Every so often, I swear off reading World of Warcraft related forums. Typically, this is after a particularly nasty turn of events on a guild forum that leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth and pondering why I voluntarily subject myself to them. But just as surely, after a while, I am back in there, posting up a storm about things I’ve gotten excited about or think guildies should know. I have a pretty classic love/hate relationship with guild forums. And I think that’s true for a lot of folks.
What I Love About Guild Forums
In theory, I absolutely love guild forums. They can really knit a group of people together into a team. Specifically:
1) They provide an out of game place where guildies can get to know each other better. They can post pictures from their vacations, or share their band’s touring schedule, or opine about pop culture. In short, provide a glimpse at the person behind the pixels.
2) They are a great place to capture your guildies’ expertise. I’ve long been one to post my lists of rare craftables on my guild forums, and my thoughts on specs and gear etc. I shifted much of that to my blog when I started it two years ago, but do link out to those lists or cross-post things to the forums when relevant. Of course now you can see at-a-glance which of your guildies can make what by sorting your guild roster in-game by profession.
3) Even with the in-game calendar, forums provide a good way to get organized for raids or other events. The calendar can only provide you with the who/what/when/where. For the nuts and bolts of who is doing what, and what strategies to employ, there’s little that beats the guild forums. Yes, you can get by with telling folks to “go read wowwiki/watch tankspot”, but a successful guild will often find benefit from posting their specific take on strats in their forums. And the forums are the perfect place to post screenies and a recap of your guild events. After all, you can’t post a video of your guild’s naked gnome run in the calendar.
4) And most of all they can help keep your guildies all on the same page. Instead of having to answer each new guildie’s questions about guild policies and procedures anew each time they are asked, you can have everything there is to know (or at least your guild charter, loot policy and raiding schedule) posted on your forums.
What I Hate About Guild Forums
But I have to be honest and say that overall, I’ve gotten to the “I don’t want to read this anymore” state with more than one guild forum in my five years of playing WoW. Why? The usual suspects:
1) Trolling. You’d think people would save their trolling for the official forums, yes? Well, that hasn’t been my experience. I have seen more than one blowhard, excited by the captive audience a guild forums creates (since unlike in-game, you can’t ignore a member/poster on most of the popular guild forum providers), being unable to resist their urge to troll their guildies repeatedly. Frequently, they feign innocence, and get away with it and live to troll another day, because, after all, you don't want to jump to conclusions. But here’s the deal: one post that causes a dramastorm is an accident. The same person authoring the last 5 dramabombs dropped in your guild forums? That’s called trolling, no matter how you try to whitewash it.
2) Bullies. Something about being behind a keyboard, typing words into the void without immediate feedback seems to bring out the worst in some people. They require having the last word. They use facts, complex mathematical equations, or things they made up right now but sound pretty official to try to shout down anyone with an opposing viewpoint. These people are called bullies. Most of the bullying I've seen on forums is over a difference of opinion, not over a point of fact. You'd like to think that adults (and most of the time the bullies are, in fact, adults) understand that with 12 million people playing the game, across the planet, people will not always share your opinion. And that one's opinion is not the same thing as a fact. But a bully will not rest until all opposing opinions have been publicly stamped out, even if that means resorting to name calling, condescending comments and belittling others. Because for a forums bully, all that's important is winning that argument.
3) Drama. You have probably seen a baby fall down and look around to see if anyone saw them fall before they start crying, haven't you? In many ways, guild forums are like this too. A dogpile of drama can pile up faster than you can say Legendary Weapon, with the wails increasing in volume as more people chime in. Similarly, many people decide to take every issue or grievance they have -- be it with the guild leadership or an individual guild member-- to the forums instead of talking through the issue one-on-one with the other party. This is not OK. If you've never been tried in the court of public opinions via a forums drama post, then you may not realize exactly how horrible it feels to log in and see someone talking a bunch of smack about you, and trying to get others to join on in, about an issue about which you were completely unaware. This is the kind of drama that often leads to a /gquit from the recipient of the dramabomb, leaving you with a victorious bully or dramaqueen.
4) Endless rehashing of dead issues. Have you ever read a forum wherein every new member wants to give their 2 cents to the raiding schedule? And every few weeks a discussion about loot rules emerges? Or after a decision is posted about who will be getting the items needed to craft the latest legendary weapon, someone else chimes in to say they think they should get it as well/instead? For whatever reason, instead of providing a history of what's gone on and why, many forums seem to get stuck on repeat. And if you are an officer, discussing for the 12th time why the current raid nights are in effect, you just might want to pull your hair out.
And lest you think I am alone in these issues being a turn off, note that whenever I’ve brought this topic up on twitter or with folks one-on-one, there have been a number of folks right there with me, who stop perusing forums (or even leave guilds) when they become overrun with bullies, or churn the stomach with the way guildies are (mis)treating each other. And as an officer, I've had guildies come to me and tell me flat out that they were considering leaving a guild, or in fact did leave a guild, over bullying and trolling on guild forums.
