Tanu Shree Singh, founder of The Reading Raccoons and the Senior Reading Raccoons Facebook groups, shares some valuable insights and interesting insider tales about managing the largest online reading community in the country.
The groups just happened. When I started them, they were meant to get people off my back! Friends would constantly ask for book recommendations for a specific age group and I would end up being on phone rattling out lists of books that the boys had read. So, to put it all in one place, I created The Reading Raccoons and added my friends, who in turn added theirs. And it grew. Senior Reading Raccoons too got formed in a similar fashion. Never in my strangest dreams did I expect them to grow collectively to more than a 46K people strong community. With the numbers come problems too!
My first brush with trouble was someone messaging because her post had been deleted. I was called names, my family’s “tolerance” for me questioned and so on. It was disturbing. Thankfully, I soon got used to it. Over the years, we have worked out a system. And so far, we have manged to stay sane. Somewhat. How did we do it? The following work:
- Clear Objectives.
Right from the beginning both the groups had one thing in common – love for diverse forms of literature. From Mystery to Romance, from contemporary to classic – everything. I was clear I did not want to do anything but talk about books. So the groups are fairly focussed. Even as the numbers swelled up, the ethos remained the same – love a book? Talk about it here!
I was also clear that I was not going to monetize it. So far, we have successfully kept away from money!
- Be a supersleuth
The groups get around 50-60 new membership requests each day. We have devised a short questionnaire of sorts to keep fake profiles away. Additionally, we try to check each profile-when was the profile created, what kind of groups/pages the person follows and so on. This gives us a vague idea of what the person wants out of the group. After all, we do not want unsolicited sales posts for buy one get one underwear free on our walls! Or rabid political posts for that matter.
- You can never please all the people all the time.
We have been asked for the moon time and again. ‘Why don’t you do this?’ ‘Why is that not allowed?’ ‘I think you ought to allow blogs.’ And so on. In the process of politely declining, we have been called tyrants, arrogant and more. It is okay. We have developed a thick skin now. The group was created not as a democratic exercise, but as something I believed in. And people who align with that belief stay in the groups and enjoy the interactions; the others, well, abuse and leave. Or get blocked. We are okay with that.
- Take help
As the groups grew, I was lucky to find a band of people who pitched in to help me. It is crucial to have trustworthy people on board. Ego clashes can result in dirt, and the admin herself getting thrown out of the group! So be very careful but once you find your tribe, life gets easier! Imagine keeping a tab on around 5000 comments per week in addition to new posts, reports, and reactions all alone! It gets to you after a while. A team helps keep things focussed. But the crucial part is finding the right people. I was plain lucky.
- Stick to the rules
Devise rules after giving it a cool thought. And then stick to them. Modify them only if required. A clear set of rules makes it easier for the members to understand how things work too. When your team size increases, value their feedback. Do not let the ‘I-am-admin’ hat get to your head. It is just a thing on social media. And it doesn’t define you.
- Be polite. Mostly.
It is easiest to lose one’s cool when one is addressing similar issues each day. Trust me, sensitive words carry us farther.
I am no saint. And have lost my cool when despite politely explaining things, some members continue to flout the rules. But overall, one must keep calm. Anger never works.
- Try to stay unbiased.
This is the toughest. At times members post about books that are against my beliefs and in real life would have resulted in a heated argument. As an admin, I stay away from such discussions unless there is a risk of them turning aggressive/abusive. If I were to express my views, I stand the risk of letting the members believe that the group leans towards a particular side when it shouldn’t. So, we work very hard to keep our views to ourselves. When it gets unbearable, we resort to the private admin group to vent! Problem solved.
- Deep breathe
As a rule, we do not let our online lives mix with real lives. Always remember that. If the virtual world is eating into your real life, step back. Go offline. The Raccoon groups were created to promote reading, to connect with fellow readers and provide people with a platform to discover more books. There have been times when things have gone out of hand and we have had to act swiftly. But there also have been times when the groups have changed lives going by the messages we get. So it is a happy balance. The idea is to not let either of those extremes get to your head! After all, our online lives are just a tiny part of us.
Being a member of large communities has been a blessing – I have been able to set up two libraries because the members sent books from all over the world. I have also made some truly lovely friends thanks to the groups. So although keeping them running gets overwhelming at times, the friends who are now co-admins keep it all simple. Together we maintain a fine balance. They also address late evening emergency messages about wardrobe choices. All in all, we are a good bunch. And we are able to keep things in the groups under control. So far.
Dr. Tanu Shree Singh is a Professor of Psychology, specializing in Positive Psychology. Tanu runs two online reading groups of around 45k people and has set up two libraries with more coming up soon. Her book Keep Calm and Mommy On is much loved and acclaimed. She has written for anthologies for children. I’d rather read published by Red Turtle is a collection of experiences and anecdotes about favourite books and libraries. Scholastic’s anthology on libraries for children is also being worked upon. She has also written for Harper Collin’s collection of Horror stories slated for release this year. Her picture book is expected to be released in 2019. Her latest is a biography of C.V. Raman with DK Books. She also writes for leading online dailies. Currently, Dr. Tanu Shree Singh is also the Regional Advisor for SCBWI.