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I am a moderator on a StackExchange site. Like many SE sites, ours has fairly specific community standards and customs with respect to things like comment deletion, closing questions, and the like.

While these standards are generally supported by the community on our meta site, it's impossible to please everyone all the time. Some users (including several highly valued community members) disagree with the community standards, and get upset when they are enforced.

Often, users react by announcing that they are going to leave the site (permanently or temporarily), because of their disappointment with its policies. Sometimes they go to some effort to publicize this decision (i.e., they announce it in chat several times over the course of a day or two).

I have not found a helpful way to engage with these users. Discussing the latest "provocation" is not generally useful (assume it's already been done on meta, and the community sides against the user). Doing nothing means losing the user's future contributions, and it's also bad for morale in general. Other users see these public announcements, and get upset about losing important community members.

What (if anything) should moderators say or do in response to public threats by valued members to leave the community? (Whether for the sake of the person threatening to leave, or for general community morale.)

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    did you consider relaxing the standards? – gnat Nov 29 '14 at 11:07
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    Related - moderators.stackexchange.com/questions/596/… – ChrisF Nov 29 '14 at 19:03
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    If these are long-term established highly important members of the community, there must have been a time in the past where they agreed with the standards/moderation and contributed a lot... Did something specifically change (recently) since then about the community, it's standards or their enforcement? – just_curious Nov 29 '14 at 19:18
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I think there are a couple of aspects to this issue:

  • Morale
  • Conduct
  • Policies

Morale

In public sites, and other environments like this, Morale is of the upmost importance. More than any individual.

Morale is really a delicate thing, and should be handled with care.

Someone threating to leave because something they don't like is going on are bad for morale, and it is probably better if they leave.

The world is not improved by giving up, is improved by trying over and over.

No individual contributor, or even group of contributors are so important as the morale of the whole community, and if you have a bunch of disrupters that like to vent in public channels, without being constructive, is better to let them go.

One thing is complaining about the policies and try to change them, and something else is to use your leverage as valuable community member so things are done your way. The later is not good and it is better if they leave, as I stated before.

Conduct

I know that the participation in these sites is voluntary, but I think we should try to be as professional as we can, if someone is not being professional and venting in public threads, it not helpful, and if they do it regularly enough it outweighs their good contributions.

People threating to leave over and over, it is not really professional or helpful.

He/she can answer a ton of questions, but if each time something that he/she doesn't like happen, is going to threaten about leaving, well they are not really that valuable after all.

In a social environment we need to keep certain conduct standards, if not proper socialization and integration is not possible.

There will be always more people for answering the questions, don't despair if some leaves. It may slow down the community a bit if a big contributor leaves, but it is not the end of the world.

People can not always get their way, if they can not understand that you are better off without them.

Try to engage them as Von Lion suggested in a private setting/chat. Ask them to stay, because they really are valuable for the community. Allow them to vent, you probably agree with some of his claims, you could also expose something you don't like about the community that they do like, so he can see you are not just rage-quitting because of that.

And finally ask them to refrain from venting the way they do in public channels, ask them to be constructive for the good of the community, or if they need to vent offer them to talk with you.

Policies

Finally, although as I said, if people are rage-quitting in a noisy way and disrupting the morale of the community they are better off gone, you need to analyze whether or not there are merits to their claims.

You make it sound like it has happened several times that valuable members leave or threaten to leave.

Is it possible that policies are at fault? If so, can you do something about it? Change them, update them?

If it is a policy enforced by a site feature and you can not have it changed, you could write some guidelines so although the site feature seems to enforce it, the community itself won't.

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Since you mentioned people repeatedly posting in chat over a period of several days, it sounds like you are dealing with people who don't actually want to leave. They're just throwing a tantrum to get you or other community members to do what they want. In these cases, I would say let them go. As long as they stick around, you're going to keep having the same old problems, the same public rants and threats to leave, and that is bad for morale. Your community will bounce back from the loss of one or two or three well-established members, probably quicker than you think. (If it doesn't, it wasn't much of a community in the first place.)

