Setting the tone and expectations of your members early will save you a lot of headache down the road when managing your online community. So take some time when crafting your community guidelines. They are pretty standard in today’s web 2.0 world, but are important because they:
1) Help members become valuable contributors to the community
2) Explains what kind of conduct to avoid and
3) Makes sure the community is enjoyable for – and respectful of – all your members.
These are all things that promote a healthy environment.
Here are six popular examples to include into your community guidelines.
- Submit only original content. This helps maintain your community’s reputation and observes the intellectual property rights of others. So don’t let your members plagiarize.
- Keep it professional. Every post should make a positive contribution to the community and should be suitable for all members.
- Be honest. Your community is intended to be used for the helpful exchange of information between members. Lies, obviously, are not helpful.
- Stay on topic. Good contributions help the entire community by providing relevant, insightful information. Members that derail conversations lead to unanswered questions and disengaged members.
- Remember the readers. Have your members follow standard email etiquette. Writing in ALL CAPS or using HTML tags can make contribution difficult to read. Excessive typographic symbols, special characters, and instant/text messaging slang can be equally hard to read and may also be confusing to users who are unfamiliar with their meanings.
- Watch over the community. The community is for the benefit and enjoyment of your members. If members notice content within the community that does not abide by the guidelines or User Agreement, they should be encouraged to flag it for the moderators
Now some may argue that community guidelines are a waste of time. And instead, should create a welcome guide displaying to members what they can do, rather than what they can’t. This approach puts a positive spin on what is acceptable behavior. Regardless of which approach you run with, you’ll most likely have to draft both documents (see Flickr). Why? Employees, moderators and members themselves will need direction on what are potential violations. These guidelines serve that purpose.
How do you make sure your members read your guidelines? During the registration process, make them part of your ToS agreement (Terms of Service, this is the legal mumbo jumbo.) If your platform spits out a welcome email to confirm account creation, include the guidelines there as well.
What guidelines are you considering? How often do you review your community guidelines and modify them as members grow more sophisticated and technology changes the playing field?