation happens to you, and you don't have a plan in place, urgently and immediately reach out to your legal team for help. This isn't the time to send an email with an "urgent" flag on it, but rather, it's the time to get up from your desk and walk over to them. Keep in mind, these situations are not the time to evaluate whether the user is serious about their claims. For the user in question, and all those who may have seen the post, the best course of action is to quickly encourage the user reach out to a professional for help.

Here is something we put together for our customer in late 2013, referencing this blog post.

If you feel you may harm yourself please REACH OUT. There are people who care about your life, and can help. Depending on where in you're located, here are a few free and confidential helplines that you can call:.

US: 1-800-273-TALK

US LGBTQ Youth (the Trevor Project): 1-866-488-7386

US Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 (press 1)

Canada: 1-800-SUICIDE OR help lines and centers by province OR 911

International: Befrienders Worldwide

Australia: 13-11-14 (lifeline) or 1-800-55-1800 (kids help line for 5-25 yrs old)

Almost every country has a similar suicide prevention number. Just Google "suicide help line" and your country. No matter what you're going through, you are not alone. Please reach out to someone.

Additionally, Patrick O'Keefe of has a very excellent blog post on the very subject, and includes some great templates.

Depression kills. Oftentimes, those with the sunniest of exteriors are fighting the darkest of demons. We never know each other's internal battles. It's not our responsibility to fix the underlying problems, but it is our responsibility to provide resources should someone choose to come to us for help.

To Mr. Williams — thank you for the laughs and comfort. We will all miss you terribly.

Picture found on  Twitter .

Picture found on Twitter.

Caty Kobe
I'm Joining FeverBee!

FeverBee has been an incredible resource for me through my entire community management career. In every conversation I've had with new community managers, and in every conversation I've had with companies who are just getting started with community, I've always pointed to Rich Millington and his company as a source of intelligent, data-driven recommendations for building and growing online communities. In my mind they are the top community consultancy in the space, and are doing an incredible job of building a tribe of community professionals around the world who are truly dedicated what really matters.

Rich posted about this earlier, and I'm thrilled to join him in announcing that I've joined the FeverBee team as Head of Training! Starting immediately I'll be heading up the Professional Community Management Course, and will also be working on other training related products and opportunities.

Online communities help people across the globe support one another, learn from one another, and develop crucial relationships. They provide critical insights to organizations about their products, services, and policies. Well-run communities help to brighten the days of the members that participate, and in some cases, make quite a strong impact that can be felt across the globe. Personally, I feel quite honored that I'll be able to help other community managers shape their communities, organizations, and careers. This feels like a big opportunity to make a dent in the universe and I am quite grateful.

If you've not yet heard of FeverBee's course, I'd invite you to go take a look and share with your friends or colleagues. If you've got questions, feedback, or are generally curious about the work that we do please don't hesitate to let me know.

Quality Content Drives Quality Communities

I am a huge fan of regularly curating the content that comes into the communities I manage.

Digital curation is defined on wikipedia as, "... the selection, preservation, maintenance, collection and archiving of digital assets." When I curate the content in my community, I am tagging, re-labeling, featuring, and organizing content that is easily reusable or relevant for my community. Content that is out-dated, irrelevant for the broad majority of the community, inaccurate, or otherwise not useful is promptly archived or removed.

Like cleaning your house, or weeding your garden, curating the content in your community helps to keep the community feeling fresh and vibrant to newcomers and regular members alike. Additionally, archiving/ removing the unnecessary material will help ensure that both community and organic search results are surfacing the content that you want to be seen. How awkward is it for your company to have a snarky thread come back to life that should have been archived long ago? How frustrating is it for your community member to spend time trying to resolve their problem based on outdated information? The quality of the visible content will speak to the quality of your community.


If you've never curated your community before, here's some tips to get started:

  • Think about what content is relevant for your audience in the short-term vs. the long-term. Content that will always be relevant is considered "canonical" or "evergreen," and should be categorized so it can easily be found. Short-term content that is no longer relevant should be archived, moved, removed, or sunk (depending on the features offered by your community platform).
  • Consider where you want to surface content from your community, as this will influence your tagging and labeling choices. Do you have labels based on certain products? Are there tags so your social media team can easily find interesting content to share on the web?
  • Look at your data to find out which terms and phrases are being searched for most often in your community. Determine if you have content to support the searches, and if it's possible to feature it in high-traffic areas.
  • Perform searches for common topics and terms, and archive the content that shouldn't be surfaced in the search results. This is a great way to find content that could be confusing to new members.
  • Re-name or re-phrase the titles/ subjects of threads to make the topic clear for someone who will stumble upon the content.

Keep in mind, curating content should not be used as an excuse, or justification for trying to censor a user. Good community managers should know the difference between abuse and a legitimate complaint. Abusive posts should be archived or removed, whereas legitimate complaints should remain until they've been resolved. Removing criticisms is a surefire way to put your brand on the hot seat with your community members, so please, don't do that.

