Why every online community needs a suicide policy


by net_efekt

by net_efekt

My husband’s been reading John T Cacioppo’s Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection and as usual when he’s enthralled by something, I’ve heard about it at great length.

While I have yet to read it (I’m too cheap to buy a second copy instead of waiting for his) it has made me think a lot about loneliness and online communities at Christmas.

For some people, through physical and perceived isolation, online communities and social networks are a main or even sole route of social interaction.

Detailed 2004 research by Dr Vladeta Ajdacic-Gross of the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, at the University of Zurich found that suicide rates actually decline dramatically in the run up to Christmas Day - Christmas Eve has the lowest suicide rate for the whole year.

The trouble starts after Christmas, suicide rates increase dramatically, with a peak in early January.

So it’s important to know what the realistic risks are, and when, before putting any plans in place.

Any seasonal suicide sensitivity needs to continue into the New Year, and your process for dealing with a suicide threat needs to be written and ready all year round.

No-one wants to write a will and it’s no different as a community, no-one relishes writing a suicide policy. But every community needs one, even the happiest, most sunny side up communities.


  1. Every community needs to be supportive, not just support communities.
  2. Every community contains people. Where there are people, there is unpredictable behaviour.

Several professions are at particularly heightened risk of depression and suicide, and consequently even a professional community aimed at sharing knowledge and best practise could be a platform for lonely, isolated people.

On one of our communities, which is mainly a place to discuss health and beauty, sometimes life gets in the way. During a product trial, a happy-go-lucky community member experienced an unexpected and upsetting event in her life. She came to the community, to a place she felt safe, surrounded by friends and she shared her news.

It wasn’t health and beauty news, it was real, personal news and she found comfort and support amongst online friends.

How could we ever assume that someone in their darkest moments, considering something terrible, wouldn’t come to a place they regularly spent time and felt safe? We couldn’t assume that. That’s why every community we run has a suicide policy, regardless of their membership or topics.

Writing a suicide policy

There are several factors to consider, and you must consider them properly:

  • Could there be minors using the community?
  • Do you have means of contacting community members?
  • Do you have real names and locations for community members?
  • You will need a templated (but customisable) message containing links to supportive organisations such as the Samaritans and any specifically relevant organisations (such as a professional benevolent society with counsellors available).
  • Do you have functions within your community that could be used to post images or videos of an attempted suicide? It is incredibly rare, but it happens.
  • Do you have an in-house legal team to discuss this with?
  • Is there a reporting function for other members to flag content they’re concerned about? Do members know this is not just for spam or offensiveness?

It’s a tragic subject, but as community managers we have a responsibility to try and keep our members as safe as possible.

Having a plan in place won’t cause any problems if it’s never needed, but not having a plan in place could leave a community manager with a scenario that haunts them for a very long time.

FreshNetworks Blog: Top five posts in November


Five inches
Image by slambo_42 via Flickr

At FreshNetworks we aim to bring you the best posts in social media, online communities and customer engagement online. In case you missed them, find below our top five posts in October.

1. Google Wave vs Twitter at conferences

There has been a lot of talk and discussion of Google Wave as it has spread though invites. For many people the immediate response is: “I’m here; what now?”. In our most popular post in November, Charlie looked at one example of how Google Wave can be used to add real value: as a conference back-channel. We show how at the Ecomm conference delegates were provided with Google Wave accounts. What resulted was a fantastic showcase of collaboration and crowd-sourcing.

2. How to use Twitter Lists as a free social media monitoring tool

Twitter Lists are great. They are adding real and valuable functionality to Twitter and changing the way that people can use the service. In this post we look specifically at how Twitter Lists can be used as a free social media monitoring tool. How you can use them to track promoters and detractors of your brand and know what they are saying and feeling in real time.

3. PhotoSketch or Sketch2Photo, it rocks

A great app developed by five Chinese students at Tsinghua University and the National University of Singapore. It allows you to turn a simple drawing into a photo. There is clearly always a big jump between a video showcase and a working proposition, but it certainly looks good so far.

4. Live TV and real-time chat: X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing

Watching TV is almost always a social experience. Whether it’s people in the room, friends on the phone, Facebook, Twitter or in forums or chat. People talk to people about what they see on TV. In this post we highlight two ways in which Live TV shows in the UK (namely X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing) are using real time chat and online communities to support their live broadcasts. We look at what they are doing and why they might be doing this.

5. Russian social network Vkontakte.ru plans global roll-out

Back in September, we posted about the success of Russian social network VKontakte (В контакте). The site serves 1.4 billion page views each day to its 42 million users, and attracts 14 million unique visitors each month. In one of the most engaged and fastest-growing social networking markets in the world, it is a force to be reckoned with. At the start of September, Vedomosti (Ведомости), the Russian business newspaper, had reported that VKontakte had registered the domain www.vk.com and plans to begin marketing the social network in twelve new markets globally before the end of 2010. One to watch next year.

The basics of social media ROI


Image by Hey Paul via Flickr

The last post of our guide to Getting Started in Social Media looked at measurements and how brands should be ruthless about ROI. This presentation from Oliver Blanchard is a great introduction to social media ROI and how you should conceive of it and then measure it. It’s also quite amusing in parts and so is Required Reading this week at FreshNetworks

For me the most insightful part of the presentation is the distinction between a non-financial ROI and a financial one. Blanchard’s model is that you get the non-financial ROI before you get measurable financial return. They are part of a continuum - your investment leads to something that will have a non-financial impact first and then a financial one. This is a model that really rings true in our experience of building online communities. Financial ROI can take time to achieve, but good planning and strategy should start to give you non-financial ROI relatively quickly. Brands often need to have this trajectory reinforced - just because you don’t have any hard financial return yet does not mean it isn’t just round the corner. It probably is if you persist with your efforts.

