Friday, April 26, 2019

Your Twitch Chat is a Reflection of Yourself

Twitch chat can be a wonderful place, or a toxic hellscape. Sometimes it's both of these at once. Yay, Twitch! There are all kinds of people who might tune into your streams, and there's no way to know exactly what someone is going to say. On top of this, aside from setting your chat to 'followers only' mode and severely stunting your channel's growth, there's no surefire way to prevent people from saying bad things at all. When your chat devolves into a bacchanalian den of vulgarity, constant trolling, or awkward political arguments, it's easy to throw up your hands and blame the Twitch gods for your misfortune. Similarly, it's just as easy to see someone else with a kind, generous, loving community and assume they've just been dealt a superior hand. Yes, there is plenty of luck involved in building a community, but for the most part your Twitch chat is only a reflection of yourself.

Sometimes Twitch chat can look like this. It's not
the luck of the draw, it's up to you to cultivate
your own community.
"But I don't stand for these filthy things they said in my chat today!" you might assert. Of course you don't. I'm not saying that everyone in your chat will be a blind clone of you the streamer, but ultimately you are responsible for the kind of community you cultivate. And no matter how entrenched you are into having a certain kind of viewership, you can always pull out of an overly negative, troll-filled nosedive- it just takes some patience, dedication and creative thinking. Whether you're starting a community now or attempting to shape an existing one, it always pays to begin with the simple stuff.


The first step in setting up any community is to have the most basic rules in place. Many of these are pretty easy to come up with off the top of your head: no racism or sexism, don't be mean to other chatters, don't promote spam, things like that. Get the objectively wrong things out of the way- things that will lead to an instant timeout or ban.

Take out your wrench and keep it out. Don't think
something is finished just because you implemented
it. Refining is a lifelong process!
After this come the more subjective rules, which will vary based on how your channel works. What level of swearing is OK? Can people post their gamertags for multiplayer games? Do you allow spoilers for singleplayer games? Is self-promotion permitted, and to what degree? Set as many precedents here as you think necessary, but don't enforce them too strictly. For rules like this, it's better you leave them as soft 'guidelines' than instant bans or timeouts while they're first being implemented. Here's why: you actually want people to break them by accident.

I know this sounds backwards- setting out to have chatters break your own chat rules? But this all comes back to concepts I've discussed in the previous entry 'On Twitch, Failure Is Your Friend'. If you have the humility to harness your own ability to fail, you can succeed much more quickly. Don't let yourself have such a fragile ego that you think everything you do will be perfect on the first try. So when someone breaks one of your more subjective rules? Instead of lashing out at them, let the person know where to find your channel rules, and why that particular rule is in place. There are three potential outcomes of this: the vast majority will be understanding, some will become disgruntled, and a select few will turn hostile. Knowing how to proceed from here is crucial.


Most people just want to have a good time, and the last thing they want to do is make waves on someone else's channel. It's important to realize that many viewers might genuinely not have seen your channel rules, and especially if those rules are different from the vast majority of Twitch channels, people will make honest mistakes. This is someone who can likely explain what caused them to misinterpret your rules. And if you can swallow your pride and actually listen, information like this is more valuable than gold to your Twitch channel. If they don't willingly offer an explanation, it can be prickly and sometimes downright humiliating for the chatter, to ask them during the stream. Instead, send a respectful Whisper or DM after the show, "Hey thanks for being a part of today's stream! I'm trying to improve my chat rules. Are there any changes you'd suggest to make my rule about spoilers better, or more welcoming to new people?" You don't have to implement every suggestion or react to 100% of chatters' mistakes, but you should certainly be paying attention when someone points out a stumbling block.


Some people will become crestfallen when they break
channel rules. Don't let them spiral into despair
or anger. That's no good for anybody.
Sometimes people become disgruntled about breaking rules in chat. It's understandable- if you didn't think you did something wrong, you wouldn't likely want to be reprimanded either. The important thing here is to not let the rest of your community dogpile on someone who seems a bit disgruntled, because this will only make things worse. Do your best to defuse the situation by letting this person know that no one is mad at them for breaking the rule, that it happens to everyone once in a while. And most importantly, don't allow an argument to crop up in chat about the rule's validity. This will only cause the person's wound to fester. I've noticed that a shocking number of viewers on Twitch can't bear the thought of having done something wrong in chat. Many will keep explaining or arguing, as if they're taking a test in school and by telling them they broke a rule you're docking their grade. As long as you keep a cool head, and your community doesn't shout them down, this person will likely simmer. If you think they're reasonable enough, consider sending a Whisper or DM here as well. Let them know you aren't mad at them, that you hope to see them on future shows, and ask if there's anything that can be improved about your channel's rules.


Sometimes the situation just can't be salvaged. Whether the offending chatter starts a brutal argument or is immediately toxic, you're going to need to shut them down either way. It's important to issue warnings if you can see the behavior coming. Set a precedent for the rest of your chat, that it isn't a 'one strike, you're out' kind of environment. If this viewer was at first disgruntled for example, and they start arguing about your rules openly, let them know that they'll be timed out if they persist. When someone is timed out, they will often cool off once they realize that no one is actually mad at them, but the responsibility here is on you and your community as well. Don't openly talk about the person once they're timed out, or let your chatters openly gossip about them. Just because someone is timed out doesn't mean they aren't watching. And just because they're being mean doesn't mean they're a bad person or don't deserve respect. Everybody has a life outside of Twitch, and this person may just be having a bad day. They might be digging themselves into a deeper and deeper hole specifically BECAUSE nobody took away their shovel. Assuming they don't immediately leave, taking away that shovel and not letting them chat for a while can be actually be a big help. Keep your finger on the 'ban' button, but you could be surprised- they might not be so bad if they come back.


Chat is a massive part of your Twitch channel. Don't
leave the quality of your community to chance.
Here's the thing that might be confusing about all this: Whether someone reacts well to breaking a chat rule or not, people breaking rules at all likely means there's a problem you need to address. Pay attention to the frequency of a rule causing problems for chatters. Is it the same person every time, or various people? Do mostly new people break this rule or are longtime community members tripping over it as well? Sure, a perfectly reasonable and well-explained rule will accidentally be broken every once in a while. Most of the time however, someone breaking your rule means you were unclear with its wording or visibility. Never assume that just because a chat rule makes sense to you, that it will make sense to everyone else as well. Always be willing to think from the perspective of the viewer, and adapt to whatever is causing them problems on your stream. And whether criticism is constructive or not, you need to have the humility to actually take note of it.

You'll gain a lot more understanding for your chat this way than immediately creating rules that erase a violator from the list, instantly removing them from the conversation. Yes, you may have some mud slung at you once in a while, but most viewers will be reasonable- they just want to enjoy the show. If you're willing to put up with the rare few offended people through this formative part of the process, you'll actually get some very valuable info.

I call this process building on a "strong-enough foundation". The foundation of your more subjective chat rules should not unbreakable, but malleable and open to revision. You may find you want to alter the guidelines you originally created, based on the overall reaction across a few streams. Maybe you could be less strict about spoilers because you don't really care about hearing story info if it hurts most chatters' feelings, or that you want to be more strict about swearing in order to make your stream more welcoming and positive. Whatever the change, you'll never get anywhere if you assume the first version of a chat rule you wrote was correct, and that everybody else is wrong. You need to take a step back, be willing to reassess, and realize that you are responsible when multiple people make the same mistake in your community. Your Twitch chat is only a reflection of yourself, so make sure you craft your community into something you can be proud of!

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