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I don't particularly think I can add more to what Monica's said about what went wrong, and how it's hurting the community. Things could have gone better. I don't really see people getting any happier about it.

I'd like to ask for a few things going forward.

Firstly - that a community team member should be dealing with social media criticisms, and we really should also be giving our communities the benefit of the doubt. In situations like this - something like "Hi! We've noticed you have an issue with the content you see on SO's sidebar. We'll see how we can help" would have been a better starting point than knocking a site off HNQ. Under most circumstances, I'd actually trust Adam - as a former community team member - to deal with it, but in this situation, we basically had folks from two different teams that don't actually deal with users directly in such circumstances try to help, in good faith and, well it didn't work that well. We need to have someone specifically dealing with these things.

We also need a clear idea of how the folks who deal with these things need to engage with the affected communities if action is taken.

For most part, the community team's had to do damage control when they're the folks who should have been dealing with it. I do realise in the past few years they've basically been pulled in 20 different directions and have been constantly dealing with backlog - but one of the consequences is it feels like the management of SO and SE has been drifting further and further away from the community.

We've constantly been told that we need to make SE better for new users and we need to attract them and grow. I've occasionally accused SE of being short sighted. I think this is one of those situations where I'm starting to feel there's tunnel vision - since the end result of it is folks who would traditionally supported SE feel that traditional methods seem neglected.

You have one of the best community teams I've had the pleasure of interacting with. They're engaged, passionate and some of the best folks I've interacted with on the internet. You'd be down a lot of core users if not for them. They're also smaller than they have ever been, with a smaller team than some medium sized site. (This is a difficult thing for me to talk about - since I've expressed an interest in the role before). We constantly hear promises that they'll improve processes - and that they'll tackle the backlog. And what we really really really need is people on the ground listening. "Hey guys, so someone has issues with the site. Could you guys tell us what you think? Could we do something about it?" goes so much further than anyone realises.

We've been really really patient, but we shouldn't need to tweet at folks to get your attention. We've been really patient. We really would love SE to grow, but not at the expense of its heart.

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    Note, I've purged all comments under all posts here because they've gotten to be such a tangled mess that even salvaging the very inspiring was just too difficult because they still appeared to be chopped out of a thread and displayed out of context. If you want to write something inspiring, write an answer instead. If you want to disagree with a viewpoint, write a counterpoint as an answer instead. – Tim Post Oct 26 '18 at 13:02
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    @TimPost would it not have been better to turn it all into a chat room? It feels as though a healthy on going conversation (read: debate) has just be removed. – Script47 Oct 26 '18 at 13:04
  • @Script47 Same problem there, I don't want to just move stuff that I know we don't want around somewhere else, and when that stuff is the majority of it by far, well, it's the same problem. You'd end up with a hard-to-follow broken chain and the last thing I honestly want is people screaming at each other in real time, so I'm reticent to encourage most folks that got into comments here to head to chat at all. – Tim Post Oct 26 '18 at 13:06
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    As the person who posted the original post... I'm ok with this. From what I've seen of the sheer emotion that this topic has amongst the calmest of us... I think this is the right thing to do. If you have something to say, gather it up and post an answer down below ;) – Journeyman Geek Oct 26 '18 at 13:11
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    re-adding my comment - I have come to save all of the comments I see on some posts due to SE's increasing deleting of them: at this point we don't need answers from Tim or Jon - at this point any answer they give wouldn't have weight because they would be repeating the exact same thing they've been saying. At this point, we would need to hear from someone who can affect change at the company - at least I do. As it stands, I don't see that happening and have found myself wondering if I should follow the people I used to work with on SO (my other comment is covered in my earlier post) – JGreenwell Oct 27 '18 at 2:48
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+50

Adam and Shane were trying to help. They had (and have) good intentions. But they were the wrong people in the wrong place with insufficient training, and there's yet to be any retraction.

SE, like many other companies, needs to develop processes for responding to complaints from social media. It's a specialization of customer service, and we need people trained in it to be the ones doing it. We can't expect well-intentioned-but-untrained developers and SREs to respond in the best way when the crap is flying on Twitter.

One of the key customer-service points I've learned over the years (not my profession, but I've been pulled into escalations lots) is that there is a three-part formula to that first response:

  • Show empathy with the person who's complaining about a bad experience.
  • Ask for the information you need.
  • Commit to reviewing and acting on it (assuming your company will actually do that), but don't promise specific outcomes.

