Online communities have become the backbone of almost all business operations. We say this because brands, today, are leveraging online communities to target new users, build reputation, and boost ROI.
But as a community scales, it becomes challenging for community managers to stand out from the pack and provide customers with an experience that is true to their investment. And as you innovate, it is key to remember that to increase engagement in the community, your members should feel safe.
This is where community guidelines come into the picture. Community guidelines enable community managers to moderate the conversations within the community. Guidelines enable managers to keep the conversations flowing, all while maintaining a positive community atmosphere. Thus, having community guidelines in place is the best way to keep the content and user behavior consistent within the nature of the community. You can think of community guidelines as a set of rules that outlines what is expected and is appropriate in your community. Community guidelines need to be written and enforced clearly for restricting and removing irrelevant users (spammers, abusers, trollers, etc) and content. However, shaping these parameters from scratch can be difficult.
Let’s deep dive into the 101 of building community guidelines and learn some tips on how to enforce them.
Why Do You Need Online Community Guidelines?
Through online community guidelines, your primary goal should be to offer your customers a safe environment to interact. Guidelines help members to understand what practices they need to follow to maintain the decorum of the online community.
Clearly outlined community guidelines empower you to:
- Define the vision of your community.
- Differentiate between a genuine member and a spammer.
- Set the tone of your community.
- Control user behavior to avoid harmful behavior like trolling, bullying, racism, discrimination, etc.
- Clarify what is accepted and expected and how community managers/members can counter unacceptable user behavior or content.
- Increase engagement by keeping spam and irrelevant content at bay.
How to Create Online Community Guidelines
Managing a community can be overwhelming for community managers. That is why having a set of rules and norms becomes essential to overcome challenges while being consistent. To help you curate a clear set of community guidelines, here are a few tips:
- Start Writing From Somewhere: Don’t have guidelines yet? Then the most important thing is to just start somewhere and refine as you go. Community guidelines don’t have to be perfect in the first go. Keep in mind that you may have to revisit and rewrite your guidelines multiple times as your community grows. You’ll know when it is time to revisit and rewrite guidelines. For instance, you may see a surge in the number of reports against some posts, new memberships, a sudden rise in the number of violations, etc. With time, your community members will get used to the guidelines and the number of violations will start to decrease.
- Compose Guidelines in Synergy With Your Community Goals: Once you start writing guidelines, precisely define the ultimate goal of your online community. If you know what to do, it becomes clearer what not to do. Make sure your guidelines can help your members to refocus on what matters the most.
Take GitHub as an example that offers a platform for developers. Its guidelines highlight concrete examples of ideation and how to communicate disagreements without being disrespectful to other members. Take a look –
“Nothing sabotages a healthy conversation like rudeness. Be civil and professional, and don’t post anything that a reasonable person would consider offensive, abusive, or hate speech. Don’t harass or grief anyone. Treat each other with dignity and consideration in all interactions. You may wish to respond to something by disagreeing with it. That’s fine. But remember to criticize ideas, not people. Avoid name-calling, ad hominem attacks, responding to a post’s tone instead of its actual content, and knee-jerk contradiction. Instead, provide reasoned counter-arguments that improve the conversation.”[i]
Also, consider why members should care about the rules and norms in the first place. Genuine community members are usually always committed to keeping the community a safe place for their shared interests. So, you could write a short paragraph about the mission of the platform and the shared community values.
Here’s an example from Pinterest’s community guidelines –
“Pinterest’s mission is to bring everyone the inspiration to create a life they love. That being said, not all content is inspiring – so we have community guidelines to outline what we do and don’t allow on Pinterest. These guidelines are our acceptable use policy, so if you find content that shouldn’t be on Pinterest, please report it to us. We use your reports to learn and evolve our standards, and work with subject matter experts to inform and update our guidelines.” [ii]
- Cover the basics: When writing guidelines for the first time, it is easy to lose your way. You may want to go into details but don’t forget to cover the basics first. Some examples of the basic rules and norms that you may want to cover first involve –
- No spam or self-promotion
- Illegal activity
- Copyright infringement or intellectual property violations
- Any harassment including discrimination, bullying, trolling, hate speech, targeted attacks, etc
- Sexual or any inappropriate content
- Identity theft or impersonation of other users
- Violent conduct such as threats, violence, graphic violence, obscenities, etc
- Doxing or sharing personal information
Keep in mind that the aforementioned rules are just basic-level rules that you must cover. There is no set of guidelines that would fit all communities. You will have to dig deeper and amend the guidelines according to the niche of your community and your industry-type.
To make the guidelines more accessible, you can pin them on the top of your platform or send the community members a personalized email with the guidelines to follow whenever a new user signs in. Ensure that your guidelines are not full of technical jargon. Break the community guidelines into bite-sized, easy to read content for the ease of your customers.
How to Enforce Guidelines in Your Online Community
Creating guidelines may be challenging but not as much as enforcing them. When you have a large number of users on your platform, it can be hard to envision control over them. Comprehensive and consistent community guidelines are the key to a successful online community.
Following are a few sure-fire ways to enforce guidelines in your online community:
- Have a Review Process in Place: Articulate a detailed review process for possible violations and make it accessible to your community members. It will alert the members regarding the penalty associated with guidelines violations.
- Offer Examples of Offences and Associated Penalties: Provide examples of unacceptable user behavior along with expected penalties. There can be levels of penalties depending upon the extent of violations. You might want to go lenient with an unintentional offender but might want to take a serious course of action with a repeated violator. It will enable managers and moderators to assess the situation and take appropriate action.
- Be Transparent and Consistent With Your Actions: Regardless of the maturity of your audience base and strict guidelines, violations are inevitable. But you can decrease the number and frequency of such violations by being consistent and encouraging transparency. To promote transparency, you can include the following information every time a violation takes place –
- – The course of action if a post goes against community guidelines. For instance, the user will be issued a warning, the post will be deleted, or the member will be banned.
- – The user in question is a first-time offender or a repeat offender.
- – If the community enforces a zero-tolerance policy.
Remember, guidelines are an ever-evolving element that changes as your community evolves. Thus, revisit your guidelines from time to time and make sure they are updated right.
Creating and enforcing community guidelines can be a tricky balancing act. But when performed with precision, it enables your community to scale, thrive, and gives members the true value of their investment.
Wish to create cutting-edge online communities with proper guidelines in place? Talk to us!
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