What are your tips for determining what content should be archived vs. curated? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

#OCTribe Meetup Featuring Yours Truly

I didn't totally become a community manager by choice. In fact, I was basically given the option to either be a community manager, or to seek employment elsewhere. ;) At the time, I had absolutely no idea what I was signing myself up for. But I had rent to pay, so I agreed to the job and jumped in head first.

Though I learned a lot by trial and error, I also picked up many valuable skills by closely watching others in our growing tribe. (#notcreepy) I subscribed to as many relevant blogs as I could find, began googling my new title on a nightly basis, scoured the social web at all hours of the day, and started attending local meetups to learn as much as I could from the best in the business.

Today, I'm thrilled to share that I've been given the opportunity to speak at San Francisco's #OCTribe meetup, the longest-running live community manager event in the bay area. This group is an incredible one to learn from. They have taken me in, and continue to help shape me into the best CM that I can be. Believe me when I say that it is truly an honor to have been offered the stage.

My goal on June 25th is to have a frank conversation about the intersection of community and customer support. As I've moved through my career, I've found that there are still so many companies that don't quite understand the differences between the two. They're not interchangeable and require a very specific skill set in order to practice each discipline effectively. My goal is to provide clarity, as well as offer some pieces of advice for how to work in tandem with support teams.

Though I can't promise that I'll teach you anything new, I can guarantee that I'll try my very best to make it worth your while. I hope you'll join me on June 25th. To RSVP, or add any pre-talk commentary, please click the link below:

RSVP for the SF Online Community Meetup on June 25th at 7:00pm! 

3 Ways to Drive Executive Participation in Your Community

Every year The Community Roundtable spends months collecting data from in-the-trenches community practitioners, and publishes it in a succinct, actionable slide deck. This year is no different. 

There are tons of nuggets and insights packed into this year's report, but I'd really like to call your attention to the importance of slide 18. In this slide, Rachel and team provide concrete data proving that executive participation within a customer community will greatly impact a community's success. According to the research, C-level participation in a community drives 2-3 times more collaboration and content creation behavior in a customer community than a community with no C-level participation whatsoever.


A Story About Executive Participation

As most of you know, I used to lead the community team for Get Satisfaction from 2012-2014. Prior to getting C-level involvement in our community, true engagement in our community was tough to find. We had plenty of customers posting surface-level product questions and problems, but the collaborative conversations and thoughtful ideas didn't really start to flow until our customers began to see that our executive team cared about their opinions.

The movement for executive participation was really spearheaded by the leadership and collaborative nature of CTO, David Rowley. I had previously struck out with getting other execs on board with the idea, but Dave was different. Because he lead our product team, Dave naturally understood the need to have product-related conversations with our customers in the community, but on top of that he also had a personal interest in building relationships with our customers. 

Knowing that Dave's available time was slim, we started by setting up a 30 minute, weekly recurring meeting between my team, Dave, and our product managers. In this meeting, we would share community-submitted ideas with the product team, they would give us their thoughts, and then we'd respond in the community. Over time, Dave and the product managers began taking more initiative in responding in the community, and by the time I left the company Dave was consistently the top, most active non-community employee in the community. To date, Dave has posted over 1,000 replies back to customers in the Get Satisfaction community, and the overall community conversations have become much richer as result.

To show Dave how cool you think his community spirit is, send him a Tweet! Go ahead, I'll wait. :) 

How to Make it Happen

As community managers, our job really hinges on the success of the community and its impact to the organization. If executive participation increases engagement in your community, which ultimately leads to community success, then it's in your very best interest to drive C-level participation in your communities. Here are my 3 tips for making that happen:

  1. Make It Matter
    An executive is not going to take the time to participate in the community unless it's for reasons that personally matter to them. We all only have so much time in the day, and senior leaders seem to have even less time than most of us, so only the really important initiatives will make the cut. Dig deep. Find a particular issue that resonates with them and tie it into the community. If you can show that participating in the community will help advance their goals and initiatives, they will be more apt to prioritize time to participate. Not sure how to figure out what matters? Check out Robin Dreeke's talk from CMX Summit for tips.

  2. Make It Easy
    Leadership team members don't have a lot of time on their hands to learn new systems and browse through posts. Make things easy by curating the top 1-3 topics in your community that they would be interested in/ need to take action on, and send it in an email with explicit instructions. If you need them to post a response, say so. If you need them to re-tweet a particular article, tell them. Don't forget to include the exact links while you're at it!
  3. Make It A Habit
    Be mindful of your executive's time, but also take care to begin building a habit of checking in with them about the community. Even if there's nothing that you need for them to do in the community, it's still good to check in weekly with an update to keep it top of mind. Share some positive stats, especially if it's related to engagement on their contributions, and give feedback on how their efforts are working. Don't forget to share this information with the rest of the organization too! Once a habit has been formed, the momentum around participating will continue to build and likely spill over to other members of the executive team.

The data proves executive participation matters to the success for the community, and I've just shared 3 tips for doing just that. What are yours?

Don't forget to check out the details of these findings, and more, in the 2014 State of Community Management report!