That kind of response looks something like this:

I'm sorry you've had a bad experience with our site. We want to make it better. Could you please send us the details of the messages you received so we can investigate and take appropriate actions? Thanks!

Once you have the information you need you can decide what to do about it and you make sure the complainer gets some sort of closure. If the complainer doesn't want to provide the information you need -- sometimes they realize they overreacted, or sometimes they were just trying to stir things up -- then all you can do is record what you have and move on. Not all people who are full of Twitter rage have problems you can solve.


Everything I've said here applies when people are speaking for SE. Employees (and moderators!) are allowed to have private lives full of personal opinions. The answer is not to say "you must not talk about us on social media"; that's unfair to the people involved and isn't going to work anyway. An important part of that training SE needs to develop, then, is about how to make those distinctions clear. Identifying yourself as connected to the company, even if your profile says "I don't speak for the company", doesn't usually work -- people see the tweet, not whatever other context you have elsewhere. I don't know what an answer that doesn't consume too many of your 280 characters looks like, but we are not the first people to need to solve this problem. Find out what the prior art is, as a first step.


SE also needs to develop better (any?) processes for damage control. Employees spoke for the company in ways that caused a lot of upset. They didn't mean to (see above), but it happened. That means SE now has two problems: the original complaint, and the complaints from the responses to the complaint. (Really three because there are root causes, but that's a separate matter.) Fixing the second problem -- the damage caused by the initial response -- is at least as important as addressing the original complaint. And I'm not seeing motion there, which is why I wrote that blog post.

The CM team is small and overloaded. I get that. But they sometimes have to handle emergencies, dropping other things if necessary, even if it's outside of work hours. (For example, reports of suicidal users get quick responses.) They probably don't have good tools for identifying and managing urgent matters, so that's probably something to look at. Pings in chat are not the answer here.

An employee appearing to endorse condemnations of specific SE users and communities on social media isn't sucidial-user-urgent, but it's pretty damn urgent. Shane didn't mean to pile on to an attack on our users, but that's how it came across to most readers. Adam didn't mean to dis IPS, but that's how it came across to members of that community (and many others). For Shane the private user or Adam the private user those would have been distasteful responses but on them; for Shane the SE employee and Adam the SE employee, those responses are on SE to mitigate.

55

I've been urged to repeat here on meta what I said in the blog post. I'm not going to copy the whole thing here (you can read it there), but I'll copy the section about what I want in the aftermath of the incident that prompted this meta question. Think of this as my recipe for what to do when you take mis-steps on social media.

I want those employee tweets to be taken down and disavowed. Yeah, this many days later that won’t make a big difference, but it’s literally the least you can do to start fixing this, so at least do that.

I want a clear statement on Twitter that we listen to feedback and we make decisions based on evidence not assertions. If there’s a problem we absolutely want to hear about it, but we’re not just going to take your word for it. You’ve got to work with us, show us the problem.

I want you to train your employees better on when and how to represent the company in public venues. We all, employees and moderators alike, are permitted to have private lives and our own opinions, but when you’re representing the company (or the site) you need to be careful to actually act in the company’s (or site’s) best interests.

I want you to apologize to the moderators who were criticized by name in that thread, the ones your employee implicitly accused of trolling.

I want you to explain in public what steps you are taking to improve your processes when people complain about a community, a moderator, or a contributor.

And then I want you to follow through and do that the next time this happens.

34

Okay, super-official almost response that's going to be edited as we go:

We're soon to be circulating an internal social media policy.

Initially, this is going to lay out what not to do for the most part, because that helps cover the biggest mistakes that can be made. The policy is going to clearly lay out who needs to be speaking on behalf of the company, and where and how to escalate issues to these folks. We won't ever stop or stifle anyone from sharing what they think about anything using their personal accounts, but we do need to paint a better picture of how a stated opinion differs from someone speaking on behalf of the company.

We'll be expanding that as we go, it's going to remain a proprietary document, but we'll have one that becomes part of the general reference section and stays up to date. If everyone at the company gets fired and replaced with all new people, everyone will know what the policy is.

Juan & Tim will be distilling our internal policy into a public one for the moderators.