Olivier Blanchard Basics Of Social Media Roi
View more presentations from Olivier Blanchard.

Getting started 4: Track and evaluate the success you are having


Curly measuring tape
Image by Marco D via Flickr

For any brand getting started in social media, the most important thing is to be able to show the impact you are having. To be able to evaluate and assess what is working and what isn’t having the results that you might expect. To show the return on investment that your efforts are having and how this compares to other methods.

There is a lot of talk about social media measurement and it is true that in isolation it is difficult to know where to start. But for businesses with a clear social media strategy, it is actually much easier than many people think. We stressed earlier in this guide to Getting Started in Social Media the importance of thinking about the reasons you are using social media before you jump in to use any tools or to engage people. We talked though a process to define clear and measurable business objectives and aims for your use of social media. It is important that you make these both clear and measurable. Typical objectives that a brand might consider include - acquisition of new customers, retention of existing ones, number of new insights or ideas into the business, or number of customer problems solved. These are just some of the objectives that brands may have for using online communities and social media, and all of them are measurable. At the simplest level they either save money for a brand or they generate revenue.

In the online communities that we manage at FreshNetworks a lot of time is spent defining the objectives and then working out first what metrics should be measured against these, and then monitoring and reporting on these to make sure we understand how the community is performing. It is important to establish a set of metrics that you can measure to assess how you are performing against your aims. In many cases you will want to measure a mix of things for each aim, but overall you should be able to show and prove what impact you are having.

Example: If you want to use social media as an efficient way of resolving customer queries, for example, you probably want to measure the number of unique customer problems you have on the site, the number of problems that are solved by other members of the community. You can then put an equivalent cost that it would have taken to service these queries through other channels and measure the actual reduction in, for example, call centre costs that you witness over time. This is what Dell did, and this is how Dell managed to work out that one member of its customer support community saved them $1m a year in support costs. That’s real ROI.

So the final stage to getting started in social media is to make sure you are ruthless about measuring what you are doing. It’s the only way you will know what works (and what doesn’t) and prove the impact you are having with social media. To do this you need to have clear objectives and these need to be measurable. Then you can measure the actual impact you are having on business aims. The actual benefit your social media strategy is bringing to your brand.

You can read the full guide here: Getting Started in Social Media

Getting started 2: What do you want to achieve?


Day 17/July 22 - Dartboard
Image by eliotreeves via Flickr

In the first part of our guide to getting started in social media, we looked at buzz tracking. Why brands benefit from understanding who is currently talking about them online, what they are saying, to whom and where. Once you have an understanding of what is currently being said about your brand in social media, you will be much better informed about the issues of interest to people, the opinions they have, who your influencers and advocates are and where you can start to engage with people in social media. The next step is to work out what you actually want to achieve.

For too many people, social media is seen first and foremost as a technological solution. People decide they want to ‘implement social media’ and then work out what they want to do with it. This kind of enthusiasm is great and people who want to harness and use social media for your brand should be embraced. However, for any business there is a critical question you need to answer first: “what are you trying to achieve”.

There is much talk about measurement and proving the ROI of social media. One way to ensure that you are able to show the impact that your use of social media has had is to make sure you have clear and measurable aims in the first place. Maybe you want to increase customer loyalty, reduce the cost of your current customer service channels, increase customer satisfaction, get new ideas into your business or reduce the cost of your customer insight spend. These are the kind of aims and objectives (at a very high level) that some of our current clients at FreshNetworks have. And all of them are measurable. You can show the impact you are having on a weekly, monthly and annual basis. And you can show either the revenue you are generating, or the costs your are saving, your brand.

A clear understanding of what you want to achieve should be the first step for any brand looking to get started in social media. This may be a detailed decision process or it may be simple, but no brand should try something without at least some aims. A simple three-step process for any brand is:

  1. Think about your current business strategy. Consider what would make the biggest difference to your business. Evaluate where you can contribute in the short-, medium- and long-terms.
  2. When you have thought through this you need to evaluate and refine your aims based on what is achievable using social media. Not everything is and not everything should be.
  3. Finally consider each of the aims and objectives you have left and how you can measure the impact you are having. Think about what you should expect from social media, what return you should see and what return you would expect for the investment you are putting into your activities.

This is a simple but effective process. The most important thing is to critically evaluate what you want to achieve as a brand and then work with people with experience of using social media to understand the full and diverse range of things you could do, tools you might use and engagement methods you might employ to contribute to these. This is often an iterative process and will help you to refine what you are looking to achieve and make sure it is realistic and achievable.

At FreshNetworks, we have worked with brands who have started working in social media. They are doing great things and it’s great to see them experimenting. But without having thought through what they are trying to achieve, why and how they will measure it their social media efforts will more likely than not fail. If you are not clear in your mind why you are doing it, you can be sure that your users will not understand what they are supposed to be doing in your social media site.

Of course, this is easier said than done, but it is a valuable and important step for any brand getting started in social media. And remember at this stage we’re still not really talking about technology. Not yet at least. That part comes next.

You can read the full guide here: Getting Started in Social Media