How to Improve Your Guild Forums
The first step you can take, if you haven't already done so, is to post forum rules and make it clear that all members -- including Officers -- are expected to heed them. Ideally, you'll want to post the rules in conjunction with forum registration, as they do over at Elitist Jerks. Some sample rules/operating procedures:
- Keep all discussion civil.
- No name calling or obscenities.
- Praise publicly and criticize privately. Don't bring your personal issues with someone to the forums-- talk to an officer.
- Do not post the same comments/content repeatedly in reply to someone with a differing opinion. Say your piece once, then move on.
- Don't make posts that are just whining/complaining.
- Don't beg for gold/guildies' time. It's OK to LFM for a group in the forums. It's not OK to post every other day about how none of the guildies have come with you to farm Heroic MgT for the mount.
- Don't start a new thread about a topic already being discussed.
- Don't start a new thread about a topic that has been locked.
- Don't have a signature file that's obnoxious.
- Don't post links to or include visuals that are distasteful on your forums.
After you have the ground rules worked out, you need to also post how infractions against the rules are to be enforced; 3 strikes and you're out for instance. You'll also want to clearly note, or instance, that moderators will lock drama threads and delete anything that's against the terms of service for your forums provider. Spell out what the ground rules are, and then stick to them. Even if that means locking a thread due to an officer crossing the line with someone. It is key for your moderators to be fair and apply the rules to all members, and for them to be supported by the officers in doing so. If the moderator is going to be getting their own dramabomb lodged at them with accusations of squelching someone's free speech every time they shut down a drama thread, pretty soon you aren't going to have any moderators left.
Alternatives to Guild Forums
Guild forums may not always be the best choice for your guild. If you do not have the bandwidth for active moderation, or guildies don't want to pay for hosting that allows moderation, you may want to consider a few alternatives to guild forums.
If you are primarily looking for a place to house your guild's charter and policies, with a "just the facts" slant, a free wiki might be a good resource for you. Check out: http://www.wikia.com/Wikia and http://pbworks.com/content/personal+overview to see what you need to do to get started.
Twitter is a great way to keep in touch with guildies out of game. And a lively twitter stream of guildies can also be a great recruitment tool. One of the nice things about twitter is other than direct messages or people with locked accounts, most of the discussion is out there in the open. Something about that seems to give folks more of a sense of accountability. Because you don't want hundreds of WoW folks on twitter thinking you are a jerk, right? I will say I have seen some jerky behavior on twitter, but far less of it than I have seen in guild forums. And it has gotten shut down fast.
Why not consider starting a guild blog? You can let multiple folks post to it, or have one owner, depending on your preference. Some blog hosts, like Typepad, let you give guest poster's access to creating drafts that the owner has to approve and which will be tied to their username, thus giving some control over the content. This allows you to have static content pages plus newsy posts about what your guild has accomplished, screenshots and recaps of recent events, or even recruitment needs, without the free-for-all of forums.
What's the Future for Guild Forums?
I was talking about this topic with my Alliance guild leader this weekend, and he said that for that guild at least, forums aren't necessary. Yes, we have them and folks use them on occasion. But primarily the guild uses the in-game calendar to schedule runs, officers actively communicate in G (and in whispers to those not on when topics are discussed in G) to communicate anything that needs a wider audience, and a good number of folks are on twitter talking to each other about in-game issues and other topics day-in and day-out. And since several guildies, including myself, are bloggers, commenting in blogs, or on twitter about blog topics, also serves as another communication tool.
The one guild forums function that I don't seeother communication channels as being able to replace, however, is the guild application. I still feel that guild applications, if your guild uses them to recruit raiders and members into the guild (versus invitations going only out to friends of friends via word-of-mouth), should be made in a public guild forum. Having applications out in public allows all guild members the opportunity to speak up if there is a reason the guild would be better off not accepting an applicant, provides a public record of the person's interests and role applied for, and also allows raid leaders to see if their raiders are app'ing elsewhere. Thanks to public guild applications on forums, as an officer I've been able to find out that an applicant was applying to every raiding guild on the server; have had guildies give me a heads up that an applicant was, in fact, their stalker who had followed them from guild-to-guild harassing them; and been able to find out that some of the details in some applications were more than just a slight exaggeration.
So while I don't think guild forums are headed for extinction yet, I do think there are quite a few other ways to build a sense of guild community. And if your guild does have an active forum, having clear rules of conduct-- and consistently enforcing them-- seems to me to be key to maintaining a sense of civility and camaraderie amongst your guildmates, and making the forums a resource people are interested in reading -- not a place of dread.
What do you think? Could you live without guild forums? Would you never even consider joining a guild without an active forum? Have you successfully moderated forums? Would love to hear your POV.