Mods love their communities and want to help people who (for whatever reason) didn't have a good experience. We need to help moderators do that, because to date, our only guidance has been do not engage on social media unless you're trying to move the discussion elsewhere. While that's still a big chunk of our advice, we can do better.

A neat tip? Tell someone who you are and what you represent and ask them if they want your help, and be ready to accept a very abrasive 'no' in return. We'll have that and more guidance available for mods, and anyone with experience or suggestions will be welcome to submit them.

There will also be an escalation procedure so mods can trust that something they think is urgent gets treated by us as urgent.

We also need to make it more public that we have employee's and moderator's backs in the event of any kind of doxxing / etc (none of that's relevant to recent events, but it has come up, and it's part of what we need to make known).

We need beeper duty. We've known this for a while.

Too bad it won't come with a cool jelly-green Motorola pager any longer. But, folks in senior-to-executive level management need to be accessible when stuff hits the fan, with the ability to still have a life and good work-life balance.

It will probably be Me / Jay / Juan initially, but who knows.

All of this is subject to change.

Marketing is making a lot of hires soon, some of 'em difficult, and that's going to change what ownership looks like. That could, in theory, render everything I just said as moot once we have an actual social media professional owning all of it. And while I was reticent to even post anything since we're in a state of flux and "I don't think I know yet" would have been mocked and flagged as not an answer, I wanted to put something out so you could see that we do have a thought process and plans around this.

But there's a limit to transparency, and that's been reached here - I am very likely not going to have any answers to any additional questions about it at this point -- I just don't know who we're going to hire over the next 3 months.

We'll get this interim thing in place and it'll either grow and mature, or be replaced with something else, but the main points will remain that mods and the community will have better insights and guidance from us as we make it clear that we don't encourage engagement if you're at all in doubt.

That's the best I can do for now, I'll update as we go.

23

I moved this from an answer to a different question on realizing it fits better here (because I still sometimes like following rules).

The original question was about the most effective communication channels for effecting change at SE. Since it was established that it's Twitter, yes, obviously SE needs a social media policy.

We have Tim Post's answer saying Meta is not effective, and Jeff Atwood's answer saying Twitter, if you can't get something published in the Times. Apparently The Economist isn't good enough.

So, now that we have an answer, let me, ineffectively, suggest SE and SO develop a better, and clearer social media strategy. Or maybe just a strategy. If there is one, it's bad.

A brand can engage with complaints on Twitter in a variety of ways. Broadly, you can (and should) ignore some complaints, engage with some other complaints, and maybe even troll a few. The way to do this will depend on your brand, goals, and strategy.

SO is clearly interested in addressing an image and (hopefully also) a culture problem re: some women do not feel welcome here. This would be why this tweet was engaged with (both with replies and an immediate cosmetic fix to HNQ). This was the wrong tweet to engage with and the wrong way to engage with it.

The tweet itself points to a clear problem (some women do not feel welcome here), but was a can of worms, as is obvious from Meta discussion here. The response did nothing to resolve any underlying problem. I was very sorry to see Jeff Atwood say he was glad the Twitter storm happened because it solved some problems. It didn't. HNQ still has the same problems it did before the response. It was perceived to reflect and encourage provocative and problematic aspects of an unwelcoming male culture. It still does that. HNQ still optimizes for provocative and problematic titles and (here come the downvotes) SO/SE still probably has an unwelcoming male culture. So HNQ has not been fixed, the culture is more resistant to change in this regard (because this response was "appeasing feminists"), and SE's image has not improved. I don't really think @justkelly_ok or the 44 people who liked her tweet have changed their perception. Nothing is better. Some things are worse.

On the other hand, this tweet about this Economist article was disseminated more broadly, had greater staying power even without SO/SE involvement, and had no visible response from anyone internal to SO/SE. Also wrong.

[The article supported the Economist's Daily Chart, on women not feeling like they are part of the SO community.[1]

You are doing social media wrong. You are creating more problems than you are solving, and you have no focus or consistency. It's probably because you didn't spend any time thinking about your strategy ahead of time, and almost certainly haven't paid anyone who knows what they are doing.