Besides, if you set the example that throwing a tantrum gets results, then that's what people will do when they want something changed. And you don't want that, not on SE anyway. Respond to the people who participate in constructive discussion, who make useful meta posts, and tell anyone who's not willing to work within that model to take a hike. In particular, don't push through any changes (e.g. a new policy) just to keep one or a few members around, without also having support from the community. It makes it look like pleasing that one person is more important than keeping a community.


I think it's useful to delete repeated threats to leave. If a well-established member is really leaving, they might make a post or two to say goodbye, but anything beyond that isn't constructive. And they know that. When you're really leaving, you don't go to much trouble to draw attention to it. Of course, if you're going to start deleting these things when you haven't done so in the past, you should make some kind of announcement first. Be prepared for complaints (and perhaps threats to leave), but I think it's fair to make this one non-negotiable. (Seriously, I cannot imagine how a cohesive community is well served by a member making 4 or 5 or 10 posts threatening to leave.)

  • On small and/or very specialised sites, coherence of the community might be a bit more important than suggested in this answer. In such a setting, loosing important long-term and established users/experts is a more harmful issue. Trying to resolve the disagreement by constructively working together and wise mediation is then probably a better solution than just taking the risk that good established members/experts are lost by assuming they are easily replaced by new incoming users. – just_curious Nov 29 '14 at 16:14
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    @just_curious I see your point, but think about the kind of community you'd be building if these people stay around. One where angry interactions and immature behavior are the norm. It's going to be a real pain to moderate. I think it's safe to assume that that's not what people want. But if someone did want to have that sort of community, of course my answer doesn't apply. Also, my assumption based on the question (and experience) is that the situation is past the point where collaboration and mediation can fix things. If that's not the case, then again, my answer doesn't apply. – David Z Nov 29 '14 at 18:39
  • (I had a few extra paragraphs about how to handle a case where mediation would seem to be effective, but after rereading the question I didn't think they would be relevant so I removed them.) – David Z Nov 29 '14 at 18:40
  • as I said in a comment directly under the question, to dissatisfy important valuable long-term users so much that they suddenly are think about leaving, something must have changed (be changing) about the community. How can you be so sure that they are to blame instead of they being very reasonable important experts/professionals who helped the site become what it is? It might well be, that on that site for example a group of new users is trying to fundamentaly change the community, its rules guidelines and atmosphere and the important long-term users dont agree with this. In fact, – just_curious Dec 6 '14 at 18:27
  • I could give you the name of a site where exactly this is happening since some months, as a single in meta issues very interested and active user is more and more successfully trying to overturn long standing community standards, guidelines, and traditions. As I see it, without more context I could not decide if it is really a good idea to put all the blame on the long-term members who are no longer satisfied with the (potentially changing) community standards, rules, etc. This is why I somehow disagree with this answer. – just_curious Dec 6 '14 at 18:55
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Try and take it out of channel, e.g. call them, send them a mail or something of the like, this often manages to get people out of their rage-mode by switching contexts.

Simply ask them what's up, if you can help and let them vent.

Often this is enough, vocal members are often very valuable, that's the conundrum :(

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    Not to discount your experience, but the few times I've communicated with disgruntled site members out-of-band, it doesn't help, and in fact the discussion may go worse because they are then willing to make more offensive statements than they would be willing to make in public. – David Z Nov 29 '14 at 5:01
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    But that's the entire point isn't it? That they vent and make those comments in non-public places. You're a community manager, you're supposed to have a think skin :) – Von Lion Nov 29 '14 at 15:23
  • I thought you were saying the point was to lure them into a constructive discussion. In the cases I'm thinking of, that doesn't happen, and still their behavior on the site doesn't change. If temporarily letting a member express some frustration at you in private will get them to be less disruptive now or in the future, then sure, I'm all for it, but that's not usually the way it goes. And yes, community managers are supposed to have a thick skin but that doesn't necessarily mean they should be required to invite abuse on themselves. – David Z Nov 29 '14 at 15:29

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