eBay's Director of Community Engagement Rebecca Michals stopped by the Paychex THRIVE podcast recently to discuss her mission of creating community for eBay buyers and sellers.
Long time members of the eBay community may find some of her answers very interesting. 🤨
Gene Marks: So when you're saying that your sellers "communicate and collaborate with each other online," as well as customers as well. I'm assuming these are moderated forums, correct? Are there people from eBay that's involved to make sure that things don't get out of control or abusive or anything like that?
Rebecca Michals: Oh yeah, definitely. We sure do. People feel really passionately and so you got to keep an eye on things sometimes.
So we have moderators who help keep things clean and friendly and civil. But we also have people from our Customer Support team who are there answering questions every single day on the forums.
We have a bunch of different customer support channels, but the forums are a great place because you can get answers not only from Customer Support, but from other experienced sellers as well.
It's interesting to me that Rebecca is trying to present the eBay community forums specifically as a place for sellers to engage with eBay Customer Support.
Yes, there are eBay staff in the community who will occasionally answer questions - though those answers are typical nothing more than "let me check with the appropriate team" or "I'll pass that feedback the appropriate team."
However, over the years it has been repeatedly and explicitly made clear to community members that eBay does not consider the community to be an official support channel.
The issue has been raised many times in the past as frustrated sellers continue to see other support channels increasingly become a maze of AI chat bots and outsourced contractors who are not highly trained or empowered to offer real assistance with serious, business impacting issues.
Earlier this year, a revamp of the forum guidelines gave sellers some brief hope that eBay's attitude about the community had changed, but those hopes were quickly dashed.
eBay community staff used to host a weekly hour long, open topic chat session which was often the best place for buyers and sellers alike to ask questions and bring visibility to important topics.
That changed in May 2022 with the weekly open ended chat being discontinued and replaced by a monthly chat limited to a single topic of eBay's choosing.
Regular chat participants were caught off guard by the news, with some saying they believed it was a way for eBay to avoid tough questions and expressing frustration with the continued decline of transparency and engagement from the eBay community team.
Those concerns were well founded as the monthly chat format quickly devolved into an embarrassing dumpster fire meltdown.
Gene Marks:... Do you get any feedback from your community itself that they would prefer not to have eBay involved? They'd like to have conversations offline without eBay monitoring what they're talking about just in case they've got anything that they, I don't know, any gripes that they'd like to share or things that they'd like to get out in the open without having the company there?
Do you get that kind of feedback and is there a place to go where eBay sellers could go where they're independent and can have their own community?
Rebecca Michals: Yeah, I haven't seen that feedback stated quite that way, but I do know there are a gabillion of Facebook groups out there for eBay sellers. When I first joined eBay, I was invited to, I don't know, six, eight, 10 of them and the people who run, the sellers who run those groups know that I'm there and I engage lightly.
But there are many, many, many that I'm not involved in. And I'm sure some of them are for sellers to talk just to each other, as you say, without any eBay involvement and that's fine. People should be able to connect in the way that makes the most sense for them.
Regular readers will know I am not at all shy in calling out eBay's longstanding, ongoing seller trust problems.
I've personally had many sellers reach out to me privately with valid concerns about retaliation from eBay both within the community and more broadly across the organization - especially after the mass banning and purge of users at one particular point in the community forum's history.
That fear has been an undercurrent at eBay for years and was brought into vivid reality when news broke of a coordinated and criminal effort by eBay's top security personnel to threaten and intimidate the publishers of the EcommerceBytes blog and an anonymous Twitter user, unsuckEBAY, who regularly commented about the company.
And really Rebecca, you're going to say you haven't received feedback from the community about places where they would prefer not to have eBay involved?
What about the uproar from long time community members when eBay staff decided to grant themselves the power to mark posts as solved with no input from the author? 🤷♀️
In addition to all the very well thought out feedback provided directly on that community post, there were also concerns that level of control/interference from eBay staff could have a chilling effect on free and open discussion in the community.
While it may not lock the thread from further discussion, marking a topic as "solved" bumps the solution post up in visibility and also gives a very obvious visual cue that signals the conversation has naturally come to a close...no further responses needed.
Allowing eBay staff to designate solutions is a subtle way to attempt to "resolve" topics quickly and move things along to put a premature end to discussion.
I've personally had Sr Manager Seller Advocacy & Engagement Brian Burke contact me through a private message in the community to "request" that I change which post I had marked as the solution on a topic I had started simply because, according to him, it was "not accurate."
I made it clear that I was open to a dialogue about the subject, but was hesitant to change my accepted solution (which I believed was accurate/contained helpful information for sellers) simply because an eBay employee requested it without having a further understanding of why the request was being made.
Unfortunately, the reasonable request to engage in a discussion went nowhere and I never received a response. Would community staff simply change the accepted solution without even bothering to ask today?
Also, just a tip for readers who are members of the eBay community forum - your private message are not private.
eBay community staff and moderators can and do monitor the "private" message function of the forum and I've had more than one community member tell me they faced moderation consequences and even threats of being banned for things that were said in messages and not reported by either participant in the supposedly private discussion.
Gene Marks: ...So what kind of strategic plans do you have for your group and for the eBay community that you're going to plan on being implementing over the next few years?
Rebecca Michals: Yeah, absolutely. So one of my top priorities is to continue to build on something that we have done for three years now, which is called the Up and Running Grants Program... we realized that sellers need access to capital. And that's something that we felt like we were able to help make those connections.
It's odd that when talking about sellers needing access to capital, Rebecca only mentioned the Up and Running grants program - completely leaving out any mention of eBay's Seller Capital program that offers working capital loans in partnership with LendingPoint.
Then again, after the absolutely terrible showing from her community staff in the recent monthly chat on just that topic, I can understand why Rebecca might not want to revisit the subject. 🤦♀️
One final pro tip for Rebecca - if you want the seller community to consider taking you seriously when you say you want to connect and engage with us...maybe start by not blocking comments on posts from eBay executives.
If you're a member of the eBay community forums, what feedback would you like to give Rebecca about eBay's seller engagement efforts? Let us know in the comments below!