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As a community manager for a large internet company, I interact with our users (and moderators!) on a fairly consistent basis. In fact, I often spend large swaths of my day in the main moderator chatroom, handling moderator issues and contributing to the conversation that is going on.

Moderators are unpaid users who cultivate and police a site. (By contrast, I am an official employee of the company, and I receive a salary.) Also, from certain perspectives, I'm a moderator or user's first line of appeal, meaning that if an issue requires escalation, I'm one of a group of people they turn to first.

I've been fortunate enough to be able to meet some of these moderators and users in Real Life. I find I get along well with some of them, and enjoy spending time with them.

Is it unprofessional for me to pursue friendships and personal relationships with these users?

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4 Answers

up vote 22 down vote accepted

As long as you don't let it affect your work then no, it's not unprofessional.

Obviously it could be seen as being unprofessional, but as long as everyone - including your employer - is happy then you should be OK.

In fact, it could be argued that forming a personal relationship with these users is part of your job as community liaison. You are part of the conduit between the regular users and moderators and the company. Your job would be much harder if you didn't get on with them at some level.

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+1: It could be argued and that's what I would argue. To serve your clients/customers you must have a relationship of trust. –  NickC Apr 10 '12 at 21:10
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Being that they are unpaid I would guess no.

Your employer is a vendor of a service and the people in question are voluntary consumers who engage at their leisure with nothing at stake but their own time.

It doesn't seem like a conflict of interest in a business sense.

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Business relationships can be viewed negatively if they're used as leverage or if they make others uncomfortable (harassment). Since you're not (hopefully) talking about harassment, the relevant thing here is whether or not you gain inappropriate leverage with your user/client/etc.

In this case you can't really extort much out of your users; you can't make them buy the Premium Option for $5000 extra because there's no money involved. You're not getting access to insider information because you already have it. You're not going to be able to get a raise or gain additional clout through these interactions, so I don't think they could generally be perceived as inappropriate.

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Just consider the following issue:

No matter how badly we try to keep professional and personal relationships separate we are not able to do that. We are all only human.

So is it unprofessional? No.

Will it affect how you perform your duties with respect to the site where user is present? Definitely.

So my suggestion is to avoid interactions where your professional life bleeds into your personal one.

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