The 24-Hour Reply Rule

Guestpost by Kirsten Hansen on Nov 6th

Stating the obvious here: dealing with drama when you work with an online community can get a little overwhelming. Whether it's moderating comments, moderating forum content or internal blogs, or just dealing with contact from readers or members, there is a lot of potential for being in a situation where you're dealing with really unhappy people.

We all know that when we're unhappy or upset, we make bad communication choices. We've all said something in the heat of the moment, sent an email or text we regretted, or wrote an angry letter. It happens. And it happens way more on the internet than in person because it's so easy.

As anyone working in tech support or community management knows, being on the receiving end of that unhappiness is no fun. As the Community Manager for the Offbeat Bride Tribe, it's my job to deal with our members whenever they're unhappy, mad, or sad.

This in mind, there's a little thing called the "24-Hour Reply Rule" that has become my friend when managing the Offbeat Bride Tribe. This rule isn't about me needing to reply to an email in under 24 hours (my general policy is to reply to all member email within 12 hours, if possible). No, the "24-Hour Reply Rule" is this: When emotions are heated, don't reply for 24 hours.

If I am in a situation where I know a member is getting upset (or will be upset by something I've emailed them about), and I think it could delve into the realm of majorly unpleasant, I reserve the right to file all responses for 24 hours before even reading them or replying. That's right: I won't even read the email for 24 hours.

This may sound harsh, or like bad customer service. Trust me, here: if done thoughtfully, it can be in everyone's best interest. In 24 hours, the member may send multiple replies — and often the last one being calmer or even apologetic, realizing that their initial reaction was out of proportion. Alternately, they may send multiple emails to support their argument, and it helps if I take them all as one single response.

My biggest hope is that after 24 hours, everyone will have had chance to calm down. If I'm lucky, members may be at a point where they can read my response without just continuing a cycle of sad/mad emails. We don't have to agree, and it may not change whatever decision that has been made, but at least the exchange can close on the most civil note possible.

It also means that I am not panicking or worrying, waiting for a reply and winding myself into knots. Because I don't enjoy reading email from people who are pissed off, hurt, or feeling emotionally vulnerable. I want to make sure that I can avoid losing my mind over the situation, and also make sure that my response is the best it can be.

This 24 Hour Rule is slowly spreading its way across the Empire, because honestly? In many situations, it just makes sense. Sometimes the best thing you can do on the internet is not be instantaneous. Take a breath. Take your time. Be kind.

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About Kirsten Hansen

Kirsten, aka Little Red Lupine, is an academically-minded geek who works in instructional technology by day and crafts by night... when she isn't playing video games or watching TV with her husband, playing with their ferrets, or cuddling their kitties. She can usually be found with her nose in a book but might just be baking something yummy instead.