As far as the efforts at culture change are concerned, you are missing an important aspect -- buy-in from your stakeholders. This is obviously hard, but you do it by increasing engagement. It seems like you're doing the opposite. Product features, site policies, strategic and operational decisions for a private business obviously don't need user approval, but if one of your strategic goals involves changing the culture of your user base, operations in support of that goal need buy-in.

Culture change is not a feature request. You can't develop it internally and then ship it. Your product's features can certainly support culture change, but the system you're operating on here is the culture, not the site. It has its own dependencies, legacy problems, and other computational challenges. If you don't engage with the culture, your independently developed solution is likely to break something. You can choose to see this as the standard resistance to a change in your product (new icons, a new layout, etc), but that is not what's happening.

21

Honestly, the thing that upset me the most about the welcoming blog, was it seemed it one tweet and the network took action. After years of slogging it out on the site and taking the heat for saying the same things as the tweet. Weathering the storm and despite it, even becoming a mod on two sites. I felt betrayed and it seems I'm not the only one.

Take the criticisms from within the site first, not from outside the site. People not active on the site have a definite bias. Yes this needs to be addressed, but work with the people on the site first. Be loyal to your loyal user base.

As a mod I'm mindful what I post about the site on social media, employees need to be more careful. Within any workplace these days, there's usually a social media policy.

Unfortunately by reaching out to social media, through the blog, instead of taking a firm stand within the site, there's been a lot of damage. If it had been clear that the network was acting on posts and data from within the community, it may have helped the backlash we now face on MSO and elsewhere. These are the posts dedicated to the welcoming blogs alone. The site is riddled with sarcasm and objection to the changes in the code of conduct. (what was the be nice policy). (Personally, the pressure had got so much I got a lot of my posts dissociated from my accounts here and on Meta Stack Overflow (MSO).)

By reacting to social media and failing to support people on the site, it feels the network is only reacting to outside opinion to shore up the networks reputation, as opposed to wanting to make genuine improvements. I don't believe this is the case, but this is how it appears.

To be honest I'm tired. Trying to enforce the code of conduct and often failing. I'm tired of being insulted. I'm tired of the conflict. I'm tired of the drama. I'm tired of writing posts like this. It's exhausting. I'm on a break from the site this week and unwinding (because real life calls and I need a break). I have to tell you the break feels really good.

Support the people who are advocating change for the better on the site or risk losing them.

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    tbh, I have some ideas there. There's just a few things that I'm not sure how to get buy in for, and goes a little further than what a user typically would suggest. If nothing else - I'd like to see the community team be in a situation where they arn't constantly stressed out and overworked. Then they can have the energy, time and ability to help us handle these things. Maybe that's a future MSE post, once I can gather my thoughs up and word it in a way I'm comfortable with – Journeyman Geek Oct 31 '18 at 3:50
  • Trying to enforce the code of conduct and often failing Sounds kinda worrying? As a mod, you can delete the stuff that violates the CoC, and warn/suspend the repeat offenders... Are you willing to share on why you feel you fail at doing this? – Tinkeringbell Oct 31 '18 at 8:07
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    @Tinkeringbell it's evident in my meta activity. I don't want to go into it beyond that. Last I looked there were still some insulting comments there. – user3956566 Oct 31 '18 at 8:21
  • SE does have social media policy that you mentioned. It's written. Problem is nobody is there to enforce it because they were either laid off or moved to different positions. – Shadow Wizard Oct 31 '18 at 8:34
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    @Tinkeringbell SO meta has been really caustic for a long time over the whole CoC thing. There are roughly a dozen highly upvoted thread denouncing the CoC and its implications over there. Yvette has been taking a ton of heat for a long time on this. – Magisch Oct 31 '18 at 9:34
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    @Magisch Yeah, we talked a bit, and I got a wrong impression from that sentence. It's not that Yvette seems to fail at enforcing the CoC, but that people are giving her trouble for doing it correctly ;-) – Tinkeringbell Oct 31 '18 at 9:56
9

Sorry to rain on the parade, but... maybe SE should get someone that could tell them what that policy should look like and, maybe, what is the problem with the current status quo. I know that springing into action is a very attractive way to solve problems, but that same MO was the thing that created this situation in the first place.

Get someone that can tell you what the problems actually are, a consultant or something, then review your policies. If you needed outside network to recognize that something on SE was wrong, maybe you need some outside help to actually identify it.

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